Anita Pepe

Teacher, blogger, free lance journalist

 

ROXY…IN THE BOX

 

Good legs. If you want to visit Roxy at home, what you need are good legs, not to mention prompt reflexes. On the way, occasionally, a scooter with two or three persons aboard speeds by you creating a blast of air that literally blows your elbows away as the sound of honking horns perforates your ears. You continue up a narrow road and find:  a dry goods shop with water-melon flavoured chewing gum reminiscent of middle school years; a fruit and vegetable shop tucked in between two alleyways with prices written in large red characters; people meandering outside the dry cleaner’s and the grocers, a votive aedicule with a blue neon light and fake flowers, and a portal made of haughty piperno (trachytic rock).

 

And, if all this weren’t enough, the house is on an upper floor, a very high floor, in a building with no lift. The residents of the alleyway are literally camped out across the way (four seasons a year, 24 hours a day) and greet you even if they don’t know you. Stairs, and still more stairs, as if you hadn’t already scrapped your knees enough on the neighbourhood’s pavement. When, finally, as you crawl and gasp what feels like your last breath, you collapse in front of her door, before your eyes appears … Caravaggio. Yes, Caravaggio. You’re standing there on the doormat and you see Goliath’s head, yes, his head, emerging from the dimness approaching you. That’s when you realize you still have a lot to learn about Roxy.

 

Beneath the bright colours, the carousel of characters, the rapidly filmed videos of supermarket shelves and close-ups of small flowers on bed linens, publicity sketches, winsome  jingles; beneath all of this, there is pain. Is this possible? Indeed it is. No sense in mincing words. There is solitude, violence (merciless or subtle), diversity, inadequacy.  An alarm of fragility. Without any concerns about political correctness, vindications of women’s rights or the trappings of aesthetics.

 

With a smile on her lips, Roxy dissects and then exposes her inner-self. Schiaffilife: here the cards are on the table for all to see. She is both a person and the main character. Roxy doesn’t need to simulate  naturalness nor is she concerned with the appearance of her body and perhaps she doesn’t even realize that her voice is a bit shaky. In examining the pile of paintings, there is also: the Flusso di incoscienza of the pop star, the de-flatable, bleeding doll, the hundred strokes of a saw while our thoughts become entangled in the labyrinth of our minds. At any rate, even when things aren’t going well,  life is always varied.

 

The balcony is extremely small, so small that you must be careful not to trip over the plants. On sunny mornings, the smells of meatballs and freshly washed laundry waft up from the alleyway and there is a view of the Sant’Elmo castle to the left which appears to smile and say thank you. But today is a rainy, autumn day, autumn is a beautiful time of year and she is alone in her box, in the midst of her paintings, cigarettes and glasses of Keith Haring. Snow balls made of fake snow, dolls, the remote controls tucked into two silver shoes with 14 cm. heels. A jar full of sweets and a photo of a woman-child with very long hair who looks as if she came straight out of a Marquez story.  A string of Christmas lights wound around the staircase because it’s always Christmas at Roxy’s.

 

Io so’ artista! (I’m an artist) Roxy playfully declares in whimsical justification of the surrounding mayhem which appears to have assumed a life of its own. Behind this liberating claim to the right to chaos, there is also the anger of who, despite everything,  instead of getting depressed with her feet soaking in salts as the world falls apart around her,  continues to make art in addition to being an artist.

 

Now that distance has made our encounters along the seafront or at Piazza Carità far less frequent, photographs of Roxy occasionally  greet me from the web. In the photos, she subjects herself to a make-up session and uses a small lip brush on her fire red lips or gently applies a small sponge to her porcelain complexion. Her hair, full of hairpins, is waiting for a wig to be placed or to be curled. Once, she appears dressed in Twenties-style clothing, another time with a crown on her head and pearls around her neck. Expert hands tighten a corset, straighten her hair, puff up her curls, set a rebellious hat back into place. The point is not so much that she has re-invented herself again. The point is that each time an entire team is involved and she has managed to involve other people in realizing one of her ideas. And, nowadays, accomplishing the latter is decidedly more difficult. And thus, the others crowd around her like worker bees without her playing the queen or ruling with an iron rod. Because when others join us in realizing a dream, a plan, or a project, we carry a large responsibility. When someone contributes their time to ours, what is required is mutual trust, and the ability to humbly accept suggestions and orders. In other words, not to behave like a typical capricious, fickle and vain artist. Stars and starlets attending exhibits just to speak poorly of other exhibits and distribute invitations to their own openings.

 

The aroma wafting from the oven envelopes us. The taralli lie seemingly asleep in the warmth of the display window. Roxy buys a handful and with bag and a beer in hand sets off to negotiate the price of reproducing one of her sculptures in series.

 

The sculpture in question is that of Kill Banana. The model for the work is a neighbourhood institution, the exotic fruit vendor who, like a hundred-year-old  turtle, sells her goods from a kiosk near the anthill-like Cumana Station and its multitude of swarming passengers. Folklore? Careful, indeed it may be, but, in the sense of popular culture, not parody or an excess of clichés (in Naples, nothing would be easier than making a good living off of everything from Pulcinella to Gomorra including the women hovering outside their bassi*). This is because  Roxy’s works are always characterized by a sort of modesty and respect whether she is wearing Uma Thurman’s yellow track suit in the guise of an old, wrinkled woman or dressed up as Superman or Batman. Behind it all is an intimate,  exquisitely Neapolitan melancholy. But why is it so difficult to be understood by others?

 

Once there was a long, vertical painting in a gallery of a young girl who, also vertical, is cautiously  wading near the waves. She had the unsure, prudent gaze of an older child, one who knows. Monstrous robots are battling in the background, threatening to break through the invisible crystal wall protecting her. The girl is alone on the shore, however, her grandmother is behind her, watching over her and reassuring (?) her. How very old she is, a sort of Pop-acrylic lararium.

 

Now there is a nearly completed canvas on the wall of the box,  surrounded by traces of the girl’s other “sisters” who were once there. The colours relentlessly advance towards the last traces of pencil. How many times that wall has been empty and alone? Yet each time, the girl was there, and would cautiously put her foot into the water. And then, she plunges in.

 

Anita Pepe

 

*small one or two-room apartments on the ground floor which open up directly onto the street.