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Raphaella Spence and Roberto Bernardi exhibit at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery
Raphaella Spence, A Million Lights, 2014, oil on canvas, 35 x 69 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Bernarducci Meisel Gallery.

NEW YORK, NY.- Roberto Bernardi’s visual lexicon transcends the barriers of language. Born in the historic Italian town of Todi, Bernardi began working as a restoration specialist in historic Italian churches where he mimicked the technique of renowned Renaissance fresco painters to maintain their delicate work. This experience paired with his gift of nearly obsessive attention to detail results in masterful contemporary still-life paintings that not only capture delicious treats, fragile glass and titillating flasks of liquor but also an immaculate relationship between the object, light, and space. A true Photorealist in the digital age, Bernardi’s intricate paintings begin their life cycle as real life arrangements. The artist then uses his large format, digital back camera to capture them and afterward meticulously paint the composition.

Le Caramelle Volanti (2014) depicts a clip-top glass jar overflowing with glowing pastel colored licorice candies. The stage for this delectable still life takes place on a reflective blue plane against a burgundy backdrop. These colors, which also appear in the candies, merge together to create an unclear horizon line giving the painting a magical and surreal sensation. Bernardi selects the most delectable treats from Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City and spends countless hours carefully placing and lighting the candies until the perfect composition is achieved. He then photographs the arrangement and uses this highly detailed image as source material for his paintings. Since the camera flattens the image, Bernardi paints what is lost by distorting the perspective and enhancing the painting to make it feel as alive as possible.

In a societal sense, Bernardi’s choice of delicacies are a contribution to the lineage of traditional still life themes of vanitas and memento mori. Seventeenth century well-to-do merchants would commission still lifes of decadent items to remind them that the pleasures in life are temporary and that death will come to them just as fruit will rot and wine will sour. However, Bernardi’s still lifes are more optimistic —they do not contain sweets that would spoil in time but consist of candies that have a long shelf life. Perhaps this is a view of a glass half full and a play on the theme of memento viviere. Each moment of our lives spent away from toil is there to remind us that small pleasures are imperative to our overall well-being.

Raphaella Spence’s solo exhibition entitled A Million Lights will feature nearly half a dozen large scale new paintings of New York and Las Vegas cityscapes. In the past, Spence has explored major metropolitan areas such as Beijing, Monte Carlo, Prague, Venice and Zurich. This considerable body of work is characterized by Spence’s extraordinary ability to wed traditional techniques with contemporary subject matter. Spence’s contribution to Photorealism is branded by her ability to utilize the digital image, enhancing it she paints, altering the digital source image so that the painting is truly unique.

A Millions Lights (2014) overlooks Manhattan in the twilight just as the sky transitions into darkness and the city becomes full of millions of lights glistening across the horizon. Spence flew over the city in a helicopter to register this spectacular view of which she paints every detail imaginable. From every drop of water spraying on top of a skyscraper to the lights of buildings across the bridge into Brooklyn, to microscopic marks resembling figures in the windows, no event is left out of this magnificent cityscape.

Il Tempio (2013) is a tranquil view of the southern pond of Central Park. Rightfully so, the Italian title translates to The Temple in English. Although the title may be metaphorical it more directly alludes to the Asian style Rustic Shelter along the pond. The lush green colors paired with the azure sky generate a sense of peace in the hectic city that is depicted in the background. Peering over the horizon line are all the notorious buildings near Central Park South; The Solow, the IBM Building, the Sony Tower, and more. The skyline is beautifully reflected in the waters of the pond. These are all architectural gems of the New York’s most elegant metropolitan area of Midtown East. When focusing on the more serene section of the composition, one can notice a sole rower in the pond, just below the red and white truck. The scale of the city is emphasized by the presence of this minute figure. This is a very technically advanced painting for Spence. The skyline has been re-arranged by the artist to feature the architecture she found most harmonious to the composition.

Spence’s labor intensive technique is evident in this composition as the perspective is not skewed as in the works of first generation Photorealists such as Richard Estes. Spence expands on the use of the camera as she strikes out the flattened perspective and adds minute details to cultivate her unique views. The painting is indeed a window into the city capturing both its history and its contemporary zeitgeist. Spence’s flawlessly painted buildings are no doubt informed by her unconventional upbringing. Both her father and grandfather were well known architects and she is informed by the architectural landscape of the many European cities in which she has lived.

Roberto Bernardi and Raphaella Spence both live and work in Todi, Italy. Their paintings are featured in Louis K. Meisel’s fourth and final tome on Photorealism, entitled Photorealism in the Digital Age. Their work has been included in notable group exhibitions such as Photorealism Revisited (on view 2013-2014 at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, OK; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH; Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ) and 50 Years of Hyperrealism 1967 – 2012 (on view 2012 – 2015 at Kunsthalle Tuebingen, Tuebingen, Germany; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain; Saarlandmuseum, Saarbreuken, Germany; The Birmingham Gallery of Art, Birmingham, United Kingdom; Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao, Spain; and more).

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Raphaella Spence and Roberto Bernardi exhibit at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery

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