Cellular Excitement: An Appreciation of the Art of Adamo Macri
by Kenneth Radu
Many of his drawings are concerned with the elemental phenomena of existence, intimate states of desire and transgressive yearnings at times which, paradoxically done in tones of grey, illuminate pre-rational being. Lines connecting, inserting, rotating; the circular and circulating; the unfolding and opening; the receiving and the penetrating; fierce currents of bodily fluids; the energy of seeds bursting, of life fomenting; the provocative daring of instinct and urges, erotic connectedness outside the realm of romantic banality and oppressive morality, but within the dynamic of instinct unleashed and given concrete form in art itself: such is the dynamic and provocative world of Adamo Macri. His drawing of a giant male figure howling embodies what I am saying here. It is the most overtly expressed of all the images, emitting power, almost quasi-mythic in its emergent and ravenous stance.
Macri’s art reveals an obsession with invisible reality, the vigour of the cell in all things almost going to the heart of the nuclei itself. Fully aware of body’s water and blood and the genetic basis of human identity, he becomes fascinated with the interruption of what would ordinarily constitute normal development. The "normal" endocrine secretions into the blood are stalled, interrupted, or transformed perhaps, accompanied by gender altering and experimentation, a liberation from biological determinism which lead to sexual transfiguration. Alteration and transformation, transmogrification by the magic genius of his art, as even the genetic facts of humanity are mutated in this context, morphology itself under the microscope: all illustrate aberrations of the human form, sometimes self-willed as in the deliberate drinking of poisons or socially inflicted, as in the absorption of a polluted atmosphere into the cells of nature. Such changes to the human form challenge ideologies of beauty and naturalness.
We think of the alluring statuary of classical Greece from which we derive our ideals of physical beauty, of human shape and proportions, confronted by its antithesis, the freakish which break down the classic norms of size, shape, texture, the perfect physique. Does the freak both repel and fascinate because he violates our standard views of correct appearance, of the body beautiful? Does a kind of ironic beauty emerge through the smog and noxious atmosphere of contemporary life? Macri ranges very far with an often restricted pallet and often focuses on minute details; for example, in the accumulated encrustations on a drain pipe, potentially disgusting, yet effectively beautiful, however strange. It seems to be an image of bubbling corrosion, but from an entirely different perspective it’s a depiction of life emergent in obscurity, life at the cellular level as the artist in his acute and fine perception sees it.
Macri’s art is not representational in the commonly understood sense of the term, even if a drain pipe can be recognized. Because he makes free and imaginative use of all media available to him, his art infiltrates the imagination and penetrates dull perception for the purposes of transformation. What might seem to be images of chaos is really a subtly organized illumination of vibrant cellular activity. Macri does not wander into pure abstraction, for his work is as much welded to the concrete of the organic and the metallic as it the nebulous world of emotions, intimations and erotic impulses. For all its radical shifting of the banal and the expected, he is very interested in flesh and blood on various levels. Consequently, his work contains a kind of quivering, or may induce that kind of response in the viewer sensitive to his vision, a fleshy response if there ever was one. Broadly speaking without pointing to a specific image, Macri’s collective body of work can merge into and become inextricable from the viewer’s own flesh and blood.
Prolonged exposure to the riveting details of his images leads to their becoming fixed in the mind which produces a curious desire to see more. For cells by nature proliferate and in the act of stirring may well mutate, become something else, or engender more of their kind. Life is happening at the cellular level in his art which explains the orgasmic burgeoning effect of the implications in Adamo Macri’s images. He builds upon physiological facts and creates a vision derived from the unobserved and disregarded microcosms surrounding us, imbuing them with the eroticism of swiftly moving lines, curves and muscle, hidden energy and overt power. The phenomenon of unimpeded growth and the power of possession, whorling and curling, which almost reflects the structure of the brain itself, or the unfurling of the seed, the ejaculation of a life force.
