ALESSANDRO, who has made his name as an artist executing faux finishes and trompe l'oeil painting, was working on an elaborate commission, stenciling a foyer wall. To keep the painting straight, of course, he had to use a plumb weight. Which was fine -- until the resident dog designed to play catch.
Today, Alessandro spends more time working on the elaborate lacquer furniture finishes that are his speciality.
Alessandro has only one name but many designs.
The 36-year-old Italian artist/designer, as he prefers to syle himself, is a young master of an old technique -- the faux furniture finish. Slate, whalebone, tortoise, stone, parchment, sand, cane, animal skins, marble, malachite are all carefully handpainted in lacquers. The popularity of his work points up the new interest in ornaments.
His finishes are worked atop curving, voluptous forms that are, to some extent, translated from the Chinese. "I've always been involved with Chinese art, their classic forms fit into traditional or modern interiors," he said the other day. (He was in Washington to promote his new furniture collection being made with Baker Furniture. The line is now available at Woodward & Lothrop.)
He's on his way next month to China, his second trip.
But his origins are Italian. And certainly his faux finishes owe more to the Italian Baroque than to China.
He was born in Rome. From the age of 13, at the urging of his architect father, he began studying painting, sculpture and restoration. After the great flood in Florence a decade or so ago, he worked on restorations of the elaborate Firenze trompe l'oeil . Shortly after, he moved to New York to open a studio.
Until recently, Alessandro has worked exclusively on special orders --such as the two pieces he was commissioned to do for the James Clarke house (see Form on Page 1). But Barker Furniture, more famous for their Chinese Chippendale than their chinoiserie modern, has just introduced an Alessandro collection of more than 25 pieces: tables for lamps, cocktails, serving and dining; vitrines; consoles; commodes; desks, and dining chairs. Most of the furniture is ornamented with a deep lacquer, made of many coats, though other pieces are brass, wood, marble, suede and glass.
A "C" shape makes a cocktail table look like a rolling wave. A "P"-shaped console looks more like a rams horn. A glass-topped polygonal base looks as though it might have grown under it. Some of the finishes are wild -- zebra like splashes of paint. A console table of a half cylinder or column, topped with a semi-circle of glass, is marvelously decorated with veins to appear like some elaborate marble.
For some years, painted and lacquered furniture has been rare. The Bauhaus insistence that objects look like what they were discourage such ornamentation. Then with the rise of Formica and other hard vinyl coverings, surfaces could imitate anything they wanted.
But today, there is a great interesting hand-painted finishes: marbling, faux bois (wood graining), and all the other make-believe surfaces. It's all a part of the new preoccupation with gilding the lily and fancying everything up.
Museum shows such as the American Renaissance show, now at the National Collection of Fine Arts, have given people a new look at the elaborate surface decoration that was common in the last half of the 19th century.
Fashion swings between classic and romantic, plain and fancy, fantasy and reality. It is not surprising in today's world, with things the way they are, that people should look for ways to escape the real world. Alessandro's work is one way.