"Between the lines"
by Kelly Gordon
During a recent studio visit, Federico Solmi grabbed an old-school kids’ coloring book depicting American landmarks from his source shelf and remarked: What always fascinated me about these coloring books was that they took complicated historical events and represented them to popular culture as pleasant, polished line drawings. Sorting through an array of the artist’s own drawings--some independent portraits and others, conceptualizations for his animations--his emphatic, stylized drawings offered an opportunity to reconsider the arc between this age-old children’s format and the current mania for adult coloring books.
Since 2012, tens of millions of adult coloring books have been used in grief counseling, meditation training, to wean the digitally-obsessed or screen-weary from their devices, as a nexus for socializing through “coloring circles” and as a boon to “creativity” and relaxation. Filling in these empty drawings has been declared therapeutic by medical professionals and social workers, coloring fans and celebrities. Here, Solmi offers an ironic twist: Shake off the zen!
Instead of the comforting nostalgia and soothingly mindless practice coloring is noted to provide, the artist encourages us to travel his tense lines and re-trace his notions about how legends are constructed, perpetuated and often stem from conspiracy, corruption and myth. With his signature, menacing archetypes, Solmi asks viewers to read between the lines.
Grotesquery and fearsome exaggeration dates back to depictions of mankind’s earliest idols. This sensibility surfaces regularly in Western art, notably in Leonardo’s sketches, in war critiques from Goya to Picasso and in the traumatized urgency expressed by Ensor, Munch, Grosz and Basquiat. Solmi’s haunting social commentaries question how the iconic status of current and historical figures, potentates and celebrities, is conferred by the masses who enable their reputations.
The artist’s works are generated from drawings that form the basis for multi-media paintings. After being painted by hand, they are computer-juiced into his 3-D animations. He breathes life into his “heroes" with stunning exaggeration and flying flecks of color, shine and exuberant detail. Various camera angles and close-ups emphasize the stature of the idolized, but before you instinctively bow down, Solmi wants to color your perspective.
His dynamic renderings and searing animations reminds us how conditioned we are by deceptions propagated by media, spectacle, rumor and representation. Solmi’s masterful artworks call upon all citizens to question; to remain vigilant and attentive to alternative Truths. Sharpen your crayons!