'MYTHOS' an exhibition by Elio Sanciolo May 4- June 3, 2024 at Gallery Elysium

Published by: Gallery Elysium | 26-Apr-2024
Dr. Eugene Barilo Von Reisberg's critique of Elio Sanciolo's recent works published in the introduction to the artist's latest catalogue.
Request Image Contact: elio@galleryelysium.com.au
Image Copyright / CDN: Gallery Elysium
'Promethean' Oil on Canvas, 183cm x 168cm
'I am not a religious person, but for me painting is a religious and spiritual act, and its origins can be traced back to the neolithic times. It is a transcendental experience. It extends above and beyond, and at times you need to separate yourself away from the world in order to see it… For me, painting is a tool to understand experience. Artists use painting as a tool to explore. I think of myself as an explorer, as a maker, as a painter… I am freer with this body of work; I am freer psychologically. I am a bit more confident. I have worked out the language and now I can start saying something with it. The most difficult thing for me is finding the appropriate language that I am going to be speaking to the others with, and hopefully viewers would be able to pick up on it and understand it…'

Elio Sanciolo, March 2024.

The phrase ‘Renaissance man’ describes Elio Sanciolo most aptly. He is a painter with a distinguished career and solid exhibition history. He is a businessman and philanthropist, who, as director of Elysium Gallery, offers exhibition opportunities to fellow artists. He is an educator, who imparts his knowledge and passion for art through art classes, exhibition talks, and lectures within his gallery.

The word Renaissance is indelibly bound with Italy, the country where the artist was born, and which continues exerting seminal influence on Elio’s overarching artistic vision. It is the country (in the modern, post-unification sense), where cultural treasures are not confined to specialist museums but abound ubiquitously in public squares, places of worship, and civic buildings, with the coherent narrative and focus on human figure and human experience.

Italy—or, more precisely, Sicily—is also the place of the artist’s first home, the home of his parents, where arts intermingled freely, and where painting, music, and poetry were perceived not as separate and competing entities but as complementary aspects of arts plural.

The cultural heritage of Italy in particular, and of Europe in general, had continued informing Elio’s oeuvre. The homage to the Mannerism, the Baroque, and the Romanticism was expressed reverently in the artist’s complex multifigure compositions. Their narratives were drawn from ancient history and mythology, which informed Elio’s personal symbolism, with the focus on the powerful female protagonist, strong, wilful, spirited, and independent.

The paintings were always distinguished by confident brushwork and judicious pigment application, which the artist had gleaned from the Old Masters by closely examining the originals, studying historical treatises, and following eagerly new insights into the Old Masters’ techniques, offered by latest scientific and technological discoveries. The wealth of this knowledge is the envy of many of the artist’s peers, not the least of whom is his brother and fellow artist, Bart Sanciolo.

Through most of 2020 and 2021, Elio’s world, together with those of his fellow inner-Melbourne dwellers, was contracted to the tight radius—and, during the time of mandated isolation, to the perimeter—of his own home. He lost access to his beloved gallery, which became an important forum for meetings and exchanges of ideas between the painter and his peers. The access to his studio, located within the gallery, was also barred. The imparting of knowledge to the next generation was also curtailed with the closure of schools and tertiary institutions. Elio’s world, inclusive of all interactions and visits to the artist’s studios, galleries, and museums across Australia and abroad, became limited to the computer screen and the proverbial black mirror of the mobile device.

A series of imaginative seascape paintings, tonal, atmospheric, and by default abstracted, provided the locked-down artist with the spiritual ‘breath of fresh air’ while simultaneously renewing his latent interest in abstraction. The oversaturation of visual stimuli, stemming from the internet-based research, streaming services, and social media platforms, piqued the artist’s interest to convey through his works the fragmentation of received information.

Elio’s ongoing artistic inquiry has investigated the ways in which information is received, processed, and shared. He has followed scholarly and philosophical studies which posit that memories are not verbatim recollections, but rather layered reconstructions formed from snippets and fragments. No recollections are alike, including those events or phenomena experienced simultaneously by the same group of people. Recollections are influenced by individual interpretations, unique perspectives, personality traits, and social conditioning. As Elio points out:

'Our senses cut out all the information that is extraneous to us. Senses that are meant to heighten our information actually limit them. We do not even know the nature of what we’re looking at. We always think we’re living in the present, but we do not. There is a lag in our consciousness. We’re always thinking and processing what had just happened, millisecond by millisecond. It is always layered, a layered universe. Each of us creates layers upon layers to which we give meanings.'

In the 1960s, James Rosenquist produced complex tableaux composed of wedges of seemingly unrelated images as a social commentary on (what was considered at the time) the visual overload of advertising material on television, billboards, and in glossy magazines. Elio’s challenge lay in formulating a visual vocabulary to depict and reconstruct within his works the experience of oversaturation from received information during the lockdown periods, pertaining to his personal fields of interests and artistic investigations: 'What’s left at the end is our ability to differentiate between all this information, all these experiences of the world, all of these meanings. The paintings are an attempt to talk about that.'

In his search for the pertinent mode of artistic expression, Elio revisited his interest in the world of Italian modernists and Futurists, including Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carra, Gino Severini, and Giacomo Balla. Echoing the early experimentations of Eadweard Muybridge, whose pioneering photographic forays aimed to demystify the process of movement, they attempted to capture a sequence of stroboscopic progressions within a single image. The aura of Pablo Picasso also came to the fore, and specifically his Cubist experimentations to capture animate and inanimate objects simultaneously from multiple viewpoints within the confines of a single composition. A rediscovered interest in American abstract expressionists, such as Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, guided the evolution of expressive brushwork; manipulation of negative and positive spaces within compositional structures; and the renewed focus on expansive passages of pure pigment.

