The Colour Code - When colour is a calling | Daniela Vasta - Art Critic

Colour, for Fabio Modica, is not an accessory: it is a choice, indeed, a calling, to which the artist did not yield for years. Yet, those were lucky and promising years, as he was a virtuoso in drawing and chiaroscuro, coming to emulate - and perfectly copying - the great Masters of the Renaissance. However, as everybody knows, a calling sooner or later catches up with you.
The choice of colour initially finds its full expression in such paintings as The other (2009), Untitled (2010) or Simona (2011); faces with a distant and fearful look emerging from deep, saturated blacks. Here the enamelled, neo-mannerist coats of the beginnings have been replaced by complex, chromatic wedges held in a nearly miraculous balance, chiselled with the scrupulousness of a goldsmith.
The colours chosen are clearly anti-naturalistic, violent, screaming. Modica, a profound connoisseur of European pictorial history, unsurprisingly follows in the footsteps of the "expressionist line " of Western art, which first used colour as the main vehicle of expression: Matisse, Derain, Munch, Marc, Nolde, Ensor, Schiele, Kokoschka, and the Kandinsky of the Munich period.
There is undoubtedly an elective affinity with these sources, which are mostly "Nordic". The exuberance, the sensuality of colour, however, cannot be understood without reference to the colours of the Mediterranean, whose force generations of artists have tried to seize and emulate.
This "tradition" of colour provides the young Sicilian painter with prestigious and compelling models when it comes to play the chromatic score at a high, thundering "volume". Elevating the colour to the status of a real "code" means that it rises into a comprehensive linguistic system with a phonetics, a grammar and a syntax of its own as well as a useful vocabulary to "speak", to tell about reality.
Contrary to what one might think, much discipline is needed to govern such powerful forces. Matisse wrote on "The Grand Revue" of December 25, 1908: "It is necessary that the various colours that I use be balanced so that they do not destroy each other. To do this I have to organise my ideas. The relation between the tones will settle in such a way that it will sustain and not destroy them [...] The relationship of tones must result in a living arrangement of colours, a harmony similar to that of a musical composition." If the colours are impulsive, centrifugal, anarchy-oriented energies, one should focus on their properties and make careful evaluations to predict their mutual relationships and to perfectly master the outcomes.
When faced with the works of Fabio Modica, one has the impression of a tremendous energy being cleverly controlled, meticulously guided. There is a constructive process, a slow and accurate juxtaposition of tiles, phonemes, words, to make statements that are never out of control. In the sculpture-paintings made up of electric wires, rags, and plastics, this process is much more apparent, and one cannot help but imagine hands crafting, slowly assembling, an artifact. But even in painting, in fact, the same thing happens: the meticulous, tile after tile, tone by tone construction of the pictorial surface causes the impulse to be subjugated by reason, and the passion to be filtered by the mind. Even so disguised and transmuted, the mindset acquired in the academic study here resurfaces, that is, the humanistic assumption whereby rationality presides over creation.
When, around 2010, a truth of inspiration and a goodness of results within Modica's artistic journey encourage him to go down the colour path, the artist tried his hands on the great format, more ambitious and complex to handle. A bravery that is rewarded with more than convincing outcomes right away. The chromatic wedges then unfold, stretch, take a broader and less frantic pace. The color tiles expand and diversify at each different surface, now smooth and diluted, now rich and materic. At some points, the density of the pictorial coats, which the addition of matter (sand, debris, leaves) has made rough, deliberately makes the eye stumble and forces a slow reading to recognise those fragments of "reality" embedded in the living substance of colour and possessed by it.
The observer must not stop at tasting the painting from close up: one would miss out on the full force of the whole, which is not exhausted at all in the celebration of colour and strength. Despite reaching the threshold of abstract painting, Modica never goes deep into this territory, convinced of the "moral" necessity of the subject, suspicious of the contemporary excesses of the conceptual art. To those who look, as said before, a "right distance" is required: not too far, because that complexity of writing and stratification, that raw and troubled matter, which is fundamental to understanding the poetics of the artist, would be lost; not too close, because this would spoil the perception of the subject. The seizing of a "whole" consisting of separate, discrete parts resonates extensively with Western history, from Byzantine mosaic to Baroque decoration to Sicilian and Arabic pottery.
And, moreover, the themes are those who come to the heart and interrogate the most intimate parts of ourselves. Questions as heavy as boulders: Who are we? How much does our personal story weigh? With what baggage of rubble and expectations do we look to the future? Can I trust the other? Can we really be ourselves in a relationship? Are we certain of our own identity or is it, as Pirandello puts it, fragmented into one hundred thousand appearances? Fabio Modica's Catanian atelier is crowded with presence. It is a collectivity of stories about stories, of voices interwoven with other voices, faces looking at faces, gazes whispering stories of life and pain. Displaying these paintings means releasing narratives waiting to unfold and speak aloud; it means accepting a potentially destabilising contact.

