NON-AMERICAN POSTWAR ART III: Renato Guttuso


RENATO GUTTUSO (1912 – 1987) is best known for his social-realist paintings of working- and middle-class daily life in the post-war Mezzogiorno. While his pictures are clearly politicized, they are rarely straightforward polemics, just as his naturalistic pictorial mode is qualified and shaped by a shadow modernism. Being Sicilian, Guttuso is reticent and rarely sentimental and living in the exquisite degrado of Palermo and its environs, he is immune to the picturesque. This detached position is seen best in his series of paintings of Italian roof-scapes, gritty urban topographies observed from above, rather than at street-level. While they are emptied of the torrents of humanity churning through the cramped piazze and markets of his other works, these paintings are not impersonal aerial views seen from on high; the point of view is a window, much like the ones arrayed before us, embedded within the fabric of the city, available to, and commonly seen, by all its denizens. As one would expect of a painter of politicized naturalism, Guttuso scrupulously records the material and historical realities of rooves, omitting no crack and effacing no grime. However, the limited palette of flat colors applied to building-block forms generally diffused across the picture plane clearly registers an engagement with Cézanne and Braque. These traces of high-modernist and formalism remind us that that even in aggressively local pictures by a painter living on lawless island on the margins of Europe, international modernism was close to, if not, the default artistic way of seeing.

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