Donald Kuspit - Serena Bocchino
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Musical Gesture: Serena Bocchino’s Drawings

By Donald Kuspit
New York
(essay for catalog Recent Drawings)

There’s an airy, bright open look to Serena Bocchino’s gestural drawings—one can’t help but wonder what music she was listening to when she made them, more particularly, what scores she was looking at. For they are playful adumbrations on musical texts—she turns them into a kind of gestural script—as well as painterly responses to heard music. Bocchino has denied that there is any “specific…relationship between the music and the painting”, but we know that a specific music is involved, as some to the titles indicate, “Early Bird”, Miles Ahead”, Cool Baker”, are a far cry form the nocturnes” and ”symphonies” after which Whistler named many of his works, and even from the boogie-woogie supposedly transcribed in Mondrian’s New York paintings of the forties. Instead, Bocchino alludes to the cool jazz of the fifties—to the controlled, elegant improvisation of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Chet Baker. There’s something personal in this determined and successful attempt to be coolly intelligent while maintaining a certain improvisational freedom.

Bocchino’s lyrical and intimate line dances across the surface—dances through space, as it were—in endless, intricate self transformation, and also with a kind of doggedness and insistence. This line sometimes looks like playful doodling, but for all its twists and turns, loops and angles, it has a succinct intensity. As does her color, which is much more restrained and delicate—softly heard, as it were. Bocchino’s drawings hold together, even when their agitated lines are loosely parallel—the repetition imposes certain unity—or eccentrically squiggle across the surface in idiosyncratic configurations, which, however complexly different, form a coherent pattern.

The idea that painting should model itself on music—that all the arts aspire to the condition of music, the most basic and transcendental art—has been explicit since Kandinsky. For him music was an abstract art that was simultaneously logical ad expressive. Its expressiveness grew directly out of its logic. Bocchino’s musical line carries this idea to its inevitable conclusion” her works are implicitly synesthesiac. They invite us to hear music as we see them. Or is it to see music as we hear them?