Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Last Monday I had the pleasure of spending some time with Enza Benincasa and seeing work from her latest exhibition. Her large-scale acrylic paintings on fine Fabriano paper that depict distant and aerial views of the vast Melbourne cosmopolis as well as scenes from the ancient Mediterranean village of Cetara on the Amalfi coast of Italy, are splendid and intricate in their execution and design. However, what captured me the most about these works was the soft fluidity that emerges amidst the sketchy, sometimes drawn in features of the surrounding cityscape. Enza executes these paintings in layers and then meticulously undertakes a trace or mapping of structures that should be solid, but become in her interpretation almost ethereal imaginings, suggestive of a dream or trace-like state in which reality is viewed through the mist of time or the lens of phantasy.
Perhaps it was her color palette or the fact that she used a kind of tracing as the final layer that reminded me of some of Jon Cattapan’s paintings, particularly Viridian Eye (2010), which were also fluid, also schematic and relied heavily on soft pastel hues as well as fluorescent colors to represent geophysical space.  Unlike Cattapan’s paintings which include people, albeit shadowy hints of them, Benincasa’s paintings are bereft of them. The twin cities, the buildings, the ubiquitous machinery of construction, as in the extremely pink painting entitled ‘Constructing Melbourne’ with its towering crane and other hints of the way in which the natural environment are transformed; shown from a distant aerial view, reveal the city as elusive, impersonal and somehow out of reach.  However her use of pink and the open space of the picture plane, like the great expanse of water in many of her paintings, appears to symbolize a calm acceptance and perhaps even a spiritual journey. Water, a potent symbol of life, appears to move through the painting plane purely through her use of muted greens and blues, at other times, as in the painting that clearly depicts Cetara and the ocean surrounding it, water is the primary subject revealed as a vast and perhaps dangerous expanse that must be traversed.
In another work that includes both Melbourne and Cetara, a school of fish is trapped in a net, illustrating perhaps that the artist's heart is caught between a present reality and a desire to return to a familiar place that she finds welcoming and consoling. The veracity of everyday and the way it permeates perception is revealed in the triptych of the city, which she has overlaid with graffiti. Scrawled across the surface the fluorescent paint speaks not only of defacement of beauty but the harsh realities and underbelly of city life. Alternatively, the gestural scrawl maybe her way of erasing aspects of an impersonal space that towers above and around us.
I asked Enza whether the fantasy that I detected in her work was indeed extraordinary, in the true sense as 'imagining things that are impossible or improbable’. She said that ‘It was truly magic to be painting this scene of the ancient Mediterranean village of Cetara on the Amalfi coast. I swooned myself into a magical hypnotic state while painting with this glorious color! I wondered what she felt about her relationship with the city of Melbourne and how it related to that of her ancestors. Enza replied: ‘Cetara is one of the most magnificent places on earth, allowing its ancient history and current stories to be revealed to you as you walk through its little winding streets that lead you through a myriad of paths and surprises or down to its beautiful sparkling beach or up to its breathtaking mountains’. Enza's work is currently showing at Edges Art Gallery, 324A Glenhuntly road, Elsternwick until the 30 March.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful insightful review of a truly amazing artist. I look forward to viewing this exhibition next week.