Tintoretto – May 2015

It’s been fun playing Biennale Bingo here in Venezia, but I come here for other reasons. As I’ve said before I feel connected here. I can’t really explain it, but I like the light, the color, the canals, the sea, the inconvenience of it all, the mazes of walkways, the endless walking, the intermittent internet, the same 5 ingredients served 1000 different ways, the Venetians, the very strange tanning opportunities at the Lido, the conversations using whatever made up words that sound Italian that I can think of, and the painting. Painting here (mostly Mannerist and Baroque painting) is a dream. I am a huge fan of Tintoretto’s work but you can not understand unless you make the trip here to see it. I discovered that years ago on my first trip to Venice. I had heard of Tinto, but aside from a few crappy reproductions, there was nothing out there. Tintoretto is a home grown, home based, hometown hero. Nearly all of his masterworks are here, and they never travel, never leave the spots where they have been permanently mounted. In the US we have no idea what this little guy managed to do, nor how his work must have influenced many of the greats that came after him. I’ve read that Caravaggio came through here at some point in his early days, and it’s probably so, because you can see the influence of Tinto on his work, especially in the compositions and the light. In fact you can see a great deal of Venetian painting in his work…, but I digress.

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I’ve written about Tintoretto and the importance of his work on many occasions, so I won’t bore you again. But I will say that when he is great, and he is great often, there is no better painter. Even today the work comes alive in exciting and complex ways – his compositions, his rhythms and movements, his brush work, and his color – still can offer solutions to many of the problems of our contemporary Postmodern Mannerism. There are 4 paintings in the Scuola di San Rocco that send me to school every time I have seen them. I’ve sat across them in this amazing hall and watched as these images move through the centuries. When they were first painted the color must have been glorious. Today they are darker and harder looking – untouched by restorers. But even so, they remain an amazing lesson in painting. Yeah, I know the place looks like a gaudy Vegas showcase, what with the gold ceiling and the mood lighting, but if you take a bit of time the images will take you away.

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There’s no way we’ll see the best of this work in a museum or a white cube – no way for a “contemporary” experience of this work. Tintoretto’s paintings, especially in San Rocco, will remain where they are. But you can get a taste of how that might look, a cleaner look at the images – first from the Biennale a few years ago when Tintoretto actually opened the show in the Giardini and looked as contemporary as our colleagues. Second from a couple of works in the Academia that were claimed from a crap church installation. These goofy portrait scenes of saints are textbook compositions for Tinto. They are the kind of images he would usually combine into a much larger composition. He’s used both his life studies and his own imagined proportions for these figures leaving us convinced of this painted reality. Additionally, by taking liberties with the forms and space he’s pushed the boundaries of what might be considered “correct art” of his time. If you look at Tintoretto’s contemporaries you’ll see that even these restrained paintings are more active, more vibrant and more “tasteless” in their depictions. What’s also nice about the few isolated works in the Academia is that the color is still intact, and it’s right there in front of you at eye level. You get the flavor of Tintoretto’s strong primary palette, the tension that he creates in his compositions and the wonderful play of incorrect light. Needless to say – all of this appeals to me.

As I come to the end of my stay here in Dorsoduro I wanted to say that my friend Dennis Bellone would have enjoyed commenting on these posts. He has been in my thoughts, and I hope that some of you have made the effort to go to his web site, see his work and read his blog immaterial-culture. Dennis will be missed by us all. My good friends Michael and Paul have been working diligently for upcoming shows and keeping in touch during this adventure! They will be the recipients of a few drunken tales of artistic debauchery when I return. And finally I want to send my deepest thanks and warmest appreciation to the very lovely, wonderful and talented Tina, who absolutely loathes the internet and nearly everything on it, but helped this clumsy aesthetic tourist through a phalanx of Venetian difficulties. Grazie!