Interesting Artworks: The Social Network by Bernardo Siciliano

The Social Network (2017).  Oil on canvas.

The Social Network (2017). Oil on canvas.

Bernardo Siciliano’s The Social Network (2017) shows three young friends relaxing in each other’s company on a warm summer’s afternoon. Naturally, they’re all glued to their phones. And yet, they’re all connected, physically. They’re all resting their legs on one another in that easy familiarity of youth. It’s quite the contrast with one of the artist's other paintings, Overlap (2017).

Siciliano’s paintings are well-known, especially in New York. Overlap was recently published on the ‘art aesthetics’ Instagram. It’s clear that many of us recognised ourselves in the painting. We’ve all been there, surely? ‘[F]olded with problems,’ opined one of our commenters. It’s a fair interpretation, one with which many of us can probably identify. It’s as if there’s something especially vulnerable about us in the early morning. It’s a theme that’s become quite popular recently. Gregory Mason’s Sleeping Series 1 (2016) for example, similarly depicted a young woman in the ‘safety’ of her bed. She’s still sleeping—yet precariously perched on the very edge of her mattress. Unlike Mason’s, Siciliano’s figure is awake in the same cold morning light. It’s as if she’s wide-awake despite not having slept. It’s as if the world is all too much. And her, seemingly stricken with anxiety and clasping herself. It’s as if she’s trapped by her own being in a position that’s not entirely of her own making.

How different, then, are the lacklustre days of youth in comparison to the cruel mornings of our adulthood? It’s as if the afternoons are only for the young. The Social Network seems to take place on one of those lazy Sundays. Siciliano’s colour palette is much warmer. Consequently, the temperature is warmer and the air, humid. So, when you’re young, it’s enough to spill yourself out on the sofa in the living room, scrolling idly through your phone, half in search for something new, and half in search for the more mundane and familiar. Siciliano’s painting of his daughter and her girlfriends seems to capture something of this happy ambience.

So, what do Overlap and The Social Network share in common? In the former, there was one figure whose limbs crossed over and grasped her other limbs. She appeared desperately alone. In the latter, the models’ legs are lazily draped over one another. Of course, the adverb ‘lazily’ is not meant as a criticism. It’s all-too-easy easy to criticise young peoples’ obsessions with their phones—although, it’s often their parents’ emails that are most destructive—and yet, that’s not what’s happening here. They’re still connected. It’s just taken for granted. They’re looking at their phones. And yet, they’re all connected through the resting of their legs on and under one another. It’s definitely not anything do with digital alienation—it’s far more tactile that you might think.

Siciliano’s Overlap similarly explores the overlapping of limbs. Importantly, the single figure necessitates the auto-overlapping of the subject into a sort of foetal position. Subsequently, there’s something desperately lonely about the painting. The Social Network is graced with not one but three figures whose arrangement is more languid and relaxed. It’s obvious that we all crave human contact. In Overlap, it’s as if that craving results in a contorted and wretched figure. In The Social Network, that craving goes almost unnoticed. It’s simply taken for granted. It’s just there. It’s relaxed, even, perhaps, idyllic.

Siciliano explains that the painting was, partly, the result of a number of workshops that he’d overseen with his good friend and colleague, Vincent Desiderio. Kanye West’s music video to Famous was ‘famously’ inspired by Desiderio’s Sleep (2008). It portrays some twenty-two figures sleeping side-by-side with minimal bodily contact. Instead, the long concatenation of numerous persons and limbs is linked only through the slightest of touches and the numerous bedsheets. In Desiderio’s Tesio, however, the overlapping of the figures is far more pronounced. It’s almost geometrical. Siciliano’s Overlap and The Social Network are in a similar vein. Siciliano also explains that he really wanted to explore the ‘weight’ and the ‘flesh’ of the body.

Siciliano’s happy yet idle scene suggests something of Carl Grauer’s nostalgic and ever so slightly melancholic Recollections Series (2016). In particular, TV Nation (2016) wherein a number of children sit on the floor staring at a television that’s about to be turned on. It’s as if TV Nation and The Social Network are a reminder that, between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ of growing up, whether glued to the television or latest mobile phone, children and adolescents remain far close to one another than most adults... And, with that, we can return to Mason's Sleeping Series I.

Siciliano’s The Social Network will be exhibited in About Face (28 Jul – 17th Sept) presentedby the New York Academy of Art at The Southampton Arts Center in Southampton Village, New York. About Face is curated by the ever-stylish and dashing David Kratz along with Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers. They’ve lined up an extremely impressive roster of artists from the East End of New York.  Siciliano’s works will be appearing alongside those of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Eric Fishl, Cindy Sherman, and many more.


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D.S. Graham