As the omicron variant tightens its grip on the world, it seems like the light at the end of the tunnel is receding, evading us once again. For the first time in a long time, I recalled the anxious uncertainty that became all too familiar to us all in the early throes of the pandemic. Many of us again sought out ways to comfort ourselves and find solace in the little things. My search for calm led me to Baert Gallery where, upon seeing Paolo Colombo’s works, I immediately knew he was an artist who captured the essence of balance and meditation we all so desperately need.
In his second exhibition at the gallery, Colombo presents several large-scale watercolors that merge abstract forms with organic subject matter. Poppies, small forest creatures, and levitating circles are carefully inlaid over colorful panels of fine freehand crosshatching. We see hummingbirds reaching for floating flowers, a hedgehog curled playfully on its back, a woman’s face wearing a soft smile — all suspended in an enigmatic, figurative dreamscape.
The watercolor works are painstakingly detailed, best viewed as closely as possible, with each panel taking up to weeks to complete. It’s easy to imagine the 72-year-old artist hunched over a sunlit table with nothing more than paper and watercolors to occupy his mind for hours on end. The lines are perfectly imperfect, thicker in some places and wavier in others, signaling a more lighthearted approach to an otherwise mechanical technique. Sober and delicate, the lines also give the impression that everything harmoniously coexists within the artist’s abstracted realm of consciousness, that this strange dimension of colors and lines is no less alive than the fully formed animals and flowers that occupy it.
It was explained to me that the artist spent hours and hours at his studio during the pandemic, patiently sketching fields of crossing lines and shading hares. I can only presume that he regarded this extra time to create as a privilege, for every meticulous stroke is applied with such thorough care, a true labor of love. I was drawn into every intimate detail as if I could feel exactly how his hands once gestured across the page. For Colombo, to create these works must have been just as meditative an experience as it is to view them. For me, the artist’s tranquility became mine by invitation.
In a recent interview, Colombo, who was first an established curator before resuming his work as an artist, refers to curating as a discipline and art as a practice. “I like curating, but painting is like breathing,” he says. Well, thanks to his calmative compositions and the refreshing sensation Colombo so fluently distills, we can all breathe a little easier.