|Installation view of Modernism Reimagined: Joe Testa-Secca in Full Color|
Guest critic John Caputo, an adjunct professor in UT's art department, contributes the following commentary on Modernism Reimagined: Joe Testa-Secca in Full Color, which remains on view through Feb. 22:
Well into the fourth decade of the reign of Postmodernism, one might ask, “Why would an exhibition boldly proclaiming Modernism Reimagined in its title engage us?” Beyond the twofold reply that the earlier “ism” (a term coined by the great Robert Hughes) dominated the 20th century, while also providing the rich inventions that continue to reverberate today, in the case of today’s offering the answer is uniquely personal.
The context is rooted squarely in a single individual, Joe Testa-Secca. As he enters the tenth decade of his life, with over sixty years of prodigious creative endeavor behind him, this individual’s career and legacy as an artist-teacher has loomed large in the annals of the visual arts in the greater Tampa Bay area.
|Split Hairs - pencil 1968-9|
In fact, the entire country at that precise mid-century year was barely on the cusp of unleashing upon the world New York City’s twin towers of Modernist art movements, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. In these, America loudly announced that it would now lead the way in visual innovation, and when I first entered the present exhibition at his alma mater, it became immediately clear that their concerns are clearly at the core of Testa-Secca’s lifelong explorations.
|Winged Duo - acrylic on canvas 1983|
One can see that he devoured the exciting and expansive ideas then emerging in the growing national obsession in the arts; this included the impact of an emerging art media that provided access to images and critical dialogue for those whose careers kept them physically away from the beckoning Mecca of Manhattan.
Among the hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism is an innate humanism grounded in the visceral reaction to the death and carnage of WWII and the challenging shocks of the Holocaust and the atomic bombing of Japan. Hence was birthed “The Age of Anxiety” that haunted our intellectuals and artists, counterpoint to the popular notion perpetrated in the sitcom Happy Days: '50s America as we would like to remember it.
|White Bull - acrylic on Masonite 1968|
Testa-Secca’s reimagining seems to attempt to tame that wild energy by introducing geometric structures that act as architectural frames that interact with the more organic curvilinear forms that carry the action. This is tricky business, the very reason I admire this artist’s ability to navigate the dangers of applying a formulaic solution. Rather, the learned brilliance of his draftsman’s hand, filled with nuance and the knowledge that only comes with time and sensitivity might remind one of the fluid grace and discipline of the Olympic ice skater.
|Ecstasy - mixed media on canvas 1975|
Not content to remain solely under the impact of Abstract Expressionism, Testa-Secca was perhaps even more influenced by the underlying elements of Pop Art. It is easy to be tempted into a snapshot memory of the movement, a bad idea that never occurred to this artist. Keying into the central elements of celebrity and its self-centered posturing, and matching this with the graphic strength that comes from the simplification of form that automatically follows photographic value structures, the painter instead stocks his canvases with multiple characters that preen with pride in their athletic perfection and ability to personify through facial expression and body gesture.
What grounds this series of images is the steady hand of a man who loves to draw, and draws well. He pushes himself, willing to chance failure as he experiments day after day, year after year. Artists who do so command this writer’s respect, for too many take the easy way out.
Testa-Secca was well aware of what he was doing, and summed up his efforts with these words: The drama of what you do with the space and how that works is what a painting really is. An artist is responsible for every inch of the canvas.
|Shaman Five - mixed media 1976|