Mr. Labadessa’s painting arises from a deep interest in stark realism, which strips away the veil of vanity. His work is confrontational and raw, vivid and compulsive. In his nudes, he portrays the human figure as uncontrovertibly carnal, possessed of an almost preternaturally keen sexual awareness that is both challenging and defiant. These paintings are not about sexual or erotic allure, but carefully constructed provocation. Any physical attribute that might be considered distasteful or indiscrete in popular terms and artistic conventions of beauty is purposefully exaggerated and stressed in Mr. Labadessa’s renderings.
Blatancy replaces coyness and the guilty finger points at us, for we are forced to admit and recognize as familiar and human, those qualities we prefer to ignore. We must admit them to normalcy and expand our recognition of sexuality to the unpleasant publicly, while we stand and view the painting. Regardless of whether this experience is titillating or humiliating, it is embarrassing and demanding.
This demanding quality also exists in Mr. Labadessa’s portrait paintings. His involvement with his sitters is felt through his persistent and scrutinizing gaze. Once again, he does not flatter but looks closely for physical truth. Thus we are required by these paintings to discover whether or not we can tolerate Mr. Labadessa’s gaze, not just upon ourselves by wondering how he might see us, but from squarely within his view toward others. We do not need to be in agreement with this view, but to understand his work; we must experience its sensation.
Once we have assumed this position, his paintings change radically. They are no longer affronts to our taste or challenges to a status quo beauty. Instead they reveal us as hostage to our own culturally coerced notions of what we see in our bodies and those of others. The insights offered are not edifying, but leveling. The fictional nature of our visual experience and knowledge is felt in the extreme and this is not a particularly happy discovery. The question of why Mr. Labadessa is so relentless in such hard looking, why he does it with extreme conviction, then arises.
I believe that Mr. Labadessa’s work points out a strongly held moral belief that truth is of a higher order than good. Goodness is associated with kindness, charity and a forgiving orientation toward the world. Mr. Labadessa’s paintings posit such attitudes towards his subjects as a kind of conceit which he cannot abide. What may seem harsh at first becomes a form of highly strung respect toward what simply is in his view. It requires, of him, and of us, that we be able to recognize our squirming discomfort with nakedness as exposure and learn to face its revelatory power.
The nakedness is both actual and metaphoric. Our departure point for arriving at his discovery begins with the expressly unflinching gaze of Mr. Labadessa but leads us back to ourselves, if we are willing to take the rather harrowing ride. To see this work as anything less in intention, regardless of how successfully this aim is achieved in any one painting, is to completely misread it.
Excerpted from Susana Viola Jacobson’s review/critique 2008
Susana Viola Jacobson
Artist at Broken Hand Studio
Former Senior Critic/Associate Professor/Associate Chair, Department of Fine Arts (now, School of Design) at the University of Pennsylvania