at Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda 7 Oct - 19 Nov 2017
Exhibition Catalogue (Vanilla Edizioni)
The cinematic nature of Mario’s work captures a stillness as in a frame, edited and then exposed to a series of material changes, which transfer the moving images as a flat notation into a new spatial orientation in a modernist sense of twentieth-century painting. This form of separation is often apparent in Kitaj’s work of the late sixties, where the central image becomes a decorative motif lost in the overall painted sensibility of the final picture. This referencing of the decorative nature of illusionistic painting dissolves such simple visual mechanics as perspective, in favour of an overall colour field.
Of course, in the immediate post-war period being described by Greenberg the influence of late modernism was waning, with the emergence of Pop Art. With a reconsideration of flatness as a reference to printed and commercial advertising, as in Warhol’s larger works, the artistic craft orientation was removed as a manual signature from the picture plain. Thus a mechanised flatness, beyond the obvious reflections of Greenberg and other critics, reflected the postmodernist period’s disregard for the signature marks of what were considered those of the last romantics in the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. The computer has taken us beyond such separations of manual and craft orientation. Particularly as the complete obliteration of the original image is often an aspect of the process rather than merely some notion of technical aesthetics. The visual mechanics of representational illusion of the picture plain - which have been with us since the Renaissance - has been obliterated. It ceases to exist.
The original photos can initially appear intrusive, yet they are not those
of a ‘peeping tom’. The public nature of the resource images and photos of female intimacy are photoshopped in to linear simplicities. Drawings, as in computer lines, are often articulated with a finishing manual intrusion which alludes to a familiar illusion of observational classicism. These become a more enchanted and complex computer image, a print-like surface of graphic solidity, painted in gouache as a surface of applied colour and integrated nature. The work is a delayed gesture of interest, when subject becomes form. The original human image - as in medieval figuration - acquires a Byzantine flatness as a template for grandeur. The linear intrusions as tonal marks become a surface indication of perception, rather than a mere representation of the original human image from the resource photos.
The long history in western art of observing the female gaze, as in being present yet not a participant, is often related to a certain form of voyeurism as in Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque. Strangely enough, as in the early modernist pictures of addicted women in bars drinking absinthe, they can be a bizarre yet intimate realization of tragedy and psychological obsession, besides the political social commentary. These works are obviously not attempting to engage with an exaggerated sense of the personal tragedy or psychosis, but are more often simply documenting the public persona of female appearances, whether by the beach or socially engaged in public activities. The intimacy is apparent yet not tortuously explored, more enhanced as a flat image of mere presence and shape. There is an obvious element of fascination with women’s presence whether in bikinis by the beach or socially in a more public forum. This intimacy is at the core of the historic female heroine from Rubens to Hockney, the intimate form becomes a flattened surface recognition, I was reminded of the dancers from Pompei. Whether these were depictions of sacred performers in the temple or just decorative murals for domestic pleasure is really quite irrelevant to the flat surface painting, which still evokes an athletic bikini-clad group of women, more reminiscent of female beach volley ball in the present day, than any erotic display of beauty.
This disparate yet malleable separation between the observed and the observer, is certainly a significant aspect of feminist critiques of modern art, in this context the obvious nature of the work, alludes to the adoration of women. I was reminded of the Truffaut film, The Man who Loved Women, an obsessive aesthete, yet a distracted observer, often intermingling his imagined perfection with the physical realities of his observation. This chasm between the imagined sense of desire and perfection, allows painters for centuries to alter the obvious and create a new perfection, which is often unrelated to the original model. For instance contemporary facial recognition techniques have claimed that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci, and yet we imagine it was inspired by a real woman, even if the final form is actually based on an available facial structure, his own.
There is an odd relationship between this sense of the female in repose, and some of Mario’s father’s work from the nineteen-fifties and sixties (the period of Italian realism in cinema) when a certain sense of social articulation as a political gesture was an integral aspect of the cultural and artistic norm, particularly in cinema.2 I was looking at his father’s archive as a painter, and was struck by the obvious nature of an inherited gesture, not in a technical sense but more in the nature of a genetic delight in the observed presence of women in society. There is a quaint sense of the macabre, almost comic occasionally, which seeps into this work. It is not an obvious reference to comic books or political satire, but more a delinquent disregard for the commercial glamour of advertised falsities, the exponents of the fake mask the latest lipstick or the notions of female perfection sold on television and street hoardings. There is an aspect of social awareness, which threads back to the Italian realism of his father’s generation. These obvious ironies appear directly in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film Red, where the heroine is perplexed by her own humanity, yet famous in Geneva for a huge billboard of her features selling chewing gum, a substance she is never seen actually using in the film. She appears as an iconic figure of consumer beauty, yet throughout the film her personal tragedies consume her internal life, Irene Jacob wears no obvious make-up, but appears as a model on various catwalks, selling clothes for commercial labels, simply by her physical presence as a woman. It is this dichotomy that slips between the obvious attractiveness of the poseurs, I use the term as possibly unwitting models are somehow knowing. Certainly in Mario’s paintings there is an intriguing sense of awareness, the resting woman and the other models, have an alien sense of dislocation in his work, whatever their initial encounters might have had in the original experienced reality.
This dichotomy between the original advertised sense of beauty and commercial perfection, is often ridiculed in these pictures, there is a subliminal disturbance and strange sense of artificiality, contrasted by the obvious lines of visual substance, the drawing is present and somehow disturbs the obvious, slick nature of the commercial origins. It is a wonder that this sense of commercial perfection manages to still pervade some of the paintings, and yet they have a distinctly handmade distillation, a disturbing response to the perfection of our own assumptions, which are often in themselves products of a fictionalized sense of realism. When the reality of our commodified society is the iconography of female beauty as a thoroughly artificial entity, then the re-evaluation of such images as art, is an essential process in our own understanding of what and how we see. In this context Mario Sughi has investigated and exposed our own delusions as iconographical motifs, socially engaging yet tantalizingly disturbing.
Dublin, September 2017
1 Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture, Byzantine Parallels,
Thames and Hudson 1973, p 168.
2 See AlbertoSughi.com
3 Krzysztof Kieslowski, Red (Trois Couleurs Rouge,
MK2 Production, France 1994)