Return to Articles


April 7-May 27, 2006 at Forum Gallery, West Hollywood

by Diane Calder

"Piumaria Ornata”, 2005, watercolor
and india ink on paper, 30 x 22”.

“Tiong Cinensis”, 2006, water-
color on paper, 15 x 11”.

"Campanula Alata," 2000, watercolor
and pencil on paper, 30 x 22".

"Azumacea," n.d., watercolor and
india ink on paper, 22 x 15".
Vico Fabbris must be looking with interest at photos released from the astonishing mist-shrouded “lost world” of previously unknown plants and animals recently uncovered by an international team of scientists in the mountainous rainforests of New Guinea.  While others argue over beliefs that natural selection or divine design produced the exotics unearthed in that re-discovered “Garden of Eden,” Fabbris can satisfy himself that the newly found flora and fauna look quite tame compared to the botanical specimens he invents.

Executed in watercolor and pencil on paper, Fabbris’ ”Botanical Unknowns” feature magical, mysterious plants adrift over background scenes of ancient ruins, languid landscapes, forests and jungles.  Fabbris’ contends that his examples of the invented extinct are “‘imaginary’ plants which existed but were never really seen.”  They are, by extension, the products of a voyage to remote and exotic corners of the earth—only they have been invented in the studio.  This is the romantic perspective of the artist, who envisions “. . .a vast world without end that revolves around a plant-flower; and it’s all born by chance.”
Fabbris also compiles an inventive nomenclature to augment his witty botanical concoctions.  These colorful chronicles, handwritten in his native Italian, flesh out details of each plant’s feigned history: its fragrance, how it was used, where it grew, etc.  Where a scripted explanation does not append an image, we begin to assume that the artist has one in mind; or we begin to fill one in for him.  Like a method actor, Fabbris envisions every detail of his subject’s unlikely existence before committing an image to paper.

The scripted legend at the base of ”Azumacea” suggests that the fruit, pictured levitating above that stretch of landscape embracing a Roman aqueduct, was touted as a panacea for soldiers suffering from diarrhea and spasms.  As imagined by the artist, an underling, who offered this fruit as a natural cure, was warned that he would be put to death if it didn’t prove to be effective.  His tenuous hold on life is echoed in the gravity defying root-like grasp of the stem of Fabbris’ plant on its bulbous fruit.

Fabbris’ command of scale and placement allows the “Azumacea” fruit to hover in space like one of Rene Magritte’s floating rocks: supernatural and surreal, but seemingly accurate in every detail.  Beautifully handled nuances of hue, value and texture enliven these compositions and make them compelling.  They are best examined deliberately, at close range, where one can almost smell the perfumed blossoms.  Miniscule details and variations in color that enliven the originals are easily lost in reproductions.

Supernatural exotic plants, occasionally accompanied by insects that purportedly pollinate them, upstage landscapes reminiscent of nineteenth century paintings in several of Fabbris’ most effective compositions.  He lavishes the drama of vivid color and masterfully manipulated details on the diva-like, fabricated flora he foregrounds.  A good example is the elaborately costumed flower in ”Tiong Cinensis,” with its draped petals flaring like crinkled Chinese silk.  Thus Fabbris implies that the disappearance of brilliant star floras from the scene would make for a duller world, one with a mundane cast of lesser understudies blending into flat backdrops.  He pushes this format to the limit in ”Campanula Alata,” utilizing only a few pencil lines to indicate the habitat of a bevy of lively, beautifully formed and articulated bell-like blossoms clustered on a curvaceous stem.

Some of the historic Asian locations, or the lush tropics depicted by Fabbris seem remote from those he would have encountered in his native Italy, or the east coast of the United States where he currently spends much of his time.  Perhaps his position as adjunct faculty member of the New England School of Art & Design accounts for the occasional oxbow river scene surfacing in his work in homage to painters of the Hudson River School.  But the classical training in art that allows Fabbris to create his fiction with such convincing acuity was earned in Florence, the city of his birth.  At an early age, before completing his MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts, Florence, he copied works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and Caravaggio.  Those countrymen might appreciate Fabbris’ clarity and wit, and his vow to use art to challenge our knowledge about what is truly real in nature, science, history, and more importantly, confront man’s impact on nature.