Notes of Persistent Awe
Columns by Benjamin Terrell
Cleaning Coins With Ashes
Benjamin Terrell on Dan Gluibizzi
2019, watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil on paper, 50" x 42"
Dan Gluibizzi's group portraits are often the expressions of two of the greatest themes in art- the nude body and the kiss. Flowers, one of art histories other most familiar themes, are somewhat present, too; Dan's colorful figurative arrangements can feel like human bouquets in various forms of spiraling and blossoming. But these are people that bloom in a digital landscape, and for every group they suggest they could be considered a part of three others. Bodies shown radiant and repeated seem to imply infinity, but are these figures engaged in expansive expression or are they depictions of us erasing us? Technology has a way of reducing the participant to a vapor trail of its participation. And there is something beautiful yet sad about imagining us wiping ourselves off of our own chalkboard.
Together We Follow
watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil on paper, 45" x 112"
Archetypes acting out the earliest stages of choice and expression, honeycombs of initial impulse:
We all wore headphones,
they were our headshots,
I too touched my face.
We were naked,
they all sat the same,
I was both exposed and embraced.
The composer Arvo Part said, "Coronavirus has shown us in a painful way that humanity is a single organism and human existence is possible only in relation to other human beings." The humans that inhabit the work of Gluibizzi appear to be separately searching and self-aware, but also seem to consistently relate and reunite like a socially structured mandala. And like a mandala, Dan's unspoken order can give way to disintegration, reintegration and ultimately reflect a radiant viewpoint of many into one to one into many. Imagine a mandala as an iPhone app or even as the cinematic square perspective typically seen in an Edward Hopper painting. In Hopper's world people are lost and longing in a rapidly expanding world. In Dan's work there is similar searching, but in an opposite, connected yet constricted digital world devoid of any landscape.
Perhaps an artist is always painting the same picture, not necessarily repeating but increasing and always adding occupants to an incomplete other world. To imagine all of Dan's groupings existing all at once could be like rushing on the field after an epic football game. To be center field in this life is to fully appreciate the unlimited choice and consequence of an unending conversation. As an artist's audience we are also inevitable participants and objects of interaction exercising infinite options between urge and instinct. To see yourself in a particular person in a painting by Dan is to let a domino fall to identify with every figure he has painted.
The people in Dan's paintings have round Tintin eyes, but unlike the cartoon character these are inkless empty orbs that belong not to explorers, but to inland inhabitants echoing the animated movie Fantastic Planet. Are they then the oppressors or the heroes of the 1973 film (called Oms) who were oppressed? Perhaps like us, living on a planet we detach from yet depend on, they are both. Charles de Gaulle said that we, like Tintin, 'are the little ones who don't let themselves be fooled by the big ones." In an era where we are simultaneously victim and captor, it's fitting and refreshing to see that Dan's work never really divides us into an "other." Dan Gluibizzi eyes are coins cleaned with ashes and to look out from them is to watch a world wither through a digital device.
Fifteen at Nine-thirty
2021, watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil on paper, 40" x 34"
Even the titles of Gluibizzi's works read like poems, separate and searching and relating and reuniting:
"Couple at night," "Couple and shadow," "Three at night," "Couple circle," "Screen shot," "Six in the sun," "Eight couples kissing,""Kissing tree," "Saturn kisses," "Saturated April," "Swipe style," "Together we follow," "Thirty-four heads," "Twelve in line," "Eleven futures," "Out of phase," "Opened jar," "In orbit."
The Gestalt Theory of perception says that we make sense of our world by seeing separate and distinct elements and viewing them as a unified whole. Dan's figures are anonymous and are seen without room to roam, and those simplifications lead the viewer to quickly assume their similarities, stories, and identities. Social media too, is a countless series of figure-ground flips. What appears central and important one moment recedes and dissolves in the next, pulsing and pulling us between real time and screen time. But blankness between Dan's figures can also feel literary, like the necessary bareness of a book's margins or the empty page after a short poem. An online equivalent is the uninhabitable empty space where ego erases and auto populates.
2021, watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil on paper, 24" x 20"
A sheet of stamps is actually twenty different destinations, a portrait of ourselves can be comprised of our last twenty-five "likes," the twelve closest cars to you in traffic may imply a common direction but actually are all random, unknown destinations. Picture the invisible path of a virus spreading, imagine online consensus as a mysterious single snowflake's pattern. All are visualizations of random expansions and contractions of group multiplicity.
Singularity by definition is one but also the point at which something becomes infinite. In addition, it refers to dramatic shifts in thinking, the great gaps between what can be understood from within the momentum of our finite participation. Are we the liberators of our own unlimited imagination or are we the hand that pulls the technological string of our own inevitable unraveling? Dan Gluibizzi catches us in the mirror of our contemplation, in the places we vulnerably first appear and decide. He paints the places where we are first named, the awkward unknown areas where we identify as together and alone.
The author (left) and the artist.
I visited Dan's studio and noticed immediately that he was playing the music of Steve Reich. The composer's music is known for its use of "repetitive figures" and swirling compositions that open and flow as they are created in a process called "phrase shifting." I owned a cassette of Reich's "Different Trains" as a teenager. In that work, speech is used as a source and origin for melody, mirrored by instruments and sounds of trains as they travel in the US and in Europe during the second world war. Reich, using the voices of Holocaust survivors and historians as a musical narrative, imagines our destinies as potentially interchangeable. "Different Trains" is a perfect counterpoint to the painting of Gluibizzi. Both employ people as repeating vehicles that deliver us -sometimes forcefully and other times gracefully- to our unknown fates.