Thursday, October 10, 2013


Piranesi  Carceri XIV
I'm crazy about Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the 18th century Italian engraver, archaeologist and architect (Venice 1720 - Rome 1788).  It is his late etchings of Carceri, or prisons that one most often associates him with today.  The frenetic line quality of Escher like spaces that border on madness and fantasy has catapulted his fame, but I am drawn to his earlier works, and his novel idea of the fragment.

Up until the 18th century, the idea of the fragment was disturbing.  The collectors who squabbled over pieces of sculpture that were being gouged out of the roman soil from the renaissance onward (more often than not in the preceding centuries marble fragments were burned to obtain the lime content to make mortar), were not content to merely display them 'as is'.  They were 'repaired'.  Very often  fragments were combined and reworked to make a new, tasteful piece, or contemporary sculptors (including Bernini) concocted  additions to replace missing parts.  My favorite roman museum, Palazzo Altemps, has excellent wall tags that illustrate the demarcation between the original and the later repairs to the sculptures in the collection.

Living in Rome, one becomes acutely aware of the idea of the fragment, and the role of conjecture in trying to make sense of the fragment.  Piranesi embraced this enigma to celebrate what was lost, or erased by time, in essence, treating fragments as an interpretive memory.  I too have come to embrace this view of Roma and the Antique World. 

Christopher Pelley  Capitoline Venus #4  acrylic/digital photo
Recent mixed media works on paper now at Front Art Space in New York, start with a photographic image, either one of sculptures I have photographed in Rome, or generic photos of classical sculptures.  Almost haphazardly, I take a brush and paint and begin to blot out large parts of the photo until only isolated fragments remain.  The resulting image lacks coherence and presents an altered view of the sculpture, forcing a certain amount of conjecture, whether correct or incorrect,  to complete the picture.    I believe Piranesi would have approved.

Christopher Pelley  Altemps #1  acrylic/digital photo
Christopher Pelley  Patroclus + Menelaus  acrylic/digital photo
Christopher Pelley  Altemps #4  acrylic/digital photo
Christopher Pelley  Altemps #2  acrylic/digital photo