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From ARTSPEAK

February 1992
(text version)

 See article as printed

 The Enchanted Citiscapes of Patrick Antonelle

by Ed McCormack


Certain exceptionally fortunate artists find credos to guide them on their creative paths, simple words of wisdom that seem to state succinctly everything they would wish to accomplish in their work. For the New York-born Impressionist Patrick Antonelle, whose solo exhibition, "New York Citiscapes" lights up Gallery 84, 50 West 57 Street, through February 10, the following lines by Alexander Pope provide guidance and inspiration: "To build, to plant whatever you intend,/ To rear the column, or the arch to bend,/ To swell the terras, or to sink the grot,/ In all let nature never be forgot."

Ever mindful of Pope's advice, Antonelle never forgets nature when he paints the city. Indeed, since his first ambition was to be an architect, Antonelle considers it perfectly natural to bring man's creations and those of God into balance and harmony, a task he accomplishes splendidly in his vibrant mixed media paintings of famous New York landmarks. Antonelle's canvases never fail to remind us that even in the gray concrete canyons of Manhattan there can be sparkling spring air and bursts of brilliant foliage; even in the dead of winter, enchantment can come drifting down in the form of snowflakes to blanket the parks and cap the peaks of the steeples and skyscrapers, making our old familiar city seem new and young again.

An American original with a refreshingly populist bent, Antonelle is included in the collections of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Michele Marsh, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump, and many other luminaries. His work speaks directly to the heart, bypassing sterile aesthetic theorizing to share his apparently inexhaustible store of wonder with the rest of us. Yet for all his lack of pretension, Patrick Antonelle is a highly sophisticated painter whose solidly constructed compositions reveal that architecture's loss is the art world's gain. For there is an innate sense of abstract form in Antonelle's work, imbuing it with a visual impact that eludes many others who work in a lyrical realist mode. Indeed, in terms of compositional ability, Antonelle sometimes surpasses even some of the great French Impressionists he admires. His sense of architectonic structuring invariably asserts itself, even through the blizzards of pointillistic strokes that activate the surfaces of his snow scenes.

One of the most lovely of these is "The Plaza, Winter," where the green gables of the elegant old hotel rise against a glowing winter sky as tiny figures make their way through the snow-carpeted park below. Antonelle's unique skills as a colorist are especially evident in the many subtle pastel hues glowing within the large expanses of snow, bringing it alive with a veritable rainbow of reflected light. Few contemporary Impressionists can equal the command of delicate chromatic changes with which Antonelle achieves such optically dazzling effects.

Like the early Impressionists, Antonelle has benefited considerably from his study of traditional Oriental painting. The Chinese influence makes itself felt in "San Remo, Winter," another, more ethereal snow scene, with spidery tree limbs limned in graceful calligraphic strokes, and tiny gray figures symbolizing, in the Oriental manner, the smallness of man in the enormity of nature. By contrast, it is of the bolder areas of flat color in Japanese woodblock prints (which also influenced van Gogh) that one thinks, looking at Antonelle's painting, "Nocturnal New York, Flatiron Building, Winter 1906." Although the composition of the painting is based on a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz, Antonelle transforms it and makes it his own through his coloristic abilities, depicting the looming form of New York's oldest skyscraper in silhouette, rising like the prow of a mystery ship against a vibrant night sky of a particularly breathtaking blue. The nocturnal poetry of the picture is made even more magical by brilliant yellow lights glowing through the darkness, dissolving in watery reflections on the rain-slicked street.

Patrick Antonelle again evokes a nostalgic sense of old New York in "Dakota, 1890," in which that grand and venerable hotel (not yet jostled by other buildings that would spring up around it in later years) looms in lordly isolation over Central Park, where tiny skaters dot the frozen lake. Here, the charming scene is flooded with light from an opalescent yellow winter sky.

The chromatic magic that makes Antonelle's paintings so appealing translates equally well into the lithographic print medium. In "May in Central Park" and "Treasured Moments," the former depicts a hansom cab passing in the distance, behind a plot of pink tulips, the latter rapturously captures the shared joy of a woman and a little girl, standing under the spreading, blossoming branches of a gnarled and majestic tree.

Undoubtedly, Alexander Pope would approve of how well Patrick Antonelle remembers and celebrates nature, even amidst the imposing towers of Manhattan.

* Manhattan Arts Magazine, November 1992       

2002 Antonelle Art Impressions

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