Home / Arts & Life / Alberto Savinio: Emerging From Big Brother’s Shadow

Alberto Savinio: Emerging From Big Brother’s Shadow

The best of them seem startlingly ahead of their time. Their restlessness, juxtapositions of disparate styles and use of photography especially anticipate important postwar developments. The most surprising combine traditional landscape painting with colorful abstract patterning or still-life arrays of cheerful toylike forms. In “The Enchanted Island,” a pile of these forms — transparent and festively decorated with dots and spirals — suggests a trash heap of neon signs set against stormy cliffs and presage the piled compositions of late Guston.

Photo

Savinio’s “The Enchanted Island,” from 1928.

Credit
2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/SIAE, Rome, via Center for Italian Modern Art

The toys become solid and more playful in “The Wise Men,” where they hover above a desert like a spacecraft, and in two works where they occupy a jutting offshore rock. The naturalistic backgrounds of these works evince a generic romantic realism. In one of the show’s standouts — an untitled work from 1929 — a stand of dark trees fills the foreground beneath a sky of bright, jaunty abstract patterns. By now, you may wonder as I did, if the artist was applying ironic modern motifs to thrift-shop finds — as the Situationist painter Asger Jorn would in the late 1950s. But no, he painted everything, one foot in the past, one in the future.

Photo

“The Wise Men,” 1929.

Credit
2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/SIAE, Rome, via Center for Italian Modern Art

Savinio, who was especially close to his mother, also painted from family photographs. “Portrait of a Child,” based on an image of the artist as a toddler, is rendered in sepia tones with buttery brushwork. He wears a dress (as was the custom) and stands among dolmens and ruined columns. In another painting an image of the artist’s parents is outlined on white (evoking Picasso’s drawn portraits of the early 1920s) and joined by a fat Baroque Cupid. The parents migrate separately or together among other canvases, sometimes mutating into stone statues, as in “Family of Lions,” from 1927.

Photo

“Portrait of a Child” (1927) is based on an image of the artist as a toddler.

Credit
2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/SIAE, Rome, via Center for Italian Modern Art

In slightly stomach-churning scenes like “The Widow” and “The Parents,” both from 1931, Savinio’s mother acquires the scrawny head and fleshy wattles of a turkey.

The vitality and prescience of the best paintings here make you wonder what would have happened had Savinio devoted more time to painting, while making it clear that his interests remained peripatetic and polymorphous, even within one medium. Nonetheless his unsettled, unsettling work may feel more alive and useful to our moment than his brother’s.

Continue reading the main story

About admin

Check Also

Hear the Best Albums and Songs of 2023

Dear listeners, In the spirit of holiday excess and end-of-the-year summation, we’re about to make …