The details in John Avelluto’s delightful paintings—thin strands of hair, tiny droplets of perspiration, chunky gold chains, or hyperreal food items—are uncanny in their realism. Avulluto is a trickster. Through all the paintings featured in his third solo show at Stand4 Gallery he convinces us that we are looking at the “real” thing, but in fact, each piece in Impasta Handbags is made solely of acrylic paint. Curator Paul D’Agostino says in his essay that “no matter what viewers think they’re looking at in Impasta Handbags—marble, paper, wood, or gold; skin, hair, sweat, or jewelry; cookies, cakes, fritters, cannoli, or sprinkles; ravioli, penne, ziti, parsley, pizza, pomodorini, mozzarella, mortadella, salsiccia, soppressata–what they’re actually looking at is paint. In turn, since the objects at hand, however sculptural, are crafted from paint, then all these things viewers are looking at are, simply put, paintings.”
Avelluto utilizes acrylic paint as a sculptural medium throughout his process. He allows the paint to dry in layers and sheets, which he then uses as a flexible plastic that can be cut, sanded, or painted further. Like a collage, he adheres these paint pieces to the picture plane/support. He seldom uses molds and makes his pieces by hand.
The exhibition consists of paintings from several bodies of work that mark what Avelluto sees as a turning point—delving deeper into the iconography and experiences of his upbringing in an Italian household in Southern Brooklyn. “I became increasingly aware of the religious, historical, and contemporary symbols that define Italian-American culture,” he says.
Exploring the transformations and shifts in Brooklyn neighborhoods has significantly driven Avelluto. For instance, he recalls how a front-yard grotto that once housed an array of saints was now under the care of new occupants, Fujianese Chinese. Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary were replaced with Quan Yin, an old portrait photo, and burned incense sticks within the traditional white and blue niche. “I sought to mirror this transformation within my work: to reimagine and shift the embedded symbols of Italian-American cultural understanding,” says Avelluto. Yet, he does not dwell on nostalgia or any lament on change. His paintings are layered with cultural puns—humorous and often profound—and grouped; they invoke a sense of the hyper-visceral yet oddly abstracted landscape of Italian-American culture many of us are familiar with to various degrees from life or from movies.
Titles are key in Impasta Handbags. The exhibition title itself sums up the show’s theme and its humor. “Impasta” is a truncated colloquialism for Imposter, of which Avelluto says there are many in the show. Its vernacular spelling also conjures the word “pasta” within it. The word comes close to impasto, which a viewer will find plenty of and is mentioned in several painting titles. “Handbags” is the literal translation of the Italianate “mano a borsa,” gesticulation of pinched fingers as depicted in many of the paintings (and recently added to the lexicon of emojis). Put both those words together, and you have another local specialty found at street fairs and, more regularly, in Canal St.
Maloik, the title for the series of small works, is a derivation of the Italian word “Malocchio” (“Evil Eye”) used by ex-pats and Italian-Americans. Taking cues from that shift in the word, Avelluto used imagery from the superstitious aspects of vernacular Italian culture and religiosity, such as the mano cornuto (seen with the Americanized spelling in Cornoot I and II) and added landmarks of Italian-American food culture (‘Capicola’ or more popularly here in the States Gabbagool).
Whatsamatta U nods to the shift in language across cultures, specifically Italian to American. It depicts the interwoven popular Italian hand gesture “mano a borsa.” The hands alternate in the matched Pantone colors of the Italian flag—high contrast, complimentary red and green. “The retina-burning effect produced sends the work into an almost Bridget Riley-esque Op Art category, making the hand gesture depicted almost unrecognizable,” says Avelluto.
Paul D’Agostino ends his essay, “On that note, here’s an apropos closing quip: Leave the puns, take the cannoli.”
All photo courtesy of the artist
John Avelluto Impasta Handbags at Stand4 Gallery Curated by Paul D’Agostino October 14 – November 25
Artist Talk- November 11, 3-4 PM