2008 – PAINTINGS – FRANCESCA TULLI exhibition catalogue – Maniero Gallery – Roma.
The Paintings of Francesca Tulli feature warm-hued still-lifes and interior scenes. Chairs, lamps and rugs are gathered together in groups, but they are not assembled in formal settings. Almost like a troupe of actors, every item flaunts its own discerning characteristic trait, promoting a mixture of bourgoise and anarchic attitudes. The furniture seems too tightly arranged to be practical. At the same time, Tulli’s scenes are intimate and comfortable, apparently viewed under the warm glow of firelight, like cosy visions of domestic bliss.
Adding to the sweet atmosphere, Tulli’s canvases appear to be glazed in the colours of honey, treacle and toffee.
But before the imagery becomes too cloying or “sticky”, Tulli introduces a pictorial device to challenge the homeliness of her interiors. The perspective is tilted at an alarming angle, shifting steeply to introduce a sense of vertigo. This is reminiscent of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, in which he interrupted middle-class contentment with the entrance of unexpected evil, violence and fear. Tulli’s sitting rooms are shown from strange viewpoints. Observed from close down to the floor, a lamp looms ominously over the space. When viewed from an oblique angle, an awkward undercurrent emerges, a feeling of threat, as though something or someone might be hiding behind a high-backed chair. The shadows are deep black. The privacy is disrupted, the intimacy is disturbed. If there was a soundtrack to Tulli’s canvases, it would be the jarring, Hitchcockian music of discord.
In Tulli’s most recent large canvases, she has concentrated her focus on imagery of books, magazines and journals, laying open on the polished tops of wooden tables. These are not necessarily existing publications. In fact they are conceptual collages of different pages that only appear next to each other in Tulli’s paintings. These include a glamorous face from a fashion magazine, a cloudy landscape, the illustration of a cosmic explosion and a deep-sea creature seen under a magnifying glass. They are viewed from above, recalling an aerial view from a plane window, where the flat countryside has been replaced by the picture of a landscape.
“The pages are like windows onto another world,” says Tulli. “The landscape is no longer real, but separated from us by an extra degree, as a representation of a representation. It is the same with the photographed faces from a magazine, since I am painting a reproduction of a reproduction. You no longer reflect on whether the face you see is real, since the gesture of painting annuls the photographic process. I am using paint to represent a printed image, not the object depicted, but the photograph itself. In this way, it is several steps away from reality.”
In such new paintings as Doppio Occhio (Double Eye), Cielo (Sky) and Spiraliform (Spiralling form), Tulli shows pictures of an enlarged eye staring out from the page. The reader is being observed, the viewer is under surveillance. This game of hide-and-seek, or cat-and-mouse, contributes to the edgy mood in these paintings, where a magazine casually tossed aside becomes a sly but vigilant guardian instead. The disembodied eye recalls the facial close-ups in the vintage, black-and-white fashion shoots for Vogue by Erwin Blumenfeld, Man Ray and Irving Penn, or that infamous scene of a woman’s eyeball being sliced by a razor in Luis Bunuel’s surreal cult masterpiece, Un chien andalou (1929). The film noir tone is further accentuated by Tulli’s use of the cinematic languages of montage, overlapping imagery, superimposition and editing.
Transparent squares of light often shine over the painted pages. It is as though she is looking at life through a lens. “This is an ulterior filter, a device to further distance the viewer,” says Tulli. “At the same time, the paler square functions as a method of concentration, reducing the visual field, like a magnifier. While my painting is about looking at reality, it remains a virtual reality, an illusion of realism.”
In her Roma studio, Francesca Tulli paints a dream-like world of disquieting beauty and uneasy suburban charm. Incorporating a number of techniques, Tulli’s work is inherently monumental, no matter its actual physical size. “In all my work, I look closely at aspects of autonomy and structure, whether it is in the two dimensions of painting or the three dimensions of sculpture,” she says. “Not by chance, an important part of my work is the equilibrium and the balance … be it in the painted representation of a photograph of faces in a fashion magazine or marine creatures from a scientific journal, or the small bronze idols with sharply pointed tails.”