Born in Rome, Giancarlo Impiglia moved to New York in the seventies, where he established himself with a signature style built on the shoulders of the great modernist movements of the 20th century. In all of his paintings, his eclecticism is evident, underpinned by his technical skill, which has allowed him to indulge in an appetite for complexity and to consistently find new ways of expression to comment upon social, political, and economic contemporary culture. This is exemplified by his recent, drastic aesthetic departure, in which he has summoned his classical education and Italian heritage to comment far more aggressively than ever before. The artist explains that this change was essential, brought forth by his anger, fear, and concern about today’s world: “My conscience and duty as an artist wouldn’t allow me to simply continue with the more satirical, eye-pleasing paintings that I’m known for,” he says.
Impiglia’s reimagining of mythological and biblical scenes from the works of Renaissance and Baroque masters Michelangelo, Guido Reni, Rubens, and Caravaggio, immediately remind us of the timeless nature of war and violence, the prevalent use of camouflage acting as the explicit link between past and present; indeed, he recognizes the innate capacity for humans to commit terrible acts in The Beginning (2017). His paintings furthermore rephrase and expand upon the critique of contemporary society proposed by these great masters, who were restricted to spiritual imagery to convey their message. For example, the Old Testament story of the widow Judith beheading the tyrant Holofernes was often depicted during the Early Modern era in order to speak out against the oppression of the powerful monarchs and noble families of the day. Pride Cast Down (2016), which appropriates Caravaggio’s 1602 rendering of the story, acknowledges that people still suffer under oppressive regimes and wish to rise up—just as Judith did—to decapitate modern tyrants, who, like Holofernes, are driven by the originator of all sins: pride. Furthermore, by painting a detail of Caravaggio’s original masterpiece where all that remains of Judith is a mysterious hand that wields a sword, Impiglia recognizes the impersonal affair of killing in the modern age and forces us to sympathize with the tyrant, who becomes a mere mortal subjected to the horrors of murder.
Mortality is a prevalent theme in Impiglia’s new series. In The Embrace (2016), Saint Francis is clad in camouflage and comes to represent the countless soldiers of today needlessly sent to their deaths; in Fear (Medusa) (2014), the monster of myth, once a beautiful maiden, is mercilessly beheaded, hinting at the victimization of women and the potential for physical beauty to be both empowering and a vulnerability. So too does Impiglia not shy away from acknowledging the evils of religion at a time of prevalent fundamentalism: in The Sacrifice (2016), we are reminded of how parents are still willing to sacrifice their children for their faith, just as Abraham was in the second millennium BCE. We are also reminded of the potentially dangerous lessons taught by books of faith that are still be read despite being written two thousand years ago. Our faith continues to ensnare us, just as our greed does, as represented by Prisoners (2015) and Idolatry (2017).
Despite all the brutality that still exists in the world, as is reflected in Impiglia’s paintings, despite most of society looking on apathetically with an inherent fascination for war as represented by the The Witness (2017), the artist offers us some hope: in Triumph (2017), the devil is being subjugated by the archangel Michael, this archaic symbol becoming more relevant than ever before. Acting as a testament to a career that has never ceased to evolve, Impiglia redefines himself with this recent series, bringing together the ancient and the modern, the secular and the sacred, to both awaken and unsettle, calling for us to finally change our ways.