Saturday, February 6, 2010

Paolo Ventura: Winter Stories

Paolo Ventura tells mysterious, uncertain, opaque, beguiling, vaguely unsettling tales...with photographs of emotionally precise figurines set within painstakingly made and highly evocative tableaus.

His dioramas of a small-time circus visiting an unnamed, gray northern Italian city--entitled Winter Stories--were on display in December and January at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler gallery (NYC). The day we visited it was appropriately bitter and overcast.

The Milan-born Ventura is a consummate craftsman, sketching out each scene first, then constructing the sets and dolls. Next he takes many preliminary pictures before deciding that the lighting and deployment are just right.

And Ventura is a conjurer of moods: the tristesse of wan light on dark walls, the soot-chill of urban winter. The occasional streak of color--a scarlet uniform, for instance--only highlights the umber and gray.

Above all, his people are alone, do not converse either with one another or with the viewer. Most of them stare past the viewer or have faces turned away from us, or are obscured altogether (under clown make-up or under a bird's-head mask or by a mass of balloons). The Italian verb imboscare applies: to hide (or be shut up) within the woods, to occlude, to lie in ambush. All we get are glimpses of secretive lives, seen from outside narrow, enclosed places. This is Fassbinder territory, that of "Eleanor Rigby."

For many more pictures, click here. For an excellent short video of Ventura explaining his technique, click here.

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