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"Salvatore Federico: Recent Paintings"
by Maureen Mullarkey

The New York Sun
May 18, 2006

The game rules of art have change frequently over the last century. Yet certain constants keep reasserting themselves between shifting goal posts. One of them is the importance of proportion, an intimate component of all other design principles. Mathematical recipes have been devised for it yet it remains largely indefinable and intuitional. Arthur Wesley Dow, in his classic text "Composition," called it "the mystery of Spacing."

That mystery is at the heart of Salvatore Federico’s elegant two-color compositions, which are stripped-bare of representational references. In each, a single hard-edged, free-form angularity painted in one solid color hovers over a flat field of another, often contrasting, color. There is a heraldic aura to the work, each painting a post-modern hache d’armes.

Mr. Federico favors mural-sized dimensions. Size creates sensory impact, but scale, a matter of internal proportion, is the critical formal element. Perfectly scaled works- as are the ones on view at George Billis Gallery- do not require the additive of size. The artist’s prints and smaller works are as satisfying as the large canvases.

Mr. Federico plans his compositions on a hexagonal grid to insure that slants harmonize and angles repeat accurately. The central form of "Calepodius" (2005), pure cadmium orange and notched like a pole axe, is beautifully poised on a field of yellow green. The design, named after a third century Roman martyr, suggests a crest emblazoned with the blades of martyrdom. "Praxedes" (2005) plays with a single tri-vectored device and its mirror image. Each bright blue variant lies rampant, count-rampant and at differing tilts across a white field.

The two azure forms of "Agatha" (2005) appear identical at first. But look again. The lateral notches of each are in different positions on the invisible underlying grid. One set of indentations slims the form at its center; the other expands it. Together, they testify to the enigmas of good spacing. My favorite is "Hannah" (2005). Three identical, indented forms, each a different tone of blue, rise from a saturated yellow field. The axis of the forms and the spatial cadences evoke living movement- are these larks ascending? Chivalric eagles? Beauty lies not in what we make of it but in the inventive use of symmetry and repetition.

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