Marco Tirelli: Painting the Invisible


From an 2012 New York Times article by Roderick Conway Morris:

Over the last decade, Mr. Tirelli’s painting has given rise to a series of large-scale canvases of geometric objects and arresting contrasts of light and darkness — rendered with an extraordinary combination of boldness in design and subtlety in perspective and painting technique to create astonishing trompe-l’oeil sculptural images and vibrant visual effects.

These paintings are difficult to categorize. They are metaphysical in that they share the aspiration of Giorgio de Chirico during his Metaphysical Painting period “to show what cannot be seen.”


Mr. Tirelli’s “Untitled, 2009,” which was on display at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice from 2010 to 2011. Credit Jean-Pierre Gabriel

“I was incredibly struck, for example, how in ‘Il Vaticinatore’ de Chirico showed the shadow of a statue, but not the statue itself,” he said. “So the statue was absent and yet present.”

However, the means by which Mr. Tirelli strives to realize his metaphysical visions are entirely different from those of the Greek-born painter. Indeed, to explain the purpose of his works he turns not to other painters but instead to the early 19th-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi’s “L’infinito” (Infinity). In these verses the poet, sitting on a hill, his view of the distant horizon impeded by a hedge, imagines “endless spaces beyond,” perceiving that immensity, through intervening layers of physical reality, only in the mind’s eye.

“I’m fascinated by surfaces and what is on the other side of them,” Mr. Tirelli said. “Dürer was intensely engaged with this concept of ‘perspicere,’ of ‘seeing through,”’ he added, referring to the Renaissance German artist. “And, of course, the use of perspective to transport the viewer through the immediate surface, the canvas or the wall, into another world is its classic manifestation in art.”

While maintaining a base at the Cerere factory, Mr. Tirelli spent much of the 1990s and the last decade in a remote house in the mountains of Umbria in the region of Spoleto, pursuing his art in an almost hermitlike fashion. “I am not religious in a conventional sense, but Umbria is a deeply mystical land,” he said.


The artist Marco Tirelli in his studio in Rome. Credit Marco Anelli
((This was my studio for several months in 1997/98))

The utter darkness of the night when he looked out of the window of his house there, far from artificial light sources, had a profound influence on his artistic vision, he said.

“You knew that there were mountains and woods and a world out there yet you could not see them in the almost total blackness,” he said. “And by shining a torch out into the darkness, you could see the complete division of light and darkness. The church fathers described God as light, but I began to conceive of an all-enveloping God not as light, but as darkness.”

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