Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Francesca DiMattio at Salon 94 and Salon 94 Freemans

February 9 to March 13, 2009
12 East 94th Street, between Fifth and Madison avenues
New York City, 646 672 9212

January 29 to March 9, 2009
1 Freeman Alley, off Rivington Street, Lower East Side
New York City, 212 529 7400

Francesca DiMatteo Blackout 2008. Same medium and dimensions. cover MARCH 2009: Head and Mask 1 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 15 inches. Courtesy Salon 94
Francesca DiMatteo, Blackout 2008. Same medium and dimensions. cover MARCH 2009: Head and Mask 1 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 15 inches. Courtesy Salon 94

Francesca DiMattio’s solo exhibit of paintings on view at Salon 94 and Salon 94 Freemans is a double bird strike for the young New York painter. Both uptown and downtown gallery spaces are exhibiting a selection of paintings from 2008 to 2009 that communicate the physical drama of momentous chaos and miraculous recovery.

This is DiMattio’s second solo show at Salon 94.  The paintings are a confluence of geometric spaces, loose and fast brushwork, and recognizable figurative elements (ladders, lace, showers, chairs) soldered together as teetering structures within stark black, white and grey tiled spaces. The mythical storytelling of German Expressionism and the playful heaviness of 1980’s Neo-Expressionism are visible forbearers for DiMattio’s paintings. There is also a direct connection to Francis Bacon in her depiction of human and inanimate forms in motion against a stage-like space. Bacon’s acute sense of ecstasy and tragedy are also a little on display as well, but to less extreme effect. Instead, it is a dreamy, personally-conceived Surrealism that is most at play here.  Unlike other young painters who combine abstraction and figuration in explosion-like arrangements, DiMattio forgoes obvious reference to our age of accelerating communication and technology. This is partly due to the painting craft being a visible component. Thickly rendered wedges and lines of paint take on sculptural qualities, literally becoming the glue and grout that holds the tile surface together and keeps the ladder from collapsing.

Blackout (2008) and Whiteout (2008) are complimentary paintings, on view respectively at Salon 94 Freemans and Salon 94.  Amid a room of maximal energy and violent action, both paintings offer an oasis of relatively minimal calm. In Blackout an angular space is created with fields of black and grey, two buttressing tree trunks, and a lemon yellow umbrella-like form floating above. The central focus rests on a thin white lawn chair, a moment of light carved into the darkness of the “blackout.”  The black is thickened by a density of lines and patterns that hint at a rigorous history behind the arrived at composition. Whiteout has the same central motif of a furniture object floated in a thick space of all-over white.  Labor and time is a felt presence in the painting, a pulsing energy that radiates off DiMattio’s most successful compositions.

On view at Salon 94, Figure 2 (2008) describes an illusionist space with loosely drawn tiles as the sides, floor and back wall. The action in the middle is a pile-up that stretches from floor to ceiling.  The central characters are a Greek column, lacquered wood chair, table, and ladder. In the receding background is the silhouette of an old-fashioned sailing vessel and a water tower. Entangled in the middle of the rubble is a human figure, a burst of flesh tone amid the popping graphics and splashing debris. A black chair stationed at the lower right corner of the canvas appears as an invitation to have a seat on stage to watch the action. In this sealed vision we are allowed to breathe through the freshness of paint itself, an ingredient that is always visible as pure material.

Francesca DiMatteo Head and Mask 1 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 15 inches. Courtesy Salon 94
Francesca DiMatteo, Head and Mask 1 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 15 inches. Courtesy Salon 94

In all of DiMattio’s paintings there is slippage between interior and exterior space, a preoccupation that can be traced through the history of modern painting.  In a way that is similar to Matisse’s The Piano Lesson (1916) where figures, furniture and statues are spatially transformed into fragments, there is a spell cast on the quotidian in DiMattio that endows every object with newfound meaning. However closely she references classical,  renaissance and modernist genres, her paintings never lapse into nostalgia, but instead give off an arch contemporary emotion. The use of pitch black, white and grid tiles has the effect of a printed graphic against a sharp color palette of reds and pinks.

The quiet showstoppers are to be found uptown where three large-scale canvases are complimented by four small paintings of classical Greek statue heads with colorful face paint “masks.” The metaphysical melancholy of de Chirico is channeled through DiMattio’s heads, yet her painterly touch is more pronounced. The mask-like visages of Bay area painter David Park come to mind, as does Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon.  Head and Mask 3 (2009) packs the greatest visual impact of the group—candy-colored, irregular shapes, applied with palette knife perfection to an expressionless face from antiquity. There is nothing ironic in the gesture. Like the epic paintings, the heads are a self-contained vision unto themselves, simply conceived and endowed with the emotional weight of an artifact from a lost culture.