The man behind the artwork by Drew Knapp

The recent paintings of artist Andrea Spinelli renew my appreciation for the values and sensibilities of the man behind the artwork…

I remember one dark, cold evening several years back, driving with Andrea along the highway leading out of New York and into New Jersey. Construction in the road ahead choked traffic to a crawl. It was the kind of activity which occurs only deep in the night, when the rest of the commuting world is sound asleep, and was characterized by blindingly bright halogen lights, smoke, dust, pounding noise, and a sense of urgency. As we slowed to pass the site, and upon witnessing this unusually hard labor performed for the common good, Andrea commented: “These are true heroes.”

I can’t pass such a scene anymore without thinking of his words.

This strong sense of compassion, especially for the common man, the underdog, the unlearned and the defenseless, the presence of which I have always perceived in his heart, I see now also in his paintings. Even his technique, far more polished in the past, throws skillfulness to the wind in deference to empathy for the subject.

In “E’ Vietato L’Accesso – Proprieta’ Privata” we see a scene of almost Brechtian dimensions. Set upon a background of clean, sterile apartment buildings immersed in the hazy atmosphere of a typical Florentine smog-laden day, we witness as if superimposed, an absurd yet humanly scaled collection of little sheds and constructions topped with miscellaneous, random patchworks of corrugated tin. Nearby in the fields, as if anonymous serfs, people are bent over, toiling. Shockingly large in the foreground is a manufactured “No Trespassing” sign upon which “Private Property”is hand-scribbled. Rust-worn and creepy, it appears a bit like a modern version of Dante’s warning: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here…” Yet the artist observes this scene not with cynical superiority, but rather with melancholic empathy for these people who inhabit it, for they are the salt of the earth. Who knows what stories they would tell if they could… one imagines old traditional tales: of the ancestors, of the war, of other times… the last vestiges of a sapient agrarian culture set within an urban sea…

There is also however Spinelli the humorist, the commentator, the philosopher, who enjoys telling jokes and observing little foibles of the society which surrounds him. Without malice, tempered by compassion, but most definitely playful…

This droll and self-effacing humor which comes from being a contemporary in a city so strongly associated with its glorious past, is quite apparent in his painting of “Ponte Santa Trinita.” We the viewers are attempting to look at the elegant scenery which has long delighted visitors and natives alike. We are attempting to behold the bucolic vision of the historic center of Florence beyond a bridge designed by none other than Michelangelo himself… but the geometric assemblage of golden ochres and terra cottas nestled above the Arno, presided over by the proud and majestic presence of the Palazzo Vecchio, is irreverently slashed in the world of Spinelli by an awful cacophony of a tacky moving billboard ! Replete with the ubiquitous image of David ( pilfered yet once again for Florentine branding, as if we still didn’t know…) a tourist bus goes crashing through the sacred scene. Adding insult to injury, in neat Renaissance perspective, is a topping of gaudy plastic garbage bins and jarring white street markings, all that one could hope for in such an elegant setting!

There is also, as well, Spinelli the anti-intellectual, who in “L’Inconcepibile Urbano di Andrea Spinelli” pokes fun perhaps at the overly conceptualized world of contemporary art movements, critical essays and verbiage (present company included) showing us in not- so-subtle terms what is really on his mind… he defines his own participation in such world not as protagonist but rather as voyeuristic schoolboy, with fantasies of Forties-styled pinups fresh in his pubescent mind. A temptress with soft, full and beautiful breasts emerges like a sensual beacon from behind the smokescreen of a torn artspeak poster, a poster which proclaims the thesis of the very movement Spinelli himself was instrumental in forming !

I could go on about other images of his, but I’m not a writer, and I’m beginning to tire somewhat. In closing, therefore, I would like to congratulate Andrea on his recent body of work, which has risen to wonderful new conceptual levels. And now in the words of an old song that will perhaps bring a smile to the face of our spaghetti and meatballs painter (does anyone remember the cartoon-driven Italian- American chef which Andrea so gleefully displayed in Via Guelfa?):

“Ma de cantá só giá stracquato
e mme manca mo lo sciato…
sicché, dateme licienzia,
graziosa e bella audienzia,
‘nfi’ che sórchio na meza de seje,
co’ salute de luje e de leje,
ca se secca lo cannaróne,
sbacantánnosse lo premmóne…” *

* from the Neapolitan song “Lo guarracino” ( anonymous, 1700 ) Roughly translated: at the end of a very long rambling verse which is subject of the song, the author asks only for a drink of wine to refresh his throat, very sore from having spoken so much ! ( alla fine l’autore del lunghissimo poemetto chiede solo un sorso di vino per rinfrescarsi l’ugola seriamente compromessa da tanto parlare. )

Drew Knapp

© Copyright Andrea Spinelli
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