by Gabriele Perretta
A new cycle of Antonello Matarazzo's painting is always a curious contribution for the followers of the latest Italian contemporary art. His experimental exile deprives him at times of the deserved recognition often obtained by "kissing the ring", and following current and fashionable opinions. Antonello Matarazzo has committed himself to giving a definite turn to the image and sign of his painting style. We can say that in the actual confusion caused by media art, and by its twisted and instrumental continuation, it is extremely difficult to find a painter who would disdain rhetorical stereotypes and overall rituals that graze banality. Antonello Matarazzo's work starts by desecrating the proclaimed noble sentiments related to the artesianal practice of using colors and false values needed to hide egoisms and privileges of a fascinating and enchanting image. In fact in this actual experiment called Freaks, the Campanian artist denounces the dishonesty and vileness of those who instead of controlling and guarding, act in collusion or pretend not to see so that they may live the quite life. Perhaps today, not even watching or observing with the naked eye (showing things as they are) can be enough. Let's say the contemporary painter can believe that the evilness found in the images of the world comes from far away, and in turn forms a heavy and cumbersome ballast as to impede their representation. All this is done without bringing forth the most deviant and monstrous faces, those faces that nest and hide under the blanket of an organized surface, and who are attended to by a molding shadow.
When analyzing Matarazzo's images we can deduce the main characteristics being used by the artist. These are: research of ugliness, predisposed screenability of the canvas, refined sign, image reproduction techniques that touch upon the old daguerreotype, enlargements of images from the original documents with such clarity as to see the details of writing (or even the paper from where it was extracted), dialogues between the forms of a certain image: topical in its reproduction and archeological in its memory.
Antonello Matarazzo started from a work dating back to 1997. He put himself in contact with an old photographic archive in Avellino, reproducing some images of the strange figures contained therein. The individuals who usually appeared in this sort of memory album were made up of common people (i.e. laborers and farmers) all of whom have extremely weathered faces. In some cases we find ourselves talking about people who can be interpreted in the most various of ways. It is in their faces that allows one to imagine particularly conflicting life situations. Some of these photographic reliefs are almost like mug-shots, and for this reason they make the figures appear a little bit paradoxical, as if they were shady characters. [...] During our century, a certain path of cultural research has developed a particular interest towards a type of photography that documents the most anguishing and obscure sides of life. It is not of secondary importance, in this dimension, that a type of cinema starting with Tod Browning and up until Slatterpunk has not kept silent a certain attraction towards various forms of horror [...] It almost seems as if Antonello Matarazzo (being a spectator of his own experiences), would like to bring forth a certain awareness towards the psychological expansion relating to the image of the monstrum This is the reason why the Florence exhibition is entitled Freaks, reminding us of the title of Tod Browning's 1932 film [...].
Antonello Matarazzo by using the above noted technique reproduces on canvas (whose color is that of yellowed paper) certain images of the film: Pete Robinson also known as the skeleton man, Violet and Daisy Hilton, the so called Siamese twins (that were brought to us thanks to a beautiful photographic reconstruction of that era). Apart from this, Matarazzo, moved by an interest in documenting freaks, brings to his work other characters that have nothing to do with Browning's film but, thanks to Fielder's excursus reveal them-selves as a thin continuation of it. They can also be considered as the most radical variants of the work that started with the characters of Calitri. Therefore we now meet: Francisco (Frank) Lentini, the three legged man, the Klinefelters affected by Ginecomasty, Grace Gilbert, the bearded lady, Millie and Christine, the African Siamese twins, Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in the world, general Tom Thumb, and Lavinia Warren, the shortest human beings who ever reached maturity, the Tocci brothers, two twins who had a rather wildeish look (two dandys attached for all eternity). Matarazzo, with this definitive jump in the ambit of such audacious research, now becomes something in between an archaeologist and a scientist who analyses ugliness, but not in the sense of bad taste. Maybe now we could explain the meaning that Foucault gives to archaeology (moving its sense metaphorically). We are not talking about a word that wants to indicate something out of time and that is by now crystallized in the mutism of museums and of the past, but rather something that coincides in the images of different times, as during conversations. Without any critical conceit, and with the inspiration of Browning's dissertations on freaks, it is as though Matarazzo extends the essays meaning through his painting. Since his first works, Matarazzo has always felt an attraction towards animate and inanimate objects that use to represent a particular propension towards deformedness – and when they themselves were not – the artist intervened with his sign and objects in order to accentuate the deformation, the specular effect, and the anamorphic process.
With Freaks we can see this tendency confirmed, not only as an analysis of single stories, but also as an interest towards human and biological alterations. However, this same word in Latin means nothing horrendous but simply: prodigy, phenomenon, that in the end is nothing but "something that shows the wishes of the gods". The monsters used by Browing are the connection between the ancient imaginary of these borderline existences, and the research of something shameful, a hidden fear if you will. In the pantagruelian slang of modern and contemporary youths, freaks has also signified other things. Freaks were those youths who identified themselves with an anomalous form of socius, and those that refused to recognize the existing social order. There is in fact a marvellous album by the late Frank Zappa entitled Freak out. And, among others riding the cultural wave of the San Francisco hippy movement there were the fabulous comic strips of the Freak Brothers (written by Gilbert Shelton). But in Matarazzo's case his Freaks take on a more abstract vision, one closer to that of Browning. These characters represent subterraneous regions, caves, dark dens that are crammed inside our subconscious. We see them even more so today (thanks to the almost torrential mass media explosion) and their image is the "screenic mirror" of our conflictual relationship with everyday life. Freaks tells us that we must overcome the fear towards their dragonesque physiognomy represented in their physical deformities. Their face is often like a thorny plant, inside of which we feel that any kind of monster might lurk, including ourselves, the Us we should learn to coinhabit with, in order to discover a hidden part of the Self.
(Extraction of a text published in the catalogue Antonello Matarazzo: Freaks, Edition Arte&Personae, Firenze 1998)