Get to Know Fabio La Fauci's Masked Beauties

The artist discusses his new faceless series, 'Is it you?'

“Being a painter is one of those jobs that can drive you crazy… you're always alone…” Fabio La Fauci confesses on the phone from Berlin, and this solitude pervades many of the paintings in the Italian artist's latest series, Is it you?, where the faces of female figures are masked by inch-thick layers of acrylic paste, whose meringue-like swirls trace the contours of the human face, leaving texturized voids where one would expect to see the subjects' eyes, noses, mouths—or rather, their emotions.

It is difficult to overstate how unsettling these portraits can be at first. While the Milan-born painter's models are carefully captured in various classical poses–sitting on an armchair, looking over a shoulder, or concealing their nakedness beneath a bed sheet—all notions of individuality are obliterated by these lacquered masks, which sit eccentrically on their human cradles while asking viewers to fill in the blanks, as it were.

Take "Again? Really?", which shows a clothed woman standing against a soft grey background, her hands on her hips. Nothing unusual just yet. As our eyes migrate towards her face, however, all we find is a squashed, flesh-pink macaron in its place. Yet this bizarre sculptural morphing of reality nonetheless manages to broadcast the subject's deep anxiety and anticipation, as if La Fauci were attempting to remark on the boredom of being endlessly depicted despite our distinctiveness eventually withering as memory and context fade away.
Nevertheless, the longer one immerses themselves in the 41-year-old's well-contrived universe, the easier it may become to realize that these innovative takes on portraiture could well be the perfect testimony for our era of visual overexposure and social estrangement. "Untitled Sitting On The Armchair", with the model's body in dark pinks and purples popping out of the oily blue-black background, speaks to our curiosity and craving for recognition, while "Untitled Wondering If Yes or No" does exactly what the titles implies, becoming a visual poem about the excitability caused by instant virtual judgement as our bodies are continuously revealed to perfect strangers.

Once the initial shock of seeing a string of expressionless blobs staring back at you has worn off, the subject feeling familiar in a disconnected, unsettling world. All of La Fauci's subjects have elongated necks that stretch towards the camera's lens–or, the painter's eye–like sunflowers longing for warmth and recognition. His models always seem as though they're waiting for something, or someone–perhaps, even, for the notion of self. But what is a portrait without a face? The sentimental palette of La Fauci's masks is in fact strikingly broad. Equal measures of tenderness, complacency, wrath, love, confidence and disquiet emerge in his subjects, freeze-framed in a state of motion. They maintain a physicality that is perhaps best emphasized by several blood-red lacerations that tear across the canvasses here and there, bringing a carnal aspect to his paintings, making them jump to life.

When I ask La Fauci to elaborate on the meaning behind these lacerations, he replies that he hadn't intended to follow some pre-established formula, but that he'd been concerned with “creating a dialogue between the face and the body… an unspoken dialogue.” He adds, “But sometimes things just happen on the canvas.” Certainly, for all abstract theorizing, La Fauci takes care to stress that the paintings in this series would be better described as 'studies' rather than 'statements':

Thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, we are overexposed to portraits like never before, we're absolutely surrounded by faces.

“The portraits can be read in a variety of ways: thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, we are overexposed to portraits like never before, we're absolutely surrounded by faces. Also, for the first time in history, we have the capacity to actually alter our faces thanks to plastic surgery…Not that I'm trying to make any specific statement with these paintings, rather to I want to confront the viewer with a question mark." Instead, he wants to create a reaction. "I don't think paintings are meant to say anything, they're supposed to provoke,” he remarks.

Now showing at the Janine Bean Gallery in Berlin, Is it you? is the summation of two years of research by the artist, who was born and raised in Milan and who has lived in Berlin for the past ten years, following sojourns in Spain and Britain. While La Fauci's work is currently a part of the Fantasia group exhibition at San Francisco's Spoke Art, he is already looking to next year's collaboration with The Unit in London and his next project, This is me, a sequence related to memory.

"I'm currently working on fifteen new portraits, but scale is an issue. I had plans for a portrait with a four-foot-long face but the materials for that would run up to a thousand dollars." The price of anonymity indeed…

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