The structural basis to many of the Still Life images often depend upon the recurrence of similar forms. They create an intriguing melding between the organic and inorganic, between inert metal made alive by encrustations of cellular energy, between electricity and flesh, as if re-creating life forms. So, how interesting that the name of the artist is Adamo, given to him at birth and not later adopted, which means dust, the very beginning of life, mythologically speaking. The name reminds us that the artist has entered the world of microcosms to see what is there and how it embodies life in the process of beginning. From obsession with the minuscule, Macri looms large and the images collectively depict the poetry of burgeoning. He is aware, to revert to a Romantic conception of the origins of life, of electricity charging the very cell of things.
These unfamiliar but vibrantly strange and seductive images subtly transform the viewer who is lingering long over them, seeking to follow the tensions of the lines, to be whorled and curled among the structures, to enter the apertures and orifices so prolific throughout the works. We are indeed affected by what we behold. One of the functions of Macri’s art surely is to cut through the barriers, to present to us our hidden selves at the cellular level. Perhaps it allows us to identify with the howling giant shattering repression and biological determinism, as well as the artist breaking free from the artistic limitations of traditional forms and methods.
Macri does not, however, remain static in his work. There’s an almost frenetic energy in the various photos, installations, drawings, which suggests that the artist is fully aware of the contradictory, the conflicting, the many parallel identities within the human psyche. I can see the labyrinthine in his images, the sense of always entering, penetrating, probing, not fully revealing, but embracing the sensual and the sensuous simultaneously, not so much to define what is, but to tease out its essence. There’s a delving into the grey areas of existence, for black and white are too reductive and inimical to Macri’s vision and spirit.
He resides in the world of the indistinct or the half-hidden; desire felt but unspoken; the breath of the panther on the poet's mind, if you will; the soundless spinning of the planets which the ancients claimed made music; the intimations of ravenous desire which itself curls and whorls within the cellular, circumambulating corridors of the labyrinth, an image of the paradoxical wonders of the mind and body. The art contains multitudes of grey and provokes reactions of many and varied sorts, for it elicits and probes, transgresses and seduces, leading to hitherto unfelt experiences. Macri’s art, for all its emphasis on biology, remains a mystery as it is so inextricably connected with mind and desire. His images of exquisite intimations deeply penetrate the cells of the mind where desire thrives and yearns in shades of grey.
The energy of thriving cells and yearning structures in this intense, usually hidden world of creation and re-creation increases appetite. The hungers of life must be satisfied, or even the cell, the basis of existence, perishes. Given Macri’s predilection for greys or a deliberately limited choice of colours and tones, I think of specters of desire under a tree, wafting in a grey cloud chamber, the unfulfilled, aching to feel the compulsions of true life. There are suggestions of a greater field of unknown experience which remains unspoken, or possibly unspeakable, and a sense of potential destruction followed by inevitable re-creation. Macri's fine artistic power arouses and recognizes pre-existent thirst and yet instills the desire for more. It drives the mind into a whorl of expectations, invades and possesses through the energy of line and the subtlety of colour and the brilliant use of various media. Simultaneously his art rips out the old heart to make room for the new, and to celebrate a cosmos in the unnoticed.
Adamo Macri is above all an artist always in the process of probing and re-designing. The art is unseen life itself: the compulsions of fantasy, endless in the making; unspoken desires thriving and yearning in the deepest shades of silent grey; hidden fomentations and anxieties of mutations we cannot control. He creates scenarios of transgressive beauty. Moral norms and ordinary perceptions are deliberately violated as provocative sensations and new modes of expression emerge from the whirlpool of cellular energy and life.
Kenneth Radu has published books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, including The Cost of Living, shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. His collection of stories A Private Performance and his first novel Distant Relations both received the Quebec Writers' Federation Award for best English-language fiction. He is also the author of the novel Flesh and Blood (HarperCollins Canada), Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories, and Earthbound (DC Books Canada).