Sunday, December 17th, 2017

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John Nativio’s paintings to be exhibited at University Hospitals through Oct. 31

 

1. Synchronized Synecdoche, Oil on canvas, 31″x 97″
2. Satellite Serenade, Oil on canvas, 41″x90″
3. Gravitational Adagio Oil on canvas, 41″x131″

 

 

 

 

 

 

By DOUGLAS MAX UTTER

 

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,

       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.

(John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn)

 

Like the mythological figures chasing across the swelling curves of Keats’ ancient vase, John Nativio’s abstract forms move dramatically, silently through a remote world. His twilight scenes depict the shapes and hues of a place that might be a dream about the subatomic mechanics of electricity, a physicist’s reverie. In image after image Nativio renders such tales of ultimate structures, which seem to be expressions of pure theory; yet the effectiveness of his finished paintings derives from the way they push imagination in the opposite direction, toward a sense of tactile, physical reality. In a manner that pays tribute to early 20th century Italian Futurism and the “metaphysical painting” of Carlo Carrà and Georgio de Chirico, Nativio seems to be observing these scenes with great clarity in his mind’s eye, as if he actually remembered the places and forms and so can endow them with startling vividness and exactitude. He invents new worlds, color by color, shadow by shadow, as if he had stood on their sands and painted from observation.

Among the panoramic diptychs and triptychs that make up much of Nativio’s current exhibit,   Trudy Wiesenberger Gallery at University Hospitals, is a three-canvas composition which conveys a kind of narrative flow, a story-line, by means of formal repetitions and variations. The essence of that tale has to do with spheres (which could be planets, or atomic particles, or the eternal forms of a Platonic realm) threading their way through a choppy reef of shapes and colors that echo their curves and dimensions. It’s as if the landscape could be their crèche, a vast birthing ground, and is certainly their native land. Reading Nativio’s panels from left to right may not be the best way to look at them. Triptychs developed in the Middle Ages and were perfected in the early Renaissance, and they almost always open out from a central image, with the first and third panels acting as supplemental tales or guardians to a resounding, singular visual expression, shining out from the middle. The simultaneity of beginning and end, action and reaction, loss and reparation in eternity is a quality that a two-dimensional representation can express, as it binds the viewer to a single moment

Working in oil on canvas, Nativio achieves the painstaking nuance of his work through a creative three-dimensional process of visualization that begins long before any paint leaves the tube. For the current series he built small, stage set-like sculptures to model and anchor his ideas. Working with fragments of Styrofoam packing materials, Nativio re-imagined their functional curves and cradling armatures as towering cliffs and hollows. He then applied color and lit the machine-designed chunks of negative space as a dramatic, ruinous landscape, rising at the far edge of perception. The finished scene is set against a stormy Plutonian sky. He goes on to tweak the hues of green and blue and burnt orange with the care of a landscape painter observing the afternoon light reflected on a cathedral façade. The results are at once alien and hauntingly familiar. In the course of his work, which expresses the fruits of a wide range of interests, from the compositional deployment of the holy family in Renaissance altar pieces, all the way to his excitement about the understanding and uses of the transformative particles of Earth’s ionosphere, Nativio has also found a unique way to represent intimate dimensions of daily contemporary life. Our sleekly designed environment of dashboards and fenders, shoes and digital devices echo the human body and blend into our tasks and movements. Nativio’s recent painterly dances perform a mysterious pastoral (another image from Keats) of their own, partnering the commonplaces of modernity with the unlimited potential of the mind and spirit.

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