Aldo Iacobelli

Travelling with Aldo

Tomas March Gallery - Madrid - 1997


Over the period of time that I have been following Aldo Iacobelli's practice, his work has been on a trajectory of slow collision with the 'real' world. His earlier paintings still had figure and ground, a tangible difference between the support and the image, and a distance between that which was represented and that which was doing the representing. However, over time, this distance has inexorably closed.


I am writing this article sitting in my house at a desk which is placed under a diptych by the artist in the form of white and brown chocolate bars. The white one at the top carries the artists first name textured into the paint, and the brown one his second name, as if they were the brand name of the biscuit. Both are monochromes, the borders and texts are embedded in the texture and brushstrokes of the painting rather than in any colour or tonal difference. This work has an obvious link with the artists earlier paintings of vinyl records. In this series, the shining grooves of plastic were made from/suggested by glistening oil paint combed into a tight spiral which then tracked into a run-out groove with a plain disk of colour in the center of the canvas representing the label of the record. The paint was, and is always dense and luscious, making the canvasses solid and bulky, establishing a strong physicality , taking the painting into the real world as an object as well as a representation of an object: it is painting approaching the condition of sculpture. (This is why you have to see them in the flesh.)


In a later series, the artist used woven plastic mats as a starting point. The interweaving of each coloured strand of plastic with others was painstakingly re-enacted in oil paint to form large works that were absolutely abstract and detailedly representational at the same time, being both itself and of something else in the same breath.


Aldo has been living in Spain for several years now, and he has turned his work to look at the objects that now surround him. When Aldo is sitting in his house he sees tiles, the rooms he and his family move through are clad with patterned ceramics. As a visitor to Valencia and Madrid, as a foreigner, the use of tiling in interiors and exteriors is one of the things that immediately claims your attention. In my experience you do not find anything like them anywhere else. It is from these tiles that Iacobelli has made his new paintings.


The tile has a functional role, a utility. It provides a hard wearing surface that can be easily cleaned and which doesn't discolour as fast as paint or paper. However in contrast to a place mat (or in another painting , a large ribbed hot water bottle) tiles possess another quality , another reading outside that of utility and functionalism; which is that of the intentionally aesthetic. Obviously a woven plastic mat, or even a hot water bottle or record or chocolate has, to some extent or another, been designed, to be, if not attractive, not unattractive. They are after all products that operate in a market place. Despite this, our primary reading of such objects does not lie in the field of the visual, the aesthetic, so their re-presentation in an art gallery operates, to a degree, as post-Duchampian re-contextualisation. 'Post -duchampian' is used advisedly here. With Duchamp himself the intention was to find and display objects that were neutral or without effect as aesthetic objects. Since then, the trope of re-contextualisation since then has inevitably veered towards the aesthetic, albeit one perhaps informed by surrealism, where the unexpected shift or juxtaposition invites aesthetic response. Certainly this was part of the viewers pleasure in looking at Iacobelli's records or hot-water bottle, where these enlargements in oil invited a frisson of spectral pleasure in having to re-address seemingly mundane objects, athough - unlike the readymade - objects that had been translated and transformed through their re-birth in the substance of oil-paint.


Tiles however already operate within the aesthetic as well as the functional. The design of each unit and the patterns of their arrangement and installation are not judged pragmatically, but by how they look. They already occupy the realm of visual pleasure and play, of rhythm and pattern, a realm expanded with when they are used in multiples to form other patterns. Another 'shifting' quality they possess is generated in this space between the tile as individual unit as a component part. This shift occurs between out ideas and expectations of the unique and individual, as opposed to those of the manufactured and serial. Many tiles are printed or templated and produced in bulk, and nowadays this is how we usually presume them to be made. This presumption is not true of all tiles, be they the hand painted Delft tile or ones on display in local craft shops. In fact with the hand painted tile, part of our pleasure lies in the tension between the state of the individual hand made, and the idea of repetition. When one sees a large number of hand painted tiles the immediate reaction is one of 'God, it must have taken for ever'. The expected technical base of mass-production (machine manufacture) sets up a delightful and awe inspiring frisson against their actual means of production -hand crafted and artisanial.


Aldo Iacobelli's current works illuminate and exploit this shift, as well as flickering between orders and weightings of the aesthetic; allowing our lack of certainty to generate manifold and subtle pleasures in our understanding of the works. These paintings, like the mat paintings, also travel between the abstract and representational, but with the new works crucially, we have yet another area of play, of complexity, another implied level of reference and of representation. A mat has very little sense of specific place. They travel between surface and a cupboard somewhere. However an architectural detail, be it tile or architrave perforce generates a ghost, an absence: which is that of the place from where it originally came. Fragments almost have a metonymic function. This conjuring of the invisible is not markedly diminished when the objects that we are looking at have been reproduced, as here. In the antiseptic isolation of a catalogue page or gallery, they still suggest 'place', and through this suggestion they in turn imply histories and other intangibles. They unpack subtle gradations in our understandings and orderings of 'place': a room, a town, a region, a culture: even a time - or a series of times: the time that the artist or the viewer may have discovered the tiles, and the time (and fashion/moment of culture) that the tiles evoke. Whilst establishing this strong poetry of time, autobiography and history, the works also subtly help problematise and undermine this very function, but only to the point of engendering a tension between the poles of the concrete and the poetic, not so as to destroy them. Although they do inspire thoughts of the room etc from whence they came, the fact that they are reproductions in oil paint, and that one can see that the individual works are changeable, re-positional and movable - as they are constructed out of individual small canvases - erodes the essentialism of the fragment and the souvenir and reveals the artifice of their construction, thus denying an easy romanticism.


It is in such subtle layered generations and balancing acts that the pleasure of Iacobelli's work lies, as well as in their pure optical beauty and physical sensuality. As soon as we engage with one of his works we are travelling between orderings of representation and knowledge, understanding and ideas, and like the arrangement of tiling, each small shift or re-arrangement in our understanding of these works occasions new patterns and relationships to be generated.