The Mine presents Martyrdom, Italian artist Giovanni Leonardo Bassan’s first solo exhibition in the U.A.E.
An apparition of icons vacates the place of worship and transfers onto the canvas, to speak of something, of us, of the then-and-now. A meeting that takes place halfway between past and present, which drives us to question contemporary viewpoints and epochal perceptions.From past to present, ancient saint to modern hero, we move through the pages of history as only remnants of past veneration are left ornamenting each visual record.
We have long taken an aesthetic distance from the portrayal of martyr scenes in old masters paintings but here, the superimposition of eras invites the spectator to sense the idea of sacred cruelty, rather than merely contemplate it. The bodies are bluntly exposed, the detailing sombre, only to overlap holy suffering with modern self-fulfilment. In doing so, as a counterpoint, Martyrdom exposes the deep question of the transfiguration of these subjects by beauty.
It is at this point that the hourglass is reversed. Time has accelerated its march; the saints have turned to abstraction in the form of youth thrown on our streets and into our lives, devoid of veneration. Only the golden halo, forlorn relic of history, remains to remind us of who they are. Past icons have now been left open to contemporary interpretation, each symbol exposed to endless understandings. What might have been one’s saint is now another’s hero. It is from this juncture that that we recognize the artist’s staged tales, tales of the past with no bearing, each religious motif is now allowing for contemporary context. A diligent and valiant soldier saves the inhabitants of the city from the threats of the dragon, the knight is deprived of his armor and steed to fight naked against the dragon without audience or princess to exult. We might have once called him George.
It is with an unashamed sensitive approach, abundant in emotion, that his paintings lead us to ponder. The contemporary layering does not subject the representations to secularism but instead parallels the traditional themes of saintly martyrdom to sanctify interpretations of modern-day heroism. Martyrdom explores what we were and what we have become. Between figuration and abstraction, the characters stand on neutral backgrounds to further emphasize the incisive urgency of a collective awakening. Gold, the only visible noble material is accompanied by brutal materials, inviting us to review priorities and reconsider fundamentals. The works of Giovanni Leonardo Bassan are one thought stemmed from the past that travels ineluctably to the present and that with great power and a soupçon of violence, calls back into question our identity and our responsibilities as human beings.