Gabriele Ermini, a young Italian artist, plays with the ancient culture of his territory to build the large canvas Licet Insanire (Cave Canem), level after level, almost as if to emulate Photoshop image processing software. Painting is the artist’s playground in which he brings together the acceptance of an ironic and carefree attitude, already legible in the choice of the title and at the same time he pushes the pictorial language to experimentation and comparison with digital culture and therefore, through subtle and hidden quotations, inscribed in the contemporary context of rewriting of images.

Ermini models his artwork under the sign of madness: the title, a declaration of the irreverence of the artist’s representation and technical choices, refers to the famous words of the Roman philosopher Seneca. Semel in anno licet insanire was the justification for an insane and unconventional attitude that was allowed only in limited circumstances over time: an exception to the rules in order to then be able to return to the pre-established ranks of society. In the Middle Ages, this wording became proverbial in relation to the carnival rites that precede Lent and which excuse the momentary follies that can lead to an attitude that is disrespectful of religious and social conventions. At the center of Ermini’s canvas stands a pseudo-human figure, irreverent and cheeky, a representation of this insanire: creating different levels of images (it is almost possible to imagine the sequence of actions which in photoshop would lead to a result very similar to that of the painting : cmd+t – cut – cmd+j – cmd+v – turn – flip – cmd+s) the artist portrays himself with a deformed face in an almost alienated smile as he lights a cigarette from a fiery arrow that pierces his chest. Various hands emerge from different parts of the body and the reference to photoshop becomes evident in the caesura of the left arm which is replaced by the “non-existent” background of white and gray checks.

The references continue beyond the figure of the artist: his right hand holds on a leash the iconic dog of the mosaic of the house of Orpheus from the archaeological excavations of Pompei. Cave Canem, a Latin phrase which literally means “beware of the dog” is here yet another ploy to play with different temporal and imaginary planes. The black dog with fiery eyes does not look like a scary guard dog but rather the protagonist’s drinking companion: the two, like two crazy characters in a medieval tale, walk down the street showing off their eccentricity and extravagance.

Licet Insanire (Cave Canem) is a work that is identified in its complex stratification of references and technicalities: by combining different figurative solutions and pictorial techniques, Ermini short-circuits the classical representation in favor of a mixture of material and digital, tradition and innovation. Let’s light up a cigarette too, smile madly and set out towards an indefinite goal with our thumb out, in favor of a Dionysian way of life, a cure for the occupational schizophrenia that crushes contemporary man.


Gabriele Ermini
Licet Insanire (Cave Canem), 2021
120 x 100 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas