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signed and dated ‘Louis Fratino 2019' (on the reverse)
manganese oxide on terracotta
12 ¼ x 9 5⁄8 x 1 5⁄8in. (31 x 24.5 x 4.1cm.)
Executed in 2019
Galerie Antoine Levi, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Albissola, Casa Museo Jorn, Romanico Project Room – Louis Fratino, 2019.
Paris, Ciaccia Levi, Louis Fratino: Nudissima, 2019.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Created on a 2019 residency in the Italian coastal town of Albissola Marina, Couple is a tender and dynamic terracotta sculpture by Louis Fratino. Having risen to acclaim for frank, erotic paintings of queer intimacy and daily life, the artist’s first foray into sculpture opened up a rich new dimension in his practice. This wall-mounted relief depicts two men in a passionate embrace, lips locked, eyes closed and limbs intertwined. Shown from a stylised, foreshortened perspective, their bodies merge into a sensuous silhouette, with feet and knees emerging at acrobatic angles. Fratino has picked out the men’s features with manganese oxide, a brown pigment that complements the unglazed terracotta’s earthy tone: dark washes shade the volumes of their muscles, and delicate dashes convey stubble and hair.

Fratino, born in Maryland and based in Brooklyn, was attracted to Albissola for a number of reasons. His family has Italian heritage, with roots in the southeastern region of Molise. In his art, he draws upon a range of Italian influences, from Masaccio and Giotto to 1980s Transavanguardia painters such as Francesco Clemente. Albissola itself has a rich history as a centre of ceramic production. It played host to some of the great innovators of the twentieth century, with Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Asger Jorn and Wifredo Lam all working there at different points in their lives. The nearby town of Vado was once home to the sculptor Arturo Martini, whose Classicist-Modernist figures were a particular inspiration for Fratino. ‘It was an exciting project in a really special environment’, he said of the residency. ‘… My figuration has a certain volume, I was attracted by the illusion of weight, roundness, and solidity in painting so it felt natural to begin exploring these forms of the body in sculpture ... When sculpting, I felt a stronger pull towards mimesis because of the object’s physical presence, like it had an independent life’ (L. Fratino quoted in N. Smirnoff, ‘Louis Fratino’, Art is Alive, 24 November 2019).

This heightened physicality is palpable in the present work. Its soft curves and swelling volumes invite tactile engagement. The impress of the artist’s hand—the smoothing of a bicep, the careful hatching of a head of hair—amplifies the surface’s sense of touch. Intimacy lies at the heart of Fratino’s practice, which restages the often masculine, monumental idioms of Modernist figuration in the service of candidly queer subjects, and on a deliberately small scale. Couple has the impact of a devotional icon. An emblem of Fratino’s central themes, it is also fired with the excitement of exploration as a new medium comes alive at his fingertips.

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