Perri Neri, Artist’s Statement, 2020
My art is the only hard currency I can offer up in exchange for the deeply gratifying and deeply grotesque aspects of humanity I observe. I try to slow down the visions in my head, miscellany of predicaments and perversions, and record snatches of my private mind’s conversation with oil paint on canvas. At my core, I am a figurative painter. I have always been interested in painting people and bodies. I am now pushing deeper inside the figure, looking for the nerve of intensity that binds us to our experiences.
As a figurative artist, it is challenging to do something new, considering the whole of art history. I like looking at old master paintings by Michelangelo and Gentileschi, and contemporary painters such as Bacon and Saville. I have also learned a lot about the physical act of painting, the pace and tempo, by looking at abstract paintings. My work consists of tensions. Forms and figures move in and out of dimensions, breaking apart, unfolding on an emotional axis. These emotions stem from conflicts. I have questions. How is it that trauma can continue to stalk us long after we believe we have given it the slip? Why do women’s achievements continue to be something for the patriarchy to conquer? How can an intentionally erased history be archived?
I am pulled between rival aesthetic approaches—the power of a strong line and the drama of color. My process is messy. Images from magazines and newspapers scatter my floor and often end up on the canvas. They are fragmented and varied, and they feed me, much in the same way news and information is visually consumed. I start on the raw side of the canvas because it holds the memory of touch and leaves a permanent mark. The struggle to articulate something is bound into the canvas with the physicality of wiping, scrubbing, and scraping. Body parts start to collapse and then I build them back up again. New forms start to emerge while I work toward getting to a greater truth. The questions that fueled the emotional conflict in the first place begin to fade away, only to be replaced by new questions. How can I get the twist of a toe with one mark? Did I push it as far as I could? If not, why didn’t I?