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Riccardo Vecchio at Institute of Fine Arts

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday March 3, 2016

For the past two years, artist and illustrator Riccardo Vechio has been working in the Italian Dolomites, in Trentino and Veneto, on a series of works studying the topography and natural transformation of these infamous World War 1 battle sites. He wrote: 

I visited these sites in childhood, and now, at the 100th anniversary of the WW1, coupled with the current discontent in Europe and the reappearance of barbed wire in the Balkans, all came together to inspire me to walk those same paths again on borderlines that have been untouched, at least on paper, since World War II.

Paintings and models from this series are currently on view at the Institute of Fine Arts, in the Display Cases of the James B. Duke House. Curator Lisa A. Banner wrote,

In these paintings of the Dolomites, Riccardo Vecchio explores the topography and natural transformation of an infamous World War I battle site. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ridge of the Alps forming the northeastern Italian border witnessed horrendous conflicts during Word War I.  During the War, Di Qui Non Si Passa was an admonition to those approaching: From here you shall not pass. A cast-iron sign at the edge of the Italian territory where the terrain becomes fiercest and most daunting, this sign stands today as a monument, marking a brutal and futile mission of dubious military significance, where lives were lost. In the attempt to cut off the advance off the enemy, trenches and tunnels were dug into glaciers and rocks. Men and animals carried provisions and munitions thousands of feet up into this unsparing terrain. A battle became trench warfare at a complete standstill; unable to advance both Italians and Austrians dug deep tunnels into the rock, and set off tons of dynamite. Resulting explosions made entire peaks implode, burying many alive. Others simply died from exposure.

Vecchio paints the craters that remain from those explosions and the scarred peaks blown up along the mountains 100 years ago, finding starkly elegant forms in ice and rocks.  He spent three summers hiking in the Dolomites, painting en plein air and then returning to his studio with oil sketches and notebooks, as well as fragments of rock and mineral that provide inspiration. Thick strokes of grey, mustard, and lavender, daubed onto small canvases, capture the translucence of ancient ice, and trace the ravages of World War I. As the glacier recedes, revealing war relics and geologic structures at these highest altitudes, it also reveals remnants of the detonation of bombs, and the aftereffects of war. Further exploring terrain by creating 3-D models of the topography, Vecchio creates immersive experiences in painting and sculpture.

Riccardo Vecchio | Di Qui Non Si Passa (From Here You Shall not Pass), on view by appointment at the Institute of Fine Arts through March 29th 2016. The James B. Duke House Display Cases, 1 East 78th Street, NY, NY. Contact Lisa A. Banner by email, or 646-621-7045

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