Lorenzo Budello: The Uncanny in Contemporary Portraiture

This series of uncanny portraits by the contemporary Italian painter Lorenzo Budello  belongs in an in-between realm of the lived, remembered and hidden. However, the pictures have various functions beyond metaphor and are in fact drawn from the artist’s experience of the civil war in Georgia. As such, Budello’s practice is intrinsically connected to contemporary events and global socio-political problems such as violence, war, and ecological destruction. Madonna of the Poppies (below) is a brightly strange picture with a softly rendered woman, veiled among closed poppies, the flowers evoking ideas of memory, loss, death and even pleasure.

Lorenzo Budello, Madonna of Poppies

It is said that many who are at the heart of conflict or disaster report a sense of disassociation, the uncanny, and the super real. They say, “I thought I was dreaming.” Budello confronts this experience through a series of portraits that powerfully express the modes of the uncanny. By triggering a sense of the strange and disruptive, Budello engages his viewers in the problems of humankind.

Lorenzo Budello Beheaded

In this work, Beheaded (above)the pairing of floral wallpaper with a bleeding head is the horrifying realm of nightmares, jolting us out of dreamland, into the reality of today’s ongoing conflicts such as terrorism and war crimes.

Darkness and strange relationships are at the center of the dream world, as well as unexpected eroticism. Nude with Poppies (below) is a succulently beautiful picture depicting a nude at rest upon a bed of closed poppies. In addition to the poppy’s symbolism as a flower of sleep, rest, and  death, it serves as a symbol of pleasure or a metaphor for concepts of memory and is used to remember the dead of wartime as well. The placement of a decorated blue bowl on the left makes the picture at once, strange and iconic.Nude with Poppies

Profilo del tardo secolo (below) is a classically informed portrait, Budello uses the device of the panoramic landscape as a background, the colors are monochromatic browns, evoking a studio picture, or an 18th-century grand tour watercolor and ink picture of the Italian countryside or Roma.


As well, the uncanny plays a role in Budello’s Self-Portrait (below) which resides somewhere between plasticity and dreams. We are reminded of the elongated expressionist self-portraits of Viennese painter Richard Gerstl or Ferdinand Holder, confrontational and mysterious all at once. The haptic surface seems almost sculptural, recalling a winding cloth or the drapery of a Greco-Roman sculpture. The scraped away impasto adds to this work’s sense of memory, loss, and the idea of veiled truth, seemingly at odds with the straight on gaze of the artist.

Written & Curated by Rosa JH Berland ©, New York, January 2016

Edited by Sarah Budello, February 2016

All Images are courtesy of the artist. ©