San Gimignano, Galleria Continua, Michelangelo Pistoletto. Prima dello Specchio, May – September 2015, pp. 43-45 and 81, illustrated in colour
Biella, Macist Museum, Mostra No. 3, Michelangelo Pistoletto, November – December 2015, n.p., illustrated in colour
The son of a restorer, Pistoletto was well versed in the canon of Western art from childhood. Making subtle stylistic reference to the existentialist giants who had dominated the post-war critical discourse, L’uomo nero is a work of singular quality that marks the beginning of Pistoletto’s fêted oeuvre. In the thin elongated head and pointed intimacy of its facing figure, we are reminded of the paintings of the elder French master, Alberto Giacometti. This comparison suffuses the present work with a mood of vague existentialist unease. As with Giacometti's deeply expressive portraits, the lone figure that dominates the oppressive black void of L’uomo nero purports the fragility of the isolated figure in space. Furthermore, many critics have ascribed the influence of Francis Bacon to Pistoletto's early paintings: we can compare each artist's sumptuous brushwork and their perennial inclusion of isolated figures inside imaginary pseudo-architectonic boxes. As Pistoletto pointed out: “Bacon reconsidered the fundamental aspect of the human being, and that was important to me, but he dramatized the image of the person, and that’s where we parted ways, I, too, turned back to the person, but I sought to strip away any drama” (Michelangelo Pistoletto cited in: Michelangelo Pistoletto and Alain Elkann, The Voice of Pistoletto, New York 2014, p. 57).
Firmly installed in the pantheon of Europe’s most influential contemporary artists, Pistoletto’s acclaimed Mirror Paintings defy categorisation, oscillating between spectacle and sculpture, photograph and performance. Frustrated with the imitative relationship between traditional painting and reality, Pistoletto first experimented with a reflective ground in the early 1960s with a series of self-portraits on a shiny surface entitled Figura su fondo nero. He recalled: “In 1961 I painted my own portrait on canvas using a variety of backgrounds: gold, silver, bronze, and glossy black. One day, sketching out the head of a standing man on a large canvas already prepared with black mirror-surface paint, I was shocked to see it coming towards me, detaching itself from the background – which was not part of the painting, but the actual wall behind my back” (Michelangelo Pistoletto in conversation with M. Friedman, Minneapolis, February 1966). In L’uomo nero the inclusion of this pioneering black background, here occupying the lower half of the composition, posits this work at the very brink of Pistoletto’s exploration of the mirrored surface and his career defining Mirror Paintings.
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