Ungodly as sarcastic jokes bursting into living room’s formalities, ironic as ready-mades before their boring canonization, perturbing as Freud’s Sandman, the magician who steals kids’ eyes when they don’t want to sleep, Carlo Rivalta’s objects are liminal elements. Lifeless yet animated, they live in the artist’s imagination, which is a reaction against contemporary banalities.
Rivalta’s works look at the analytic intellectual rigor of illustration – Japanese cartoonists, such as Shintaro Kago, are strong references – and at the irreverence of street art’s anti-gesture. They are contemporary interpretations of what was the local painting school – Mattia Moreni, although he was not born in Emilia Romagna, yet lived in Santa Sofia many years of his life, and Piero Manai.
Rivalta’s works hint at the international scene too – two names amongst the many, David Shrigley and, as Rivalta says, Yoshimoto Nara, whose kids acting cruelty have been a great inspiration. And as Shrigley’s, also Rivalta’s modus operandi could have been inspired by his nightmares whilst growing up.
The narrative quality of Rivalta’s works is immediately recognizable; every work is part of a bigger project, which is a comic book (yet to be published) gathering together his artistic production of various years. Although each work is a fragment of a bigger unity, it can exist autonomously. They are visual aphorisms pushing beyond post-modernism, tired of the past and not caring about the future. Present is the only phenomenon happening, the one and only dimension that is worthy narrating.
Narrating as telling, not judging. And so, beyond judgement, painting a bottle of Prozac or a teddy bear is the same thing for Rivalta; they are both objects, which already existed. The artist didn’t invent them; he uses them as communicational tools, pieces and fragments of stories, which eventually become his property, exactly as the papers he draws on. He finds these at flea markets; they are stage or geographical papers, maps the artist destroys by drawing on them, and thus darkening and confusing their past.
Given Rivalta’s anti-hierarchical aesthetical vision, his special interest in psychiatric drugs needs nevertheless to be acknowledged; they are objects he keeps drawing with graphic precision. Like Damien Hirst in his 1992 installation Pharmacy, Rivalta is fascinated by medicine and its power, by drugs, which are poison and cure simultaneously. In so doing, his artistic research is also related to contemporary society, to medicine as a new form of religion, and pills men swallow without questioning their efficacy like in a Eucharistic performance.
As Damien Hirst, Rivalta seems telling himself: “I don’t understand why most people believe in medicine and not in art, without questioning neither of them”.
Rivalta’s objects are clearly borderline with what is lifeless, and, instead of being mere ornaments, they are, above all, active indexes of men’s daily habits, being them good or bad.
– O –
There is a man figure at the centre of the painting. I will try to describe him: he is neither thin nor fat – he could be both; he wears clothes of different styles – mostly t-shirts and shorts, but he might even wear a tuxedo if the occasion requires it. He favours gaudy colours – bright greens, reds, purples, but does not spurn black and sometimes flaunts pink socks. He might express his state of mind by means of a writing on his t-shirt; he might believe in God or be hungry: it depends. He might be in a museum or brandish a gun, play the saxophone or the trombone, walk the dog or pose in front of a painting representing psychotropic drugs. If you look at him carefully, the only thing he does not want to change is his face, a kind of white, egg-shaped skull, with mouthless teeth, mostly incisors: teeth that seem to reject any soft tissue. It is a two-dimensional skull; the fact that the nose is missing makes it difficult to outline his profile. He turns, looking for something; he watches without eyes. His look is in his posture, in the writing on his t-shirt, in the objects that surround and inhabit him. He doesn’t look but is looked at; he doesn’t choose a place, he just happens to be there. He happens. He happens to bump into a strip of flesh he might have torn, a kind of esophageal reflux by Bacon, or to stand proudly behind a wild boar’s head from which a rabbit springs out. Is it Lynch’s rabbit? Or Cunningham’s? Or Barney’s? Maybe it is just a rabbit. He also happens to face a lump who wants to redefine his outline. Is it a mushroom or a toad? It doesn’t matter. The skull has teeth but hands too, and might peel and swallow butterflies or grab bucket and spade for an unfortunate moment of regression with his friends. Now we should try to understand who, or whose, is this skull, if he has a name or a title, if he is the painter’s alter ego, and maybe assign him an emotion, decide whether he is happy or sad, in other words define him and save him from that unbearable suspension. Where does he come from? Where does he go? Assuming that he comes from somewhere and is going somewhere. Maybe not. Maybe he is just an O with hands and teeth lost in a timeless time and a spaceless space. Surely it would be a shame to bother Freud, and the uncanny, that familiar strangeness. Or to find out that he might be a character from a D.F. Wallace or a Saunders’s novel, or from a certain post-modern movement going from literature to… etc. etc. “O”. There is a skull-like, a zero-like “O” which is nothing, which cancels itself out, which devours, maybe shoots, which is cancer, flesh, an object among other objects, silently thinking. No, it is not a man figure – I must be mistaken. Maybe it is something else. Or maybe not. Maybe it has nothing to do with a man. Maybe – who knows – a new alphabet will start from here.
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