(on Leaves of Hypnos by Rene' Char)
After several and more and more intense readings of the book, ‘Leaves of Hypnos’ by Renè Char, whose ethical and poetical power is undoubtedly unlimited and, after having underlined many parts and lengthily pondered them, I have decided to use some of these delicate considerations to go hand in hand with the images of my new notebook. Due to the aphoristic nature of these poetical fragments by Renè Char any comments would have been useless and redundant. This is why I have not attempted in any way, either to comment or explain them, since comments and explanations have always annoyed me, but I have simply meditated on these perfect jewels and come up with some “spiritual exercises”, this is how I call them, around their perennial elusive meaning and hence so rich in consequences.
2 – “Do not linger on the rut of results.”
The artist who lingers “on the rut of results” is doomed to be
rhetorical and didactical. The finished work should never represent
only “the closed outcome” of a process that is entirely over, even
though this is the condition for its being seen, but it should always be, at the same time, an opening towards an elsewhere which cannot be completed and which cannot, therefore, produce any rut on which to linger on, but only a soft footprint showing the direction of an endless journey.
13 – “Time seen through an image is a time we have lost sight of.
Quite different are being and time. The image sparkles for ever once it
has surpassed being and time.”
Even though the image is the human condition for the relationship with the world, it is not subjected to the same temporality of the human being producing it. The image owns a paradoxical nature that locates it beyond human temporality even though fully expressing it. The image is the witness of our fleeting passage, our constant farewell, through an infinite and atemporal nature of its own. The image is the monument of our finitude.
32 - “A man with no flaws is like a mountain with no crevices. It does not interest me.”
The lack of flaws in a man is, maybe, an impossible condition; this is why every man is, in its own way, interesting. It can happen thus that,
following a tendency to an ideologically built structure to appear wholly flawless, such a tendency ends up being the worst of all flaws. People with such a structure do not interest me in the least, exactly like mountains with no crevices. Horror and grace, both coexisting in every human being, take on, in them, the cold shape of an opaque glass and order merely hides the maximum denied disorder.
46 – “Gestures, although repeated, are always virgin.”
And so are my images, regardless of their serial obsession and endless variation.
59 – “If men, sometimes, didn’t by choice close their eyes, they would end up not seeing what is worth seeing.”
One of the clearest signs of the complete failure of both individuals and civilization is a gaze obscenely wide open onto nonsense, an
obsessive, constant and compulsive gaze. Eyes wide open onto things
produced merely by our induced greed, eyes constantly blinded by the sparkle of always new products lined up in shelves, eyes that have lost
any real ability to see “what is worth seeing”. But, what is worth
seeing these days? Maybe, only what is left, what is useless, what is
marginal, residual, in other words the beauty of what does not
produce any profit or surplus and cannot, therefore, never become a
“product”. Like in the best of prophecies, in “The Clockwork Orange” by Stanley Kubrick the main character is subjected to the
rehabilitation by the system by having his eyes constantly open, he can never choose to close them. Dreamers, instead, live by choice with their eyes closed, even when they are open. And it is exactly this paradoxical gaze that always produces “what is worth seeing”.
86 –“The purest harvests come from lands that do not exist. They get rid of gratitude owing it only to Spring.”
Those who truly paint “figures”, do not find them ready-made, like
ripe fruits to be picked up, in this case, to a closer look, someone else would have already struggled to plant and grow them, instead, they have to look for their own figures, they have to recognize them, dig them out of themselves in a no-man land that sees them, alone and always amazed, opening their eyes onto the wonder of the world. They must, in the midst of the endless plethora of things claiming a name, understand their own and, once they have found them, treasure them with infinite practice and great love. In this “land that does not exist” the fruit of vision and gratitude grows and it is always a gift that owes it only to its inner truth.
110 – “Eternity is not much longer than life.”
Eternity and life are just as long.
199 – “For a poet there are two ages: that, during which, poetry
mistreats him in every aspect and that in which poetry allows to be
madly kissed. None of them have definite borders and the second one
is not absolute.
