Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Three-Handed at Jonathan LeVine Gallery

by baad lamb

Cleveland Mississippi, 1932 by Nicola Verlato

Last Saturday I went to Jonathan LeVine Gallery to see the opening of the group show “Three-Handed”. The titular three very talented painters are Eric White, Nicola Verlato and Fulvio Di Piazza. Eric White is from Ann Arbor, but lives and works in Brooklyn, as does the Verona, Italy born Nicola Verlato, who has sculptural works in this show as well. Mr. Di Piazzi, from Siracusa, Italy, currently produces his paintings in Palermo, Italy.

If you missed this opening, don’t despair. Gallery openings are fun events, but they are not the best time to see art, and that applies to this show especially. Although the crowd was not overwhelmingly large, some of the art was, and therefore was perpetually blocked from full view. That made this a night spent carefully appreciating rich and rewarding details up close; I’ll happily return on an early Saturday afternoon for quiet contemplation of the complete paintings.

For instance, in the main room, the sepia-toned, eerie, evocative and ultimately unsettling epic work by Eric White, Massacre of the Innocents at 4’ X 16’, completely fills one wall. It is hung perpendicular to the 6’ X 8’ dark swirling mass of color and questionable characters in Nicola Verlato’s “Cleveland Mississippi, 1932”.

Although Mr. White’s painting is named after the famous Bruegel the Elder’s painting, the visual similarity stops there. Instead of a colorfully crammed town square with armies and medieval villagers engaged in war-horror infanticide, this 21st century version has all the color drained from it, and there are only eight main figures, all women, spread across the canvas in varying perspectives, not one engaged with or even capable of acknowledging another.

Detail of central figure in Eric White's "Massacre of the Innocents"

Nor do they notice the burning oil wells (or exploded bombs?) or the menacing masses that may have gathered in the woods. These oh-so-stylish 1940s era wondering, wandering women are pondering difficult questions and carrying plenty of hidden pain, but certainly not babies, massacred or not. Outwardly attempting serene, they are internally very unsettled, sleepwalking through what remains of their lives, unsure where or when things went so horribly wrong. As are we.
Left, clutching the charred remains of a "Nancy" cartoon.
Right, two of the smallest figures, standing near the edge of the woods.

Nicola Verlato’s Cleveland Mississippi, 1932 is a different kind of unsettled. Here, the Robert Johnson at the Crossroads myth is beautifully illustrated in a turbulent up-sweep of darkness, devil, flesh, and flaming guitars. The fiery heat across his serene face illuminates in his eyes the future Rock n' Roll shock and awe his devil-deal set in motion, from Chuck Berry to the Beatles to Blue Oyster Cult.

Another of Mr. Verlato’s painting’s, with the cumbersome title “Another episode of violence in the never ending fight between images and written language in western civilization” hangs alone on a wall opposite the front desk. This painting, at 3’ x 4’, is not nearly as large as the others, but its fantastical depiction and stunning execution gave it a popularity that also made for difficult over-all viewing. 

The action is fast and furious, the rippling flesh delicious, and combined with the fetishistic rubber cartoon character masks, guns and surfboards, it feels like stepping into a high-octane action thriller porno video game. Exquisitely intense.

“Another episode of violence in the never ending fight between images
and written language in western civilization” by Nicola Verlato

The third hand in this trilogy, Fulvio Di Piazza, paints intricately detailed woodland and mountain landscapes with a Hudson River School hallucinogenic realism that makes me wonder what they put in the water over in Palermo.
"Cavagrande", left, and detail from "Drunkerland" by Fulvio Di Piazza

His mountains have teeth, the trees all sport twisty little hands, and fully formed creatures with foliage-hair rise up from wild jungle-scapes. At first glance these anthropomorphics may go unnoticed, then suddenly they appear as cute, but menacing bush-monsters, then fade back to just cute and disappear again. There is an unmistakable influence or reference to 1970s Californiavisionary” artists who were not afraid of a mind-altering substance now and then. I’m thinking a near perfect mash-up of Gage Taylor and Nick Hyde.
The first decade of the 21st Century has seen the virtual end of many things. Some of them have even been hinted at in the works in this show. Are we to witness the end of oil, of cheap energy, of nuclear families and the suburbs, interpersonal connections, shared beneficial myths and customs? Rock n' Roll? Maybe. But go take a good look at this show; I'm sure you'll agree it’s definitely not the end of painting.

The show Three-Handed is on view through May 8th at Jonathan LeVine Gallery, 529 West 20th St, 9th floor, Tuesday through Saturday, 11AM to 6PM.

All photos above by me. For complete professional photos of the entire show, press release and Artist Bios, visit Jonathan LeVine Gallery "Three-Handed" here

Above, "Teeth" by Nicola Verlato,
with "Cavagrande" by Fulvio Di Piazza

Below, "Teeth", detail
LeVine Gallery Website Home here

Eric White here

Nicola Verlato here

Fulvio Di Piazza here 


  1. Gorgeous (and so are the paintings!)

  2. This is fascinating, especially to one who has no art training or experience such as I. You're helping me to see more here where I live.