by Elizabeth Johnson, as appeared in October 2012 Easton Irregular
Long before human beings gazed at computer and TV screens, we marveled over dramatically illuminated sunsets, limpid distances, and rainbows anchored in fog. Lehigh Valley artist Adriano Farinella makes cloud and landscape paintings that resemble work by the 19th century English painters Joseph M. W. Turner, John Constable, William Blake and their American counterparts, the Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole, Frederick Church and Albert Bierstadt. But, Farinella may be closest in spirit to Caspar David Friedrich, the German Romantic painter who edited and rearranged observed landscapes to conform to a personal vision.
Farinella is a modern-day Luminist, the subset category of the Hudson River School that favored a bird’s-eye perspective, smoothly painted surface and natural but extreme and sometimes strange light effects. Working also as a reductivist, he presents the land as a thin, nearly bare slice of texture augmenting the impact of the sky. Where the Luminists expressed emotional attachment to untouched nature, patriotism and religion, Farinella expresses non-attachment; he invites meditation, openness and an “emptied out” sense of exaltation. His paintings approach Mark Rothko’s spiritual, abstract alchemy of space, color and air; yet, and to his own benefit, Farinella keeps one foot in image making. We sense we’re in a “real” space, one that doesn’t exist except in his mind; but it’s his vision that connects us to the ineffable, and a viewer necessarily must choose to trust it.
Farinella’s work seats his audience high in the air above vague, limitless depths. He associates this borderless space with the “in between” dreamy feeling that accompanies waking up in the morning or falling asleep at night; his space is relaxing even if the presence of clouds suggest turbulence or imminent storm. Daily studying clouds and observing light effects, he paints from memory while also allowing the vicissitudes of oil paint to guide him. The work synthesizes his response to the obscure, vast, calming and frightening aspects of nature with his appreciation for the beauty of oil paint and what it can accomplish. His renderings of clouds are detailed studies of how to use color to create volume without drawing as much as they are portraits of specific—but invented—atmospheric effects.
Currently, Farinella works in a studio in The Karl Stirner Arts Building in Easton, and he teaches drawing, figure drawing and painting at The Baum School of Art in Allentown. His recent solo shows have been: The Way Home at the Rodale Gallery at The Baum School, and Bardo at The Reed Fine Art Gallery at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. He was Featured Artist at The Banana Factory in 2009 and exhibited at NCC Fowler Center in 2010, both in Bethlehem. He received his B.F.A. from Kutztown University in Painting, Drawing and Art History and in 1997-98 he studied Plein Air painting in Italy with Matthew Daub. Farinella recently participated in Art-in-Place in Bethlehem, and he will participate in Cocktails & Collecting, the annual fundraiser at the Allentown Art Museum in November.
As I look at his work, I keep returning to how expressive the clouds are: “Grace XXXVIII” seems to be hiding behind paw-like hands; “Bardo II” contains two fists about to punch; a central figure levitates in “The Guardian” and “Guardian III” dissolves into decentralized gestures. His paintings mimic the way that clouds gather into shapes: the color rises, billows and drifts into comic or tragic positions, and head and arm-like shapes remain suggestive, though always just one click shy of declaring the human form.
His intentionally ambiguous paintings challenge the need to “see things clearly” and “plan ahead”: Final decisions about what is real and what is an illusion are not possible in such a clearly wrought void.