What brings together two bodies of works separated by nearly eight centuries? You would assume not much if you consider that Giovanni Garcia-Fenech’s “Ghosts” (2018) is a series of nearly abstract black & white tondi (round paintings) measuring 5 feet in diameter, while the Northumberland Bestiary (ca. 1250) is an illuminated manuscript measuring approximately just 8 by 6 inches that depicts a series of animals, many of which were based on misconceptions and pure conjecture.
And yet, all it takes is a look for five visual qualities they share to become immediately apparent:
Flowing line (arabesques)
These are the first things that one perceives, and in a sense they’re not surprising–Giovanni has in the past expressed that among his many influences, one is medieval illuminated manuscripts. But he’s also told us he was not aware of the Bestiary until months after he had finished the ghost paintings. Could there be more that connects them?
At the risk of offending art historians, who are rightly cautious when it comes to making inferences from formal affinities, we suggest that the similarities extend to intent. The bestiary depicts fearful creatures unseen by the artist, paralleling Giovanni’s attitude to his subjects, of which he’s confessed, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t stop me from being afraid of them.”
Eras and continents apart, the medieval illuminator and the contemporary painter try to communicate their sense of wonder and awe in as direct a manner as possible. We think they also succeeded in showing that some things never truly change.