Fabrizio Biviano: Seven Keys to Distinction

21 September - 15 October 2022

Exhibition Text

The carefully orchestrated paintings of Fabrizio Biviano explore fraught bonds between objecthood and identity. Reworking the conventions of Dutch still life painting through a contemporary lens, Biviano engineers curious compilations of everyday items in an ongoing questioning of how material culture defines us. In his compositions, collections of books are crested with disposable coffee cups, fruit and florals, creating conference between that which endures and fades away. Notions of consumption mingle with reflections on obsolescence as Biviano responds to the accumulation and disposability of things in our materialist milieu. In his works, object becomes artefact, each item a barometer of the times.


Biviano’s latest series, ‘Seven keys to distinction’, represents a collision of ideas orbiting the self-help era, or what Carl Cederström and André Spicer term the “Optimization Movement”. Extending his self-referential approach to the still life genre, Biviano responds to the saturation of information shaping and misshaping the human condition today. “We’re surrounded by so much information, so much noise”, he comments, “everyone wants to be an expert”. This is amplified by social media, with its fierce perpetuation of perfectionism and glossy idealities. Biviano enlists the trope of the self-help book in his rendition of this modern hubris. Utilising titles from his mother’s collection, his own archive, and second-hand stores, the artist is fascinated by the breadth of self-help subjects; from athletic and intellectual prowess to spirituality, creativity, philosophy, wealth, and pleasure. Softly, he presents the hard doctrine of personal optimisation in the throes of a hypercritical culture and the billion-dollar self-improvement industry.


In response to this cult of perfectionism, Biviano’s paintings bring our attention to the beauty of the blemish. Each arrangement is amplified against tonally vacant backgrounds splintered by scrapes of paint, creating effervescent moments of colourful abstraction. Lemons are half-peeled, flowers are scruffy, books are battered. Truth and honesty, realness, reign strong here. Rendered with a brighter, warmer palette and looser brushstrokes than previous series, the paintings harness the immediacy of the present to celebrate the rich and varied visuality of imperfection. This rawness is also captured via the artist’s recent experimentation with photography, creating one-off prints by building a camera obscura, making a contact print and hand colouring each one. An alternative process that has been of interest to Biviano for its immediacy, its vivacity – a counter companion to the slow labour of painting.


Native flowers and fruit crown the piled-up volumes in this series, making Biviano’s ideas more palatable such that they need not confront – or even be consumed at all. The works can indeed simply be appreciated as beautiful still lifes; aesthetic arrangements of compositionally balanced objects. Or they can be read as something more, something powerful. Perhaps they summon the futility of pleasure and the ephemerality of beauty in the way of the traditional memento mori, buttressing the artist’s own existential wrestles with meaning and self-worth. Or perhaps not. Either way, Biviano’s paintings function as portraits – of the artist himself, and of a particular moment in time. Though Biviano describes this series as “a collection of noise” at times loud and dissonant, there is also a soft tenor to be found here, an honesty that speaks ­– or whispers – of resilience and fortitude.

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