Contemplation of Humanitarian Theory and The Sublime
Written by Libby Nicholaou
After spending a sunny San Francisco Saturday afternoon with Minervini, visiting the SFMOMA and listening to a talk on personal identity at the YBCA, I discovered he’s an artist who values the ideas of various creative individuals throughout history. He’s been particularly swept away by Buckminister Fuller’s theories on humanity and ingenuity of design, in particular with the geodesic dome. He recalls Fuller’s writing and quotes him as striving to be “the world’s most successful failure.” Through Fuller’s insistent efforts to seek new discoveries, it’s easy to understand why Minervini couples him with Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s writings on the sublime. Taking the influence of these men into account it is understood that much of what Minervini paints is a visual dialogue in response to the ways they probed at understanding humanity’s root nature and redemptive qualities.
The works, in Robert Minervini’s solo exhibition at Gallery Hijinks, focus on the idea of utopia by way of geodesic domes, desolate landscapes and radioactive colors. Although a young painter, Minervini has transformed much in his career, moving from painting purely figurative murals to the abstracted landscapes we see today. His choice to move towards abstraction was spurred by a realization that more can be said when blurring the lines of reality. As part of his evolution he’s removed the human figure from the canvas but says the figure is still a central role in his works. There is a real pleasure experienced when viewing these paintings, it is as though Minervini is creating a portal to undiscovered or abandoned planets that are mirrors of our world which have more to offer than believed before.
Setting humanity as the subject matter but not actually painting figures on the canvas opens a new space for the viewer to step in freely. Through the domes, Minervini provides the viewer with an image to look into, look out of, or step inside of. The geometric patterns of the domes and the still landscapes surrounding them invite the viewer to pause, while their eyes wonder over the canvas. As the viewer takes time to discover the paintings’ different characteristics, they see he has taken note of his art training by use of formal elements, such as color, texture and line. In most paintings, he’s created a sense of depth through the allusion to deep space, use of vanishing points carrying the eye deeper into the painting and selecting cool colors that remove anxiety from the mind and give a somber tone to the body of work. These elements open the paintings up and take the viewer to another location, often leaving them with a sensation of awe, which most of us forget to translate into the sublime.
Since moving to the bay area Minervini’s path has included much formal guidance as a recent fine arts graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute, former resident with the Headlands Center for The Arts and resident artist at Root Division. He is able to realize that as individuals we are able to translate many complex things in life but with art not even the artist can provide a full translation. They can explain their technique, philosophy, and intent behind each interacting element within a composition; but to assign a definite meaning would flatten one’s experience.
Through my Saturday afternoon with Minervini I realized this even more as he continued to talk about the connection between the sublime, beauty, and art. Most of us who studied the liberal arts in school have an understanding of their differences but here Rolfe gives us a reminder in saying, “Thus in Schiller beauty is inferior to the sublime because the latter leads to a condition of thought which is independent of all sensuous affects,’ which is to say, of all that is fundamental to the beautiful.” In Minervini’s paintings, the abstract touches on the sublime carrying the viewer beyond their meaning, to a possibility for more understanding than what is before our eyes.