The Italian-born artist Francesco Igory Deiana has created a body of work at once familiar and strange in “Free Fall” at The Popular Workshop. His upbringing in the unstructured and free world of street art and graffiti comes through subtly, like a bright under painting on a dark canvas. There are the humble materials you might expect: card stock, ballpoint pen, Styrofoam and spray paint. The end result and combinations of mediums are less anticipated or even discernible. Meticulous geometric ink drawings appear in diptychs with matte gyclee prints. Both look like they might be elaborate stamps or lithographs.
Most of the pieces in the show operate in a place between pattern, shape and line, but the image of a caveman recurs in a sculpture and several photographic prints, adding human form and history. “Effigy” combines two luminous pictures of the paper mache sculpture installed across the gallery with a fan-like ink drawing. There is something deeply disturbing, primal and nearly grotesque about this work that is somehow balanced by the immaculate geometries at its center. Another sculpture contains a similar dichotomy of feeling. Taking the burnt spine of a found Christmas tree, Deiana used ballpoint pen ink to create a luminescent object that is equal parts holy, alien and luxe.
Created on the day of the opening, a mural depicting The Dying Gaul stretches above the gallery’s entrance over the sidewalk. Using this image of an ancient Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture, Deiana creates an ephemeral and ambiguous work. The loose freehand style contrasts with the tight draftsmanship and craft of the works inside the building. The former is public art, neither salable nor sanctioned. The latter is embedded firmly in the art market and yet still enlivened by a raw energy.
The artist’s ability to live within and without the establishment, and to operate in representation and abstraction, is exceptional. Upon coming to the United States, Deiana did not speak English, had little money and no work visa that would allow him to earn any. Cheap materials collaged together, starburst bleach stains and iridescent thumbprints speak to this humble start. They also add life and color to an exhibition that is about the body, the now, the weight of the world and the ability to let go. Speaking in an interview with owners Andy Hawgood and Nate Hooper about his drawings, Deiana notes, “The black parts are usually enclosed in solid geometric shapes, inside of them it’s wildness.”
This wildness seems to characterize his experience living in a foreign country and his coming of age as a maker. When he photographs a TV screen playing video he shot himself of the clouds overhead and places the print next to a teardrop shape, Deiana shows us how two things can share space yet maintain their difference.
-Contributed by Ariel Rosen