Cosmos and Earth Collide in Pier Paolo Calzolari’s Alchemical Art


The Italian artist Pier Paolo Calzolari is a breezy alchemist of shade, as evidenced in Painting as a Butterfly, his fourth display at Marianne Boesky Gallery. If painting is a butterfly, it must exert a delicate sensorial stress with its formal “flutter.” This sort of is the result of some 30 paintings by Calzolari, most of them made in the previous 5 years, with 3 relationship back again to the 1970s and ’80s. Calzolari regularly layers the new is effective with salt crystals. He then applies pastels, gouache, or tempera to the canvas the effect is that the pigments are absorbed inconsistently, creating dense blotches, but also spots the place color dilutes and sinks, or washes out fully. The resulting tensions — in between permanence and evanescence, expressed in, for instance, tempera’s opaque solidity vs . the salt’s flickery luster — lie at the main Calzolari’s alchemy.

Born in Bologna in 1943, Calzolari is just one of the several dwelling artists associated with Italy’s arte povera, a motion that sprung up in the 1960s to oppose a minimalist aesthetic coopted by capitalist, consumerist culture. In addition to the arte povera artists’ desire for natural and homespun resources, their artworks usually flirt with figuration, and precisely with the recommendation of the human sort in Calzolari’s recent operate. Think about the performs in the gallery’s intimate again space: disarmingly prosaic footprints waltz throughout a handful of small canvases hung salon style. Rendered in chartreuse, the shoe bewitches — a Cinderella with rash goals of fluid identities. (A very similar intimate adventure emanates from “Untitled,” 2019, in which a gauzy dress hovers atop a summery abstraction.) Calzolari’s grayish-brown variation of the shoe, nevertheless, is closer to Van Gogh’s somber get: a peasant’s famously worn and weary pair, whose lyricism is scrappy and earthbound.

Pier Paolo Calzolari, “Untitled” (2019), graphite, milk tempera, tempera grassa, pastels à I’écu, oil pastels, salt, iron, dress on wooden, 90 1/2 x 74 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches

Calzolari’s magic can also be cosmic, as in a compact portray in the exact same gallery, in which a tailed circle tumbles in the reduce remaining like a frightened comet. In all these parts, organic and metaphysical forces are just one: vapors are rudimentary atmospheric gas particles, but they also signify ponder and bliss. Nevertheless, if there is a lot more than a bit of razzle dazzle and in general shimmy in this article, it is not devoid of resistance — the surfaces are typically pumice-like, taking their cue from the multifarious houses of salt, both of those dissoluble and obdurately rock tough. 

It is practically difficult to look at Calzolari’s paintings devoid of also recalling the masterly vigor of Italian Renaissance artists. The artist gestures toward this explicitly in “Venetian Painting” (2019), in which the lush ultramarine so beloved by Titian and his posse is a hovering, dense nebula, or maybe a Romanesque-arch-like portal to hidden mysteries — though the relaxation of the composition blanches under canary streaks like a mirage glimpsed across the piazza by way of rain-streaked home windows. In other places Calzolari conjures up an even additional elusive chemistry, as in most paintings whose titles or types refer to haikus: an evocation of character so grounded in the elemental that for a next only the salt appears to be to exist. It breathes into the canvas pores, excreting its hermetic residue, like a genie conjured from an alchemist’s flask.  

Pier Paolo Calzolari, “Capriccio romantico” (Passionate whim) (2019), salt, milk tempera, egg tempera, pastels à l’écu, thick flannel (mollettone) on wood, 39 x 15 x 1 3/8 inches

Pier Paolo Calzolari: Portray as a Butterfly carries on at Marianna Boesky Gallery (507 and 509 West 24th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) by April 23. The exhibition was arranged by the gallery.


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