Davide Balliano, Untitled_0209, 2021, plaster, gesso, and varnish on linen, 20 × 20".

Davide Balliano, Untitled_0209, 2021, plaster, gesso, and varnish on linen, 20 × 20".

Davide Balliano

For his first solo show in Milan, Davide Balliano presented a selection of thirteen recent works, revealing the recent evolution of his rigorously abstract art. Balliano uses very few elements: plaster and gesso, which bear witness to his affinity for sculpture and architecture, plus varnish and the support, in this case linen. Color is limited to a warm white, the consistency of which changes depending on the amount of water added, and a deep black, as silky and opaque as a blackboard. The compositions follow a concise grammar, always based on a combination of semicircles and straight lines that evoke Renaissance arches. This reduction of means is fundamental to Balliano’s artistic practice, in which the dialogue with materials and forms, measured through the repetition of patterns that are always composed in different sequences and seem to want to exit the canvas, takes place on a daily basis. In other words, each work represents a snapshot of a moment within an endless stream of consciousness, a sequence one can follow given that, since 2015, he has numbered each work in order of completion.

The geometric design, which the artist works out digitally and then faithfully executes using compass and ruler, is in fact only an armature, a formal pretext. Layers of plaster and gesso are added, then scraped off and reintroduced in certain specific areas of a given composition, adding material/gestural movement to the clean and sinuous, labyrinthine and hypnotic designs. Balliano’s tendency is always to create a sensation of equilibrium and harmony, a lowering of the tension between digital and manual, precision and imperfection, black and white, solids and hollows. In these new paintings, the sense of concord is further enhanced by the use of linen, which, compared to the artist’s previous use of wood, accentuates the corporeality of the details and invests the materials with an organic feeling, sometimes recalling skin, sometimes secretions. In Untitled_0219, 2021, for example, the final white drips and delicate scrapings interfere with the wavy pattern that flows over three equal horizontal rows, revealing the “negative” of the underlying layer of black gesso. Protruding arches, dense and agreeably smooth, follow one after another. In Untitled_0213, 2021, the same sequence seems to stutter: Elongated, interrupted and then resumed, it is accentuated here and there by the black strokes facing the viewer. At other times, the arch is subtracted from the line and closes with its complementary half, forming circles that seal the pattern, as in Untitled_0209, 2021. Elsewhere, the patterns evoke the electrical circuitry of hidden machines (Untitled_0162, 2020).

Eluding the coldness of the Minimalist tradition, these paintings work like detonators of thought and, because they are imbued with mystery, elicit contemplation. Balliano’s extremely personal compositional system also plays its part. It is based on the number seven; that is, his circles and arches always overlap seven times. This number represents cyclic completion and recurrent renewal (think, for example, of the lunar cycle); it is the spiritual and religious symbol of dynamic perfection and totality. For Egyptians, it was the symbol of eternal life. Likewise, white and black evoke the union and negation of absent colors, an invisible albeit perceptible aura surrounding the artist’s eternally reinvented abstract forms.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.