contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / September 2019

Black Out 2
Ester Grossi

Acrylic on canvas
120 cm x 100 cm

Courtesy Spazio Testoni, Bologna, Foto Giulia Mazza

Ester Grossi’s painting “Black Out 2” is a composition of four geometric shapes on black ground, which overlap each other partially. The upper diagonally red lined field could be described as rectangle with rounded corners. Though, two semicircles are cut out at the top edge. From its lower edge a white unilateral curved rectangle guides into an orange lined trapeze, whereby the lines gather fan-shaped at the smaller, lower edge. This field cuts a blue perhaps right-angled triangle. Each form has at least one side that runs in parallel to the other forms. Hence, a unit is established.

The painting could be perceived as an abstract picture. Nevertheless, it could be also interpreted as a minimalised portrait in semi-profile. In this case, the red lined field would be cheeks and chin and the semi-circled recesses the eyes. The white neck would be surrounded be an orange stand-up collar and the blue forms the shoulders. Due to this different perception, the picture could be qualified as being on the threshold between abstraction and figuration. Our brain’s ability to complete omissions allows the recognition as bust. Whereas, a smartphone camera is not (yet) capable to identify one, even though in portrait mode.

A regard to the background of the painting reveals that our brain’s performance is suitable. “Black Out 2” is part of Ester’s series of masks. In this special case, the artist was inspired of the scold’s bridle. First recorded in Scotland in 1567, the scold’s bridle was an instrument of torture, conceived to prevent the victims to talk. A bridle-bit, included in the iron mask was introduced into the mouth to either press the tongue down or raise it. Speaking and even eating and drinking became impossible. This punishment was applied, mainly to women, when their speech was troublesome. It was used also in England and Germany. Additionally, the scold’s bridle was applied to penalise slaves in the colonies until the mid-18th-century. A prominent victim might be Giordano Bruno. It is said that he wore a scold’s bridle on his way to the stake in Rome in 1600.

Returning to Ester’s painting, there is the prominent redlined form, identified as the lower part of a face. With the background of the scold’s bridle, it is the mask, which is accentuated in the picture, by its size and colour. The individual remains invisible, as the victim of torture is dehumanised. The other abstract forms, which constitute the bust, contribute to this perception. Nevertheless, the bright colours of the image do not guide directly to the horrible practice behind it. Only the black background might be a hint, although it makes the colours more flashing.

Ester stimulates our senses by the minimal language of simplification. Instead of elaborated details, she focuses on abstracted forms, colour and drawing. Whereby the execution of the fine exact lines is a sort of meditation for her. They stand somehow in contrast to the monochrome fields and cause a certain three-dimensionality in the painting. For example, we perceived the orange lined field as stand-up collar behind the neck.

“Black Out 2” was recently presented in Ester’s solo exhibition “Essenziale” (essential) at the gallery Spazio Testoni in Bologna. The show’s title refers inter alia to the artist’s stylistic means of simplification to focus on the essential elements. Our artwork of the month is a good example how Ester omits elements and understands the essence of things to communicate their essentialism in the sense of Bruno Munari.


Ester Grossi

Born in 1981 in Avezzano, Italy, Ester Grossi first made a diploma in Fashion, Design and Decoration at the art institute “Vincenzo Bellisario” in her hometown. Afterwards, she studied at the DAMS Bologna (Discipline delle Arti, della Musica e dello Spettacolo – Institute for Drama, Art and Music Studies) and graduated with a bachelor in Television, Cinema and Multimedia Production in 2008.

According to her education, Ester works in various fields of the arts. In cooperation with other creatives, she designed clothing and accessories, an exhibition stand, many promotional posters for film and music festivals and album covers. Her last film project was a video for the Finnish musician Lau Nau. Together with Sara Bonaventura she conceived the visual background for the album “Poseidon”.

Nevertheless, painting is her primary interest. Ester researches signs, symbols and information in our complex society to reduce and simplify them in her pictorial work. In consequence, popular culture and mass communication are in her focus. For her series “Token” (2014) she reorganised symbols as a new system of signs. Translated into graphical language, the original symbols are no longer decipherable. Moreover, she is interested in local history, folklore and archaeology. An example is her series “Lumen” from 2015, where she painted details of sky disks, found in her Abruzzo home region, but in her typical minimalistic abstracting manner.

In 2016, she created wall paintings for the gallery Spazio Testoni, Bologna in cooperation with the Werkstattgalerie, Berlin. For the exhibition “Deep Down Inside the Colour”, the artist visited Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein in her studio to create her own compositions to dialogue with the pre-existing oeuvres of the German painter. At the venue in Bologna, Ester painted geometric forms directly on the wall. They corresponded with Ingeborg’s panel paintings regarding the colours and the abstraction.

For her series “Red Hook Lines” from 2018, the artist once again approached the minimalistic figurative direction. It is a reflexion about her memories of the New York urban and architectural experience, made during her residency in December 2017. Even though simplified, buildings and loading cranes of a harbour are recognisable.

With her, since 2015 ongoing series of masks, Ester continuous her way between figurative and abstraction. A representative example is “Black Out 2”, our Artwork of the Month September 2019. Nevertheless, the state of simplification is much more advanced as in her earlier series “Written on the Hays” (2012), “The Line below” (2012) and “Fucinus Lacus” (2013).

Most of Ester’s series were presented in solo shows, mostly in Italy. A retrospective of her latest works was held in spring 2019 at her long-standing gallery Spazio Testoni. Moreover, single works joined numerous group exhibitions in Italy, but also in several European countries, the Ivory Coast and Cuba. She was finalist for the Arteam Cup and the Premio Cairo Prize and honoured by the Italian Factory Prize in 2010.

Ester lives and works in Bologna.