New York, West 22nd Street
The Milan-based artist is known for her portraits of fictional women, which emote a deep psychological tension. Manzelli has played an integral role in the reinvigoration of figurative painting, though she exhibits infrequently and does not produce her time-consuming paintings in great volume.
The women Manzelli paints are not self-portraits, but instead seem to echo a kind of reflection of the artist. The subjects’ emotional depth and individuality distinguish each figure, even as they simultaneously seem to fulfill purely archetypal roles. The charged psychological nature of this work draws from common tropes of idealized femininity—isolation, self-possession, and melancholy—and allows the paintings to serve as forms for contemporary issues. The characters are entirely borne of Manzelli’s imagination, their backgrounds contrived as small habitats that may spark recognition for the viewer, despite their nonexistence beyond the painting.
The expert and confident draftsmanship exhibited in Manzelli’s drawings is doubly offset by the fragility of these compositions. Their sparse execution, with the figures themselves only partially articulated, only emphasizes the potency of each figure. Colors, patterns, and textures are judiciously applied, though these elements feel secondary to the mood that radiates from every physical feature of each subject. There is a strong element of performance in Manzelli’s work, and a sense of display in the meticulous rendering of clothing, posture, and expression. The people Manzelli paints are aware that they are being watched, and their self-presentation feels as intentional as the artist’s own conceptualization of them.
Manzelli’s work eludes classification beyond its more obvious figurative representation of women. Her characters are both idealized as skinny, unthreatening ingénues, but are also pushed to the point of the preposterous. They are not aspirational creatures, but rather cautionary, and empathetic as well. The care put into the paintings is palpable, with Manzelli rendering each skillfully in oil paint, one painstaking layer at a time. The effect is otherworldly, though these women, the viewer is reminded, could also be human.
Exhibition runs through February 23, 2019