At the core of Matteo Callegari’s practice lies a principle of hospitable generosity. The artist considers painting a proposition for a ­dialogue—a forum in which both painters and viewers are invited to question their own awareness of the everyday and their engagement­ with reality.

Callegari’s process has remained consistent since the artist’s first exhibition. He begins his works by establishing rules to work within, or work against, initiating a structure through which the painter’s work is executed. Yet despite this original demand for structure, Callegari ultimately seeks plasticity within these constructs. His rules are flexible, often varying from work to work, but they are also necessary, as they anchor the painting within a territory that is not fully arbitrary nor completely left to chance. The results echo the work of Jean Arp, who qualified chance as his raw material despite the structural consequences manifested in his collages. Similarly, Callegari’s raw material seems to be the confrontation of dichotomous tensions between academic and conceptual approaches of painting, between seriality and singularity, between a mechanized production of images and a painterly gesture.

Spanning four different bodies of work, each developing simultaneously—his “Gradient” and “Scratch” series on one hand, his “Skeleton” and “Bubblewrap” paintings on the other—Callegari’s practice invariably combines digitally processed images and physical material. In all instances, the painter outlines a cropped detail of a source image projected on a blank canvas, many of which are art historical references. Subsequently, he juxtaposes figurative and abstract elements with these existing source images. Sometimes meticulously erasing details of his paintings, sometimes accentuating them, Callegari strives to abolish the lines between the canvas, the painted motifs and printed images. Ultimately, depth and surface merge into a new dimensional plane where background and foreground cannot be dissociated.

Abolish the lines between the canvas, the painted motifs and printed images.

For his second solo exhibition at Federico Vavassori (Milan), opening in September, Callegari chose to exhibit works from both his “Gradient” and “Scratch” series. In the former, a gradient of vibrant green covers an almost luminescent purple background. Starting from a corner, the gradient expends in eccentric circles evoking the trace of a fingerprint. In the latter, a monochromatic background is first covered with black and white, upon which a layer of grey is superimposed. In an anthropometric gesture, Callegari uses his bare hands to mark the canvas with a crisscross pattern, scratching off the multiple layers. Like an archeological excavation, the color trapped in the background is brought to light; he refers to the result as a primitive chiaroscuro. Ironically, the gradient imitates the pattern of the brushstrokes, still visible within the interstices of the colorful lines resurfacing from the depth of the canvas. The dialogue established between these artworks immediately invites the viewer to question his own sense of scale.

In parallel with the exhibition, Callegari is also working on his first artist’s book, to be published later this fall by Front Desk Apparatus in New York. Compiling a comprehensive selection of the artist’s oeuvre and explaining his process, the book has been conceived as an axial section of the painter’s system, with each of the four sections representing a specific body of works.

Matteo Callegari (Italian, b. 1979) is an artist who lives and works in New York. He is represented by Federico Vavassori, Milan.
Matteo Callegari’s current and upcoming projects include a solo exhibition opening in September at Federico Vavassori, Milan, and a monograph to be published in the fall by Front Desk Apparatus. In spring 2016, Callegari will have a solo exhibition at Carl Kostyál in London.

Clément Delépine is a curator based in New York. After organizing and curating exhibitions for the Swiss Institute, he has recently joined Bortolami Gallery as a director.

Image: Third from the sun, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Federico Vavassori, Milan