There was a time when painting was a mysterious and amazing
adventure. Big abstract paintings, stretched out on the floor of
improvised studios, were keeping me prisoner for the longest of time. I would come up with questions I myself did not understand, and I
would answer them by drawing from the practice of painting itself, in the immediacy of the making and looking. I would stagger in a dense and muddy darkness, sensual and sticky, applying tar and vague colors screaming out of my veins. Painting was coming out on its own, through my abandonment and blindness; it “mistreated” me
mercilessly and ceaselessly but I would cherish it and remain
attached to it like a dog on a leash. It is a while, now, that it has come to my eyes and hands like a caress and “allows to be madly kissed”. Nonetheless the same questions and the same answers still live in it. A true artist is already ‘everything’ since its first sign and never completely until the last.
200 –“When you are drunk from pain, you have nothing left of the
pain but the crystal.”
My painting, all of my painting, is made of that “crystal”.
206 – “All the pretenses, that circumstances oblige me to, lengthen my innocence. A giant hand carries me on its palm. Each of its lines defines my behavior. And there I remain, like a plant on its own soil, even though I have no season.”
I love this idea of a lengthened innocence that becomes stronger
regardless of the continuous pretense that many events in life compel
us to. What does truth feed on in order to nourish this innocence?
On an independent principle of its own? On a primary intangibility of its own? How do we stay on the palm of a giant hand that carries us? And that, with its lines, defines our behavior? And then again, how can we stay in a place that is ours and, at the same time, not have a season for ourselves? And yet, when I paint, and then again when I am summoned by the images or when I interrogate them, I seem to find the answers to all these paradoxical questions: I am in the painting “like a plant on its own soil”. And painting is “the giant hand” that “carries me on its palm” and, certainly, they are its lines that guide me. Who truly paints without indulging into the reassuring cradle of pure illustration, perfectly knows that there would be no painting without that hand and that it is painting that makes us and not vice versa and that, in the end, its season is always everywhere because it is nowhere. Painters belong exclusively to their images but their images never really belong to them, they are always projected into an endless elsewhere, in the unquenchable desire of the image to contain them all, in a perfect season that does not exist.
227 – “Men are capable of doing what they cannot even imagine.
Their heads groove the galaxy of the absurd.”
I have always thought, like the existentialists, that the only word
capable of describing human life, a perfect word with no ambiguities or misunderstandings, was “absurd”. Those who have suffered an incident in life or have witnessed an unexpected and striking illness, have seen how their life and that of the people they love can change in the blink of an eye, or those, to the contrary, who have witnessed a sudden and unforeseeable struck of luck, a positive twist in their own life, whoever, I was saying, that has lived some of these events that qualify life for what it is, is perfectly aware, that it is the “absurd” that rules, with its obscure laws, every human event. And it was right from the beginning that men have invented all kind of things against “the absurd”, religions and consolatory systems of all sorts, including laical ethics, but “the absurd” always comes first, before all deities and like in the frightening painting by Goya, it devours all its children.
228 – “Who do martyrs serve? Greatness is in the beginning that binds. Righteous beings are made of steam and wind.”
In art, like in many other man’s activities, there are interests which
are secondary to the fundamental ethical mandate from which the
profound need to express oneself, using its several tools, is born.
Success, fame, for instance, hence the assertion of the ego, the
satisfaction of narcissistic needs or the production of money and
surplus, or yet again, glory and eternal survival. For each of these
needs, as respectful as they may be, artists are often pushed beyond
their natural and fated limit, whereas it is only within this limit that artists can likely shape their own personal, independent language, a language capable of stating, with Truth and Beauty, their relationship with the world. Only when artists are able to comply to what could be defined as an ethical-formal mandate, only by being completely devoted to their call and completely loyal to the path showed to them, with no indecisions, no doubts or exceptions of any sorts, they can, at the end of the day, establish a “beginning that binds”. If one is faithful to its commitment in the work of a lifetime, something maybe, could appear and be visible to others as well. Everything else is just smoky small talk, egotistical nonsense, sterile excitement! It says nothing and shows nothing! Inside the racket of this nothing, full of nothing the righteous being truly seems to be made “of steam and wind”, whereas actually, all the rest is.