The convergence of these various influences coalesced into a new body of work where Elio constructs kaleidoscopic visions of received information through the sequence of abstracted, fragmented, and layered images. The resulting paintings suspend the viewer’s gaze in a contemplative meditation to analyse and unravel multiple imagery within each artwork. The uppermost layers obscure the nethermost ones, but enough information is retained on the surface to suggest the hidden narratives beneath, seducing the interlocuter into further visual investigation.

Previously, Elio’s narratives took place within landscape or interior settings where edges of the canvas cropped the field of vision, leaving the viewer to ponder the world beyond the picture frame. In these works, the frame is integral to the work. It references the edges of computer and mobile phone screens, which, by osmosis, have become integral to our perception and recollection of our viewing experience. In these paintings, the edges are not snapped perfectly to the outer limits of the picture plane but rather, like countless ‘windows’ of computer and mobile phone screens, they reverberate in rhythmic formations; their jagged rectangular outlines suggesting limitless possibilities of infinite layers that lie beneath:

'The frame itself is a layer. The external part of the frame is actually an extension of the layers. All of these are frozen slices of experience, of the layering on top of each other, which is the way I think we perceive.'

The narrative is still drawn from ancient history and mythology, though it is interpreted through the spectrum of personal and contemporary connotations and relayed to the viewer through the overarching prism of fragmented layers of received information. Likewise, the human figure retains its centrality as the main architectural motif of the oeuvre and the nod to the artist’s ongoing exploration of the Old Masters’ heritage and traditions. The female form dominates. The male is still there, but as a supporting act necessitated by the narrative. This is simultaneously a personal and aesthetic choice. Within this particular body of work, the inherent geometry of the male form would have competed with the rectangular compositional elements within the paintings. By contrast, the sinuous silhouettes of the feminine form alleviate the dominance of geometric structures, interlink them with elegant arabesques, and introduce a sensation of flowing movement.

The emphasis on correlation between music and painting within Elio’s works stems partly from an autobiographical reference to his father, who played classical music while painting or reciting poetry:

'Our father was a journalist, a writer, a poet, a self-taught painter, who led a very Bohemian life, involving theatre and all sorts of things... He managed to win quite a few important Italian painting prizes and to exhibit with Pablo Picasso in Rome.

We would get up in the morning and watch our dad paint. Our father had a wonderful way to talk about art, and actually it was about painting, music, literature; it was all one thing, it was all one thing of the personal experience. He passed that on, and he was an inspiration that way. We were brought up on a staple diet of opera, music, poetry reading, classics, meeting writers; we had a wonderful life in that sense.

On Sunday mornings, we would jump out of bed, and he would put on an opera, and he would explain to us the operas, different artists, word by word; he would stimulate us with literature and poetry; he would read us passages from Dante and explain the political and historical situation at the time, and why Dante wrote the way he did.'

Numerous sleeves of classical music albums were illustrated with the Old Master paintings, impressing upon Elio from his early childhood the indelible link between various art forms. These works remind us that such terminology as rhythm, cadence, structure, timbre, and composition, amongst others, can be applied equally and interchangeably to painting, poetry, and music.

Furthermore, these paintings remind the viewer about the inherent anthropomorphism and eroticism of musical instruments, which had been evident throughout the history of cultural expression and crystallised, in the twentieth century, by the iconic image of Man Ray’s muse, Kiki de Montparnasse, in Le Violon d'Ingres. Within Elio’s works, the ambiguity between musical instruments and the female form is a recurrent motif, at times sharply observed, or at times intimated subtly by the manipulated layering of the received imagery.

While the visual vocabulary with which Elio imparts his narratives has changed, the rigorous mark-making has not: 'You have to be confident with every brushwork. Like a fine swordsman, you have to have confidence before making every mark. When you practice Sumi-o painting, it is all about the confidence of a single brushstroke. You had to have that confidence, built over the lifetime of learning and knowledge, before applying that confident brushstroke.' Another subtle alteration has occurred in colour blocking and pigment application:

'Colour does not belong to the brush; it is rather a refraction of what we see… I was always interested in colour serving form. I am reversing this to an extent in this body of work. I subjugate the colour because there is no form to serve as such. It was a little bit difficult for me because I was always modelling something [with colour]. In these works, I am focusing on the verticals and horizontals of the composition, giving them precedence over anything else.'

The respect to the medium and dedication to complex and multiple layers of glazing remain unwavering and fastidious. The intimate knowledge of individual pigment properties allows the artist to manipulate the intensity and saturation to suit the narrative and the desired emotional outcome of each painting, from the heightened yellow, vermillion, and magenta hues to the cooler and subdued green, blue, purple, and mauve tonalities, judiciously accentuated where required with the passages of pure white.

The sophistication of complex glazing techniques and pigment applications, resulting in texturally rich and visually exciting, shimmering surfaces, will continue revealing itself in subtle shifts of tonal values with every change of the light source and the time of day. In the similar vein, each new encounter with the paintings will uncover an unexpected nuance, a hidden narrative, or an erudite symbolism. The visual dialogue between the viewer and the artist will continue indefinitely, long after Elio’s elegantly contemplative compositions have left the confines of the gallery.

Dr Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, April 2024

'Mythos' an exhibition by Elio Sanciolo, will run from May 4 to June 3, 2024 at gallery Elysium 440-444 Burwood rd, Hawthorn, Vic.

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