Whitehot Magazine

Carthage: Fedele Spadafora at Br. Kenneth Chapman Gallery

Fedele Spadafora, Carthage, 2023, 65 x 42 in., acrylic on paper


By DANIEL MAIDMAN March 27, 2024

I have been following the artist Fedele Spadafora for many years. A representational painter, his work is immediately recognizable. He works in a restricted contrast range and muted colors. His people are always a little bit simplified and somehow flattened. His subject matter partakes extensively of alienation. When he paints his own family and people, he elides faces, suggesting the breakdown of memory. He cannot make himself at home with his own place or origins. He wanders the world, and his art is very specific about the details of strangers glimpsed in his travels. Everyone in his work is permitted to be at home, except himself.

His latest, and in my opinion strongest, body of work is presented in the exhibition Carthage. Carthage, of course, was Rome’s North African nemesis, a wealthy megalopolis eventually laid waste and absorbed into the Roman Empire. Where Carthage once stood, one may now find Tunis. Spadafora’s drawings and paintings are set in Tunis and its environs, based on his extensive travels there.

His subject superbly matches his techniques. His brushy marks and flattened details suggest the hazy brilliance of Mediterranean sunlight filtered through the dust of city life. His exile’s perspective sinks into the specific nature of people, objects, and places, without judgment or predisposition. Spadafora is American, but he does not suffer from the solipsism of American observers of foreign locales. There is nothing American about his imagery. The people he depicts, and the lives he depicts, are strikingly alien. The ethnicities of North Africa are not familiar to us. The arrangement of buildings is disorientingly different from our own. Recognizable notes, like the Spongebob t-shirt worn by a street vendor in the drawing Spongebob Tunisia, serve only to underscore the foreignness: this Spongebob cavorts in front of a Tunisian flag. What exactly the vendor is selling is unclear. Detailed, but unclear.

Fedele Spadafora, Man in Hammamet, 2023,
24 x 30 in., oil on canvas

Looking at paintings like Man in Hammamet or Sidi Bou Said feels like looking at work made by someone local to whatever place this is we’re looking at. There is no clash between viewer and sight. Spadafora slips into place, becoming comfortable only when he is surrounded by strangers.

Without having traced his footsteps, it is technically impossible to say whether, or to what degree, he is having us on. His work is certainly believable. And yet one cannot know. This inherent ambiguity is emphasized by the title of the show, by the single word “Carthage” stenciled onto the tour bus in the painting Carthage. Is there a real bus company that stencils their buses that way? Who can say? Spotlighting Carthage instead of Tunis shifts the center of gravity of this work. Tunis is a real place. Carthage does not exist. Any modern living Carthage can exist only in the mind, as a fantastical city, a city of legend and myth overlaid in the mind over the reality of Tunis.

Fedele Spadafora, The Path, 2023,
9 x 12 in.,
oil on canvas

More than in earlier bodies of work focused on other cities and times, Spadafora embraces here the interiority and ambiguity of his experience of exile. He has chased himself to the ends of the Earth. He has found a place with which he feels a profound sympathy. But in depicting the place, he recognizes that he may be sketching only a self-portrait. Accepting that, he dedicates himself entirely to his love letter to Carthage. On view March 18 through April 12, 2024. WM


Daniel Maidman

Daniel Maidman is best known for his vivid depiction of the figure. Maidman’s drawings and paintings are included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Bozeman Art Museum, and the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art. His work is included in numerous private collections, including those of Brooke Shields, China Miéville, and Jerry Saltz. His art and writing on art have been featured in The Huffington Post, Poets/Artists, ARTnewsForbesW, and many others. He has been shown in solo shows in New York City and in group shows across the United States and Europe. In 2021 it will be included in the first digital archive of art stored on the surface of the Moon. His books, Daniel Maidman: Nudes and Theseus: Vincent Desiderio on Art, are available from Griffith Moon Publishing. He works in Brooklyn, New York. 

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