Translation: Simona Agata Giuffrida - PhD in English Literature

Back to Top



Extract From: "PRISONERS OF MATTER - May 2015" at Bill Lowe Gallery - by Prof. Jerry Cullum - Art Critic


I have long expressed my bewilderment (it goes beyond bemusement) at the incapacity of theorists to understand the dialectic between personality type, historical circumstances, and cultural conditioning. Anyone who wants a shorthand look at this dialectic might consider the artistic career of Francis Picabia, who shifted seamlessly from Impressionism to Cubism to Dada to figuration to, bewilderingly to some critics, paintings copying photographs from pornographic magazines, then abstraction. The bewildered critics fail to note the dates during which Picabia produced paintings that reportedly adorned Algerian brothels during the dark Occupation years of 1940 to 1944, and the other extraordinary shifts in style and subject matter likewise reflect the response of an extraordinarily fluid and trickster-minded personality to the major cultural and political shifts of the twentieth century.

I bring all this up at the beginning of an art non-review (I shall, as I increasingly do, reserve ultimate judgment because I am not sure whether I have any) because I deeply regret that we apparently do not have anything resembling a reliable personality test. It would be incredibly useful if we could say openly which personality types from which cultural and historical circumstances would be most likely to respond to a given body of work. The greatest art bridges centuries and circumstances, but even there, there are people who will never enjoy certain types of art no matter how much they come to understand its importance, and who will enjoy other types of art even after they understand why they should not find it enjoyable.

All of this is more or less a necessary preface to any reflection on the extraordinarily titled duo of solo shows that Bill Lowe Gallery has, in the wall text, combined into the title and subtitle “Biology and the Baroque: Prisoners of Matter.” I attended the opening after an afternoon of perusing an online summary of the arguments made in a two-day conference at Rice University about “Gnostic Counter Cultures,” so I was primed to read the art and its ideas in a certain way. The conference dealt with the inheritance and persistence of Gnostic ideas that we are, indeed, prisoners of matter, needing some means of liberation from what Emory University anthropologist Melvin Konner, who may be upset at being cited in the same sentence as Gnosticism, once called “biological constraints on the human spirit.” I use the subtitle of Konner’s early book The Tangled Wing to make the point that it is possible to believe that we have a spirit that is biologically constrained without believing that there is a transcendent dimension into which we can escape from those constraints.

Human creativity is one of the traditional means by which we slip the surly bonds of earth (if I may quote John Magee’s treacly poem) without benefit of divine intervention. Those theorists who sneer at the notion that creative imagination exists are just plain being silly; it is an obvious behavioral fact even if one chooses to believe that it is a response to physical environment or history.

Having said all that, I can finally start talking about the strange pairing of Fabio Modica’s paintings with Claire Begheyn’s assemblages. Two more different commentaries on biology and culture can scarcely be imagined. Modica’s paintings portray the faces of beautiful women semi-obscured by bluntly applied layers of paint. We are told that Modica regards this as a commentary on our imprisonment in bodily circumstances, but also as a commentary on the physicality of paint itself, and I see no reason to doubt this. However, the metaphor of prisoners of the body also suggests the imprisonment of beautiful women in the traditions of painting and in the male gaze generally, and after three generations of feminism it is difficult to read these paintings any other way. Modica approaches his subject matter from so many startlingly different stylistic angles, however, that the work eludes interpretation.

