By Robert C. Morgan
essay for the catalog, The Romance Series
Exhibit A, New York
As the human factor becomes increasingly more distant in the wake of the computer, any discussion about complex personal feelings in relation to art becomes equally distant. Everything from feelings of generosity to the intimacy of romance turns quickly towards irony. To some extent, irony functions as a kind of detachment, a survival mechanism in an age of rapid-fire information. Given our current global crisis—whether in politics, the environment, health, culture, or economics—the question lingers as to whether artists are still capable of reviving the romantic impulse in such a fragmented and war-torn world. There are, of course, historical precedents. We cannot forget that when Romanticism first appeared in the early nineteenth century, many considered it a form of revolt against the impending spread of industry. In many ways, the movement was an evocation among artists to reclaim their spiritual needs in a world rapidly turning toward secularization and mechanization. Romanticism found its origins in painting and poetry as exemplified in the watercolors, poetry, and essays of Goethe and Schiller, the poetry of Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth, and the paintings of Gericault and Delacroix, among others.
But where are the romantics today? In a media-driven and market-oriented art world, one may consider whether or not romance is a part of art at all. Even so, I would say that romance is still with us, but mostly underground. Indeed, the very concept of the American avant-garde in the previous century was initially out of sight; that is, hidden somewhere below the surface of things. Everything from the Abstract Expressionists of the fifties to the Eco-Feminism of the seventies evolved from a romantic core, an activism that was essential to sustaining culture through insistence on political equality. Whether romance in art is implicated as a female or male phenomenon is hardly the issue. No matter how politicized the gender issue reads today there will always be a place for romance just as there will always be a place for quality in art no matter how diligently poststructuralists argue against it.
I would say that Serena Bocchino’\s paintings live beneath the surface of appearance in the sense that Duchamp predicted that, in the future, real art would go underground. Bocchino’\s paintings carry a gestural nuance, a linear motif, a constellation of pattern, a galaxy of poetic insight, and a refinement of visual articulation. She refers to her recent work as “The Romance Series.” When I heard this expressed in her Hoboken studio one sunny day last winter, I felt exhilarated. Upon hearing the word “romance,” I could no longer hide behind the usual ironic veneer that critics are expected to show. What a relief ! What a moment to recollect my own thoughts about what art could become—even in these desperate times of programmed panic and boring ( though insidious) media glut. Bocchino has found a way through painting to exist as an artist without imposing an agenda. Her word is focused on the essentials of her craft: the mark, the paint, the pulse, the stem, the ovum, the radiant sense of blue, of pink, of whiteness. She pushes herself into the surface with ineluctable care and force, always willing to move out again, to see what she has done. These paintings have a brilliant intimate side to them. They sparkle. They gleam. They open the doors to sunshine.
I had seen the painting, entitled Complete (2002), reproduced in a photograph before I actually encountered it for the first time. It held a kind of rhythmic vortex, a subtle series of modulated rings, a sound wave metaphor, that gently opened outward—like in Taoism—from the specific to the general, from the micro to the macro, the source to the evolution of something new, buzzing with energetic bliss and purposeful seduction, the kind of seduction that keeps life moving ahead, that pours through us the eager chill one feels upon hearing the first bars of Miles Davis in Round About Midnight. There is no escape from such a feeling. You either go with it or you are left behind. I can say the same for Universe Shift (2003), a layered painting with tendril lines, painted over amorphous and intense cerulean hue, the planes of space shifting back and forth in relation to one another. Like Andre Masson, Bocchino’\s organic planar space appeared erudite and calm, given to a process as if moving toward infinity. Like quantum leaps in universal sequence, her painting felt suspended in time.
Bocchino celebrates the presence of the line, often as the sole support of her surfaces. One called Passion (2002) does this beautifully, remarkably, in fact. Only Robert Motherwell—at his best—could have been so informal, and yet so convincing. Instead of linear effect, A Change in the Atmosphere (2003) focuses more on color—a yellow field with an azure edge, holding pedal-like circles, painted with enamel and oil (the mixture that Bocchino prefers). Another painting, called Just a Breath Away (2003), also makes use of cerulean. The tiny white splotches are embedded in a blue field, transforming the surface into an open constellation of pure energy—visually sustained, but without an obvious formal device. For Bocchino, what appears obvious is often hidden, and what appears hidden is often obvious. Like fireflies or Northern lights, this happy sky goes on forever, yet holds its bearing within the gaze of subjective time.
The lexicon of patterns and nuances, rhythmic gestures and flattened shapes, drips and pours, wanderings for the eye and mind—passions fit for an age on the verge of caving-in—are the concerns embedded within these casual, yet effervescent paintings. Serena Bocchino is on to something that she has discovered through her own inner-directed means. The work is original precisely for this reason. Bocchino looks inward and comes out again. It is the inner/outer synthesis of Being, of functioning at the core of art in the process of becoming an artist. There is no mistake. Her destiny is to find order in the music of the soul, and ultimately to make sense out of chaos. Is there anything more than we need from art today or, for that matter, ever before?