Italian painter Patrizio di Massimo unveils the art world’s most intimate yet universal moments in his solo exhibition titled Out Like a Light at ChertLüdde. Exploring the realms of portraiture, di Massimo presents curator and artist friends as his sleeping muses, creating whimsical and thought-provoking large-scale paintings that delve into the history of art and contemporary themes pertaining to identity, self-determination, and recognition.
Born in 1983 in Jesi, di Massimo is a self-taught painter who radically shifted from a multidisciplinary practice to painting in 2015. Since then, portraiture has become the centerpiece of his artistic journey, characterized by a distinct compositional fantasy, Baroque-like drapery, and a fascination with personal appearances. His work embodies the vitality and enchanting details of Italian cinema à la Fellini, evoking the extravagance of figurative painting.
While he works within the canon of oil paint, di Massimo’s earlier video art and research into other mediums have had an undeniable influence on his work. The cinematic neorealism of Italian director Federico Fellini can be felt in his painting, particularly in how the characters are framed. Known for blending fantasy and baroque styles, the visual extravagance of Fellini’s 1960s and 1970s films shows memory as a flamboyant reflection of what actually happened. Di Massimo’s painterly fantasy has a similar approach in understanding that, as in cinematography, every detail of an image gives insights into a larger impression.
In Out Like a Light, di Massimo assumes the role of an uncanny witness to various sleeping arrangements. These moments capture the subjects in a state of both connection and disconnection, as well as protection and vulnerability, within their immediate surroundings. Made in dialogue with the people shown in the six paintings, di Massimo directs these actors into arrangements that capture their unique identities with whimsical staging.
Through his portrayals, di Massimo explores the interpersonal complexities of life, delving into the analysis of societal roles such as gender and family. Enveloped in rich fabrics or costumes, di Massimo painted the curators Cosmin Costinaș and Inti Guerrero and the artist couples Petrit Halilaj and Álvaro Urbano and Zadie Xa and Benito Mayor Vallejo. In these works, patterns and textiles are used to portray identity, often mixing elements from multiple cultures, interests, and lifestyles. The same can be said for the portrait of Marianna Simnett sleeping alone in her Berlin studio, surrounded by soft drapery and various props from her multi-disciplinary practice. Velvet pillows, a coy Pekingese, a large raccoon costume being used as a blanket, all of these details give us insight into the characters and how they might share their lives with their partners or live out their artistic careers. In this way, di Massimo’s paintings give dignity and importance to all the small and private, if not domestic, details of their lives.
Even though the exhibition does not depict the psychological components of dreaming, the act of sleeping nonetheless evokes them, becoming part of a similar emotional imagination di Massimo used in his earlier painting. Before beginning his series of sleepers, the artist focused heavily on physical conflict, theatrically arranging comical fight scenes. The viewer would never be told the precise reason for this behavior, but the underlying emotions and intentions were clear enough to give insight into the characters’ lives.
The roles evolved from active to passive as the idea around sleeping behaviors gradually surfaced in the artist’s mind a couple of years ago, exacerbated by the necessary domesticity of the pandemic and changes in his private life. His first painting in the series was The Price of Motherhood painted in 2021 of Nicoletta, the artist’s wife who fell asleep on the couch while reading Ann Crittenden’s book by the same title. At the time, their daughter Diana was two years old and the couple was still adjusting to their new life, especially their sleep routine, which changed drastically in the first years of Diana’s life. In his latest portrait of his family, Out Like a Light (Nicoletta and Patrizio), he shows him and his wife peacefully asleep in their London home. Although they lay on opposite sides of the bed, they share their duvet and one long rectangular pillow. Both bending an elbow, their positions appear very balanced, and the space between them, which might have previously been frequented by their young child, demonstrates comfort and ease between them. Following the artist’s personal life and career, his newest works can thus be seen as something restorative, almost a counterbalance to the paintings di Massimo made of people fighting.
The act of self-portraiture also underlines how painting is an expression of himself as an artist, while also altering the perspective of the observer within these artworks. Both the paintings of fight scenes and of dreaming are ways in which di Massimo lives out certain narratives on the canvas. An introspective process, painting is a way of approaching impersonation—though fictional and fabricated. The artist’s paintings not only show the details of other people’s lives but can also be seen as a reflection of the things di Massimo finds important, a mirror of the painter’s life.
In a much smaller painting, di Massimo shows his daughter asleep, holding her stuffed dog named Pancetta. Opposed to the full-body portraits, this painting is only of Diana’s face, torso, and her soft curls. Keen viewers of the exhibition will notice the recurring motif of an animal incorporated into almost every canvas—a playful game of hide and seek reminiscent of a father’s interaction with his young daughter, another way of tracing the artist’s life in the artworks he makes.
A melange of reality and dream, the paintings in Out Like a Light indulge in the unconscious moments that reflect the current realities of the artist’s own life and that of his subjects. The shared dream of one day becoming an artist, something that might have compelled the people portrayed in the exhibition, inhabits the space and allows the viewer to enter this fantasy. While di Massimo’s paintings expand on the object of dreaming, it is done without the slightest unmasking of it—veiling his work in symbolism, form, and interpretation.
Installation photos by Marjorie Brunet Plaza
Repros by Eleonora Agostini