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'When Words Fail'... a Painting and Sculpture Exhibition by Elio & Bart Sanciolo

BY Peter (Pinko) Pallino | 02-Apr-2020
'When Words Fail' A Painting and Sculpture Exhibition by Elio & Bart Sanciolo
When Words Fail - a Painting and Sculpture by Elio and Bart Sanciolo
Image Name: 'A Lover's Song'
Source: Bart Sanciolo
Photo: Gallery Elysium


We use words to describe the world and record events. Words also define concepts and give concrete meaning and context to our experience. At the same time, however, words by their very nature, force us or at the very least, have the potential, to limit our concepts and interpretations of the world.

For instance, the noun ‘Giraffe’ refers to a very particular thing. In this case a very specific type of animal that has an identity that distinguishes it from all other animals. As a word It is very precise. It calls to mind an image which is universally recognized and understood to be a Giraffe. However, whilst the word ‘Giraffe’ precisely identifies a type of animal and recalls a general impression of an animal with certain distinctive physical attributes, alone, the word “Giraffe” conveys nothing about its genus, gender, temperament, diet, breed, or certain cultural symbolic meanings that may be associated with it. The same of course can be said, not only for the noun “Giraffe” but also for a multitude of other nouns such as dog, cat, tower, car etc.….

So, what do you do when your words fail to satisfactorily or fully express what needs to be said? One alternative is to search for other more appropriate arrangements of verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns and nouns in an endeavor to better express what needs to be communicated. The other alternative of course is to create ‘things’, objects or products of the imagination, that can directly and indirectly convey or imply a single or multiple meanings simultaneously.

This latter alternative can sometimes be categorized as Art.

Art is an interesting phenomena that can take many forms. Art can, of course, be created by the intentional manipulation of words themselves expressed as literature in the form of narratives, poetry or prose, as arrangements of sounds as in music or in visual form as in the performing and the visual arts such as sculpture and painting. Art can also be expressed in forms that are combinations of two or more of the above as in Opera, Dance and Film.

By direct reference or by inference, Art has the potential to speak to those universal issues and concerns that are common to all peoples across all time that escape the precise but limited cultural meanings of the spoken or written word. In a very real sense, a work of art points the mind towards meanings that may not be immediately obvious, thus, potentially deepening one’s understanding and interpretation of the world. In summary, words are precise in their nature but limited in their ability to communicate more than what they refer to.

Words are necessary tools that evolved to assist us in communicating, recording and developing ideas. They have meanings embedded within their structure that have specific ethnic/cultural origins that sometimes inhibit people outside that cultural group from a complete understanding of what is being written or said.

Images too have specific ethnic/cultural origins and meanings but, because image making in the form of drawing painting and sculpture preceded the development of writing across the world they speak in a more universal and immediate way to the mind and heart. In a sense image making transcends the specific cultural limitations one finds with words.

The current exhibition at Gallery Elysium ‘When Words Fail’ featuring the works of Melbourne brother artists Bart and Elio Sanciolo, seeks to explore this relationship between words, and the created image in painting and sculpture.

Although both artists are stylistically different, primarily work in different media, and have very different ways of conceiving and producing their work, they are both united by a common interest in exploring and expressing the hidden meanings embedded within their main subject, in this case, the human form.

The human form has of course been a central motif in art for more than 5000 years. Historically it has been the lynch pin upon which much of the cannon of Western Art has been built. Protagoras’ ancient dictum, “man is the measure of all things”, encapsulates the human figure’s role as the point of reference for defining meaning in experience.

From the depths of pre-history to ancient Egypt to the Greeks and Romans through the Middle Ages the Renaissance to the current day, the human figure has been a central means by which artists have sought to tell stories and comment on social and existential issues.

However, over the course of the 20thCentury the figure largely lost much of its potency as a central motif in art as Modernist and later Post-Modernist concerns with subjective experience and the purity of ideas alone challenged the artists’ historical preoccupation with interpreting and representing the external world through the filter of the figure in favor of abstraction and conceptualism.

Its therefore uncommon in the anti-anthropogenic and anti-Western cultural atmosphere in which much of the contemporary visual arts are immersed, to come across an exhibition that not only exploits the human figure for its subjective aesthetic qualities but more importantly to express and explore universal ideas.

This exploration and expression are not only performed by the intentional manipulation of chosen media, but also by consciously coupling the work with titles that point to themes that transcend the human image itself and that encourage the viewer to explore multiple interpretations and possible meanings, thereby involving the viewer as a participant in the creative act.

