The Portland Phoenix

Portland News, Arts and Entertainment

Beyond the Villa

Angelina Moody cuts up Italy

Review of the show "Multiple Views of Italy" at the Clown in Portland, by Maggie Knowles

One of my friends recently returned from Italy and was surprised to find anyone left in the US; most of the people she met on her journey were fellow countrymen ingesting their share of Sicilian sun and Tuscan wine. To the gazillions of Americans who trek there each year, the pull of Italy is as compelling as the Filene's Basement bridal gown sale - less the Bridezillas clawing each other for the last Vera Wang.

Too, Italy's sex appeal attracts artists from all eras, offering her lush vitality up for translation to canvas. Angelina Moody, for one, spends a heft sect of the year sketching slices of the leg-and-boot shaped country for series such as "Multiple Views of Italy," on view at the Clown through November 29.

Defining Moody's paintings as "landscapes" would be a huge injustice to her craft, for that word conjures up typical (boring) trees on a hill with an old cart in the son. More accurate would be to call them "NRG-scapes". She balls up the zany energy from a particular area, tosses it like a salad, and serves it up on Canvas. If you have ever driven in Rome, for example, "Santo Macchina" ("Saint of the Car") will be a flashback to that crazed experience. Driving over there more closely resembled water-skiing at 60 mpg trying to avoid giant logs -- with the sun in your eyes and no brakes. Moody created an idol of this controlled chaos: a van Gogh-looking man who calmly cradles two petite autos, paternal pride in his eyes as the colors of horns, road rage, limitless speeding and fender benders scream around his figure. In the center, the idea of a church with two guardian angels reminds all that God is still the ruling traffic cop.

How Moody constructs her pieces is very cool. She shreds older paintings that didn't work out, arranges the fragments and then paints over them to unify the scene. The resulting texture is wonderful.

"Livorno" is a massive work, about 5' x 5' and restricted to black , gray, white, and pale yellow. The sea, portrayed by hundreds of mussel-shell-colored scraps, creeps from all angles surrounding a naïve white sailboat. Night is falling. Hints of the setting sun drip below a deepening gray sky. You are quiet as you observe; don't disturb the army of waves as they prepare to overtake the last bit of white space. "Livorno" succeeds greatly with stoic form and content. Perhaps that is because Moody, until recently, didn't work with color.

Which is surprising because when she does use color, she really used it. There is no fear in how brightly and boldly the colors are layered--picture a flamboyant Italian woman mixing a fuchsia skirt with a turquoise top and tangerine hat. Somehow, it works. Moody's works in color have less structure tan the others but they are spontaneous, child-like, and spirited.

"Siena" is a trompe l'oeil in that it looks like a mosaic made with bits of glossy pottery. In a palette crossing late spring and early fall, the colors at once are resting and awakening. It is the memory of a perfect day spent in the ling rays of the sun, drinking wine in fresh grass, napping in the shade, forgetting all the deadlines that loom Monday morning. You sort of remember the peach and olive houses bordering the park; the smattering of young trees; the man-made lakes with the antique stone walkway…you most certainly remember the air perfumed with lemon, the way the light sticks to your lover's bare shoulder…this work is an ode to remembering the scent of a day, not the tangible specifics.

Aldo Moro was Italy's prime minister in the '60s. He coined a term to explain how the church and communism co-existed: coincidenza. Literally it means "converging parallels". Moody's work reminds me of this idea, how two entities--the physicality and history of Italy, and the spirit of the people---work to make a place unique. "Colosseo I" spins with generations of historical power. A whirling time line, this pieces speaks to the millions of people who have sat in this architectural wonder, watching everything from opera to lions maiming gladiators. A dozen arched entryways flip and flop on the paper, blurred with vertigo and déjà vu.

A couple of pieces sidestep the fanfare of zippy color and retreat into a place of somber reality. "Puglia" remembers that parts of Italy are economically depressed. Ashy, simple lines construct square buildings, their windows lacking screens. Unlike the slums of New York, there is a rustic quaintness to these areas--though they are depressed, they are not unwelcoming. The artist sees the reward in visiting these parts, to learn of a way of life beyond villas and statue gardens.

Moody's gift is that she can peel away the touristy notion of Italy and reveal the inner spirit and vitality. You are in a trance as the paintings expand around you and pull you into a brilliant vacation, if only for a moment.