Saturday, March 22, 2014

Analog in a Digital World


Within our lifetime, perhaps the greatest revolution in the way we communicate information since the invention of writing has occurred.  And this revolution has been seamless, all pervasive and universally embraced.  I'm talking about the shift to digital from analog.  My practice as an artist is firmly routed in the analog - I mean how much more analog can you get than smearing charcoal on paper.  Increasingly what interests me is what happens when the analog bumps up against the digital - the intersection of the accidental, imprecise and ephemeral with the clear logic of the binary.


The exhibition, A Brief History of Fashion, christopher pelley / recent drawings, currently up at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Illinois explores this friction.  The drawing process begins with a digital photograph, which is cut up and projected onto separate sheets of paper. The outlines are traced, and each section is worked individually.  This process is not about understanding the whole, but rather trying to make sense of marks and shapes out of context. Each sheet is an information byte.  At the end, when the individual sheets are assembled, the result is not so much a competed photographic image, but rather an interpretive memory.  It is an approximation of the photo - it is understandable, but something doesn't quite add up. Something was lost in translation.

Christopher Pelley  TOGA  charcoal/paper  90" x 88"
Christopher Pelley  CARAVAGGIO  charcoal/paper  90" x 88"
Christopher Pelley  HOODIE  charcoal/paper  90" x 88"
As an aside, I subscribe to the theory that optical devices have played a role in the studio practice of many artists from the 15th century on - Caravaggio (1571-1610) included.  The image of Caravaggio's Boy Peeling Fruit (1592) that I have appropriated for this exhibition has always felt a bit awkward.  The boy's right sleeve appears disjointed, disconnected from the rest of the body.  I had a very difficult time working on that segment of the drawing.  The shapes I was drawing did not convey information to me.  It was only after I assembled the completed sections that I understood what I had drawn.  The boy's right arm is viewed from a point that is slightly different and slightly out of focus from the rest of his body.  Did I stumble upon tangible proof that Caravaggio used optics, at least for this early work?

The exhibition runs from March 19 to April 18, 2014 at the Performing Arts Center Gallery at Illinois Central College.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Omens

There are places that have been forgotten and then through some happenstance, rediscovered. Rome is full of such examples.  The Auditorium of Hadrian existed only in antique references, but recently has been discovered and identified during the dig for the new Metro Line C currently plowing underground through the Centro Storico.  And then in contrast there are those places that have persisted with an uncanny sense of continuity.

Isola Tiberina, high water from winter rain
The Isola Tiberina, a little lump of brick and stucco buildings that poke up from the river, is such a place.  Originally, it was not much more than a sandbar at a bend in the Tiber - a neglected place (except by criminals and unsavory types) until a catastrophe happened.  So often in history it takes a catastrophe to get things going, and in the case of the unfrequented Isola, the catastrophe came as a plague which swept through the city of Romulus in 293 BC.  A delegation was immediately dispatched to the sacred temple of Aesculapius, the god
of medicine and healing in Epidaurus, Greece, to seek help.  When the ship returned to Rome in 291 BC with one of the snakes sacred to Aesculapius as cargo, the precious cargo escaped and slithered away to the unsavory and uninhabited Island.  An Omen. Yes, an Omen.  When things don't go according to plan, it is an Omen.  

A temple to Aesculapius was built on that sand bar, and the island became a center of the healing arts.  In the 1st century BC, the sandbar was reshaped by a travertine embankment sculpted to look like a boat in honor of the origin of its mission.  After millenia of wear, Aesculapius and his snakes on the prow of the boat are still visible.  At the center of the Island, an obelisk was erected representing the mast of the ship.  Today, the obelisk is gone, replaced with a more christian monument.  Aesculapius' temple has been replaced by the church of San Bartolomeo,  who by association with this locale is now the patron saint of medicine and healing.   (The inscription on the facade of the church proudly proclaims that the body of St Bartolomeo the apostle "is here").  Opposite the former temple/ current church,  the island is dominated by a hospital of the Fatebenefratelli (the do-good brothers), founded in 1584, continuing the very ancient tradition of hospice and  healing the sick on this island.

travertine prow, Isola Tiburina, 1st century BC
detail, Aesculapius + snake, travertine prow
San Bartolomeo, Isola Tiberina

When I reach a point where things aren't going as planned, I mutter the word "Omen".  It was, after all, one of those slow moving catastrophes that seem to plague our lives that landed me here in Rome. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Piranesian

Piranesi  Carceri XIV
I'm crazy about Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the 18th century Italian engraver, archaeologist and architect (Venice 1720 - Rome 1788).  It is his late etchings of Carceri, or prisons that one most often associates him with today.  The frenetic line quality of Escher like spaces that border on madness and fantasy has catapulted his fame, but I am drawn to his earlier works, and his novel idea of the fragment.

Up until the 18th century, the idea of the fragment was disturbing.  The collectors who squabbled over pieces of sculpture that were being gouged out of the roman soil from the renaissance onward (more often than not in the preceding centuries marble fragments were burned to obtain the lime content to make mortar), were not content to merely display them 'as is'.  They were 'repaired'.  Very often  fragments were combined and reworked to make a new, tasteful piece, or contemporary sculptors (including Bernini) concocted  additions to replace missing parts.  My favorite roman museum, Palazzo Altemps, has excellent wall tags that illustrate the demarcation between the original and the later repairs to the sculptures in the collection.