Back to Top



TOPOGRAPHIES OF THE DEPTH - Giovanni Stella - Art Critic


If it is true that the entire output of Fabio Modica unequivocally addresses the viewer, then not only is his work driven by solid aesthetic motives, but it also originates from the fundamental, undeniable assumption that translates into the artist taking moral responsibility towards the recipients of his artistic creation.

This stance has been dismissed by current criticism to the advantage of a libertarian understanding. Hence, the anarchical, self-referential idea of art whereby the sign is the meaning and the consumer is relegated to marginal status. In Fabio Modica's opus everything tends to establish a dialogical relationship with the recipient, seen as a subject no less active than the artist-demiurge. The gaze of his characters directs itself to the viewer like a darting arrow triggering a no-holds-barred duel, in the fashion of a Balzacian Rastignac throwing down the guantlet to Paris from the tower of Saint Jacques : "Et maintenant à nous Paris”.

None of us, once imprudently caught in the challenger's range of combat, can elude the rough dialectical game of that merciless gaze. From that moment, with his startling images, the artist fulfills an emotional relationship whose outcome remains open.

In rendering the human face, with the unmistakable authority of the sign which is distinctive of our time, the artist builds on the great Antonellian lesson of a bilateral, binding relationship, resulting in a transfer of energy between the mysterious subject, surfacing from the dark, and the enticed viewer, unaware of what is to occur.

In Fabio Modica's imagery there is, however, something more: the unmistakable presence of the great Viennese, investigator of dreams and of the appaling depths of our being. Thus, the human face becomes a topography of the soul, a field of investigation for the artist-detective, who never settles for just exploring the grey areas, the intricate paths under track, or the drives escaping the control of consciousness.

In the dense woods, where rays of light pass through a maze of tentacles, where irises glow like spots of light crossing the materic space in the night, and where the duel goes on without end, is Fabio Modica's great theater. Like an artist-scenographer, he lays down multi-layered coats of vibrant paint spread over a tortured canvas with vigorous spatula strokes as if he was "action painting". His texture echoes the American street art methods, which account, among other things, for his success overseas.

This materic quality is the result of a visual culture the artist has taken in due to the fruitful developments of the twentieth century and the last three decades of the new millenium. These years were marked by tenacious experimentations aimed at innovating at any cost by shocking and burning with iconoclast rage even the original language. Fabio Modica has kept himself from such excesses through relying upon his humanistic universe, at whose centre is placed the man, with his load of uneasiness and contradictions. A threatening human figure lends itself to be examined by those who are accidentally or forcedly passing by: having given up their states of atrophy, their reassuring and christallising truths, and their common places, the onlookers are now asked for seeking adventure across the land of the beyond, where everything is unprecedented and hazardous.

After meeting "vis á vis", nothing will be the same ever again. Instability will replace a heavy stagnation, doubt will dismantle every preexisting balance, the straight line will break into pieces and the colour, nervously cut into sharp, regular tiles, will account for the living chaos. This fragmentation, in its early expression, can be traced back to Tiziano and later to Rembrandt's "The Jewish Bride", and finally to Modica's current interpretation of Burri. This is to prove how one can be contemporary without repudiating history.

Translation: Simona Agata Giuffrida | PhD in English Literature

Back to Top



HIDDEN PERCEPTIONS - Prof. Salvo Russo - Academy of Art of Catania


"...from the brain, and from the brain only arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good..." - Hippocrates of Kos (V century BC)


Fabio Modica, born in 1978, is undoubtedly a worthy disciple of a Catanian school of excellent painting which, in my view, has not yet been given sufficient consideration and whose historical and artistic features have not been studied enough. Within this school, among its main protagonists, there can be numbered such outstanding, world-renowned personalities as Alberto Abate, the brothers Nino and Tano Brancato, Francesco Scialfa, Antonio Santacroce, Antonio Sciacca and so many others that it would take too long to mention. Artists tied up together by a common "fil rouge" of rigour and a methodology of "learning to think" for "learning to do". There is no doubt that art is a unifying core value continuously shaping our world and our way to relate to others, and is, by its own nature, transgressive (at times in an excessive and deliberately provocative manner). However, this quality cannot dismiss knowledge and learning in their theoretical-practical forms, and this is to avoid falling into the anarchist "everything is art" construct.

