Afterword, 2021: An Essay on the Artist’s Paintings
by Andrea Ponsi
In Rosamond Casey’s paintings, I observe a parallel world, submerged beneath the surface of the real world, beyond the very fine layer that divides the known from the unknown, the familiar from the unrecognizable, the beauty and purity of life from the sadness of a possible, predictable, terrifying future.
The submerged world imagined here suggests a land inundated by epochal changes in climate, but also a space in which there is a lack of oxygen and no room to breathe: a prefiguration of viral pandemics, as well as technological, spiritual, and emotional dis-ease. The dystopian vision implied in this future recognizes at the same time its desire for redemption. This is one of the artist’s tasks: to confront negative thought by facing it directly so as not to leave it buried in the even darker world of the unconscious.
Sometimes the figures in these paintings seem to float unmoored, unable to react. Others still carry on with daily life, working, repairing things with cables, wires, and ropes, trying to fix what’s broken, rescue and rebuild. In some paintings, mothers hold children in their arms as they continue to struggle, still attached to this impossible-to-abandon primal love. In another a child blindly clutches a gun. For fun? For defense against a distant threat? Others continue, their lives detached from their surroundings, protected by headphones, tuned out. Inside, someone is washing a child’s gym shoes in the sink, and on the counter, we see equipment used to disinfect, to eradicate virus and filth, now found everywhere and no longer confined to the familiar parameters of daily life. This apparent “normality” is the most tragic and disturbing aspect of the dystopian universe.
These images push against the boundaries of the canvas, allowing the age-old material of paint to settle across the two-dimensional plane, as if someone were observing phantasmagorical fish in an aquarium through a protective glass. But the painting itself does not yield to the tragedy, to the chaos of its meaning. It presents “composition” as the last bastion of a positive vision, the last cry of the artist who is still trying to confront reality using the only instrument available to her: beauty—the beauty, however tragic, of bodies arranged in special geometries, reminding us of paintings from a different era—Mannerist, perhaps, Cubist or Surrealist.
Gazes cross, hands signal to each other in a dance that is simultaneously harmonious and macabre, sinuous bodies adapt to the lighter gravity of water while still confined by the limits of the frame.
Just as the figures intertwine in continuous changes of positions, so too the colors mix and unravel on the forms with sudden chromatic leaps and impossible shadows that, if they did not refer to a tragic world, could be mistaken for the flaming swirls of an ethereal galaxy lost in the depths of the universe. The history of painting can be found in these images, revealing the presence of the skilled and visionary hand behind them—the hand of the artist offering images that are both dangerous and salvific. In the disturbing chiaroscuro of unearthly figures in this work, we see the hues of Pontormo’s Depositions, the harmonious color relationships of Fra Angelico, the blazing flames of Latin American magical realism, the dreamlike contrasts of the European surrealists, the colors of psychedelic hallucinations of not so long ago, the artificial, and acidic hues of pop art.
I stop to look at an image, a body. It might be drowned or still alive, still exhaling bubbles of oxygen, oxygen that may be about to give out. This terrible vision hits hard, especially now when the lack of air is not only symbolic, but real, suffered not just by the few with ordinary sickness but by everyone. We are all involuntary targets of an invisible virus wandering indiscriminately over the surface of the world. But nevertheless, there is an atmosphere and a sky we can rely on; research and science where we can place our hopes. We also have a powerful will to survive and adapt, unless that will is darkened forever by biological and spiritual disease.
Andrea Ponsi is an architect, designer, writer and painter who lives and works in Florence, Italy. He has authored books on theory and on drawing aimed at designers, artists and architects.
Translated from the Italian by Jack Rossi and Rosamond Casey