Maria Pia Taverna’s Evocative Realm of Shadows

While many take sides today regarding traditional versus newer media, vehemently espousing the superior aesthetic merits or contemporary relevance of one or the other, some of the most interesting artists are those who evolve a personal synthesis of both. One of the most intriguing discoveries in this regard is Maria Pia Taverna, a native of Italy, currently living and working in Turin, whose work will be on view in the exhibition “The Odyssey Within,” at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from December 12 through January 2, 2009. (Reception: Thursday December 18, 2008, 6 to 8pm.)

Combining digital imagery with classical oil painting techniques on canvas, Taverna creates compositions with an unusual emotional impact, which is what finally makes them compelling above and beyond all technical considerations. Her work merges elements of Expressionism, Pop, and other modern art movements in the highly personal synthesis that one sees in pictures such as “Cauta Attenzione” and “Oltre,” where glamourous female faces, reflecting her early training in fashion styling, dominate the composition. Often these faces are cropped close-ups that seem to hark back to the Arte Povera decollages of earlier Italian artists who created compositions from tearing away the layers of pasted down street posters for films and consumer products.

By virtue of her flawless technique, however, Taverna’s imagery is more smoothly accomplished and seamlessly merged in a manner that also references Surrealism in terms of creating visual vocabulary fantasies and dreams. In “Oltre,” for example, the lower portion of a woman’s face looms like a ghostly apparition above small, shadowy figures traversing a nocturnal city street under the jaundiced eyes of many lighted windows.

In other works such as “L’ Irrisolto” and “Estatico,” images of the feminine visage are expressively distorted in a manner that lends them an abstract appeal to match their poetic resonance. The later work is especially effective in this manner; after the eye adjusts to the image, having finally drawn its essence from what at first appears to be a maze of shadows suggesting fragmented anatomical allusions, one discerns a beautiful woman’s face at the top of the composition, her head thrown back as though the throes of an erotic event.

Then there is “Il Nuovo Oltre,” in which a voluptuous woman in a low-cut black gown, decapitated above the lips by the edge of the composition, appears to inhabit some sort of passageway where smaller, more distant figures flit through the shadows, suggesting some unfolding drama that remains mysteriously elusive. Such images possess a decidedly hallucinatory quality; they appear to plumb the depths of the human subconscious, creating a simultaneous sense of delight and dis-ease in the viewer that makes them a rarity in the current artistic climate.

Considerably more complex is Taverna’s “L’insensento,” a composition swarming with a multitude of figures in motion in the manner of certain paintings by her fellow Italian forbearers in the Futurist movement, albeit delineated with an exactitude more reminiscent of Max Ernst’s major Surrealist canvases. The scene suggests an almost sinister social turmoil that plays off drastically against the more intimate dream-spaces in some of Maria Pia Taverna’s less populated compositions.

¬-Lucille Fulcher

Image Credits: L'insensento, Oil & Digital Art on Canvas, 35" x 35"

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