The dark side of our human existence is a legitimate subject for the artist to address; and artists have answered that call, over the centuries. But it is also one that many of our artists in the contemporary world prefer to skirt. They consider it, perhaps, gloomy. Or, in the clamor for popularity and commercial success, a risky enterprise. It takes some courage to look into the face of darkness without blinking, and our culture has preferred, generally, avoidance.
How strange and interesting, then, that Sassone chooses the transparent medium of watercolor to gaze into this fearsome opacity! I for one tend to associate watercolor with friendly landscapes. My English compatriots, used to cloudy skies, have admittedly been experts in the medium, but their clouds--at least in the way my fantasy evokes the English watercolor--are somehow fluffy, airy, filled with the promise of light, life-giving rain. Their landscapes are lovely, delicate, green...
Not so Sassone's watercolors. They are, in the first place, city-scapes. They teem with the dark energy of city life at night...
For years, Sassone made a reputation on the basis of his sunny paintings, bringing with him to (sunny!) California from his native Italy a brilliant sense of color and a feel for the pulse of life. The passion for life that permeated those earlier works is not lost in these new, darker ones; it is simply seen in the perspective of a harsher reality, less comfortable, perhaps, and less comforting. We perceive it "through the glass, darkly."
And, once reminded of that phrase from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians that echoes through the centuries and into my own childhood memories, I recall that for years, too, Sassone has made a point of coming to know the less fortunate denizens of our contemporary cities, the homeless. He has spent time with them, has painted their portraits and shared images of the poverty in which they are constrained to live. If they are nowhere visible, they surely haunt these paintings with their presence. Which calls to mind the point of Paul's great exhortation: that love, or "charity" is the greatest of all values. "And now these three remain," he concludes, resoundingly: "faith, hope and charity. But the greatest of these is charity."
So these dark paintings are, after all, not primarily about the darkness that pervades them, but about the light that manages to shine through. And that, as I see it, is astonishing.
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