by Mat Gleason

Los Angeles gallerist, curator, critic and publisher of Coagula Art Journal

When the pandemic of 2020 shifted into overdrive, artists were not simply relegated to their studios, alone. They were cut off from their art community, art sales and art events as all of these quite suddenly ceased to exist.

To some, like Jeff Iorillo, it was a challenge accepted. There was a sense of liberation knowing that the art and commerce he ordinarily engaged in had disappeared for a spell. With a sense of apocalyptic foreboding, the artist abandoned the fundamental abstract nature of his work. Although what he produced as his series “The 100” is quite abstracted, it is important to note that it is a break from the pure abstraction that he is known for. That there is recognizable imagery - here the portraited human form - as the base for each drawing is radical when one considers the artist’s almost entirely abstract oeuvre.

Jeff first had to reintroduce himself to basic figure drawing after half a lifetime away from the craft. He then proceeded to create a document about the tension of finding comfort in mark-making. The subject of “The 100” mirrors what America and the world were going through at the time: a tension of adjusting to new, uncontrollable realities of the physical world. The portrait repeated in each of these hundred small paintings of Iorillo is less a self-portrait and more a psychological snapshot of humankind absorbing the daily dose of information about the state of the quarantined world.

The subject of pandemics is well-represented in art history; but the madness of reacting to the world at large is something artists meditate on often regardless of whether the threat is biological or social. An Iorillo is nothing like a Durer woodcut illustrating medieval social distancing. He’s more mining the territory between Francis Bacon’s tense figures being misshapen by the cruelties of modern life and the blurred, paintscraped figures of Willem DeKooning’s early masterpieces, desperate to emerge in a world consumed with the agony of abstraction.

This is a series of repeated imagery, unique yet consistently posed. The Warholian effect cannot be underestimated: to view these as a group is the artist addressing the macrocosm of scale and the microcosm of human individuality. Are we being crushed under the weight of a microscopic unseen foe, neutered in the ability to fight or have one’s regular life back? Or is a return to normalcy just a vaccine away? The series leaves us feeling the empty weight that was “2020 Lockdown” and affirms Jeff Iorillo as an expressionist poet unafraid to abandon what he knows to reflect what we all were going through.

July 2020