It’s been a year since I wrote my last post here, and, frankly, I forgot what is this blog supposed to be about. So today I’m writing about something that’s been occupying my mind lately. It’s mostly painted collars and buttons

There aren’t many artists in the world with styles so unique they simply couldn’t be pinned to one art movement. Domenico Gnoli was sometimes called a surrealist, sometimes a pop artist, sometimes a hyperrealist, but he was neither, and he was all of that. He was born in Rome in 1933. His mother was a ceramicist, his father art historian, grandfather, and great-aunts poets. He was obviously destined to be an artist but he couldn’t decide which road to take. So he took two. He became a set designer, illustrator, and costume maker working in theaters, and a painter. He was successful with the former, but his painting talent was recognized, as he claimed himself, only after the emergence of pop art.

Exhibition view of “Domenico Gnoli” Fondazione Prada, Milan / From left to right: Stripped Shirt Lapel (1969), Shirt Collar 14 1⁄2 (1969), Red Dress Collar (1969), Robe verte (1967), Fermeture éclair (Zipper) (1967), Finta pelliccia (1965) / Photo: Roberto Marossi / Courtesy: Fondazione Prada

SEEMINGLY MUNDANE

Gnoli’s work wasn’t really pop art. He had a very analytical approach to everyday things. He would take a strand of hair as his subject and paint it to the very last detail, every single hair highlighted, shiny. Or the collar and buttons of a button-down shirt. Or the knot on a tie. They all looked as if he put them under a magnifying glass. But they weren’t very realistic. They were almost cartoon-like. Yet, they were telling a story of real ordinary life, struggles, love, and family.

It’s mesmerizing to look at his work. When I look at his paintings of beds and sheets I can see my grandfather doing a crossword puzzle in his bed in the countryside where he would retreat on the weekends. The perfect shiny braids remind me of school recitals in the late nineties. Fabric-covered buttons take me back to my great-aunt’s musty closet filled with dresses sewn at home during the fifties.

Exhibition view of “Domenico Gnoli” Fondazione Prada, Milan / From left to right: Inverno (1967), Dormiente n.1 (1966), Due dormienti (1966) / Photo: Roberto Marossi / Courtesy: Fondazione Prada

MAGIC OF THE FAMILIAR

Gnoli had only about three years to enjoy the spotlight as a painter. In 1969 he had a rather successful exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. After the opening, he got proclaimed a big talent, a bright new star in the art world. Unfortunately, a few months later he died of cancer. He was only 36.

In October 2021, Fondazione Prada opened his big retrospective exhibition titled simply Domenico Gnoli. It was curated by Germano Celant and contains over 100 works produced by Gnoli between 1949 and 1969. The project has been realized in collaboration with the artist’s Archives in Rome where he was born, and Mallorca where he spent his last years. In 1965, after finally being recognized as a painter, according to Fondazione Prada’s press release, Gnoli wrote this in a letter: “I always employ simple, given elements, I don’t want either to add or take anything away. I have never even wanted to deform; I isolate and represent. My themes come from the world around me, familiar situations, everyday life; because I never actively mediate against the object, I experience the magic of its presence.”

Exhibition view of “Domenico Gnoli” Fondazione Prada, Milan / From left to right: Lady’s Feet (1969), Inside of Lady’s shoe (1969), Lady’s Shoe (1969) / Photo: Roberto Marossi / Courtesy: Fondazione Prada

If you want to experience his meticulous approach to the seemingly mundane, you can still see the retrospective at Fondazione Prada until February 27th.

Big thank you to Fondazione Prada for all the information and press material. The cover photo shows an exhibition view of “Domenico Gnoli” at Fondazione Prada in Milan. From left to right: Red Hair on Blue Dress (1969), Braid (1969), and Curly Red Hair (1969). Photo by Roberto Marossi. Courtesy of Fondazione Prada.