"I'm attracted to unstable forms which resist interpretation. I'm inspired by poets (Gertrude Stein, John Ashberry, Bill Berkson) who dismantle syntax and treat language itself as their subject."1
The Jancar Jones Gallery is a tiny jewel box located up the rear stairs of an office building in San Francisco's SOMA district. Its current exhibition, Mirror 5, features the work of artist Bruno Fazzolari. In the middle of the gallery, a handcrafted bottle of eau de toilette marked with the number five sits waist-high atop a mirror on a pedestal. The mirror reflects the bottle, four minimalist paintings, and the remaining space of the gallery. The bottle brings to mind the world's most famous fragrance, Chanel No. 5.
Coco Chanel invented her perfume during the jazz age, when the luxury of perfume was cheaper than a dress. She said, "I want to give the world something artificial, like a dress -- something that has been made -- I want a perfume that is a composition."2
While the paintings look improvisational, they are in fact very deliberate works, carefully constructed from hundreds of Fazzolari's black-and-white ink drawings. His personal system of signs and symbols are ambiguous, and a mark can stand for "a blade of grass or a tuft of hair, or appear purely (factually -- resolutely) abstract." According to Fazzolari, the colors in his paintings can function like "high notes" in a perfume, such as citrus or ginger.3
Fazzolari's works have a performative aspect. Working wet into wet, he must complete each painting in one step. Each piece is composed by a combination of chance and carefully aligned parameters, reminiscent of the chance sound and visual experiments of John Cage. While Fazzolari's marks are not musical, they function much like Cage's: "like a syllabary, a graphic system whose components can be freely arranged to generate patterns of coherence," creating unified but random beauty in the resulting surfaces like the latticework of snowflakes.4
"Mirror 5," 2010; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Jancar Jones Gallery, San Francisco.
"Five," 2010; Courtesy of the Artist and Jancar Jones Gallery, San Francisco.
The paintings themselves are well crafted and thoughtful. Their afterimages linger like scent, memory, or the smoke or perfume of the artist's thoughts. The shallow surface planes function like "cross sections of each other, almost like microscope slides," leading the viewer back into personal mental devices in an attempt to grasp Fazzolari's intent. The artist admits this is a gently frustrating experience, as he leaves the meanings of the paintings just out of reach.5
Together, the paintings and the perfume seem more satisfying as a literary or poetic proposition. At the opening of his show, Fazzolari hinted at the presence of a mysterious fifth painting that is created in the viewer's mind. I left with the sent of the perfume embedded in my nostrils, and the music of John Cage and the words of Roland Barthes floating about in my head. In referring to Immanuel Kant, Cage said music and laughter (and by extension art) don't have to mean anything in order to give us deep pleasure.6
Bruno Fazzolari: Mirror 5 is on view through December 19, 2010 at Jancar Jones Gallery in San Francisco. For more information visit jancarjones.com.