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Aldo Iacobelli is not an artist who fits seamlessly into the digital age. His art escapes easy categorisation. There is no instant ‘message’. Despite the artist’s formidable skills in crafting images across a range of media, the articulation of forms and working of media is sometimes made to look unresolved – perhaps crude. But then Bertolt Brecht reminds us that “nothing is more important than learning to think crudely”. Of course Iacobelli’s imagery could function quite seductively in cyberspace and transmit trendy neo-romantic/expressionist vibes because he knows how to deliver motifs with attitude – like the horse in the painting (2488320000 seconds) in the current Fontanelle exhibition. This is almost a return to vintage Iacobelli of the 1980s when large, boldly drawn and painted effigies referencing civic and religious pomposity marked Iacobelli’s emergence as an artist with a distinctive voice. On closer inspection, the horse looks a bit peculiar. The legs are stumpy and its enlarged penis (echoing the artist’s 1980s wilting cannone) hangs close to the ground. The image comes from childhood memories of seeing the funeral carriage horses stamping and pissing in the street while a grand requiem mass was enacted inside the church. Iacobelli’s art, as Pulp reminds us, is art that needs to be directly experienced. The restless rhythms of brush marks, the scraggly drag of barely-there pigment across worn surfaces, the coarse unevenness of hand-built clay forms – such things comprise the essential grammar of expression. Little of this ‘arm wrestling’ with the medium would be evident in digital form. Nor would the hang of the exhibition. Works are clustered. Sometimes pictorial works are associated with sculptural items. One such grouping has hunters stalking a deer (inspired by a rather kitsch ashtray) and an informally rendered butterfly watercolour set on the floor beneath. The association can be explained in part by the artist’s reading of the Italian novelist Erri De Luca’s The Weight of the Butterfly that explores that moment of truth when life reaches its peak and begins to decline. The butterfly, dragged as it were by gravity to the floor, dramatically enacts that moment. This idea of something, perhaps life, being poised on the brink lends this absorbing, complex exhibition great intensity. The inchoate character of many images and their relationship with each other approximates Iacobelli’s personal struggle to see through things, such as the swirling clouds (or smoke) of a somewhat Gothic mountain-scape (Point of view). “Perhaps,” as he suggests, “if we could see through this veil, we might not like what we find.” The same sentiment can be applied to the trestle table of foodstuffs and body parts in the rear gallery that resembles the sorted finds of an archaeological dig. A worthy exercise – making sense of the past and all that? But alongside, a suite of 15 watercolours by a collaborating fellow artist, Toshiyuki Iwasaki, tracing the decay of a rose cutting, wrenches the table installation into the path of Hiroshima and remembered mass carnage now 70 years on. From this perspective, Iacobelli appears to be grappling with a sense of life as an uncertain journey in which the end game is obscured and the way ahead is illuminated by flashes of insight, occasional beauty, contradiction, and disasters deferred. One work nails this: Luna llena. A tiny figure bowed beneath a bundle of firewood is balanced on a wire beneath an enormous black rock. Beneath, barely discernable rats await the outcome. Acting as bookend on this wall is a brute of an image (I saw Kennedy in 63) that erupts on the canvas like an opened wound (exemplifying exhibition essayist Linda M Walker’s nomination of “openings made by cuts, folds twists, that over time – on the underside of views, events and experiences” become points for response to Iacobelli’s work). It marks the artist’s recall of a moment in time, 50 years earlier when, as a boy in Naples, he saw JFK ride by in an open limousine. Why in the same image this motif is associated with a mound of skulls and a ceramic drain on the floor might be explained by Iacobelli’s recollection of crypts beneath Neapolitan churches and bodies drained before embalming. Back to the black horse with its bobbing plumes stamping and pissing while another soul wings its way to heaven. Whatever sense this circularity makes, the artist reminds us in Pulp (made from pulped newspapers) not to expect to find the answers in the public media domain. Yet, for all this mood of uncertainty edged with dread, Pulp the exhibition is celebratory in its wholehearted commitment to the act of painting and making things which, the artist says, as they have come into being, have shown the direction to take. Like the tree in A visit to a tree, which, faced with extreme circumstances, simply changes direction and keeps on growing. Aldo Iacobelli Pulp Fontanelle Gallery Until Sunday, December 6 fontanelle.com.au Image: Aldo Iacobelli, A visit to a tree, 2015, oil on canvas