• Layers of Luminosity

    Date posted: October 15, 2008 Author: jolanta
    Themes of magical realism stream through Giovanni Carlo Rocca’s work, capturing timeless moments of perfect tranquility, where photo-album memory flits in and out of waking dream. His works are splendidly layered, both formally and conceptually, and draw on assorted artists from art history, from Edvard Munch and Claude Monet to Friedrich and Klimt. His works are frequently based on preexisting imagery (in many circumstances his own), but are not painted in a photorealist style. Capturing moments of tranquility, which contrast with uneasy oneiric elements, his work uses unusual color combinations, compositions, and angles, which all contribute to the magical realist feel within his work. Image

    Suzie Walshe on the work of Giovanni Carlo Rocca

    Image
    Giovanni Carlo Rocca, Malinconia, 2008. 50 x 50 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

    Themes of magical realism stream through Giovanni Carlo Rocca’s work, capturing timeless moments of perfect tranquility, where photo-album memory flits in and out of waking dream. His works are splendidly layered, both formally and conceptually, and draw on assorted artists from art history, from Edvard Munch and Claude Monet to Friedrich and Klimt. His works are frequently based on preexisting imagery (in many circumstances his own), but are not painted in a photorealist style. Capturing moments of tranquility, which contrast with uneasy oneiric elements, his work uses unusual color combinations, compositions, and angles, which all contribute to the magical realist feel within his work.

    Using unconventional painting techniques, such as transparent fiberglass resin, which is layered over areas of pigment—rarely using a brush—Rocca abandons paint in favor of pure pigment mixed with dammar varnish and balsam de canada, materials commonly used in the restoration of paintings on canvas. Utilizing the knowledge gained over a 20-year period as a paintings restorer, Rocca displays an innate understanding of the materiality of paint, its limits, and possibilities. The very nature of his working process changes the concept of a 2D painting into something sculptural where depth is created through layers of pigments, oils, varnishes, and resins. The pigments are melted together with a pure solvent, which is then “thrown” onto the canvas, where, guided by Rocca’s design it forms shape. The color is then “dug as a sculpture obtaining luminosity without white color.” Rocca uses the white of the canvas only to create light yet masters the illusionary effect of the paint that creates a convincing, almost tangible fourth dimension—the muffling stillness of the air, the soggy feel of slushing snow, the crisping smell of twilight. In Malinconia, for example, the snowy background is an abstract tapestry of white with craggy black rocks peeking through. It is a Clyfford Still of whiteness, with a palimpsest of grey and blue evident below the surface.

    Rocca synthesizes historical and contemporary styles, creating evocative images that examine the tradition of painting and the role of the figure in art. Rocca uses every pretext to present his figures, not as articulated bodies, but as looming shapes, which are as eloquent in their silhouettes as they are mysterious in their identity and often their actions. He uses drapery, not as other artists use it, as a foil to the free action of the limbs and to the texture of flesh, but to disguise, to submerge, to depersonalize.

    In his latest series of compelling and contentious paintings, Rocca attests to his continuing exploration and elaboration of the history of figurative art. Mining sources as diverse as Old Master portraits and mid-20th-century film and documentary, he has produced beautifully rendered compositions that suggest a challenging new aesthetic rooted in the artifice and stylistic extravagance of High Mannerism. For instance, in Carlo Emanuele, subtle gradations of tone, pouring with light from the within, encase the subjects features in a sparkling manner.

    Engaged with human experience of the infinite, Rocca’s work often suggests a sense of displacement, playing on our desire to be somewhere else, in a different time or space. Most of Rocca’s paintings also focus more on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment as opposed to each other. In Melancholy the central figure has the same wistful, melancholic look as characters in a renaissance work, but Rocca’s depiction is somehow softer, which results in an ethereal image. This new phase in his work develops the romanticism and passion earlier works displayed. Like stills from a movie or tableaux in a play, Roccas positions his “characters” as if they have been captured just before or just after the climax of a scene. The cinematic, wide compositions, and dramatic use of light and dark also conveys elements of confinement and isolation.

    Another way in which Rocca’s paintings work is as objects of memory. The recurring theme memory and how it is constructed are grounded in an interest in both individual memory and the larger cultural memory of societies. One of the ways the paintings try to work is as a form of concrete poetry—in this sense the works become constructions of memory and narrative. In many cases, objects like pieces of wood are embedded in the surface of the panel and camouflaged with paint  “frozen, protected, and preserved.” While the surface of the painting tells the story of its own history, another narrative is also suggested, but left incomplete with the addition of the objects incased in the resin.

    With their superb technical accomplishment, achieved through the close study and emulation of the compositional devices, graphic rhythms, and refined surfaces of 16th- and 17th-century European painting, combined with contemporary subject matter, Rocca’s paintings continue to evade categorization.

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