Looking at the Future
Giancarlo Calicchia @ 1point618 Gallery
An artist’s studio is something like a functioning brain. Poking into its corners can be a
complicated, even phantasmagorical experience -- something like the movie Being John
Malkovich. Far more than in a home, or in a gallery, a visitor glimpses deeper, fugitive
personalities. Works in progress wait for the next burst of activity, discarded studies
languish nearby. All the obsessions, digressions, and shifting points of view that define a
life are represented in a makeshift congress of the self..
In the case of sculptor/painter Giancarlo Calicchia’s workplace, the experience is about
twice as complex as usual, since he maintains two studios, one on the east side between
Cedar and Carnegie Avenues, one on the near west side in the Tremont area. In a
bicameral city like Cleveland, where communication across the Cuyahoga might have
been modeled on left brain – right brain dichotomies, this only seems appropriate. Parts of
both halves will be on display opening December 1st in a remarkable show at 1point618
gallery. Called Passione, it offers the first serious look at this important Cleveland-based
What I think of as Calicchia’s left-brain work is produced in the eastside location Much of it
is monumental in scale, produced from huge blocks of wood or stone He generally
employs native hardwoods like maple, oak, and elm, and a range of traditional stones
including marble, granite, soapstone, and alabaster. Calicchia’s mysterious, looming semi-
abstract objects are frequently larger than, say, an armoire and establish an organic,
personal presence with alternately smooth and rough facets evincing a heroic, physical
and psychological struggle with materials. These relatively Apollonian chunks draw on the
skills and sure sense of scale that the sculptor has needed to put together major stone
projects, as he contributed to the rejuvenation of downtown Cleveland during the years he
operated Calicchia Stone Industries, beginning with its founding in 1981. Before his
retirement from that operation in 1994 he handled all the stonework for the Gateway
Project, Tower City, the Galleria, and other signature elements of Cleveland’s public face.
The right brain’s productions are clearly by the same hand, but tell a different story.
Calicchia’s Tremont studio is stuffed full of small and midsize creations. One of the biggest
is a larger than life clay model of a woman with pendulous breasts, presiding near the
center of the room. Called Lady Justice, she’s almost ready for casting in bronze. Nearby
another big, calm figure hewn from icy white marble lounges in her stone as if it were a
down pillow. But these mythological presences constitute the eye of a storm that rages
everywhere around them. Figures coil and writhe, dancing along a counter top, on tables,
peering out from shelves and from behind each other. A state of constant movement
seems to have been suddenly arrested, as if each object had been in search of a partner
until just that moment. Watching from high on the walls, large, long faces in colorful
paintings, also by Calicchia, think their own thoughts as they peer down at the activity.
Dominant motifs are derived from the folklore and myth of many nations. Modernist-
seeming African inspirations rub shoulders with Inuit, Caribbean, and Etruscan influences.
A series of small bronzes scattered around sinks and over countertops, spilling from the
studio out into the adjoining display room, seem more Roman than anything, like the so-
called grotteschi discovered in the course of early Renaissance digging beneath Nero’s
Domus Aurea.. Those have served as a sort of unconscious for Western art ever since,
livening a gothic lineage of gargoyles and anima-infused Celtic arabesques with an even
more ancient, Dionysiac heritage. A few hundred years later they inspired Tiepolo and his
sometime student Piranesi to create their own series of grotesques. Calicchia’s dervish-
like bronzes, typically about a foot high, seem to owe something to all these moments in
art history, from the wonderful demons of antiquity through lavish Baroque follies. About
twenty such smaller works will be included in Passione, as will a related, particularly
beautiful, disturbing bust -- of sorts. Titled Looking at the Future and carved from a
sizable chunk of Colorado rose alabaster, it shows two partial faces combined in a single
visage. Unlike the god Janus, however.whose faces were portrayed as turned in opposite
directions, Calicchia shows a different sort of doubleness. One aspect is tucked under
another, widening towards the viewer as it rises. The impression is of someone rapidly
approaching, a being whose passage through time involves changes of degree, perhaps,
rather than of kind.
Calicchia’s tributes to the forces and manners of earlier times always read as his own,
hard-won from a lifetime of meditation on the experiences and mediums of several worlds.
Born in Italy in 1946 in one of the ancient villages surrounding Rome at the brink of the
Apennines, he moved with his family moved to upstate New York in 1957. Eventually the
young Calicchia obtained a degree in fine arts at Syracuse University where he had the
good fortune to study with a kindred spirit, the Albanian sculptor Ivan Mestrovich.
Afterwards he traveled back to Rome where he continued his studies. Later he nearly
starved during a three year sojourn in Haiti where he learned to carve the beautiful, warm,
rare woods of fruit trees like the mango. Before moving to Cleveland in 1981 he also spent
a couple of years studying arts and crafts techniques in Mexico’s famous arts center, San
Miguel De Allende..
Among the works resulting from this long learning process is a recent eleven foot tall wood
carving on display at 1point618 titled Adam and Eve. Hewn in low relief from a single piece
of rosewood imported from Angola, it seems at first the sort of dream of origins that Paul
Gauguin carved during his final years. Yet lost innocence is less a theme in Calicchia’s
work than questions of sexual and historical dynamics. Adam stands on the left in profile,
reddish in tone and much darker than Eve, who faces forward. She is troubled and
golden, her skin a sensuous skein of short horizontal marks as she grasps a cleft, red fruit
in her left hand, like a vulva. Others hang above her head. Between her legs a black
snake rises, waving double, unmistakably phallic heads against her thigh. As much akin to
Picasso’s La Vie as Michelangelo’s Sistine version of the Genesis story, Calicchia’s relief
honors the mother and father of humanity as eternal guardians. They seem invoked here,
among many tributes to form and natural materials, to provide once and future energies,
animating a world that even now has the potential to remember paradise.
And in both studios, with conscious and unconscious efforts,, Calicchia has remembered
the Cyclopean walls of his childhood, older by far than the temples and roads and
ramparts of Rome itself. Blood-soaked, sun-drenched cultures of the Aegean move like
forgotten muscles under his skins of wood and stone.
[Free Times 11/29/06]