PostWar_Salvatore Federico-Artist Page
Salvatore Federico has had a long and distinguished artistic career, and the paintings he is now making are instantly recognisable as his. He creates boldly energetic abstract compositions, but somewhere within these designs there are what one might describe as gestures towards the idea of figuration. He was indeed at one time a figurative painter. Towards the end of the 1980s he was still making some figurative works.
Each work presents the viewer with a sign, crisply rendered on a ground of contrasting colour, or else on black. In paintings made a little earlier than those presented here, there are sometimes groups of signs, not just a single one. And where a sign appears singly, there is often, still, a hint of figurative reference. You can, if you insist, see the form as a bird, or else. In two cases at least, you perceive a highly simplified version of the famous Ancient Egyptian bust of Nefertiti, now in a museum in Berlin.
None of these subdued hints of figuration survive in Federico’s most recent work. Each painting now presents a single authoritative image, though often one with complex boundaries. This image is rendered using a single hue, without interior modelling, against a ground of contrasting hue which, in turn, is equally flat.
These big signs have something in common with contemporary commercial art – which is to say, with the commercial culture of billboards and large-scale advertisements that produced the Pop Art of the 1960s. They also have elements in common with things that are much more remote: with, for example, the hermetic symbols on encounters in ancient alchemical texts, or – still further – back. with some of the graffiti that speleologists encounter in long-ago inhabited caves. We know these signs have meaning, but they challenge us to interpret them.
The images they present are certainly not what aficionados of contemporary art will immediately recognise as Pop Art, a movement that arose to challenge the values espoused by the Abstract Expressionism that immediately preceded it in the art of the United States. Yet the paintings do undoubtedly have certain underlying characteristics in common with things familiar from typical Pop paintings – notably the use of clear-cut images against plain, uninflected fields of colour. Instead of offering a portrait of a film star, or one of a can of Campbell’s soup, they offer mysterious signs.
The challenge for a purely abstract art now is both to make itself relevant to the spectator, and, at the same time, to maintain an element of mystery – to occupy some corner of the mind in the individual who contemplates it, and to bring that spectator back to look again.
This is what Federico’s recent paintings do, using a deliberately restricted, but still very sophisticated range og technical means. The designs mysteriously change, resonate in a different way, each time you look at them. Looking is what they are about.
By Edward Lucie Smith