William C. Maggio’s paintings at Western New York Artists Group
In his Poetics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s treatise on the origins and nature of drama, he notes that the tragic poet Aeschylus initiated the use of a second actor. It was a crucial event in the creation of the dramatic art form. Before Aeschylus’s innovation, there was one actor and a chorus, which was only a kind of semi-character. An observer, a commentator. (A little like a critic.) The introduction of the second actor enabled real dialogue. It enabled conflict.
Something of the sort happens in the paintings of William C. Maggio, the solo featured artist in the current Western New York Artists Group show at One Linwood.
All the works are abstract, white on black, the white in wave patterns or striations, as if produced by sgraffito technique abrasion of wave pattern or striation low-relief raised elements of a more or less uniformly prepared, with plaster or gesso, canvas or board flat surface, exposing the white underlayer beneath the black overlay.
Many of the works are titled Presence, with a number. What’s present in all these cases being something nondescript, some shadowy, tenuous, larger form—still consisting elementally, as it were, of the wave patterns and striations—emerging from the black background. But something singular, in both senses of that word.
Whereas, in a few of the works, the sgraffito markings, instead of simple wave patterns or striations, are elegant script forms, joined letters, or what clearly look to be joined letters, though on closer inspection, the letters are not quite recognizable, so the words they seem to make up again reverting to the category of nondescript, scratched into the black overlay, it looks like, with the wooden point end of the painter’s brush. But suggesting writing, verbal communication, dialogue. Two now, instead of one. The second actor. Drama.
One remarkable and somewhat anomalous piece, called ha-kotel, which I was told is Hebrew, meaning “the wall,” features imagery elements including sedimentary-like horizontal bands, erratic wave forms, and sgraffito marks again suggesting script, but now just barely, that is, even more primal looking and essentially nondescript than in the Wall Talk series. The piece evokes the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the site and depository of generations of silent prayer and meditation, lamentation, grief, regret.
In an artist’s statement accompanying the exhibit, Maggio talks about how the works are intended to encourage a meditative and prayerful state of mind. Overall, they are reminiscent of the work of artist Mark Rothko, whose similarly numinous presence paintings inspired the idea of installation in a non-denominational religious-type chapel.
The Maggio exhibit continues through July 6.