Donna Stein, 1999

David Finkbeiner began regular visits to Italy in 1981, when he first taught at Studio Camnitzer in Valdottavo, a small village in the province of Lucca, which has as its center the ancient medieval walled city. For part of the past fifteen years, he has lived and worked in the Garfagnana region. He bought an old farm house in 1983 with his friend in the hilltop village of Tempagnanano overlooking Valdottavo, and over the course of the following six years they lovingly reconstructed the ancient stone and wood buildings on the property. It was here that Finkbeiner was first struck by the mystery and power of abandoned architecture.

In his recent series of drawings begun during a sabbatical from teaching at Pratt Institute in 1996, Finkbeiner used as a primary source of inspiration his continuing fascination with the abandoned interiors of churches, houses, and barns he discovered over the years throughout Tuscany. Regardless of their age, the buildings tell a true story of life. Soaked in meaning and memory, the decaying walls, frescoes and empty spaces of odiforous derelict buildings provide a way to literally unearth the secrets of Italy's past. Finkbeiner regards them as a gift from history that persists in the present. Autobiographical references also appear in this series through mapping. Finkbeiner's interest in antique Italian maps is evident in several of the drawings, which allude to the topography of his region.

These untitled drawings were spontaneously born on the surface. Each sheet of paper, identical in format (the vertical sheets are 22 1/2 x 30 inches) is a window framing space. Finkbeiner worked exclusively in gouache on mylar or in pastel on paper. Some of the pastels have a gesso base, which renders an opaqueness to the surface. Finkbeiner coats the mylar sheets with polymer. Unlike paper, mylar is pliable and Finkbeiner is able to scrape way or wipe off excess paint with a brush or cloth. Thin washes of color remain, evoking the aging process he loves in both antique maps and abandoned buildings.

As Marcel Proust knew and revealed in Remembrances of things Past, Finkbeiner understands that the smallest details of the relevant past are a testatment. At first the drawings were about observation, analysis, and recording, but very quickly Finkbeiner took an intuitive and emotional approach. His compositions are mixtures of the past, present, and permutations of time. The tension he creates between representation and abstraction is fundamental. Some compositions also employ an illusionary trick, implying both the inside looking out and the outside looking in. Finkbeiner suggests a dream-like quality by reducing his subjects to their essential form, which he sculpts with light. Although less preprossesing, Finkbeiner is not afraid to replicate the apocalyptic light of Turner.

Finkbeiner replaces Turner's heroic view with a more intimate and private conception. Fragments indicate something greater than the parts we are able to perceive. Finkbeiner frames typical Tuscan landscapes through windows, whose shape hints at their history. No specific place is rendered, but we sense the distant panorama of the rolling Tuscan hills, the carefully demarcated fields, olive trees with their darkening, ripening fruit, umbrella pines and the stately cypresses. The Tuscan foliage, terra cotta soil, and small recognizable details of architecture give the drawings their sense of place and haunting presence.

Man is no longer the measure of all things, yet the abandoned spaces Finkbeiner selects are full of humanity and the memory of human beings. In The Timaeus, Plato spoke of space as "the mother and resceptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible things." Somehow, Finkbeiner's drawings are more alive without people, perhaps because he is dealing with the psychological experience of space and offers voyeuristic enjoyment, leading to truth beneath the surface.

>Donna Stein, Curator, Hillcrest Foundation, 1997