Bart’s welded steel sculptural works are an elegant example of drawing expressed as sculpture. His works have the abstract quality, immediacy, fluidity and apparent freedom of eastern calligraphy, but, being three dimensional they take up physical space and so project a powerful presence into the environment. These works are made up of steel rods which he expertly flattens into ribbons or bends, and welds into playful lyrical geometries that evoke the essence of a model’s pose or its rhythmic movement. The result being works that are contemporary in their conception but still intentionally and irrevocably linked to the figurative tradition.

His 7 ft tall large modeled figure in Bonded Bronze entitled ‘Ethos’, on the other hand, expresses a monumental formal quality reminiscent of Egyptian sculpture or Archaic Greek Kore figures emphasizing the power and grandness of large simplified planes and volumes to great effect. His welded Steel figure sculpture, ‘A lover’s Song’, by its very title ,on the other hand, evokes an intimate and timeless sensuality in the same way a love poem or song does, that is, by making the most of the rhythm and cadence of the spaces between the words. Or in this case, by the voids in space defined by the tactile bends and curves the artist imposes on the entwined metal rods.

Elio Sanciolo’s large oil paintings stand in stark but complimentary contrast to Bart’s more outwardly contemporary, accessible, intimate and paired back sculptural works.

At first impression Elio’s paintings, or “constructions” as he calls them, have the look and feel of Renaissance compositions, but on closer inspection one can discern a mixture of influences and references from various artists and periods in art history. The artist himself points not only to his love of Mannerist and Romantic art but also of Post impressionism, “Pittura Metafisica”, Surrealism and of course Picasso.

Elio gives his works obscure titles (some in the “dead” language of Latin) intentionally involving the viewer in assigning meaning to the works and encouraging them to question what the paintings are about. Without a clear descriptive label, after all, the viewer must either rely on their own uninformed interpretation of the imagery, or, make a concerted effort to translate the titles from Latin to English in the hope of unravelling the possible meaning/s embedded in the compositions. This process further drawing the viewer into the work and forcing them to consider how words effect perception and understanding. As the artist himself puts it, “ I would like the viewer to approach my work in the same way as if they had accidently come across a single page of a lost text, and , in the same way an archeologist tries to construct a narrative around an incomplete piece of an ancient scroll accidently discovered in a cave in a desert somewhere, I would like the viewer to attempt to create meaning from the clues I give them…from the imagery through to the words and titles I associate with my works…”.

Elio’s painting, ‘Intrantes Autem In Ignotis ’ is an interesting example of how the title of the painting is used to involve the viewer in the creation of meaning. The painting itself is a large 2metre by 2metre work predominantly painted in blue and violet hues and containing a rear view of a female nude entering a moonlit seascape. In of itself, the scene represented is quite mundane. A naked woman skinny dipping at night. The artist could have just called it ‘Bather’ or ‘Skinny Dipping’. Both titles would have been perfectly good and appropriate given the subject-matter, but they would have just repeated information that the image already offered, imposing on the viewer a meaning that reinforced the subject. By giving the paining an obscure title in an unknown language, what the artist has essentially done is challenge the viewer to discover the meaning of the title and then infer a meaning on the imagery, in much the same way that an archaeologist tries to interpret a the meaning of a terracotta fragment found in the ruins of an ancient temple. In trying to decipher the meaning of the fragment the Archeologists needs to run multiple narratives through their mind about the origin of the fragment, who made it, where it came from, what object it belonged to originally, and how it came to be a fragment etc..

Although the works appear Romantic in nature, stylistically, they are not really about emotion but ideas. Ideas that are at the heart of the West’s essentially humanist world view. In Elio’s words,..“ As an educator as well as a Painter, I would ideally love the viewer to be intrigued enough by my work to delve deeper into the texts that have inspired me…foundational texts such as the Illiad, Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, Brave New World, The Gulag Archipelago, and yes, of course, the Bible… Texts that use or exploit the human form (and condition) as the ultimate vehicle for experience and meaning”. Both Elio and Bart go out of their way to swim against the current. Their works appear superficially to fly in the face of contemporary trends in painting and sculpture by seeking to re-establish the human form as the central motif in contemporary art.

If you are a devotee of minimalism and non-representational or Conceptual-Art, then Elio’s and Bart’s works may be a bridge too far to cross. However, if you put aside your prejudices and approach the work with an open mind then you may discover something of great value to explore.

“When Words Fail’ is currently showing at Gallery Elysium 440-444 Burwood Rd in Hawthorn Victoria, by appointment only until September 2020 due to the Covid-19 Virus

However, the works on exhibition can also be viewed online by visiting the Gallery Elysium website www.Galleryelysium.com.au