‘From the Studio (Nightrider)’ was Gianni Politi’s second solo exhibition at CO2, located close to Rome’s Villa Borghese. Coming a year after his solo show at the Biblioteca Casanatense (in collaboration with CO2), it marks a profound move away from the earlier large-scale anatomical studies which he presented in their eerie space. That exhibition was a rare instance of a young Italian artist interacting with symbols associated with Rome’s past to explore the theme of mortality. This theme was continued in ‘From the Studio (Nightrider)’, which presents a body of work Politi began when he saw a reproduction in a book of a 1770 portrait of an unknown sitter by Gaetano Gandolfi. The representation of a bearded man reminded Politi of his own father, who died aged 78 when the artist was just 16.
What emerged from this catalyst was a kind of nocturnal enquiry into memory and the faint trace of Politi’s father’s face. The title of the show refers to the artist’s working method – he tends to paint at night. Of course, there is something of the heroic artistic quest here, as the painter tackles the subject of mortality alone and in a state between sleep and wakefulness. This is – to the artist’s credit – presented with a kind of endearing neurotic uncertainty, as opposed to the macho heroism often associated with the Baroque and later Modernist periods.
Senza titolo (Madrigale con grasso e carne) (Untitled [Madrigal with Fat and Meat], 2012–13), is a fairly straightforward defacing of a copy of the late Baroque portrait, which has been scraped with oil paint. Its small scale lends it an intensity – it’s almost as if it suffers from some kind of Napoleon complex. Of the other five paintings – all measuring 24 × 18 centimetres, and all bearing at least a trace of the form of Gandolfi’s portrait – one is particularly notable: Brunch in Venice with M.K. (2012–13) repeats the portrait motif, yet offsets the left-hand side of the figure, leaving an inch margin to the left of the painting, as with three of the other works. This disrupts the painting’s illusory capacity, and has the effect of flattening the picture ground. The possibility of some kind of fleeting transcendence – as the viewer accepts as real the illusory form presented to them – is negated by Politi with the inclusion of the blank abstract margin. In this way, the role which figuration might otherwise play is denied. The title of the work refers to the late Mike Kelley, a major influence on the artist, reflected here in his use of colours, tightly packed into a dense mass, which somehow holds itself together, despite its widely varying parts.
Farsipal (2012–13) presents something of an antidote to the chaos of the other works. Its subdued planes of blue-purple and burgundy red portend some kind of doom, but one which is not entirely sure of itself. An electric blue in its bottom-right corner threatens some kind of subversion of the picture’s stoic reserve, which fails to manifest. It is in this balance between aggression and neurosis that Politi manages to tread a line between assuredness and a kind of intense self-doubt. The result marks a coming to maturity of a painter whose approach to the painting tradition of Italy is valuable as the art of contemporary Rome emerges increasingly on the international stage. How it deals with its heritage will be crucial in the coming years.