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Giuseppe Gonella. Involved

Carlo Sala 2013

A youth stands before closed shutters, face shadowed and unrecognisable, holding a sheet of paper which is slowly burning. This highly enigmatic figure is at the centre of the painting Er by Giuseppe Gonella. The artist’s intention is to present us with an allegory for artistic research, wherein everything burns quickly as it is continually assailed by new doubts. The subject of Er is setting alight a metaphorical testament1, which, like all artworks, condenses the successes and failures of a journey made up of experiments, changed ideas and tensions, driven by constantly evolving emotional and intellectual needs. Er embodies the essential characteristics of Gonella’s artwork, which does not seek a clear narrative, but rather bring together characters, objects and places which are visionary, timeless and transfigured, and which at times seem to lack any evident coherence. Different levels of reading are united on the canvas through narrative elements that can be extrapolated or interpolated; they inspire powerful triggers to pass beyond the figurative epidermis. What is the girl crouching in the field looking for? Who is hidden in the tent beneath the leaden skies? Who is the young protagonist? These and other questions immediately spring to mind. Gonella does not seek to create forms of conventional narratives, rather he deliberately leaves the plots incomplete. These are scenes which invite the viewer to put themselves in that situation - to become involved, as the title of the exhibition suggests - in order to discover, invent and perceive the thoughts and motives which reverberate deep beneath the formal surface. Whilst displaying remarkable formal qualities, Gonella’s works never offer a purely objective representation.The iconic aspects, such as figures and elements of landscape, alternate with great flashes of colour and abstract surfaces. These unite different painting techniques and move the composition towards an evocative, rather than simply descriptive, meaning. As such his painting is part of the current vein of research that seeks to give a new meaning to figurative work through a strong adherence to topical issues with an original and personal stylistic matrix. The origins of this work come from many sources, but a key element is the powerful trigger of fragments of visual memory. In the act of painting these are affirmed until they come to fit the original compositional design. He draws on a personal archive made up of snatches of reality, memories and evocations, but also appropriates pre-existing images that, through the painting process, become subjectively deformed, overturning their initial functions and meanings. The same thing can be seen in some of the work of the Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen, where they are used simply as a pretext for changing a certain posture or suggestion. The artist’s imagery is also made up of images that come from outside art history: these are derived from mass market magazines or from the Internet, where he also finds simple vernacular photographs. Whilst painters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries could find “modern life” by painting in plein air or from direct observation of the beating heart of the city, there is nowadays a second and complementary type of daily life which passes through the unpredictable tangle of the web. Look, for example at the central figure in the painting Walking at home, caught in the typical pose of one taking a photo of themselves to publish on social networks. Here we can clearly see the short circuit the painter creates in relation to the original image: the calm and reassuring nature of the gesture is dematerialised by a formal and emotional pruning of the figure. As such, unpredictable atmospheres are created from seemingly straightforward transpositions, elaborating the poetics of the artist.Modern-day society is tangled up with an excess of information, stimuli and images - Gillo Dorfles spoke of this in Horror pleni2. A consequence of this is the need for some artists to reexamine or re-experience the present also in a more completely introspective dimension. This is exactly what Massimiliano Gioni sought to highlight in his Encyclopaedic Palace at the Venice Biennale with the inclusion of Andrè Breton’s emblematic death mask: the closed eyes of the poet lead us to an interior dimension which passes beyond and cancels out the transience of mere appearance. Gonella does not let himself be overpowered by the insistence on hyper-realism which visually saturates our society. If we wished to create a bold parallel (bearing in mind the artist’s background in Venice), we could perceive an intellectual affinity with Tintoretto. The antique teachings of the Venetian Mannerist can be seen in the use of rapid brush strokes, dense with an eloquent chromatism, and above all in the inventive freedom of the scenes, creating numerous levels of reading and ultimately twisting the normal sense of construction of the scene. As has already been noted, this tangling of images and chromatic surfaces seeks to transmit suggestions which the viewer can make their own and explore through their openness to a plurality of interpretations. Each pictorial micro-cosmos encloses within it contrasting emotions, such as anxiety, hope or uncertainty, and is a pretext for discussing the human condition. The painting Shelter shows an improvised refuge, perhaps the outcome of a sudden flight to seek out an anachronistic and romantic realm. This is a painting which, whilst nonetheless filled with doubts, seems to be a perfect response to No place left to hide- a distinctly dystopian work from 2012 which uses cold and disquieting tones to testify to the impossibility of finding earthly and emotional shelter. In Shelter we are plunged into a suspended and unreal atmosphere. This is accentuated through the technique used, which combines numerous painting approaches: there is a figurative element which leaves space for a large abstract field, worked with the rapid use of pallet knife, but there is also a white area created with a slash of paint which becomes a pause in the frenetic rhythm of the colour, thus creating a silent and reflective tone.Uncertainty and anxiety dwell in Gonella’s works, but there is also the vitality and audacity of figures projected into the future with vibrating chromatic touches. The essence of his painting is the staging of situations which, whilst they overturn reality in compositional terms, are faithful expressions of the composite and profound aspect of humanity in relation to a frenetic and constantly changing present.

1. Definition used by Giuseppe Gonella during an interview in his Berlin studio, August 2013.
2. Gillo Dorfles, Horror Pleni. La (in) civiltà del rumore, Rome, Castelvecchi, 2008

"Giuseppe Gonella. Involved" originally published in Giuseppe Gonella ‘Involved’ (Bonelli Arte, 2013) on the occasion of the exhibition ‘Involved’, Galleria Giovanni Bonelli, Milan, IT. Copyright © 2013 Carlo Sala.


Carlo Sala is an art critic and curator working for various art magazines. As a member of Fondazione Fabbri’s Scientific Board he curates the modern and contemporary photography festival F4 / un’idea di Fotografia and the Francesco Fabri Contemporary Art Prize focused on emerging and International art. In 2010 he curated – together with Nico Stringa – the Venice Pavillion for the 12 International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennial. He collaborates with public exhibition venues and private galleries; he wrote essays for about thirty publications edited by among others Allemandi, Marsilio, Mimesis and Skira.