(Originally published in Art New England, December 1984.)
Stavaridis Gallery / Boston, MA.
Robert Ferrandini’s previous works have featured flying saucers and monsters, imagery drawn from a 1950’s childhood spent watching science-fiction movies like When Worlds Collide and The Thing.
They have shown violent fantasies, like the bombing or burning of the redbrick housing project in East Boston where the artist grew up. His work is fascinating because it combines seemingly irreconcilable elements – monster movies, readings of the great art of the past, and a pure painterlikness. Ferrandini has studied the aesthetics of destruction in paintings like J.M.W. Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.
He is fluent in the language of abstraction. His drawing is incredibly sensitive and delicate, reminiscent of J.M.W. Turner’s storms at sea and Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of hair and water. He uses everything he knows to look back at the myths and memories of his childhood in a fresh and startling way.
Ferrandini’s new paintings and drawings no longer show flying saucers or Godzilla. They are imaginary landscapes and seascapes – places where beauty and anguish meet. In the largest, most powerful painting, a row of little pines trees shivering in the wind are lined up on a cliff which plunges into a deep ravine through which a river flows. The brightness of sky, darkness of gorge, vertigo of cliff walls, and rumble of river through the dark, romantic chasm chill and grip us.
The new work recalls Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings – romantic moonlit scenes where a solitary man gazes up at the sky, standing pensive beside a blasted tree. A small painting of an empty chair facing the night sky (with the stars astronomically correct) recalls Edvard Munch’s seascapes, charged with feeling. The chair seems to yearn for something to worship in an age of doubt, something to paint in an age of abstraction, something to hope for at the end of the world.
Ferrandini’s past work was always in motion. Now there is a calm: silence where there was noise, stillness where there was frantic, destructive activity. It is the cyclone’s eye.
One of the artist’s favorite scenes is in The Day the Earth Stood Still, when the radio announcer tells America: “The aliens have landed. Be calm.” It is that calm. It is that stillness. Or as Bertolt Brecht wrote, “The terrible has already happened.”
Ferrandini has come to some kind of terms with his past and is ready to move on. His spaceship has finally landed in a world of his own making. We look forward with great interest to his explorations there.
by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com