Angelo Filomeno’s second solo exhibition at Massimo Audiello is a wonder to behold. His sumptuous “paintings,” sewn allegorical tableaux on brilliant expanses of stretched silk shantung, are simultaneously lush and reductive.
Filomeno, apprenticed to a tailor in Italy at age seven, began learning his craft by hand sewing the inseams on trousers, eventually graduating to buttonholes. In an interview, the artist cited his parents’ reply to his rambunctious childish protests about being conscripted into child labor: “We put gold into your hands.”
Chosen for their decorative and symbolic anatomies, a plethora of stylized fauna and flora (peacocks, roosters, lizards, human and animal skeletons, artichokes, cherry trees) swarm through the works, locked in life and death struggles. The proud peacock gets his comeuppance in “Hyena” and “End of Presumption;” from his elegantly decapitated head comes a glittery spray of Swarovski crystals. Imagine, if you will, Aubrey Beardsley and Ronald Firbank co-hosting an episode of “Wild Kingdom.”
In Filomeno’s hands, the lowly sewing machine becomes a tool for making exquisitely rendered drawings; his intricate feathers, flowers, clouds, spinal columns, and skulls remind us how thrilling drawing in embroidery can be in the hands of a master draftsman.
Filomeno’s approach to art-making recalls that of British neo-surrealist sculptor Cathy de Monchaux in its precise construction, extravagant use of materials (the works are studded with garnets), and passionate references to blood and the body. Even the subtle inseams that join the silk pieces together echo the curves of the creatures that populate the work.
While clearly indebted to the history of tapestry and ceremonial textiles as well as the 70s feminist investigation of “women’s work,” Filomeno’s magically perverse narratives feel utterly modern.