The city is the great modern stage set, the place where the drama of the new was first born. Urban life, with its density, energy, and complexity provided the conditions for our notion of what modern life could mean. In the metropolis was the dream of “the shining city on the hill”, the secular version of transcendence and power. And the city was, at the same time, imagined as a place where the individual could lose his or her way in its dark labyrinths of anonyminity and iniquity.
Layla Fanucci’s cityscapes capture this paradox of the city as both magnificent and daunting. In her paintings, each based on a specific city, she creates a vision of architecture piled up into a dense mass of impacted forms. The individual buildings maintain a tenuous grip on their own identities, much as the populace of the painted cities seems subsumed by the huge forms looming above them. Fanucci’s cities have an undeniable grandeur, from the arching colossus of the Eiffel Tower, to the powerful curve of a bridge with the skyscrapers of Manhattan beyond. Even in her depictions of places steeped in traditions, such as Rome, Venice, and Istanbul, the splendor of the city rings clear, as the habitat that cultures build both to shelter and to celebrate themselves.
On large canvases, Fanucci establishes shifting fields of color, over which she paints networks of linear brush strokes, which coalesce into the forms and patterns of the city. The intuitive directness of her approach, its painterly energy, and graphic invention all bespeak both the hyped-up excess of urban experience and something more intensely personal, expressive of the artist and her inner world. The brush strokes are both descriptive and urgent, the color ranging from melancholy to fiery. The resulting images are diverse in character, attesting to the multiplicity of urban life and the human moods which these images seem to embody.
Fanucci’s paintings are paradoxes in the best sense, strong visual presences, yet somehow immaterial, even dream-like. These paintings exist as evocations of places we inhabit, yet they rise like scrims in the theater of the imagination. They bring us back to the dark wonder of entering a great city for the first time. Awe-stuck, fearful, we are nonetheless impelled to wander deeper down its mysterious streets, fortuitously coming upon that oddly familiar and thus comforting monument that lets us know that we are truly in that place that we have always wanted to be.
The Art of Layla Fanucci
Layla Fanucci’s art is both real and imaginary, composed and intuitive, its content inseparable from the form she has given it. Here, in her first New York exhibition, she offers a range of cityscapes drawn in black silhouette lines on luminous thinly-coated color fields. Her spaces are built of light and dark, of the transparent and the opaque, and these she ornaments with impressive complexity. This oscillation between line and color, luminosity and impenetrability, is the visual vocabulary for the poetry of meaning in Fanucci’s work. Her love of strong contrast shows as well in her choice of subject here. (The artist lives and works in a small village in the Napa valley, yet loves "the energy, the complexity, and the challenging aspects" of big city life.)
In Layla Fanucci’s painting, line gives us a clarity as well as vitality and spontaneity -- the important graphic quality without which it might be artistic yet not art. Her sketches of the bustling sights of New York, Paris, Berlin, Rome and elsewhere seem to interact with one another, offering the viewer a single great riotous engagement. This intensification is gracefully counter-pointed by washed shades of red, blue, yellow, and green. Her audience is not merely presented with an alert and penetrating panorama, but is enveloped in the life-affirming energy of people and of cultures.
Any good artist is rooted in the history of art in general, and inspired, knowingly or not, by currents within it. Distinctiveness and personal identity are measured by the distance between inspiring forbearers and one’s own work. Layla Fanucci’s art shares some areas of thought with at least two major 20th century artists: Henri Matisse and Henri Rousseau. Intellect and depth of understanding combined with spontaneity and the force of impulse are hallmarks of all three. Their works are direct, strong, and, in a deeper sense, simple. On a formal level as well as, Layla Fanucci’s works are linear, colorful, and fraught with imagination. One is impressed not only by the evolution and quality in Layla Fanucci’s art, but, ultimately, by its singularity.
In a recent conversation, Layla Fanucci spoke of what causes her to make art and what makes it possible for her to create: "[Painting] gives me the energy, life force, happiness . . . I don't feel fear when I paint." Face to face with Layla Fanucci's work we also become energized and positive, feel blessed and grateful, and become, by this declension, more peaceful and content.
New York City based Art Critic, Essayist and Curator.
Her writings appear in national and international journals.