Fabio Modica has gone down the path of a rigorous training as wisely indicated by his Masters and today, in his paintings, he proves he has understood the essence of being a disciplined artist. Not too concerned about being bound by the painting tradition or the past, Fabio Modica's artwork fully experiences the contemporaneous and develops an approach firmly relying on the idea that there is no progression in art (art is not a science, hence it is not affected by its rules and bias), but only a core difference between good and bad art, good and bad painting. In Fabio Modica's painting the pictorial matter is skillfully laid upon the canvases to shape faces whose loud colours resemble Matisse. Colours are to be considered as phantom, that is, sheer visual spectres deprived of any physical reality and, insofar as one can imagine as well as dream of them, to be deemed as pure emotions (Isaac Newton). Those miscellaneous subjects and figures observe us in a continuous interplay of expressive echoes, resulting in a strong emotional impact. The artist makes sure that his figures look beyond the viewer's gaze, by projecting them to the metaphysical dimension of "the whole of time",… incorruptible time which is past, present and future at once. Hence, the artist triggers a delightful, estranging mood as we continuously go through the physical features of the shapes in quest of unlikely resemblances, but confident that bits and pieces of those faces belong to us. The painter's eye scrutinises the portrayed faces in the foreground, almost as if it wanted to go into and beyond the physical matter to pursue and describe the soul of the subject, its deepest feelings, its innermost thoughts, knowing for certain that each and every one of these is "unique" and should be considered as a magnificent exception. Nothing is left to chance and, although matter is created by fast strokes, the result is a perfect chromatic balance between the parts. These works ensure that the beholder inwardly experiences the immediate and intuitive relationship between the subject and the object, which only art can create through the physical forms the artist is able to conceive. And this is to arouse in all of us, and in the artwork’s viewer, greater self-awareness.

The chromatic perception offered by Modica's works can be defined with the eastern word "imaginalis", which refers to a specific faculty of the soul. Thus, the colour is not just a physical element, but it becomes art of memory. Reds, yellows, purples, blacks ...etc., blend together into a harmony that makes one forget what colour a face really is, resulting truthful in their "lie" (art has always had the merit of making visible what is not,... a lie in order to tell the only possible truth). Often, certain criticism has smugly and fondly indulged in philosophical theories which, despite their historical value being undeniable, are, in my view, rather questionable. Theories prophesying the death of art (Hegel) or the overcoming of the artistic artifact in the name of a conceptualization “tout court” which most of the time has concealed incompetence, amateurism or, even worse, deceit. Unfortunately, nowadays such vision is organic to an art system supported by the weak thinking and the crisis of moral values. In fact, the concept of the work of art has been replaced by that of a commodity and the language of literature by the language of advertisement. Conversely, Modica's artwork shows how one can deny all this and assert, with confidence stemming from the quality of his pictorial research, that the artist will never give up the primary instinct of tracing marks, making shapes, giving life to faces that did not exist before and will outlive their maker. "Art is a cognitive experience, certainly mediated and culture-bound, but it is also an aesthetic and emotional experience." (Semir Zeki)

