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by Robert G. Edelman
Piero Pizzi Cannella, "Earth, Sky and Sea," Apr. 10-May 30, 2008, at Barbara Mathes Gallery, 22 East 80th Street, New York, N.Y. 10075

Walk through this show of quixotic maps by the Italian artist Piero Pizzi Cannella (b.1955) and you’re likely to want to catch the next plane to a remote destination, preferably one with a massive Duomo on the horizon, bathed in moonlight. Cannella’s rough-hewn paintings of rudimentary charts and maps are eccentric inventions rather than works that aspire to any topographical accuracy. The land masses are rendered in earthy, dusty ochre, and surrounded by heavily pigmented oceans as if they were sun-filled clouds in a placid sky.

It might be the Southern hemisphere, but then again it could be the other side of the world. For Pier Pizzi Cannella, a map is a combination of myth, memory and mystery. The phrase "atlas of mindscapes," from Matthew L. Levy’s catalogue essay, suggests as much. "In Pizzi Cannella’s invented world," Levy writes, "the limits of possibility are as fluid as the paint that constructs them."

Pizzi Cannella’s poetic impulse was apparent in his last solo exhibition in New York, which took place 15 years ago at Annina Nosei Gallery on Prince Street in Manhattan’s SoHo district. That show included large works on paper of spare, often hovering images -- a work table, a dress, shells. Note de Spagna, a painting of an empty balcony, was done with a wash that evokes Rococo-era Goya scene, after the Duchess has retired for the evening. The loosely applied paint, rough and dramatic, and the luminosity of the images are the compelling elements of work that lingers in the mind like an imaginary sojourn.

Back in the mid-1980s, the artist was a member of the Gruppo di San Lorenzo, a group of artists that was named after a neighborhood in Rome, and that included Nunzio, Marco Tirelli and Bruno Ceccobelli, among others. It was around the time that "The Three C’s" (Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia and Enzo Cucci) were the rage in New York. In general, both groups rejected the conceptual focus of ‘70s art, embracing instead a more direct, representational imagery.

Pizzi Cannella’s paintings remain elegiac interpretations, but now his iconography takes in a much wider view: the earth and the natural forces that affect it. The handwritten texts at the bottom of his paintings add to their quasi-scientific content. Above two of the maps are phases of the moon; in Luna o luna nouva (2002-07), the dark black shadow of the earth gradually passes over the moon’s disk like a post-minimalist process work, adding the element of time to the experience. A night variation on this subject is Luna nuova (2007), in which the darkened land mass, with drips and outlines to mark its transience, is in sharp contrast with the rows of white moons above. Here the shadows pass behind the glowing orbs, their rays reflected in the ocean waters.

Somewhat more schematic are Pizzi Cannella’s star-filled skies, such as Tutte le stelle del cielo (2006-07), in which points of light glow and fade in a circular formation against a deep blue field. The constellation stands for the artist’s process; Pizzi Cannella purses an image to its ultimate reduction and then makes it tangible. A similar approach can be observed in Sky (Tutte le stelle del cielo) (2007), as the casual pattern of stars against a solidly applied two-tone blue, for day and night, are tiny points of light randomly tossed like coins into the Trevi Fountain.

In the painting La Isla (2006-07), trade winds are depicted as overlapping circles of arrows, rotating above the coast of an island that looks a bit like Mallorca, while the multdirectional lines of wind currents in Piccolo studio per andare via (2006-07) go in all directions, like the eccentric mappings found in a Saul Steinberg drawing. But Pizzi Cannelli’s large world maps, like Cattedrale (2007) are the ones that offer the vision of a unified architecture mixed with a fanciful projection; the dark domed churches that are everywhere, a kind of Disney stamp that pervades the planet. It could be seen as an ominous prediction, but more likely a humorous take on a dream of an Italianate universe.

ROBERT G. EDELMAN is an artist and critic who is director of Anita Friedman Fine Arts.