How Grotesque: Always Elsewhere (No. 1)

Hi good people, here's the latest open vein.

"Always Elsewhere (No. 1)"
32" x 36"
Acrylic on canvas
It started with a weird question: When was it art galleries decided to paint walls white, remove decor, and generally remove anything that could interfere with the art?

Today's generic high-art white box.

Was it modernism, especially the cold aesthetic of abstract minimalism? Or a deeper seam, the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, which scrubbed churches of idolatrous art?

In Italy, where they stuck with the old patriarchs and abstract art never really got a footing (unless you want to count the Fascists), galleries overflow with design and enhancement, with context and suggestive guidance into the art.

Tribuna Room, Uffizi Gallery

Or maybe, yeah, they're just stuffed and decadent.

When people ask about the Uffizi or Bargello I say, sure, look at the Botticellis and Donatellos, but also the ceilings, picture frames, plaster, mosaics... Beyond the shiny gems, the Italian gallery is an immersive experience and a marriage of art and craft, head and hand.

Do this and you're sure to catch what Mr. Wiki calls the discreet "ornamental arrangements of...small and fantastic human and animal figures, usually set out in a symmetrical pattern around some form of architectural frame."

Detail of a Giovanni da Udine fresco in the Loggetta del cardinal Bibbiena in the Vatican

Artists rediscovered grottesche in the Renaissance when the first palazzi were unearthed in Rome. Because these palaces, buried in centuries of backfill, were in rough shape, they were thought to be caves, i.e. grottoes.

This gives an idea of the association. It's from Nero's Domus Aurea ("Golden House"), built in c. 64-68 A.D. and excavated in the 15th century. 

Grottesche are deliciously quirky, absurd, sometimes lewd. They're elegant yet lowbrow, playful, and surreal.

I snapped this on a ceiling at the Sangalli Institute, once the home of a medieval banking family.

I can look at their hallucinogenic webs for hours, following tendrils around rooms, wondering at the minds and societies that produced them.

Detail of a porcelain plate I snapped at the Bargello Museum.

While not linear or easy, they tell stories, in dreams. And they were provocative. The godfather of Roman architecture, Vitruvius, and the great pundit of Renaissance art, Vasari, decried the grottesche as amoral and senseless, and had walls of them whitewashed.

So what's this got to do with my latest painting? Well, good pal who's read this far, I wanted to introduce a hint of the grottesche in a work of mine because I thought, symbolically, it could serve as a proxy for another more divine, more alluring place and time. Which is erroneous, I know, but is a mode of being to which we're enticed addicted drawn. A fine subject.

Echoed, somehow, I think, in this album from my youth.

Take the supermarket the other day. The cashier thought I was Spanish (I must have looked like a bull) and went on about how much more relaxed, beautiful, and organized Spain was compared to Italy. "Huh, Spain?" I said. "There they say that about Italy."

I jumped on my bike and nearly hit three people who were more engrossed in their phones than the very real and unpredictable Italian street.

Then I bumped into a friend who's done as much slipping around the world as I have and he told me he couldn't stop dreaming about dropping out of city life, moving to Brazil, and raising his three kids in a fishing village where they could go barefoot all day.

And soooooo... we escape. We long, pine, crave for something that's often no lesser different. We go to where we think the pastures are greener. Or more conveniently, we retreat inwards, flee into fantasy, disassociate from the unpleasant, dull, arduous aspects of daily life - rather than face it head on, dig down deeper, and squeeze out more juice somehow. 

Neither here nor there, we're always elsewhere, a phrase I hate to admit popped into my head while I was running up a hill with headphones on, which I wasn't listening to really because I was daydreaming, which caused me to stumble and hurt a knee, while I was thinking about how I was born in the wrong time period. Funny how that goes.


  1. I like this series already. It has a soft hint of surrealism, actually more like a flashback in fiction, where a character is looking out at one landscape and time, but recalling another. And I love the little _grottesche_ figure in the centre. Interested to see where this goes....


Post a Comment