‘For my generation, 1960 was a strange point of passage… A new scene was emerging in Rome involving a group of artists who were interested in pictorial reality after the Informal. There was undoubtedly the influence of American Pop but it was more distant than one might imagine… [the Roman scene] always preserved, due to [Rome’s] different historical background, a different relationship with the act of “making.”’ (GIOSETTA FIORONI)
‘I was looking for the lightness of something like an ancient sequence by the Lumiere brothers, one of the earliest films, something that passes, something that could be imagined as a series of shots… They are all frozen poses…I was trying precisely to create a sensation of fixity or fixation understood as the immobilization of movement’ (GIOSETTA FIORONI)
Executed in 1969, La modella inglese encapsulates many of the key elements of Giosetta Fioroni’s idiosyncratic and unique oeuvre, as it continued to blossom and evolve during the 1960s. Fioroni was the only female member of the Scuola di Piazza del Popolo, a group of artists that emerged in Rome during the 1960s, so named after the square in whose cafes the group gathered. Featuring such artists as Tano Festa, Mario Schifano, and Cesare Tacchi, the proponents of this group focused on painting in a figurative manner, drawing inspiration from American and British Pop-art which was then converted into a distinctly Italian idiom. Developing a strongly graphic style, Fioroni pursued subjects that were manifold and varied, drawing on imagery from the mass media, art historical tradition, and even personal and anonymous family photographs from her childhood. Perhaps her best known works, though, are her striking, enlarged glamour shots of women, actresses and models whose faces are shown in extreme close-up, taken from the newly ubiquitous fashion and lifestyle magazines that filled the newsstands around Rome.
In the present work, Fioroni appropriates a still from her own 1967 short film ‘Female Solitude,’ in which an unnamed female figure is observed during a moment of private ritual, as she applies false eyelashes and combs out her hair, rain fogging the windows of her dressing room. Choosing a moment in which the central character is framed in close-up, her hair and earring caught in movement as she turns her head to look at something beyond the confines of the frame, Fioroni strips away any sense of contextualisation, isolating the woman against a neutral backdrop, magnifying the image so that her features fill and dominate the frame. Although the same woman appears in a number of Fioroni’s paintings through the late 1960s, always caught in exactly the same pose, the artist approaches her source images from a highly personal view point each time, projecting and reinterpreting them from a distinctly subjective angle. Fioroni’s inclusion of a series of additional framing devices, loosely sketched in paint and pencil, point to this process and create multiple conflicting borders within the composition. Of particular note is the subtle, repetitious layering of the image in the upper register of the painting, which creates a flickering sensation reminsicent of a strip of film as it passes through a projector. Creating the impression that the woman is at once frozen and in motion, this generates an intriguing visual paradox, as the shifting layers complicate the space between the viewer and the viewed. Moving away from the supposed neutrality of the photographic image, Fioroni highlights her own involvement in choosing the source, interpreting its details and reframing it in a new manner, in order to draw attention to the constructed nature of these images and question their supposed reality. In this way, Fioroni’s figures are revealed to be not just found, but rather, reinterpreted and reconstructed through the act of perception.
Executed in a delicate silver aluminium paint, La modella inglese appears as an ethereal image, one which may fade away and disappear at any moment. Fioroni had begun using this distinctive monochrome palette in 1959, and believed this dynamic pigment to be a ‘non-colour,’ that would ‘erase the colours that were used so excessively in the preceding years,’ and that ‘would carry the attention, the perception, of the person looking at my canvases’ (Fioroni, quoted in C. Gilman, ‘Giosetta Fioroni on View,’ in Giosetta Fioroni L’Argento, exh. cat. The Drawing Centre, New York, 2013, p. 20). This colour references not only the ‘silver screen’ of cinema, but also echoes the very beginnings of photography, and William Henry Fox Talbot’s ground-breaking process of soaking paper in silver iodide salts to register a negative image which, when photographed again, created permanent paper positives, generating the world’s first photographic prints. Speaking of her use of this metallic colour, Fioroni explained that the pigments conjured a ‘dreamy rhythm’ in her work, ‘almost like the representation of rememberance resurfacing from far away’ (Fioroni, quoted in C. Gilman, ‘Giosetta Fioroni on View,’ in Giosetta Fioroni L’Argento, exh. cat. The Drawing Centre, New York, 2013, p. 24).