Arturo di Stefano: Lasting at Purdy | Hicks, London

Ever have a moment, just a tiny fragment of time, that you wish could be preserved for eternity? Not necessarily anything special, beautiful but not mind-blowing, just something that inspires some sort of feeling within. Arturo di Stefano captures these moments in paint so that they can become Lasting, the title of the exhibition of current works at Purdy | Hicks.

From churches and loggias in France and Italy, to London’s very own St. Paul’s Cathedral, di Stefano’s works are still and quiet. Perspectives not entirely wonderful on their own, but peaceful and beautiful nonetheless. The exhibition begins with the title piece, Lasting (2012), which depicts simply a piece of hanging, draped white fabric. There is an air of mystery surrounding the object, as the purpose and even the method of hanging remain unknown. Because of its depiction in oil on linen, viewers feel compelled to find some deeper meaning to rationalize the immortalization of the moment. There is a certain meditation to be reached searching the folds of the drapery for imagery, discerning the variations of colour on the white object, and the almost tactile contrast between the smooth, hard background and the soft folds.

The works on the ground floor are like snapshots of a European vacation – from a distance the paintings appear photorealistic. It is upon closer inspection, though, that the subtle expressionistic brushstrokes become apparent. There is certainly a contrast in the purposeful realism and the unexpected looseness of technique paired together in one work. The imperfections give each piece a unique character and charm that could not be found in a photograph.

The unity of works exhibited is broken by The Cumaean Sibyl (after Giovanni di Stefano) (2011-2012) that hangs, as if in hiding, on a back wall on the ground floor. The surprising revelation is di Stefano’s ability to give life to architectural detail and inanimate fabric, but when painting the human form there is no life at all. Perhaps this is a reference of icon paintings of the distant Byzantine era, regal but stagnant, but perhaps figure painting is not di Stefano’s forte. This painting is an uncomfortable blight in an overall excellent repertoire of recent paintings that leaves the viewer a bit unsettled before descending to the lower galleries.

While the larger of the subterranean galleries is devoted to works in a more permanent exhibition, the side gallery displays some of di Stefano’s smaller works. Whereas the works on the ground floor feature rich warm yellows, reds, oranges, and pinks, the paintings below are darker in tone and mood. Two paintings reference a New England coastline which contrasts greatly to the warmth of Italy. In Crystal Knot (2012) and Lantern (2011) di Stefano recreates smaller architectural details of chandeliers and lanterns: light and implied metallic sheen contrasting against the dark backgrounds. These downstairs paintings retain the poetry and simplicity that characterizes the works in the exhibition, but take on an almost illicit quality secluded in the small, windowless gallery.

The contrast of large and small, warm and cool, openness and confinement add interest to an exhibition that could run the risk of being too much the same. These varieties separate the contemporary from age-old traditions of landscapes, still lifes, and architectural renderings. Inanimate objects and unexpected perspectives are granted life and attention through Arturo di Stefano’s careful renderings highlighting the skill of those who came before him as well as his own.

Arturo Di Stefano: Lasting, 20-04-2012 until 19-05-2012, Purdy | Hicks, 65 Hopton Street, Bankside, London, SE1 9GZ.

1. Arturo Di Stefano Arcades, Bologna
2. Arturo Di Stefano St Paul’s (Study)
Both images courtesy the artist

Text: Emily Sack