On view beginning April 26 – June 9 at its Railyard location, LewAllen Galleries premieres the first major gallery exhibition in the United States of the celebrated urban landscape painter and Venice Biennale artist Marco Petrus, who lives and works in Milan, Italy. Over a career that has spanned more than 20 years, Petrus has been acclaimed for his singular decontextualized use of highly geometric urban architectural forms presented with a purity of radiant color, unconventional perspective and reductive essentiality.
These paintings are portrait-like in their subdued reverence for Modernist architectural subjects – buildings, towers, stadia, skyscrapers and industrial buildings – but they also radiate energy and conjure a phantasmal effect that produces an atmospheric sensibility verging on magical realism. Petrus, originally trained as an architect, uses a flattening and abstraction of color and geometry to create a rigid stillness that begets deep contemplation and wonder. Obscure down-up camera angles, foreshortened perspective, and zoomed-in building views reveal only partially, and engender an unaccustomed intimacy with the linear structure of architecture of Milan, Trieste, New York, Helsinki, Shanghai, Naples, Rome -- all rendered in an hypnotic range of pastel and electric colors that demand attention while offering the possibility for meditative insight.
In creating a unique visual articulation of the primary architectural forms of contemporary cities, Petrus' oils on canvas confer a remarkable opportunity for imagination and reflection, both about the urban experience in particular but also the making of culture in general. These images of an urban reality subtly altered from that ordinarily resident in most observers’ experience, jostle perception, shake the casual viewer into looking more closely and thinking more actively. In this regard, Petrus’ paintings function in a way similar to Jorge Luis Borges’ conception of post-modern literature and the effect of existentialist and magical realist writing to blur fiction and fact to provoke new ways of thinking.
Like an ancient petroglyph that fascinates but does not clarify, Petrus' images are imprints of cultural importance that valorize an essential aspect of human experience while remaining cloaked in mystery. They can be seen to serve an equivalent function in a post-modern world: the images inspire wonder and signify connections between time and space but, as Italian magical realist writer Italo Calvino has said about cities in general, the urban form of a Petrus painting "does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps...". With their intricate delineation of line, angle and volume, the paintings focus literally on the city's "lines of the hand", they direct attention "in the corners" and -- with pure color, monochromatic skies, and shadow play in unexpected views -- they prompt memory and nostalgia for authentic creative achievement that once characterized great architecture and which today mainly is mimicked.
They also exhibit the post-modern tendency for elimination of the unessential, in this case a total excision of the human form and any portrayal of life or the organic -- not even a cloud in the sky. This isolation of the architectural form -- devoid of reference to the people who created it or live among it -- intensifies the image and produces a mesmerizing effect. In so doing the artist introduces an element of the subtly abstract that slows the process of seeing and fosters a stillness derived from the total absence of any reference to the expected commotion of daily urban existence. Here there is the opportunity for meditative thinking, to see the stark immensity of the urban edifice that serves to concentrate a sort of daydream of matters beyond the immediate and greater than those of the human condition. In this stillness, in the purity of form and its suspension from time and location, in the removal of the mortal from the immortal, Petrus creates what the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard called "an attitude that is so special, an inner state that is so unlike any other, that the daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity."
Petrus began his artistic career carrying nothing but a small camera, wandering about Italian cities with legacies of industrial production such as Milan, Trieste and Rimini, snapping shots (which he considers to be his sketches) of gritty neighborhoods and Mussolini-era modernist buildings. After studying architecture and engraving, his first major painting exhibition was in Milan in 1991. His career quickly ignited and exhibitions followed at such distinguished venues as Milan's Centro Arte S.Fedele, the Pully Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, Berlin's Kunsterforderung, the Palazzo Sarcinelli in the Veneto, Museo del Risorgimento in Rome, the "Sui Generis" exhibition at the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea in Milan, the Palazzo delle Stelline in Milan, as well as the "Italian Factory: The New Italian Art Scene" exhibitions in Strasbourg, Madrid, and Taipei, as well as other many other locales such as London, Moscow and Shanghai. In addition to his work being selected for two Venice Bienales, Petrus is a recipient of prestigious Lombardy San Carlo Borromeo Prize.