by Tamsin Smith
John DiPaolo’s 10th solo show at Dolby Chadwick opened in San Francisco on December 2nd. The exhibit will gratify and surprise. There hang, in all their sculptural power, the large-scale gestural and multi-textural abstractions for which he is known. The disjunctive but somehow harmonized angles of warm and cool tones predominated by whites, blues and oscillations of orange lure the viewer to get in close. The familiar sensation of a child with nose pressed to the window of a bake shop returns. Our eyes salivate. DiPaolo’s thick, delicious paint application tempts like a newly-battered cake.
Then, some inner voice of decorum prompts one to take a few steps back and a shift occurs. Confectionary delight transitions to cosmic encounter. Whoa. What is it we are witnessing in the act of emergence? That which initially seemed to be layers of artfully placed pigment have gathered into a kinetic force that reaches out towards us. Some origami world is unfolding before us, tempting us with its secrets. A sense of nakedness takes hold, but it’s uncertain whether it is the painted composition or we that are the ones being undressed.
John DiPaolo | Chameleon, 2021 | Oil on canvas | 60 x 73 inches
DiPaolo has taken us into primal territory. We are in a space of awakening. The show’s title, "Light After Darkness," has a biblical echo to it. From the muck and mire emerge the seas, the forests, the animals, vegetables and minerals of existence. DiPaolo’s hues take on symbolic significance. Robert Motherwell animated his picture plane by choosing rich associative colors. DiPaolo too is pulling dawn from a void. Blue becomes a proto-wave: molecules of matter before there was such a thing as weather to carry the energy of hydrogen and oxygen to distant shores. We are suspended in the amber hue of a moment before the vagaries of experience and irritations of modern life distract us.
And yet, the realities of today remain within us. Light After Darkness also suggests a more recent reemergence, from the bubble of shelter-in-place orders and the ongoing practice of masking our mouths in order to speak with one another. In paintings such as Indigenous and Chameleon, DiPaolo wields not only his choice of titles well, but his use of darkness at the edges of the canvas, to reinforce the emotion of emergence. Darkness becomes even more elemental to a painting like Phosphorus, which resonates like an x-ray. Brushstrokes of white glow like bones on the floor of an ancient cave or on the illuminated screen in a doctor’s office. This haunting quality is juxtaposed in Revolver #5, a diptych that deploys this photo negative effect in one panel, while the other panel captures its shape’s more vibrant echo. Is this before and after or a visceral visual embrace of John Keats’ notion of negative capability?
The terror, mystery and joy of art is that, whether viewing a painting or listening to a poem, one need not resolve this tension. Their truth, as well as their beauty, lie in the space between knowing and being. Our connection to great works should evolve as we move through the shadows and dappled brilliance of our days. The surprise of this exhibition is a remembrance that feels like a revelation. The work is quintessentially DiPaolo’s and yet also entirely fresh.
In The Light Surrounding Us… and Peripheral Vision DiPaolo adds bands of color along the top and bottom edge of his compositions. These frames within the frame seem to contain the explosive central scenes, as if to remind the viewer that, visceral reactions aside, these are painted abstractions. By using more than one band at top and bottom and varying the colors, there’s a playful meta vibe that comes through. Rather than repeating this Borges-like storyline, in Untitled Green Band, DiPaolo places a neat band of green just above the half-way point, giving the composition the depth field of a still life or landscape painting, particularly as the lower realm seems to lick up and over the band as if having difficulty containing itself. The straining against strictures in both these works brings the natural world to mind, and the folly of humankind's attempts to control it.
I suspect that living with a John DiPaolo painting over time would become less an examination of the artist’s many layers and more of an invitation to wander through one’s own.
Stanley Kunitz’s poem “Layers” comes to mind.
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was
Do we not all feel this, regardless of our age, stage or situation? The poem ends with this line:
I am not done with my changes.
Amen to that.