Translation: Simona Agata Giuffrida | PhD in English Literature

Back to Top



THE EMOTIONAL LIGHT OF THINGS - Antonio Vitale – Art critic


Over the last period, Fabio Modica's works have developed with uncommon consistency of language and expressive outcomes. They have come to attain effects which are at times dense, trenchant and dramatic, if you look into the folds of his "faces"; at other times, light, almost evanescent, in the intangibility of the light's wonder embedded in his "natures". These, in particular, are caught in the transparency of the air, in the changing and pervading glimmer of his colour palette, expressed on canvases with sobbing rhythm. It seems as if the assertive protagonism of the artist's faces would collide with the naive pensiveness of his natures, made up of many scenes enhancing a lucid, soft melancholy, sometimes bitter and meditative. One may say that Modica's paintings agree, appropriately and consistently, with the way the artist appears to us: a character never loud that, through the fragmentary nature of his brushstroke, acts out the metaphor of a palpable sensitivity that inhabits and drives him. The variety and thickness of the paint conjures up a mixture of frames of mind; they are an undisputed tribute to optimism and speak to us about a gaze amazed and intrigued by life and by the mystery of encounter. It is true that things exist in their own right, even so, they are lost in the darkness of a space. However, it is the light, with its variable and tonal content, that gives things visibility, dignity, and a chance to exist. The light, through its varying moodiness between night and day, offers the beholder a perception of the surrounding things and space that is ever changing. There arises, in the wake of this reflection, an excited and exciting tale of "faces", but not only, used as a pretext for the light to manifest itself: it is the light that needs things! Modica's faces are often stroked by an oblique glimmer of light creating a dialogue in which the artist is able to interrogate the darkness of a shadow, as if he would have us say: does it all really exist? It seems that the realistic concern wrapped up under the skin of a face would elude any speculative charm to result in a much shadier emotional participation. Looking at his works, one clearly perceives a harmonious blending between man and nature.

As a musician, the artist creates a variation on the theme keeping to the mysterious protagonism of a light, which is always sharp and biting. Interestingly, the colour palette conveys completely different moods from face to face and subjects are singled out according to a mechanism which moves beyond analysis and planning, thus giving proof, if ever needed, that art is always anarchical and allergic to rules. Modica finds his imagery like a scientist in his lab, and he manages to extract it from the matter of his creased brushstrokes, his whirling wires, and his articulated objective microcosm: and from the matter he draws multiple expressive possibilities to shape his mind, his urges intimately fighting the immanent reality of "things". And in the transient state of a canvas, he comes to a disclosed shape of balance, to a harmony of his own making, beyond the given message. The complexity of the endless mazes of his wires points towards directions to take, similarly to how the dusty abundance of minuscule objects reminds of the prolixity of thoughts which makes up the Human Being. The meaning of everything is condensed in faces inhabited by beauty or imbued with suffering, all tied up together by a thin red string: the eyes. Hypnotic eyes, of a persistent crystal blue in the intimate fabric of matter and thus as deep as the soul. Eyes, guardians of truths, capable of pulling in the viewer in the fullness of their openness. Eyes interrogating and scrutinising. Eyes speaking to us.

In the fabulous world of Fabio Modica, art as a blend of consciousness and unconsciousness, meaning and bewilderment.

Translation: Simona Agata Giuffrida | PhD in English Literature

Back to Top



THE DEFEAT OF THE ABSENCE - Nino Arrigo - Art critic


The human being. It seems to be the core of Fabio Modica’s poetics. Poetics which vigorously mark a revival of representation. The works of the Catanian painter are an uproar of faces and bodies, mainly women’s, which are looked upon in depth by a lens moving back and forth with refined curiosity and discretion. And when distancing itself from the human figure, the lens focuses on a landscape, natural or urban, caught in a mythical fixity. Dreamlike and rarefied. Weary of the convoluted ponderings and the output of late 20th century art, lost in the ambages of the absence, of the failure of representation leading to sterile and self-referential provocations, Modica’s painting appears to be a successful return to the “presence”, to the power of representation, to a revised classicism nourished by the expressive force of our days, and it does so through an intense and original language, rich in seductive carnality. Thus, in his portraits and female faces, almost “sculpted” with thick portions of matter, the force of representation looks weakened and strengthened at once by powerful brush and spatula strokes, clusters of paint which deconstruct the shape, much like the scrambled tiles of a mosaic. If one borrows the lexicon of one of the most appealing aesthetics of the 20th century, the Nietzschean one, in Modica’s paintings Apollo’s plastic art seems to be possessed by Dionysius, and is shaken, painfully deformed, but it is not yet defeated. It seems, then, that the shape disappears and mysteriously reappears. Similarly to a game of mirrors, which combines, with great balance, classicism and modernity.

