Federico Solmi’s The Bacchanalian Ones Revels in American Archetypes
Luis de Jesus, Los Angeles
through June 19
Written by Genie Davis
As the first exhibition at Luis de Jesus new DTLA Los Angeles gallery, Federico Solmi’s The Bacchanalian Ones is a perfect fit. The large new space is an ample showcase for a series of works that include virtual reality, paintings, drawings, and video-paintings.
Mesmerizing, galvanizing, defiant, and yes, revolutionary, the exhibition compels viewing with its bright colors, mixed-media contexts – such as video art framed by rich painted imagery, and complex patterns.
Many works pointedly caricature their subjects, with the self-taught artist subversively and wittily depicting figures from politics, religion, and among the uber-wealthy. Skewering evil with comic touches, linking unexpected connections, and providing an almost dizzying view of American life and decadence, Solmi’s show is well-timed as we come out of the pandemic and Trumpian politics and worry about the resurgence of both.
But make no mistake, with its use of VR and video-game technology, whether with a palette of brilliant primary colors or mesmerizing black and white, the expedition is also a great deal of fun to explore. Steeped in satire, inspired by celebrity adoration and myth-making, the exhibition is a virtual circus with many different “rings” to explore.
“The Bathhouse” (2020) is a large-scale work of video-paintings taking up the full length of one gallery room wall. Set within richly painted framing borders, these digital animations are made up of five large LED screens within a framework 6’ by 20’. The video images are hypnotic, created from scans of Solmi’s own paintings, using animation and gaming software. The work is a study of decadence in which one iconic greed-monger after another appear. From Columbus to Napoleon to Idi Amin, they drink and stuff themselves in a grotesque, over-the-top palace of wealth.
2019’s video-painting “The Idolized Detractors” gives the viewer Trump wearing a Joker’s characteristic painted-on smile, decked out in bright green dictator/band-leader regalia. The layered images in the frame surrounding the work include references to American excess from Burger King to Subway to Las Vegas as well as references to circuses. Trump may be the king clown, but he is also the ringmaster in this pile of excess consumption. It is part of a triptych of work that also includes “The Drunken Boat” and “The Gilded Gift,” with money, madness, and leering lust all a part of the imagery.
Another video-painting, “The Indulgent Fathers” (2020) explores the context of our present state, with historic figures, eyes ablaze with greed, surrounded by multiple images of the colonizing Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
Almost as motion-packed and certainly as object and idea-filled as the video-paintings are Solmi’s acrylic works, such as “The Affectional Charlatans” in which the titular trio are surrounded by microphones from Foxy News. Deceivers and demagogues get similar treatment.
The layered technique of both these bodies of work is almost jewel-like; if the subjects themselves weren’t enough to reveal the appeal of blatant excess, then the eye-catching, splashy techniques that Solmi employs surely will.
Incredibly detailed black and white ink drawings, such as “American Pastoral,” with its peaceful depiction of Native Americans and animals or the complex patterns of the greed-drooling “Loving Despots” caressing a globe, are a visual maze. These works make up another gallery room. It is a deep dive to explore these pieces, with each line a swirl of motion and texture. Some work is on wood panel, others are white ink on black paper.
And then there is the VR.
The new work is presented in a separate space in the gallery’s third room with three separate headset and chair positions. Viewers manipulate their own experience via hand-held controller, experiencing up-close the experience of an orgy-like spectacle. One can reach for fruit or wine, slip among the glorying sycophants and rejoicing dictators in a wash of gold, emerald, and ruby shades. Bearing the title of the full exhibition, Solmi’s The Bacchanalian Ones (2021), uses Oculus Quest 2 with VR headsets and controllers. It is as immersive as one would expect, and surprisingly involving. As repellant as the viewer knows the visualized participants to be, one is still compelled to reach for that fruit or gilded goblet. It is a visual metaphor for the ways in which we, even if resistant to the reach of dictators and deceivers, still participate perhaps unwittingly in the political and social circus/chaos they create.
In short, Solmi’s work here ably involves viewers in both spectacle and the seduction of the corruption that comes with power as well as with its ability to manipulate, whether through media or conquering physical force. It is a bravura series of works by an intense and utterly unique artist, and an exhibition that absolutely must be seen in person to indulge the senses and ground the spirit. The exhibition runs through June 19th.
Luis de Jesus
1110 Matteo Street, Los Angeles