In her first New York solo exhibition, “Imprevisti/Unforeseen,”Italian-bornphotographer Paola Ferrario, fascinated by details of commonplace surfaces (walls, pavements) and humble objects (a bush strung with Christmas lights, a lost mitten, sunbathers’ legs), revealed a spare style of considerable flexibility. This comes in part from her command of color, the lens’s draftsmanship, shallow and deep space, light as atmosphere (noonday sun) and atmosphere as light (mist), and also from her virtuoso handling of ink on paper. In these digital prints, solid, variegated, motley and pied colors on wood, cloth, shadow-laced snow, curtains, snow-dotted fallen leaves and torn-poster palimpsests have the crisp verisimilitude of documentary photography yet look as if they have been laid on in sure, subtly modulated, fluid strokes.
Ferrario gathers her prints into diptychs, triptychs, and four-, 12-, and 16-panel grids measuring 7 by 21 to 51 by 68 inches. The individual pictures continue a tradition that began with Henry Fox Talbot’s near-abstract 1841 composition of an unprepossessing detail of a wall and window, and includes Walker Evans’s 1930s fragments of torn posters and hand-painted signs. As Ferrario creates a single image compounded of objects, forms and moments sometimes shot seas and years apart, her documentary style approaches fiction, or poetry: all things are present at once. In one triptych, three tattoos on different people—“Tony” on one arm, Caravaggio’s Medusa on another and abstract symbols on a leg—are brought together. The totality is imaginary, a single time and place.
Throughout Ferrario’s constructions, imagery and forms seem to partake of each other’s properties. In Castle (2009), the left panel’s fog, considered as both substance and a compositional plane, is a variation on the right panel’s concrete wall. Thanks in part to Ferrario’s ability with ink, the wall takes on the fog’s translucence, the fog the wall’s opacity.
In Grid I (2008), a spray-painted female nude grafitto, the American flag, Jesus on an LP record’s label, a piece of trash stuck in a wall, a hand-painted necktie, a reproduction of Botticelli’s Primavera and more come to intimate what must be called the world’s will to form. Thus Ferrario revises Evans’s vision of America—as itself an anonymous modernist artist—according to new esthetic terms, and adds Italy to the mix, a combination as unforeseeable as the imagery and compositions that justify the exhibition’s title.
Photo: Paola Ferrario: Three Eights and Stag, 2009, digital prints, 71⁄2 by 21 inches overall; at Sue Scott.