Death seems to invade the germ cell in Boffi’s paintings, even penetrate to its core. Did it come out of the core, unexpectedly, like an evil genie? Death is present from the beginning of life, developing as it develops. “In my beginning is my end,” T.S. Eliot wrote. It is the paradox that informs Boffi’s work: again and again he depicts a monadic shape that breeds death as well as life. The sinister, tainted womb in the center of the circle in The Trial of Libretto, 1980--a kind of triptych in which decay and growth balance each other, however uneasy the equilibrium between them--is a particularly startling example. Generation is the basic theme but degeneration lurks within it--and perhaps, even more ironically, regeneration. Are the blazing red abstract figures in Memorist and Arered Runner, both 1980, explosively degenerating or vigorously regenerating? They seem to be phoenixes in flames, reborn from the elemental fire in which they died. Death and life are inseparable in them. Clearly they are a gestural event of cosmic proportions.

The circle becomes a square in Coma Berenices, 1972 and Recognition Theory, 1992, but it remains cosmic and primordial in import. Boffi’s works are arcane and hermetic, as the cryptic letters are in the latter work and the inner eyes in the former suggest, The dynamic Solar Sail, 1980--a marvelous, innovative rendering of cosmic completeness, with a dervishing sun that is biomorphic and geomorphic at once (the sun disk will change from yellow to red as it begins to die, and it will expand as though its light was limitless, and finally explode in flames, a deceptive blaze of glory that extinguishes it while appearing to renew it)--may evolve and finally dissolve into a seemingly infinite ocean of excited Spira, 1990, but the sense of the bizarreness of creation remains constant.

(The small black Suprematist square in the lower right corner of Spira signifies the underlying presence of death while the biomorphic forms in the upper part of the painting are emerging life forms.) Life and death tend to fuse in Boffi’s forms, as Fourher Exit and Sixtile Cut, both 1982, and Fin Polari, 1983 and Ornis Ocular, 1984 indicate. The latter work extends Tobey’s expressionistic white writing into new emotional territory, and all the works have the expressionistic depth and energy that only gestural urgency can give.

Raw feeling takes refined form in Boffi’s work, but sometimes it is conveyed by raw material, as the use of stone fragments in The Trial of Libretto suggests. Sometimes Boffi’s works are conspicuously fragmented--a montage of incommensurate elements, including found objects, as in The Red Surgeon, 1977--and sometimes they erupt into three-dimensionality, as in the surreal Easter Island Level, also 1977. The Perfect Instrument, 1978 epitomizes his sense of the absurdity and pain of life: an actual crutch is surrounded by stainless steel wire, which goes round and round the way the crown of thorns--an ironical halo--went around Christ’s head. The excruciatingly contradictory work is a brilliant rendering, materially and conceptually effective--all the more so because of its stringent economy of means, as well as the gestural character of the wire and the geometrical character of the crutch (a counterpoint of intensity and structure)--of human suffering. It is also a wonderful play on the combine painting. Boffi is clearly a free-spirited artist, using a variety of modernist means for his own existential end. His sense of existential purpose is especially evident in the dialectic of light and shadow that is the substance of his etchings.

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