History Buff 

Music and art history mingle at Eric Schindler Gallery.

click to enlarge art22.lede.collesi.148.jpg

Colaizzi, whose 13-painting abstract show "Policy" is on view until June 13 at the Eric Schindler Gallery, is erudite yet approachable, as his students' reviews suggest. It's quite an accomplishment for someone working in a profession known for its angst. (Think van Gogh's dysfunctional relationship with his own ear, or Jackson Pollock's tormented alcoholic tantrums.) Colaizzi holds not only a master of fine arts degree in painting but also a doctorate in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University, and he's exhibited his art in Richmond and Brooklyn.

In case he didn't already have to use 8-point font to fit his resumé on one page, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's magazine, American Art, is publishing his article on artist Robert Ryman next year.

Colaizzi may teach art history, but he lives it as well, which brings us to a brief crash course on the subject. Edouard Manet, a French master, daubed paint onto a canvas in the shape of a nude figure and decided he'd rather leave it alone than attempt to model it into an illusion of a three-dimensional figure. Thus was born the idea of modern art, a tenet of which was the avoidance of that alchemical process of turning paint into … well, anything other than paint — flesh, pavement, cloud.

Flash-forward to abstract expressionism in the 20th century, and artists, loving this idea of paint looking like paint, decided to dump images altogether and focus on the materials themselves — until they got bored and ushered in the era of postmodernism. (A primer on postmodernism would require another article altogether. Let's just say that it saw the onset of performance art and Christo wrapping famous landmarks, and leave it at that.)

All of this history has everything to do with Vittorio Colaizzi, whose academic background naturally informs his paintings, and vice versa. Regarding his interest in art history, Colaizzi explains: "I think it allowed me to sort of look more closely at the things that concern me as a painter, get a more thorough grounding in the theoretical issues of the past 100 years or more that have informed modern painting, because I feel I am deeply entrenched within that tradition."

Put more pithily, "All artists have to be art historians," he says.

And anyone who considers himself either artist or historian should see "Policy," which, in true abstract fashion, consists of works with no titles or numbers. The painting over the fireplace in the second room at Schindler is a lesson in modern painting in itself, as Colaizzi lets the seam of the ecru canvas interrupt four horizontal olive lines. By letting the canvas interact with the paint rather than passively hold it, he explores the idea of the background coming forward, which also fascinated Matisse and Ryman, among others. The emphasis on the materiality of the canvas was, in fact, another tenet of modern painting, which no longer accepted the dogma of the canvas as an invisible "window" into a three-dimensional world.

Not that Colaizzi has his head permanently stuck in textbooks. "Policy" is influenced by, among other things, Bach and cool jazz. Which is hardly surprising when you look at the meditative, earthy hues and lyrical swipes of paint that create the meditative vibe in the gallery. It's the visual equivalent of Thelonious Monk with a bit of Miles Davis' patented cool tossed in. And just to show you that there's some good, old-fashioned artistic rebellion going on: "As an artist," Colaizzi says, "I have an axe to grind." That protruding seam grabs your attention, the equivalent of a blue note in a mellow rhythm.

Mad props indeed. S

Vittorio Colaizzi's "Policy" runs through June 13 at Eric Schindler Gallery.

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