Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Porfirio DiDonna: Dot Paintings at Elizabeth Harris

Untitled(pdn41), 1977, oil and gesso on linen, 60 x 60"

The mystery, or miracle, that is Porfirio DiDonna, unfolds with time. And well it should, or would. Somehow it has something to do with music. With sound. Or no sound. The soundlessness in between. As though the notes he was playing on a piano(DiDonna was an accomplished pianist who loved Jazz) were all about defining, or caressing, or honoring, the silence in between. Bracketing. Bookending. For breathing. For breathlessness. Cupping his hands, holding the Holy Spirit ever so gently. The unknowable. The all powerful. In every sense of the word.

Untitled(pdn69), 1975, oil on linen, 48 x 84"

According to John Baker, DiDonna's biographer(Porfirio DiDonna: The Shape of Knowing, published by Pressed Wafer, 2013), this man was a religious artist. Indeed, Baker has staked his reputation on this uncomfortable premise. That in the age of man's great intellectual, free-thinking, rational and scientific prowess, a smart, well-educated, self-aware, and sophisticated citizen of the world and modern art, believed in something ancient, something held alive in the heart, cradled in churches and cathedrals; something floating in among the particles of dust dancing in the rays of light filtered through a stained glass window during a Sunday Mass. Maybe someone who stands alone among 20th Century artists. Maybe someone who only an artist like Rothko could even begin to help us understand.

Because as hard as it might be to explain, Porfirio DiDonna was all about what was floating around in his paintings, bracketed and bookended, and held by his marks, his shapes, his colors, his dots.

Elizabeth Harris Gallery Installation

Which is why this dot painting show at Elizabeth Harris is so important. The dots are really the key. John Baker will tell you so. They are the mapping of our spiritual universe, according to Porfirio DiDonna. Spiritual in the Biblical sense. They are the charts of God's infinite being. Actually calculated. Like scientific calculations. Ironically, calculations with a physicist's fire.

Elizabeth Harris Gallery Installation

I think Baker calls the dots something like place holders. When the almost impossible truth of this dawns on the viewer the entire breadth of DiDonna's oeuvre opens like a window. From the early more overtly religious imagery, to the dots, to the arabesques(road paintings), to the final explosion of iconic vessel images he made just before he died in 1986. We can swim in and through the work. Intimately. Knowingly. We can accelerate as if through hyperspace, we can float on that particle of dust dancing in the ray of sunshine filtered through a stained glass window, held aloft by a lowing choir. We experience the air, the light, the spirit; we let go of the idea of color, for example, that it is no longer color, or a color, but a place holder of sorts. A place holder for him, for us, a kind of introduction. A meeting. Welcome. Sit down. Stay a while.

Untitled(pdn26), 1975, oil and gesso on canvas, 96 x 48"

Porfirio DiDonna painted the thing that cannot be painted. Yes. Call it the air if that is easier, or the spirit, or the awesome nothingness, but he did it. Anyone who has been touched by his work knows this. Maybe not consciously. Maybe that would be just as impossible. But they are held by it, alive in it, just like the infinite and expansive space in between, in between two notes, two marks, two dots. They are held gently in his outstretched hands, aloft, with a vast and breathtaking view of everything he believed.

Untitled(pdn242), 1970-71, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 96 x 72"

Addison Parks
Spring Hill, July, 2015

Porfirio DiDonna(1942-1986)
Paintings From The Seventies
May 14 - July 31, 2015

Elizabeth Harris Gallery
529 West 20th St.
New York 10011


Anonymous said...

I've also always felt the work was about air and not gravity( as with the pull of the earth). Like Fra Angelico. It's the lightness of spirit. Light freeing the physical stuff or better infusing it. I've come to disbelieve in dichotomies or duality. You can see why I love what you wrote!!! Nina

Phillip Rivlin said...

This is a succinct, insightful and beautifully written tribute to Pro's work. Offered as a road map for the uninitiated.

Porfirio DiDonna is considered by many to be the best painter of his generation, and it is a pleasure that we have the opportunity to view his work after its absence from New York City gallery walls for nearly thirty years. Here's hoping this exhibition will be the first of many to come.

So much thanks to all who made it possible!

Anonymous said...

OMG. How wonderful. I'm reading and saying to myself who is writing

Anonymous said...

You did it! This is the true entrance into Porfirio's work. It gives me
chills - soaring and grounded, the poetry and paintings and images rolling
out in testament of something so elusive and basic. We'll send links to
everyone we know. Everyone should read this. John

Shelley Whiting's art said...

I love the subtle textures and patterns. Beautiful work.