Alessandro Pessoliby Jennifer Coates
at Anton Kern Gallery
Bleeding shadows and pulsing points of light define quasi-mythic action in Alessandro Pessoli’s psychedelic landscapes. Tie-dye T-shirts meet 19th-century Symbolist painting to create comic, loosely narrative episodes that transpire in an aqueous underworld. In his second show at Anton Kern Gallery, a single wall is covered by grids comprised of small drawings in watercolor and tempera on paper. In the six grids, roughly grouped together by theme, colors range from fiery to muted. Bouncing from one drawing to another in no particular sequence, a baleful cast of characters quickly emerge who are engaged in unfocused, if slightly self-destructive behavior. A head embedded in a tree with sneakers dangling from it, models with goofy buck teeth and a centaur pop out from the blur of drippy details in the "Dreamers" series. In "Unknowns Without a Cause" horses abound, as well as a bunny face painted onto a bent-over butt, a biplane, and Charlie Chaplin. "Sentimental Underwood" features celestial skies with bleachy stars and glowing structural lines that evoke neon signs, a blitzkrieg, the aurora borealis, or fireworks. Some of the mountainous landscapes are reminiscent of early Fra Angelico, where the International Gothic style dictated that rocks be upward thrusting and mannered, more imaginary than naturalistic.
It becomes difficult, with close looking, to understand what distinguishes one set of drawings from another; for the most part, the images seem interchangeable. What makes a "dreamers" as opposed to an "unknown without a cause"? The thematic, gridded groupings begin to undermine the power of the individual drawings. Each one is so lively and beautifully crafted that it would be more rewarding to see them stand on their own. Pessoli’s hybrid pictorial language is familiar in the way that expressionistic, painterly gestures form improvisational figurative scenarios. The language of dreams, a surrealist cliche, produces a soup of automatic abstraction and symbolist figuration. Watery pigment secretes a sexy chic, ghostly soldiers running amok in a field, or a person-sized bunny getting a hose down. Coarsely but deftly executed interlopers are humiliated and marooned by their misanthropic maker. In Pessoli’s hands this vocabulary generates rich deposits of darkly meandering narrative snippets, like a slacker version of Goya, Ensor, or Munch.
Coates's paintings utilize landscape as a vehicle for hallucinatory visions and psychological spaces.