Eelcmwo ot hte wlodr fo nseert vdieral* (welcome to the world of ernest velardi) catalog essay
Cypress College exhibit
September, 2004

Eelcmwo ot hte wlodr fo nseert vdieral*

A haiku is the expression of a temporary enlightenment, in which we see into the life of things.
~ Reginald Horace Blyth (1898-1964)

Haiku are those extremely short poems usually written in 17 syllables, often arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. Haiku is generally expected to use concrete imagery or sensations, not abstractions or metaphors, and is often concerned with the natural world. With its unique form of brevity, the best Haiku describes the broadest of experience without any pretense to prescribe or tell.

The painter Ernest Velardi has spent a lifetime creating exceptional haiku in painting. He has a vast repertoire not of words, but instead of specific images that represent to him the facets of the life experience. He succinctly takes these images and diligently copies them from his mind’s screen, renders them with fastidious detail in luxurious colors and offers these delectable delights up to the world.

Velardi’s oeuvre breaks into three types. There are two types of paintings, the Grandfather Series, and a separate more eclectic series. Both are filled with his repertoire of subjective image-symbols. Both are executed in egg tempera. Both are broken into rectangular zones like a Piet Mondriaan painting, but instead of solid blocks of Mondriaan color are these distinct images. The other type of Velardi’s work is the “exercises”, wild extravagant jubilant dancing doodles of line and shape that are reminiscent of Miro or Klee.

Velardi’s medium of choice, egg tempera is one of the oldest mediums used by painters. Egg tempera is created simply; the artist mixes finely ground pure pigment with water and diluted egg yolk. Used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, the icon painters of the Byzantine Empire, and all of the early Renaissance artists, egg tempera began to languish as oil painting came into fashion. Velardi has experimented with encaustics, casein, and washes, but finds the precision of egg tempera to suit his personality best.

These precise paintings initially seduce the viewer with their intense color and then the blocks of images captivate with questions of meaning. But if asked, Velardi will steadfastly refuse to say what each element translates to. He declares he himself does not know, insisting it is an intuitive exercise he has with himself each time he begins a new canvas. What happens, then, is that the viewer is freed to construct and construe any synopsis they wish from the juxtaposed images placed before them—they may appoint their own order to the paintings. Take Grandfather Remains Elusive. The clues are that the hat and shadow make it part of the “grandfather” closet of imagery, but the rest is an assemblage open to individual interpretation. Velardi states that the natural condition of the mind is to be chaotic, and our consciousness is endlessly working against this chaos. Particularly humorous, then, is that Velardi’s works usually include an example of man’s problem-solving nature embedded within. Be it a fork, a cup, typewriter keys, numbers, arrows, or a highway sign, there are references to Man’s ability to work out solutions to life’s predicaments. In a painting like Once Again, the different font types could be placeholders for generations of printing technological advancement, and the big fork a humorous homonym—is it a representation of the mental decision-making process, a “fork in the road”, or a utensil with which we might nourish the physical self.

One of the things the Post-Modern movement taught art viewers was that every gesture had specific intent. Everything could be identified, labeled, annotated, and quite frankly, embalmed. Velardi has avoided this trend by persistently insisting that while his paintings have order and structure, there is no necessary tale to tell. Intentionality is not a dominant concern and Velardi asks us not to assume a specific read. Magic occurs when the mysterious becomes illuminated, as such the paintings are a delectable instance of the mind’s ability to order. Novice viewers of these works might ask, “how can something so seemingly specific, so ‘photo-realistic’ be about most anything we choose?” Like the haiku, seemingly so simple initially, but actually filled with all the nuances and subtleties written language can offer, these works offer us a glimpse into one person’s subjective reality and an opportunity to investigate our own.

*Welcome to the World of Ernest Velardi