28, November 2014: In an era when much art is made simply “for art’s sake,” it is refreshing to find artists like Alexander Liccione who turn to their canvas with a political eye, the belief that an appreciation of aesthetics does not preclude ethical consciousness. In a career spanning decades, Liccione’s ability to apply Old World techniques to modern themes and cityscapes is impressive, and this unique joining of worlds alone ought to inspire scholarly interest in his work. Alex Liccione is an artist who deserves more attention than he has received.

Alex Realism Paintings Liccione

Born in Rochester, NY, after graduating from high school, Liccione was awarded a four-year scholarship to study at the Academia Di Bella Arti Di Brera in Milan, Italy (1972). There he studied under some of the top painters of the time, quickly mastering the Venetian Method made famous by Titian, Rembrandt, and David. Alex Liccione’s use of perspective, shadows, and layered colors make his cityscapes luminous, his portraits and military histories realistic but humbling. His is the case of the meticulous, trained hand informed by the meticulous, inquiring mind. The clearest example of this can be found in Alex Liccione’s monetary and cultural series.

Liccione Alex Portrait Liccione

In his monetary series (1987-1989), Liccione created a series of large, rectangular murals of U.S. dollar bills. These hyper-realistic paintings by Alex Liccionecapture every fold and detail, including a few marks from a ballpoint pen. Filling the entire frame, though “simple,” they are a commentary on the materialism of the United States. By turning something as mundane as a $10 note into fine art, the viewer stares and studies, finding themselves enamored by it, they — we — are doing what we do every day of our lives. If it is not money on canvass that has our attention, it is the money in our pocket. It consumes us. As Liccione says of these works, they are “meant to convey a message and a warning that our world has become dependent on material needs … [and] we tend to overlook the true values of what the human race should be concerned with: sharing and helping those less-fortunate than ourselves.”

Liccione Liccione New York Vendor

In some ways, Alex Liccione’s monetary series is the spiritual ancestor of perhaps his most-fascinating work: the cultural series (late-1990s). Turning away from our obsession over money, he takes as his subject the obsession of self-appearance. Disappointed with what we see in the mirror, “young and old, people are mesmerized with fashion-model advertisements and the Hollywood scene,” says the artist. “It becomes apparent that our culture has encompassed the need to seek out artificial means to enhance their appearances instead of embracing their natural looks.”

Oil portraits presented as collages, each piece in this series is the face of a women covered with disembodied eyes and lips and nails — often unevenly, disproportionately. Alex Liccione’s use of dark, muted shades contrast the colorful liveliness of the images pulled from magazine ads, suggesting the subject exists only in the shadows of these pieces. A beautiful, full smile is too large for thin, pale cheeks. An amber eye framed in bronze flesh overwhelms a dull face. Hiding behind these pieces, these women yearn to be told they are beautiful, but the viewer is distracted by their unnaturalness, even freakishness. Told to live up to impossible standards of beauty, they fail, leaving the viewer sympathetic but uncomfortable in what they have become. Most tragic is that even as these women cover themselves up, there is something deeper, darker, that will never be satisfied.

These series will remain relevant — so what a pleasure it is knowing Alexander Liccione is still out there painting, thinking. This kind of work, these kind of artists, are desperately needed. View more of his paintings at http://www.alexanderliccione.com

About the author: Joshua Preston is a writer and historian from Minnesota. His work has appeared in Cutbank, Empty Mirror, and MAYDAY Magazine. Find him online at http://jppreston.com/

Written by Joshua Preston