Traslation: Simona Agata Giuffrida | PhD in English Literature

Back to Top



SOUL'S VISIONS - Giovanni Gibiino


Painting as dreamed; fragments of images and phantasmagorical spells; materic and true-to-life nudes. A host of changing moods appear on canvas, dictated by the artist's fervid imagination and by the active gaze of the lay viewer. Colours and lights are essential for arising interest, magnification and peace. Fabio Modica, born in 1978, an apprentice to the artists Alberto Abate and Antonio Santacroce, looks inward and creates a series of introspective works arising from reality and imagination. Large faces painted on large canvases, portraits with an intense, penetrating look capturing the emotions of the viewer; and hyper-realistic nudes, repositories and guardians of a mind-generated knowledge which generates an unprecedented beauty. Faces are a doorway, a snapshot of life fragments and the soul's the artist is able to bestow his faces a precise personality, placing them into a changing perspective and using the line of gaze as a force triggering a communicative frequency between the figure and the viewer. Alternating between the brush and the spatula, Modica expresses his innovating way of perceiving art and gives life to semi-abstract works with colour over colour, paint over paint: an abstract expressionism. Twenty-six new works on canvas, vibrant and evocative, are bringing Fabio Modica back to Italy from the United States after an eventful year of exhibitions between London and Atlanta. On display at Studio A Art Gallery in Catania, the artist is going to stir the public's curiosity. With the help of memory, he will make us enjoy the characters as moods and the faces as tokens of an existential experience embedded in pure expression.

Translation: Simona Agata Giuffrida | PhD in English Literature

Back to Top



"Reading art" by Lorenadia Vidoni, Artist and Art Director at Villa Magdalena, Nice.


Fabio Modica is one of those artists whose paintings impress at a first glance. He is an alchemist of color, and his brushwork is amazing. His portraits’ gaze pierces people and landscapes like a laser, and unveils the slightest weakness in them. His models are bare, without being undressed, and a pure, supernatural vision is always conjured up. When you look at one of his paintings, it feels as if you are wearing x-ray glasses. Life is sort of 'x-rayed'... His amazing and exciting paintings do not leave anyone indifferent."



Press Office: Sabrina Falzone - Gallery "Il Borgo", Milan.


The dynamism of Fabio Modica's palette puts the Nude in a new, contemporary light, empowering it with a revolutionary study of light & shadow as opposed to the traditional use of black & white." The exhibition 'Voyage dans la couleur' enhances the function of colour in contemporary art and includes artists of diverse training standing out for particular stylistic peculiarities and executive. In addition to the famous sculpture 'The Ethiopian' by Salvatore Fiume, an artist of international fame, young artists take the spotlight in the contemporary art scene in France. Among these, the Italian Fabio Modica, a native of Sicily (Catania) who will display alongside other emerging artists of French nationality at Villa Magdalena, Nice. His paintings offer a striking color combination, halfway between abstract universe and figurative reality, emphasizing the pathos of the work of art.



Dr. Simona Giuffrida | PhD in English Literature


"In his maskless look - wide open, yet blind to the world - "Untitled" mirrors the universal drama of human existence: the loneliness of Ulysses, the dismay of Daedalus, the astonishment of Christ betrayed, the anxiety and bewilderment of the dis-embodied modern man, down to the despair of the political outcast or the slave of all ages, races and faiths. "



Francesca Mariotti - Art Director at "L'Altrove" Art Space - Ferrara - Italy


"His most recent works are short-distance portraits. It seems to be looking at the 'objective correlative' of a mood or a memory for the sensitiveness with which the color captures the feeling being evoked. Reminiscent of Andre Derain's art – these portraits reveal lively and vigourous spatula strokes, vibrant of memories and emotions. The brushwork, the palette and the photographic angle are now characteristic of Modica's unique style" .

Back to Top