The hyperrealistic work of Nick Napoletano, a Charlotte, N.C.-based oil painter, is rooted in a classical approach, allegory, and the narratives of today. In a show at Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, Two to Watch, his newest body of work is a conversation between different periods of art history and modern narratives. He’s joined by sculptor Matthew Steele in the show, which runs through Sept. 10. Napoletano can be found on Instagram here, and in explaining much of the content of Two to Watch, Napoletano starts at the beginning.
“It’s built off of this weird thing that happened,” Napoletano recalls. “I was in Italy, and I went to see these [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini sculptures and that was kind of a pivotal moment for me. These sculptures exist almost independently of the narratives in which they were formed, and it’s riffing on this idea of a relic that’s so powerful and so relevatory that it’s eventually divorced from its origin point and becomes something else. This [show] is the next iteration, where I’m commenting on the original narrative and using it as a platform. But I’m also commenting on the object that’s made after the fact and how they independently work together.”
Take the below above, which reacts to Bernini’s Pluto and Proserpina, with its male figure clothed in a militaristic vest, hinting at the work being built around contemporary problems. “It’s the idea of function, and that function ultimately changes over time,” Napoletano says. “That’s why you see these garments that are the epitome of utilitarianism. They’re all military garments, and they’re matched with this custom print that’s built from old Dutch still-life photos. It’s that beauty that’s mixed with something so aesthetically prominent, but it’s negating its function in a way, in a way that the sculpture removes itself from its origin point.”
Napoletano cast specific people for those works, and used their personalities to also guide the narratives and directions of the paintings. Other pieces from the show offer insight into Napoletano’s other explorations. The piece below is from an cover created the EP “Faker” from Los Angeles-based musician Zhao. Below that, works from a series in which two subjects would pose within a wooden frame for the paintings’ source photography. The frames would tilt, allowing the subjects to arrive at their own pose and reflect feelings of either resisting confinement or comfort.
Napoletano has lived in Athens, Ga., Atlanta, New York City, Connecticut, and other spots along the East Coast. It wasn’t until Napoletano lived in Charlotte that he first got to see his work in the form of a billboard, as a participant in the ArtPop program, which puts local art in the public eye in cities across the U.S. “Fraternal Correspondence” is an enormous painting (at 16 feet in length) that took the artist over 1,000 hours to complete and “depicts multiple figures encompassed in unifying cloths. They reveal the push and pull between humanity and nature as each form represents a different natural disaster that has occurred around the world from the start of 2011.”
“The painting is meant to expose the interwoven nature of all the tragic events while expressing sincere remorse for the destruction caused in each chosen location,” the artist said, in a statement. “Holistically, the image carries a positive message, acting as a beacon of hope to the locations affected by these traumatizing events.”