232 –“What is exceptional neither intoxicates nor petrifies its
executioner. He, unfortunately, has the eyes necessary to kill.”
In the worst and most violent of people’s ignorance, an ancient and granite hatred for Beauty and intelligence has always existed. A rage, a resentment and a desire to destroy that often “culture” has called as “evil”. But here we cannot really talk about evil even though belonging to it. The difference is that in order to produce something evil it is necessary to consciously distinguish it from what is good. What I am talking about here, the man who “has the eyes necessary to kill” Beauty and Difference, is the man who has never cut his bond with the horror of his animal nature, a primordial man, with neither good nor evil, a man simply trying to get rid of whatever is non functional to his survival and affirmation. Behind all slogans, behind a caricature of philosophy and art, behind a perfect ideology, the Nazi has successfully created this man. What is atrocious and a real disgrace is that he has done it in the Modernity, in the heart of a fulfilled civilization, at the climax of philosophy! And unfortunately, he keeps doing it. Beauty and Nazism, more than good and evil, are the two fundamental ethical polarities of the human being.
237 –“In our darkness there is not a space for Beauty. All the space is for Beauty.”
Yes. All the space is for Beauty!
I am aware that painting is nowadays considered obsolete, from which no big questions arise, and no right answers are given for the time we live in, (as if “right” answers could exist for any time!); considered as an exhausted language which has produced its best in the past. Nonetheless I, along with other brave colleagues, continue to paint, giving shape to my idea of beauty and the world. If we stop and think that in a distant time, half naked and frightened men, with no alphabet, victims of great predators had, inside inhospitable caves, the natural urge to paint buffalos, horses and hunting scenes, then, I feel motivated in doing it with even stronger passion and destiny. Because painting obeys to an unavoidable necessity, a primary need and, without Beauty, so often conveyed by painting which owns a tragic as well as magical nature, the world would be nothing else but an obscene heap of meaningless things, doomed to entropy.
Yes. At least for me, even today, “all the space is for Beauty”.
Enrico Lombardi- Autumn 2013
René Char - “Leaves of Hypnos”
Translation Angela Lombardi
From a certain point onward, there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached." (Kafka)
"Clearly what concerns the visual relates to the optic nerve, but it is not in itself image. The sine qua non condition of the image is its relation to otherness." (S. Daney)
The original idea for this show, including this introductory text, springs from long standing and earnest desires and necessities. First among these is the necessity to testify with this joint production to a long and extraordinary personal friendship intermingled throughout with a consistent artistic fellowship. Two painters such as us, who have recognized each other on the threshold of their own silences and agreed to confront the mutual necessity of a search for answers are thus united. The questioning originates in the primary act of painting and its sources, both aesthetic and not. We are two artists who have, with stubbornness, chosen the defense and pursuit of their everlasting out-datedness as an opportunity to reach toward higher truths. This two-man show is the result of that ongoing project. That we were both participants in the recent 54th Venice Biennial as a part of the Italian Pavilion show and thus in the larger context of many other ‘painters' colleagues, has strengthened our desire to demonstrate in theory and practice our own specificity and difference. Rather than originating in what some might see as a purely self-referential statement, the idea for this show instead begins with a true and strongly shared urge to question the status of the image today. In this, we mean the image's relationship with its own history and its consequences, both theoretical and practical in order to better understand if our shared sense of distance and out-datedness are founded in greater truths. This show, with its philosophic, iconographic, and historic elements, is intended as an orchestral piece, exploring the true sense of the image. Here we address its ethical and aesthetic status in a time such as ours where our retina is constantly being abused but is void of true images. As for ourselves, an investigation such as this helps us understand the place in the production of culture and knowledge that our work can occupy today. What we have defined as our "everlasting out-datedness," is a proud, stubborn and even somewhat aristocratic claim to our desire to be separate. This desire is not grounded in narcissism or snobbishness, but rather in the vital and earnest necessity to be authentic in the making and living, in a fundamental call for silence, concentration and a fruitful isolation. Artists of previous eras who were perennially outdated consistently produced a knowledge, a style, and a peculiar account which has often proved itself fundamental in understanding not only cultural latencies, but the truer meaning of their own time. The result is a contribution worth its own visibility and hermeneutic openness. Through our analysis, we will attempt to understand and explain, as honestly as possible, how we became aware of the fact that we inevitably share the same condition.