Living in Rome, one becomes acutely aware of the idea of the fragment, and the role of conjecture in trying to make sense of the fragment.  Piranesi embraced this enigma to celebrate what was lost, or erased by time, in essence, treating fragments as an interpretive memory.  I too have come to embrace this view of Roma and the Antique World. 


Christopher Pelley  Capitoline Venus #4  acrylic/digital photo
Recent mixed media works on paper now at Front Art Space in New York, start with a photographic image, either one of sculptures I have photographed in Rome, or generic photos of classical sculptures.  Almost haphazardly, I take a brush and paint and begin to blot out large parts of the photo until only isolated fragments remain.  The resulting image lacks coherence and presents an altered view of the sculpture, forcing a certain amount of conjecture, whether correct or incorrect,  to complete the picture.    I believe Piranesi would have approved.

Christopher Pelley  Altemps #1  acrylic/digital photo
Christopher Pelley  Patroclus + Menelaus  acrylic/digital photo
Christopher Pelley  Altemps #4  acrylic/digital photo
Christopher Pelley  Altemps #2  acrylic/digital photo



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Antinoo @ Villa Albani


I stumbled upon the Villa Albani one twilight stroll out the Via Salaria.  I have since become obsessed with that Villa - those parterres glimpsed over a stone wall surmounted by iron bars and barbed wire and the faux 18th century ruins that have fallen into ruins themselves.  It is an isolated island of umbrella pines and cypress surrounded by an early 20th century residential district developed when much of the Villa's land was partitioned and sold.  One can feel the sadness of its history.  Cardinal Allessandro Albani (1692-1799), a passionate collector of antiquities, devoted his vast wealth to the construction the casino, gardens and dependencies to display his spectacular collection.  The Cardinal was assisted by Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) in the arrangement and cataloging of his treasure trove.  It was here in 1764 that Winckelmann  penned  The History of  Art in Antiquity, a text which would become a touchstone of the neoclassical movement.  The Cardinal's passion ended up bankrupting him, his final days spent broke and blind.  Winkelmann succumbed to another passion - returning from a trip to Vienna, he was murdered by a bit of rough trade that he had invited back to his hotel room.

The decay of parts of the Villa is very real and palpable.  Just outside the estate's southern gates I installed a lo-rez image of Antinoo to serenely overlook this urban ruin.  The image of Antinoo, made from over1000 5cm x 5cm pieces of painted paper, is based upon a photo of the 2nd century AD bust of Antinoo at the  Museo Nazionale Romano / Palazzo Altemps.  Interestingly, the face of the marble was re-carved in the 18th century to reflect the new neoclassical aesthetic.


Christopher Pelley  Antinoo @ Villa Albani   2013

Christopher Pelley  Antinoo @ Villa Albani  2013

Christopher Pelley  Antinoo @ Villa Albani  2013
This project was installed on May 8, 2013, and with it, I felt I had paid homage to Villa Albani.  Here, like some sort of votive offering, I placed a 21st century interpretation of an image revered by the Cardinal and Winckelmann.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle



In the two cities that I live in, New York and Roma, recycling has become an integral part of the urban existence.  Does the waxed tetra-pac go in the paper bin, or with the plastics?  The blue bag goes to the curb on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Force of habit generates state of mind.  So when I was thumbing through a portfolio of old prints at a bookseller a few weeks ago, and found several copies of a 19th century print, I knew I had to recycle them. 

Christopher Pelley  Water Bearer #1


Christopher Pelley  Water Bearer #2


Christopher Pelley  Water Bearer #3


Christopher Pelley  Water Bearer #4


Christopher Pelley  Water Bearer #5


Christopher Pelley  Water Beater #6


paper size of each is 57cm x 43cm, image size is 37cm x 25cm


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rome By Night




It is still March, and I have come to savor these waning days of winter. The air still has a chill, and the clocks have yet to be pushed forward.  The steady trickle of tourists that will become a torrent with the warmer weather retreat with the sunset, and I am left alone alone to have the piazzas and monuments and medieval vicoli all to myself.  I can hear my footsteps echo and the fountains gurgle under the feeble light of the sodium vapor.  A few shop windows beckon falsely - there is no one behind the locked gates.  That's OK, I only want to look.  I try to loose myself by turning down streets I don't recognize.  Like some sort of Cinderella for a few hours, this city is mine to possess. Tomorrow is another day, the morning will come and the city will be taken over by others, but for now it is mine. 





















Good night.  Sweet dreams.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New Chinese Landscape

Huang GongWang  DWELLING IN THE FUCHUN MOUNTAINS  ca 1350
The province of Zhejiang has always been prized for its natural beauty, its landscape immortalized in classic Chinese paintings.  Those lonely ethereal mountains rising up out of the mists appearing and disappearing seemingly at whim have much company these days.  The breakneck pace of urbanization has swarmed into these valleys and chewed away at the mountains and hillocks themselves. The small CUN, or villages with their winding lanes are being leveled and an unforgiving grid pattern is taking hold of the countryside. In the scant month that I was living in that intermediate zone between HangZhou and FuYang, I watched streams channeled into culverts and a valley covered with multiple meters of fill, mid rise complexes following in their wake.  I began looking down more and more, and up less and less.  At my feet lay the New Chinese Landscape.

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #1

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #2

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #3

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #4

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #5

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #6

Pelley  NEW CHINESE LANDSCAPE #7


As I photographed what lay at my feet, a Chinese professional walked by and asked "why?" in perfect English before jumping on his motorcycle and zipping away.