Enrico David, Il fraterno silenzio del fango (The Fraternal Silence of Mud), 2020, acrylic on canvas, 9' 1 1⁄2" × 14' 8".

Enrico David, Il fraterno silenzio del fango (The Fraternal Silence of Mud), 2020, acrylic on canvas, 9' 1 1⁄2" × 14' 8".

Enrico David

For his first exhibition at Gió Marconi, Enrico David exhibited exclusively paintings and drawings, after having participated in the 2019 Venice Biennale with a focus on sculpture. Between the two shows, the London-based artist seemed to have decided to offer his home country a complete sampling of his most recent production. This show’s title, “Cielo di giugno” (June Sky), suggested a naturalistic subject, but what awaited viewers were phenomena of an oneiric world: nature, yes, but transfigured. Even the press release really wasn’t one, almost functioning instead as a brief prose poem.

The mysterious and sometimes disturbing paintings and drawings on view evinced David’s predilection for the grotesque. This was seen above all in small portraits in graphite and colored pencil, executed with a meticulous sense of line, but with the faces always distorted to the point of monstrosity. However, most works in the show were paintings in acrylic on canvas, with dimensions ranging from the domestic to the monumental. An extraordinarily effective lyricism prevailed—and was even more forceful when expressed with a parsimonious rendering of features.

In the first room, compositions imbued with elusive temporal coordinates, such as Da già non più ad ancora qui, ancora qui (From Already No More to Still Here, Still Here) (all works 2020), offered the first sign of a theme taken up in many of the works: the bond between humans and plants. Here, a black human profile connected to a bamboo plant emits a yellow glow, a blaze that contains at its center a face with blue eyes that look out at the viewer. In the main room, three larger-scale compositions shared a related visual structure. In Cielo di giugno we discovered a similar face, concisely defined, bright and intent on watching us. The visage has a rhomboid shape, echoing some nearby rhombuses with violet streaks in an atmosphere of pale, ethereal blue. The color floats on a broad surface of raw cotton. David says that making this work and others like it led him to think about the work of Morris Louis and Francis Bacon, in which the unpainted portions assume an architectural, spatial function. There was, however, no structure in this group of canvases, other than the slight precarious one established by free-floating colors. Punti di fiamma, salvezza trovata in cielo (Dots of Flame, Salvation Found in Heaven) seems a bit more firmly structured, thanks to the assertiveness of the black in contrast to the vivid red of the stain that surrounds it. The image floats—or, more accurately, flows—above a plane.

In two gigantic compositions, about eighteen and fifteen feet wide, respectively, the images are their very structure. Zattera viva (Living Raft) and Il fraterno silenzio del fango (The Fraternal Silence of Mud) were installed on facing walls. In the former, David has painted a monumental green trellis over a blank background; close examination revealed that it is a play of entanglements among plant figures with anthropomorphic attributes, making one think of recurring polymorphic images in the grottoes of Renaissance gardens. The latter work delineates on the left an extremely tall, slender figure leaning forward toward a layering of almost realistically painted bamboo reeds. Its legs are of the same vegetal material, while the chest is concisely defined in blue, its outline similar to the expressively distorted ones we have learned to recognize in David’s sculptures. This face touches a large orange sun, as if desiring to connect the mysterious earth in which the figure lives to a universe made of emptiness. The side wall featured the much smaller but equally enigmatic Fossa madre (Mother Grave), in which another human figure seems to slither away like a snake through some bamboo reeds, its somewhat comical position structuring the entire composition—another unforgettable image.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.