On the way to the studio I passed a store that sold swords and fencing equipment. The rack of sheathed blades in the window evoked ninjas rather than men in leotards and fencing masks. Across the street a store advertised second-hand mink and fox fur coats. It was raining. No hat, no umbrella. I have to ring two bells and pass through two gates in order to get to the lobby, where there are three elevators and no directory. I don’t know what floor I am supposed to go to.
In Blade Runner, it is November 2019, in Los Angeles, and the sun never shines. Rick Deckard is coerced into hunting down four replicants, technologically created human clones, which have returned to earth to find their creator and lengthen their lives. The film came out in 1982 and wasn’t a hit. We have moved up thirty years. November 2019 is less than a decade away. Some people’s credit cards won’t have expired by then.
I am going to the studio of Fabian Marcaccio. He was born in 1963 in Rosario, Argentina, birthplace of the artist Lucio Fontana. In 1947, while living in Milan, Fontana founded Spatialism, which synthesized color, sound, space, movement and time. His 1947 “Black Spatial Environment,” a room that he painted black, anticipated installation art. In 1949, Fontana made holes in his paintings, and in 1950, he slashed their surfaces with a razor blade.
In the 1990s, Marcaccio coined the word “paintant” by fusing “painting” and “mutant.” In his “paintants,” he would sometimes carve and expose the stretcher bars. He worked on burlap and fabric. He used photographic images and applied various mediums to digitally printed surfaces. His materials included oil paint, silicone, acrylics and sand. He made relief-like brushstrokes out of silicone and attached them to the surface of his work. Sometimes they extended out onto the wall, like an extra limb. They were neither natural nor artificial, but a hybrid combination. The last time he showed his work in New York was 2007.
I am going to see some of the works that Marcaccio is about to send to the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, for an exhibition, Some USA Stories. (March 18 – August 19, 2012). The museum consists of two adjacent houses designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1927. Construction was completed in 1928, and in 1930 the two houses were joined. One of the notable features of the design is the way van der Rohe reconfigured the relationship of inside and outside.
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The recent works are made of hand woven manila rope; colored climbing rope; rough, unfinished boards; alkyd paint and silicone. Varying thicknesses of manila rope are wrapped around a frame of rough boards, creating a mesh. They are woven horizontally and vertically into a mesh whose weave ranges from fine and tight to open and loose.
If he wants, Marcaccio can have the weave echo the perspective lines used in the floor patterns of Renaissance paintings, as he does in “Limo” (2011-2012). Or he can interrupt the natural manila-colored weave by introducing colored climbing rope. Waiting to be worked on,
A stack of prepared frames leaning against the wall reminds me of looms and palettes you might see discarded along a dock. They are waiting to be worked on, but even before he begins to use the silicone, the work feels gritty and homemade.
Marcaccio extrudes the silicone from a machine, which he designed. It can come out as a flat, undulating ribbon or a round, snake-like form. It can be squeezed from a tube, which recalls the bag a pastry chef uses for frosting. It can be applied to a flat surface and peeled off and then affixed to the rope mesh. It can go over and under different strands of the weave. It can be applied from the back and pushed through the mesh, until it becomes a cluster of bulbous materiality. The artist also makes molds, which are used to cast relief-like forms of machine parts and crystals. The colors are artificial and seemingly limitless. One orange hue reminded me of the cheap food coloring used to dye cupcake frosting.
Marcaccio gets his sources from the Internet and newspapers. One painting is titled “Breaking News” (2011). Another is “Brick Painting” (2011), where the holes in the undulating silicone surface suggest the aftermath of a firing squad. Other subjects include the confrontations at Ruby Ridge and Waco, the mob killing of four American contractors at Fallujah, and the massacre at Columbine High School. The recurring subject is the repeated and insistent destruction of the human body.
Marcaccio has juiced Gerhardt Richter’s flatfooted pictoriality into something visceral and strange. He has gone way beyond the photographic blur into a sci-fi realm where deformation is the norm. He’s using plastic, not oil paint. You cannot get anything approaching classical beauty using this stuff. Rather, everything comes out looking distorted. The silicone is weird, and not particularly seductive. The deformations are inherent to its materiality, just as the buckling, bending, twisting surface and worm-like extrusions are inherent to the process. There is no difference between inside and outside, which cancels out the perception of skin and body. In that regard, the forms feel natural, which is why his work isn’t expressionistic.
It’s as if Marcaccio has gotten his hands on the gamma radiation that transformed Dr. Bruce Banner into the Hulk. In places, brightly colored globules pop through the porous skin of the painting, like dangerous, uncontrollable growths. Your attention keeps shifting between the visual and the physical. The dance that Marcaccio choreographs between visuality and physicality, which is the result of the interactions he sets up between the silicone and the rope mesh, is unlike anyone else’s. In his exploration of the relationship between material and support, and his use of an open mesh where the wall behind the work is clearly visible, Marcaccio shares something with an older generation of radically experimental artists such as Alan Shields, Joe Zucker and William Tillyer, not to mention Lucio Fontana. The difference is that Marcaccio is excessive, that he works at the edge of chaos and, at times, legibility. It is a world where decay and rampant growth seem inseparable.
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The colors get suspended within each other, rather than mixing together. The silicone is a mutant offspring of paint. It never loses shape. The shiny materiality is both seductive and off-putting. The colors can be ramped up. Because it can resemble oil paint, one is able to forget that the painting is made of silicone. We may recognize that “Waco” (2011) is an aerial view of burning house, with billowing, oily smoke rising into the air, but the bulbous extrusion of red, orange, and yellow silicone dissolves the boundaries between representation and abstraction, and between the visual and physical. We are looking at fire and dense clusters of red, yellow, and orange bubble-like forms.
The silicone is paradoxical — it appears to be simultaneously indestructible and in a state of decay. In “Jim Jones” (2011-2012), the cult leader’s relief-like arm is made of a mold for machine-like parts. He is part human, part cyborg, and part zombie. He has been degraded, and yet the work’s bright, shiny, thick, uneven surface invites the viewer to touch and even squeeze it.
It is the paradoxical nature that holds our attention, generating myriad associations and opening up a zone in which we might ponder where each of them could lead. The constantly changing, topographical surfaces and saturated colors are both physical and visual. Their interaction keeps shifting and changing. If we move closer to the work or focus on a ribbon of color, the rest of the work is lost to us.
At one point, I blurted, “These are zombies.” If painting isn’t dead and it isn’t alive, perhaps, I reasoned, it is a zombie, one of the living dead ravenous with hunger. Like the mass media, it wants to devour the world. The mass media turns everything into an image, a bodiless presence. Marcaccio, on the other hand, restores the pierced, burnt and eviscerated bodies. He focuses our attention on the unbridled mutations informing everyday life. There is the weird warp of his images sliding into a creepy physicality. The silicone doesn’t decay, but it embodies its degradation.