Erik BakkeAugust 17, 2020
Fully-illustrated digital catalogue with an essay by Erik Bakke accompanies the exhibition Mariano Ferrante: Studies. Below is the essay:
Mariano Ferrante Studies
By Erik Bakke
For another painter, Mariano Ferrante’s small paintings on canvas would be standalone works. For Ferrante, they are studies for his complex, intricate, larger paintings. These smaller works offer isolated geometric elements that become building blocks, or even overarching patterning, for larger works’ dizzyingly dense, multi-hued architectures of circles, squares, diamonds, zigzags, and waves. In the more intimate triptychs, diptychs, and single panel paintings, the isolated forms are outlined in one or a few colors in tempera marker on an acrylic ground. These reductive experiments of form against ground come from a more playful and perhaps more personal conversation Ferrante is having with his media, his viewers, and his future work.
A work like the triptych N16/19 (12.5 x 12.5 inches each panel) brings the viewer’s gaze to rest on a few forms in a relationship which is at once geometric and suggestive of human interaction. The ground of the work sets an attractive stage—with a green underlayer peeking through a top, lightly-distressed beige layer. In the left panel of the triptych, the blue outline of a vertically oriented zigzag form overlays a mirrored image of itself in yellow. In the middle panel, the two forms are apart with the yellow form canting in towards the blue form. In the right panel, the yellow form has “fallen” across the blue form. Under the influence of modernist sobriety, the viewer would understand that the triptych offers color and form on ground and not a suggestion of a time-based interaction much less a symbolic narrative, but still, the work entices the viewer to imagine the three panels as a portrayal of an encounter between blue and yellow characters. Ferrante is not only playing with the structures of his building-block forms but also perhaps with his viewers’ propensity for apophenia, for seeing meaning where there isn’t.
In triptych N19/19 (12.5 x 12.5 inches each panel), by including the pencil grid that allows for the creation of zigzags of various severity and articulation, Ferrante reveals the development mechanism of his forms. Here, creating dramatic effect, he uses an expanded pencil grid to generate a tempera line that goes beyond its expected boundary. In the outer panels of N19/19, a blue line kicks out like a collapsed knee to the right in the first panel and then to the left in the third panel. The relatively exaggerated zig or zag of this blue line compared to other green and magenta lines delays the viewer’s discovery that like-looking shapes are not in fact the same. Anomalies are important to Ferrante’s works large and small. The closer one looks at the colorful, dense patternings of a work like Pintura A15/19 (56 x 56 inches), or any number of the other larger works, the more one sees pattern breaking down. In looking at the smaller works, like the triptychs, one sees the degree to which anomalies and asymmetries are planned—or fostered—by Ferrante.
In the diptych N20/19 (12.5 x 12.5 inches each panel) a central red outlined zigzag form would be mirrored in the right hand panel except the outline crosses itself in the middle of the zigzag, creating an “x” where the middle segment of the zigzag of the left panel appears. Ferrante deliberately subverts his own system for creating uniform, identical or mirrored shapes. This deliberate break in the patterning is further enlivened by the lack of absolute precision in the mirroring from one panel to another of all the forms. The negative space created by the red form and two blue forms in the right panel is not an exact mirror image of the negative space created by the red form and two blue forms in the left panel. Unlike the crossed over lines, this is not a geometrical intervention—this is allowing the hand to show, allowing wiggle room in a process. It makes the works shimmer and vibrate; it gives them integrity. The deliberate intervention and the process related differences in mirroring function in parallel to add to the beauty of Ferrante‘s work in the same way Bronzino’s depictions of strabismus, or wandering eye, coupled with subtle depictions of asymmetry in visage and costumery allow for the sublimity of his portraits.
Erik Bakke is a writer and artist living and working in California.