At 6.30pm on Friday 24th February the Vistamare gallery inaugurates a two-man exhibition featuring the work of Mario Airò and Andrea Romano. In what has over recent years become something of a tradition for the gallery, this exhibition flanks the work of two Italian artists from different generations and with very different artistic backgrounds. Some of the gallery’s rooms will be dedicated to the work of one or other of the two artists, while in other rooms their work will be shown side-by-side. Despite their obvious differences, the thirty-or-so works on show reveal a common use of mixed and very varied media, and a shared and extreme sensitivity to the casual nature of things combined with a seductive figurativeness. While retaining their autonomy, the close flanking of the individual works accentuates and enriches their shared characteristics in a mysterious game of mirrors and echoes.
Mario Airò (born in Pavia, 1961) pours into his work an infinite number of cultural and artistic references ranging from literature and the history of art to philosophy, cinema and design. And it is in this sort of creative Esperanto that the distinguishing feature of his very personal understanding of art emerges: an absence of intellectual limits or of hiatuses, his ideas flowing freely and uncaged. The artist himself has declared that, “often I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, nor am I conscious of its scope. I sense an urgency, I feel the wave and ride it. The only guide I have in choosing it is its intensity and the sensation that you are touching something real. In that instant I feel pushed in very radical directions. It’s as though I have to renounce a certain complacency, a certain seductiveness and accelerate along ethereal lines. The excessive attention paid to the artifact, the interest in the works’ nature as “things” that I feel surrounding me pushes me to abandon the lines of earth and to privilege those of fire, air and water”. This urgency finds expression in works that combine natural elements and the objects of everyday life, on each occasion giving shape to the most original of sculptures, small- and large-scale installations and photographs that act as bridges between his various approaches to the making of art.
Of the works on show (some of which have been created specifically for this exhibition while others date back several years) many highlight literary references and formal “contamination”. This is the case, for example, in “Deewan in Divan” (2016) in which a small pedestal in varnished wood is the fragile support for two books, their pages interlinked in a precarious embrace. The slim volumes are, respectively, Deewan by Hafez (a Sufi mystic who lived in fourteenth-century Persia) and Goethe’s Divan, which was published in 1819 after Goethe, who was already an old man, had been inspired to write it under the influence of his love for the young Marianne von Willemer and stimulated by the Orientalist Joseph von Hammer’s translation of Hafez’s poetry. The two books (even the titles of which suggest a startling assonance) testify to the possibility of communion between different cultures and to the fact that, although separated by centuries, their respective histories can be immersed in a shared sentiment, from which, in the lilting cadences of an austere language, a far-reaching synthesis emerges. Similarly his work on wood entitled “Walt in the sky” physically reproduces a page of one of Airò’s favorite writers, Walt Whitman, the singer of freedom and of the visionary notion of man as the centre of all perception.
Mario Airò participated in the 47th edition of the Venice Biennale in 1997 and in the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art and the Biennale of Kwangju in 2005. His work has featured in solo exhibitions and group shows in Italy and worldwide. In 2015 the Galleria Nazionale di Parma – Palazzo della Pilotta dedicated a solo exhibition to his work, as did the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce in Genoa in 2013 and the Palazzo della Triennale in Milan in 2004. In 2001 he exhibited at the GAM in Turin and in 2000 at the Kunsthalle in Lophem. His work has also been shown at the Castello di Rivoli, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and the S.M.A.K. in Ghent.
Andrea Romano (born in Milan, 1984) presents a series of works all of which form part of the two cycles that have dominated his work in the last few years: Claque & Shill and Potsherds and gazes. Claque & Shill (in other words, a group of people hired to applaud and a paid endorser) is a body of work that began in 2011 and is still developing. All portraits (predominantly female), the works are created in charcoal on paper and finished with a thick frame in marble or stone. The portraits exhibit all of Romano’s extraordinary technical sensibility, the delicate precision of his lines pining down the psyche of his subjects. The depth of field is extremely shallow – a sort of close-up in which the sitters’ features reveal their detailed beauty. Many of the subjects are young women who frequent the same circles as the artist – presences that involuntarily influence his vision of the wider world. Each piece flows out naturally into a heavy and imposing frame, the physical qualities of which appear to be an obvious extension of the object contained within it, just like antique renaissance or baroque frames that extended and multiplied a painting’s borders into the surrounding space. Like other artists of his generation, Romano is moving away from the idea of digital beauty and reappropriating classical media and techniques. Flanked by sketches on paper, Potsherds and gazes is a series of works in neon on which, again, he has been working for several years. Exploring the relationship between the human figures and dinosaurs in the cartoon The Flintstones, these works offer a reflection on the relationship between what we consider to be primitive and modernity, expressed in the form of fragments of a past and a history that have never existed. The images focus on the few isolated lines where the two creatures’ bodies touch, where they brush against one another or pull, push and bite. In this way rendered almost abstract, their actions suggest gestures that are as sinuous and sensual as they are acts of violence or submission. The symbiosis of image and subject results in a perfect delineation of the area in which the domains of the visual and the tactile overlap.
Andrea Romano is considered one of the most interesting artists of his generation. A graduate of the Accademia di Brera in Milan, the exhibitions in which he has participated include the 16th edition of the Rome Quadriennale (2016), The Picture Club at the American Academy in Rome (2016), Ennesima, curated by Vincenzo De Bellis, at the Milan Triennale (2016), Sous le Paves, la Plage at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin (2012), and solo exhibitions at the Gaudel de Stampa gallery in Paris (2015) and at Gasconade in Milan (2011).