“Luigi Rocca. Urban landscapes” is the title of the personal exhibition mounted by our gallery to celebrate the ten years of co-operation with this Artist.
Reality that Isn’t
The evening is a ‘tenth anniversary,’ a celebration of the ten years during which the Melori & Rosenberg Gallery has become a dynamic and productive artistic presence in the heart of Venice’s Ghetto Nuovo. And what better way to celebrate the event than a one-man show by the most famous of all the artists who have shown exclusively at the gallery over these years, Luigi Rocca?
The new exhibition of work by this master of hyperrealism is entitled “Urban Landscapes”, with the Friulan artist returning to that which most attracts him: detailed and attentive observation of great American cities. Each work is a ‘vivisection’ which explores the dazzling chrome skyscrapers, the frenetic traffic, the hurrying pedestrians, the outsize advertising hoardings and neon signs of the modern American metropolis.
As has often been the case over the last ten years, the main subject is again New York, the city which never sleeps; and Rocca reveals how this great cosmopolitan centre can still attract and seduce the gaze of the artist. Once again his works astound us with new details, with surprising points of view. Varying his technique accordingly, the painter explores the very dynamics of vision. Sometimes he slows things down, creating almost static images within which Time seems to stand still and details are caught with a maniacal hyperrealist precision. At others, he speeds things up, dissolving outlines in long brushstrokes.
As always in his work, Times Square – the frenetic heart of New York – figures largely. It is, therefore, no coincidence that Time Square Night has been chosen as the image for the show, capturing as it does the very quintessence of Rocca’s art.
The image also reveals the artist’s desire to ‘wrong foot’ the spectator, who, given the large number of taxis that shot across the foreground of Time Square, might well have expected a title such as Yellow Cabs. However, Rocca has chosen a different ‘vehicle’ to project us into the reality of this urban environment: the “Maxwe(ll)” advertisement. Immobile and perfectly in focus, this stands in clear, static contrast to the dynamism of everything else – be it the frenetic movement of the cars or the constantly changing neon signs and huge liquid-crystal videos.
It is this contrast of colour and dynamics which projects us into the environment of the ‘Big Apple’, the only city in the world in which such contrasts achieve equilibrium through a harmonic play of becoming/appearing. To emphasise – ‘enlarge’ – this contrast between that which dashes by and that which is immobile, Rocca has abandoned his usual role as an external observer who might almost be said to choose a distant viewpoint in order to feel ‘safer’. Instead, here he draws so close to the subject of the painting that he risks being ‘run over’ by it.
Look at the unusual rendering of the taxi in the immediate foreground, whose speed is such that we barely grasp the shape of its roof. Or again, look at the unusual dissolve of taxis in the background, which become mere paint and colour.
This dynamic, accelerated hyperrealism is inspired by the visual sensation of suddenly halting the eye in an attempt to ‘freeze’ the image, to bring the chaos of the street into clear focus.
Rendered with marvellous photographic precision, the Maxwe(ll) advertisement becomes a snapshot of the instant before the eye is once more caught up in the frenetic flow of the New York traffic.
Note, also, an illuminated red sign on which we can read the words “Times Square”; the very title of the picture is restless, always new, always exciting.
However, there is not much legible text in the picture. It is as if the artist wanted to make visible only that which should interest us. For example, to the edge of the image we can make out the word “LAST”… But last what? Last exit from this chaos? Last drink, to be gulped down just before closing time? Last view of this night world before the Square is once more reclaimed by the routine of daily life? Last chance to choose between what we can see and what we would like to see?
Isn’t this what makes life in the Big Apple so unique? This continuous need to make choices which, perhaps only apparently, will make an indelible mark on our lives as a whole? And such choices are posed irrespective of what we ourselves do. A place where dazzling neon signs confuse vision with illusion and hallucination, the city seems to have sole power to decide people’s lives.
In fact, it is not people who are the lead actors here. In these streets we see only hurrying cars and traffic, with a human presence indicated only by the odd shadow.
The ‘population’ of New York is that which aims to project messages through neon signs, to promote itself in advertisements. This is an idea which can be found in previous Rocca paintings as well – for example, the magnificent Jockey exhibited at San Diego, in which the city is a mere background for portraits. And in this new painting, note the disturbing, almost superhuman, presence of the face sketched in towards the back right of the picture. Could this be a memento mori? Perhaps the image is intended to make us halt in the midst of our inhuman rush through existence and reflect upon the true meaning of life. But this is not the only figure to resist the massive ‘one way’ flow which runs against it. No, there are also other figures walking in ‘the wrong direction’, approaching from a light blue background which suggests the illusion of a distant space, the possibility of a ‘last exit,’ an emergency exit.
And is it this exit that the artist wishes to point out to us? Is it his own artistic gaze which makes itself visible from the background of the painting?
The picture offers interesting material for interpretation, even if we must never forget that it is a hyperrealist – superrealist – image, in which Rocca offers us a mechanical reproduction of reality. His artistic mastery, his marked detachment, depersonalises the image and suspends it in a frozen reality. Rocca, in effect, creates an image that goes beyond reality, that overwhelms it.
In creating a ‘reality that isn’t’, Rocca seems to invite each one of us to look and reflect, to analyse his work and thence develop our own personal vision of it. In the meantime, hidden by the light of a neon sign or the reflection off a car’s gleaming paintwork, the artist himself is there, studying our reactions and planning the new figurative reality into which he will project us next time.