Lion of contemporary Italian art Riccardo Mannelli is not unknown in the US -- but when his compelling work is recognized, it is most often by fellow painters who admire his particular combination of advanced techniques in color and draftsmanship and the innovative, refined deliberations of composition he lavishes on his edgy content. Yet it may prove to be the subversive sensuality of his ultra-modern figures and portraits, demonstrating a kind of feminism that is really a powerful revolutionary humanism, together with the rich tenor of his unbowed social and political commentary that will finally capture the imagination of a whole new generation of audiences.
Classical but not antique, the gestural empathy of Mannelli's decisive draftsmanship provides an art historical foundation for his content's flights of wild fancy. In the tradition of transgressive masters like George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Egon Schiele, Mannelli's decadent theatricality explores the specific, volatile mystery of the human condition at the edges of modernity. The sublime balance of beauty and terror, fear and obsession, past and present, sex and politics, humor and critique, line and color, surface and narrative speak to his appetite for emotional truth and extreme honesty in all things.
Often, his figures remain ethereal while the objects that surround them are fully rendered, distinguishing between the material solidity of the external world and the wavering paradoxes of consciousness. "Art is not something to understand," he says, "it is something to eat." He means that painting's poetic sensuality is concrete, its sublimity something physical to experience with the soul, not to process with the mind. Mannelli is happy to implicate himself in the unflinching strangeness of the modern vision, as both a product and devotee of a world that requires stern renovation yet inspires generous acceptance. He is dedicated to beauty in all its forms except the conventional, both seeking and creating a graceful ecstasy amid the ruins of the personal and political corruption that threatens to dissolve society yet miraculously never quite does.
Mannelli's exhibition Notes for the Reconstruction of Beauty is currently on view at Building Bridges Art Exchange in Bergamot Station.