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Review: Patrick Pietropoli at Axelle Gallery, New York

March 22, 2010

One of the joys of art is discovering the work of an artist in his prime. According to Tim Smith, Senior Art Consultant, Pietropoli began work on this collection 18 months ago, specifically for this show at Axelle.

Having spent last week at the art shows where, with a few exceptions (see article of March 11, 2010), I was seriously disappointed at the self indulgence of what passed for professional quality painting, I wasn’t expecting much better. After all, look at what was at the art fairs. This expectation is unfair to Axelle which unfailingly shows excellent work but that’s the result of art fair burnout.

Axelle New York has four rooms. You walk directly into the main room, designed for large format works. To the left of the main room are two intimate rooms with another behind the main room. The two rooms on the left are designed to be the size of the average living room, so that you have the sense of how a piece of art would look in your home. Very clever design, very astute marketing. The third room is larger, higher and a cross between an intimate living room and the grand display area.

With the exception of three paintings, Pietropoli has used a the dun palette of a limestone city in midwinter. Sounds dull, right? Absolutely wrong. The greys, ochres and blacks are luminous and the effect stunning. The paintings are glorious memories of places and people and the color palette is highly appropriate for memories. This is a very important part of Pietropoli’s technique – you are looking at an impression of a person or place, not their realistic portraits. Some areas of the canvas are fully developed, some areas are treated with minimal strokes and others are left in what, in other hands, would be primitive state.

The large paintings in the open area are entirely cityscapes, principally of Paris and New York and are museum quality.

Pietropoli uses an intriguing conceit for the Paris paintings: each of the paintings has a focal area that is fully developed with the rest falling away into sketch – a reverse vanishing point. Imagine the views from a higher floor looking across the Seine. The nature of memory explains the Arc de Triomphe sitting astride a mansard roof or Sacre Coeur sitting on a rooftop. In these paintings you can see his technique at work. First, he lays down washes of color, next he uses permanent marker to create his sketch, and then he uses his brushes and palette knives to maximum effect. Some areas are hints, some areas are fully developed and the combination is masterful.

The New York paintings use a different conceit: the vantage point is from the top of a skyscraper and so you look down at most of the buildings. The amusing part is that Pietropoli moves buildings around on his landscape, changes their relationships and sizes to excellent effect. For instance, the Municipal Building is the same height as the GE Building at Rockefeller Center and the Con Ed and NY Life buildings are next to each other. If you’re not a New Yorker, you won’t get the joke. If you are a New Yorker, then you have to love his landscaping of corporate egos. Masterful indeed.

The first room to the left was home to Pietropoli’s people paintings. Most were smaller or were studies of multiple efforts at the same head on a single canvas. Mr. Pietropoli’s feelings aside, these weren’t of the same standard as the featured large paintings.

Also in this room were two large, excellent memories of women rendered in the same dun palette. All I’m going to say is that I hope someone remembers me so well. Vague areas, developed areas, the stuff of memory.

The majority of the smaller landscape paintings in the second small room on the left, while interesting and I’d love to own one, were either executed in a hurry to complete the show or were early efforts at developing this theme. Since most of us don’t have enough wall space for the large paintings, what a horrible fate to own one of these!

But now let’s talk about the three paintings that were different, shown together in the back room. Instead of being cold northern clime paintings, these are large, warm Mediterranean ones. Of the three, my two favorites are on the ends. The painting on the left is a detailed brick by brick etude to the southern towns of France and Italy. I would have left out the three little people barely sketched in but these genre scenes seem to demand people or livestock. Wonderful warm brick and ocher towns, using the same vanishing point technique of the large Paris paintings.

The other is done solely with knives and focuses on two cypress trees against against white washed houses. The depths of the greens, the interplay of color, the textures… all against the walls. You can feel the heat and the dust. Fabulous. It happens to be my favorite painting in the show and I envy the lucky person who takes this one home. Rather than talk more about it, you really should see it yourself. It is one of the great paintings of our era and will no doubt be in someone’s home and not a museum (yet). I’d sell every painting I own (almost) to bring this home. Need I say more?

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