Moved by the brilliant blues of the skies above a yet incipiently post-revolutionary Tunisia, Fedele Spadafora tasked himself with conveying, within the arguably fixed matrices of painting, cerulean hues so rich and deep that they’re palpably warm, so alive that they appear ever ashift. However unexpectedly, though, tasking himself therewith conjured memories of previous years spent in the Czech Republic beneath less frequent blues of a far cooler sort, yet one that was then not altogether differently charged—self-renewingly, socioeconomically, politically. The American artist’s solo show of new paintings at Slag Contemporary (through April 20th) bears calm yet vibrant witness to relatable historical rifts and drifts as glimpsed in and beneath distant skies.
Most readily striking in Spadafora’s generally radiant compositions is the juxtapositional motif of impossible blues and grounded yet unnaturally dazzling oranges, most notable in his Tunisia-inspired works. In Bridge and Horizon—and somewhat more mutedly in The Garden—these extremes read like visual screams, but the artist softens their stridency through layered renderings and brushy robustness that reveal sumptuous chromatic strata as you come near, and through compositional spreads across multiple canvases. This latter device, given that all three works cut dramatically horizontal swaths, furnishes dynamism and quietude at once—a reflection, maybe, of the sensation of observing revolutionary tumult from a few dozen kilometers outside of central Tunis, all the while investing heavily in the freer horizons it might promise. Indeed, the four panels that make up Bridge are bound together in democratic harmony, but their hold remains delicate, their extent rests precariously—pictorially, physically, historically.
In the Prague-set works, Spadafora mounts blue figures and buildings before gray skies and vice-versa, relegating warmer tones to nether layers or accents, or deploying them to brighten the dim brooding of cement. More bracing in their blues, more idle and staid, the Prague canvases convey a sense of stability that aptly contrasts those depicting Tunisian settings. Most of them are on single, settled surfaces, for instance, though one, TV Tower, consists of four small, vertically sequential canvases. If Bridge evokes airs of uncertainty as undulatorily aquake, TV Tower transmits all-too-certain pasts, bygone tumultuousness and greater present-tense stabilities all at once. And appositely so, for as the horizontally broad and widespread imbalances of yet-stirring upheavals congeal into more or less governable, then governed unities, the precariousness likely to come later, trinkling down through echelons of authorities, would be that of stabilities and unities as they are communicated, broadcast, conveyed. That is, even firmly established democracies must teeter, to some extent, vertically; those appearing not to merely forbid its transmission.
Blue skies of late brought Spadafora to gray airs of yore, and to a desire to craft paintings of the same. The results are two bodies of not-necessarily-political works of such latent political thrust that to not distill a bit therefrom seems a bit unjust. All the same, the visual treats they offer up in formal qualities alone are enriching—and enduring—enough.