Carlo Vitale at Belle Isle Viewing Room

The small selection of paintings here, made between 1978 and 1989, was culled from Carlo Vitale’s vast oeuvre. The artist’s maximalist abstractions feature elaborate compositions in which thousands of impasto brushstrokes are overlaid on fields of color, creating undulating layers of graphic instability that make one’s eyes dance––even ache. Their optical effects cannot be properly photographed, but must be parsed in person for their dizzying illusionistic effects to emerge. An encounter with his work offers up a deeply physical experience, in sharp contrast to our virtual lives and the consumption of digital images to which we are now habituated.

Vitale’s abstractions resonate with the collage-  and mosaic-inspired aesthetic of Detroit’s Cass Corridor art scene during the 1980s, the milieu in which he studied painting. The artist merged his clashing, electric palette with a plein air approach to picture making, which he cultivated by escaping for long periods of time to his rural studio north of the city. Each canvas took several weeks—or even years—to complete, and indexes his movements and ideas at an exhaustive level, resulting in elaborate quasi-topographical surfaces. The frequency of his marks is strictly modulated, but their orientation and textures are wide-ranging. The surface of Cherry Hill Park, 1980–91, for instance, is complicated by dotted lines made of gestural ovoids colliding with smaller circle-shaped brush marks. Between these stitchlike delineations and solid fields of pastel, Vitale painted yellow rings and other forms rendered with a loose hand. The colors evoke a field of cherry blossoms, but the mood they convey has priority over image.

For all their visual tumult, Vitale’s compositions demand slow looking. Their scintillating optics blossom under a prolonged gaze, and at this level of engagement the work begins to take on psychospiritual dimensions. The paintings’ cosmic aspects derive from a childhood experience in which the artist was struck by lightning—indeed, a form of near-lethal, once-in-a-lifetime “inspiration” that has fueled his psychedelic, kinetic color interactions on canvas ever since.

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