GALLERIES by Leigh Hatts ONE of Arturo Di Stefano's woodcuts, called Sweet Thames, suggests moving water tainted with oil which he sees daily as he crosses Tower Bridge to his Docklands studio. But Di Stefano
• remains loyal to another British city where he grew up and began his fine art studies.
His Italian parents settled in Liverpool in the 1950s and its Walker Art Gallery has secured Arturo Di Stefano•s first retrospective (daily until March 14; free). It was prescient enough to be the first public gallery to purchase a Di Stefano painting.
Much of his work is autobiographical, including Sicilian Avenue which shows the Holbom arcade where pasta meals are served outdoors. It is a place frequented by the artist who may feel exiled from his parents land and it echoes his Turin and Venice paintings.
Arcadia is the title of an oil depicting his father's Sicilian hilltop village, but he adds a woodcut of a coffin to recall the phrase: "I. death. am present even in Arcadia".
In Three Women, remembering his sick grandmother being helped to walk by neighbours. he seems to have in mind the Virgin supported at the foot of the Cross. The exhibition organiser suggests that it is a subliminal recollection of Dante and Beatrice which the artist saw at the Walker as a child.
The Old Masters are important to Di Stefano and there are elements of Caravaggio's St Matthew and the Angel in Catphology: Tenebrae which is in his "shroud style".
Whilst in Turin for a year. Di Stefano's life and work became dominated by the Shroud which had drawn long queues during its rare showing. He started a series called "Sudarium" after the impression on the cloth made when Veronica wiped Christ's face. In seeking to give his secular images the authority of the Shroud figure, he devised a technique of washing surface paint with a destructive glaze which he has since employed regularly.
However the final picture is the first of a projected series of large portraits of living people close to the artist. It is of his wife. who is believed to provide some of the religious influence on his work.
But refreshingly the artist does not ask us to read too much into each canvas. He once said: "To hunt for meaning in pictures as we would a rare butterfly with a net is both futile and cruel".
Whilst Liverpool can be proud of its son made good. there may be pride too in London's Docklands. Here, in a former biscuit factory, Arturo di Stefano has produced his best work. The nearby Purdy Hicks Gallery in Mill Street SEI is showing some of it until March 6 (daily except Sundays; free).