VIDEO: Rediscovered Surrealist Domenico Gnoli's Widow Tells the Stories Behind His Paintings

Domenico Gnoli's widow, Yannick Vu
(Photo © Tom Chen)

Italian painter Domenico Gnoli was just 36 when he died in New York in 1970, but at that point the artist had already been famous for 17 years. The son of art historian Umberto Gnoli and ceramicist Annie de Garon, Gnoli was first noticed for his talent as a printmaker as a teenager. Deriving inspiration from printers and draughtsman like Jacques Callot and Hogarth, Gnoli mixed fine linework and a strong sense of volume with a taste for the surreal. The artist debuted in New York City with an acclaimed solo exhibition of dense, surreal figurative paintings at Sidney Janis gallery just a few months before he died. 

A new exhibition at the Upper East Side Luxembourg & Dayan gallery brings Gnoli's paintings back to New York for the first time in 40 years, presenting a rare selection of the artist's several dozen extant paintings. The works are imposing, particularly in the context of a skinny Madison Avenue townhouse. At seven feet tall, "Curly Red Hair" (1969) cascades over viewers in whirls of paint that dive headlong into abstraction. "Chemisette Verte" displays an obsession with the pattern and texture of clothing, detailing intensely intricate embroidery crawling over the gently rounded form of a body. The artist's widow, Yannick Vu, compared Gnoli's characteristic close-up view with the perspective of a child held to a parent's breast. 

There is a psychological weight to Gnoli's depiction of seemingly mundane subject matter that makes the paintings hypnotizing. Their monolithic compositions and manic focus seem to hint at some deeper meaning, a secret code that only the artist could crack. In that case, Vu is perhaps the best person to interpret their mysteries. ARTINFO spoke to her at the opening of "Domenico Gnoli: Paintings 1964-1969," and discussed just what makes the artist's work so magnetic. 

"Domenico Gnoli: Paintings 1964-1960" runs at Luxembourg & Dayan through June 30.