1 Out-datedness as a condition, as fate.
There are many ways in which an artist can be outdated in relation to the actuality of any era and the ruling language which defines it as such. For instance, we could include the swarm of the so-called "amateur painters" who delight in practicing creativity, but share with art only the surface. In this they have no awareness of the relationship of their work to the thinking, the language, the history, and the tradition which might turn a generic human artifact into a work of art. Thus, they are overwhelmed by their own poor and self-centered desire to reproduce something which mimics the superstitious or stereotypical idea of what is real or fashionable. In this, they might be jokingly classified as "outdated in spite of themselves." Then, there are the "outdated by choice," those aware of the qualifying paradigms of their time, who choose to place themselves ideally and aesthetically in another time more conducive to their tastes and desires, thus reaffirming their difference in respect to the ruling languages. This is, in reality, just a more sophisticated and disguised fashion of actuality itself, since our being contemporary is literally founded on the shifts and contrasts to what each time, is considered as the tradition to be renewed and overcome. These versions of the ‘outdated’ are, in fact, only looking for an actuality more real for themselves and perhaps more stringent, where they can find their own space within that topical reality, in short for a more topical actuality. With no desire or intention to be overly judgmental of works born from such a stand, they nevertheless could be described, in the best case scenario, as naïve if not intellectually dishonest. A well-known aphorism by Salvador Dali comes to mind, an aphorism not void of humor: "Don't bother about being modern. Unfortunately, it is the one thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid." In the end, this version of out-datedness always results in an anachronistic stance, both formal and ideological. It may also manifest itself as a vague and useless nostalgia for a creative Eden that has never existed in reality, demonstrated by the fact that every era, in its own fashion, has longed for one. Furthermore, from an aesthetic point of view it represents an outmoded and always lazy repetition of familiar languages in which nothing intrinsic to the artist's personal destiny and being is triggered to reanimate them. Thus, the anachronistic design itself should define them as "new and up-to-date." Here, as I have mentioned before, what is central and of fundamental emphasis is founding and stressing, no matter what, one's own actuality. There is, in fact, no out-datedness less outdated than this one. We are again playing that tired modern game of seeking the superficially different: of false antagonisms, of definitions, of the many "isms," of those traditions to be destroyed or worshipped. The result is the purest and most stringent actuality. May our esteemed colleagues forgive us!
But the largest and best disguised category of out-datedness is the unintentional one that we will term, as a joke of course, of those that are "outdated due to an excess of actuality." I am talking about all those artists who, though more or less aware of the respective paradigms of a certain era, are so loyal to it or to its myths that they can only produce a version of a long-dead academic conformism. Their terror at being cast out and no longer understood or accepted in the mundane game of contemporary aesthetics forces them to morbidly and uncritically work within that dominant aesthetics. They are unaware that it is this very forced adherence to their own time that fatally throws them out of it. Thus, and utilizing their own paradigms, only those artists who have created shifts in language and innovations and have founded the actuality as such can be considered up-to-date, not those who have sheltered themselves within it, like termites. These artists "outdated due to an excess of actuality" are the idlers who forgo the investigation of the actuality of their own time, especially the uncommon or unexpected angles from where such an investigation may come. Instead of bringing real innovation to the language, they peacefully graze in fields farmed by others and show their obsequiousness to the regime. There they exhibit their oily loyalty to the boss, the hierarchy, and power as such. Made strong by the protection of the dominant critics, predetermined patterns, and popular taste, they are more than happy to give to others the hard tasks of freedom, conscience, analysis, responsibility, and, allow me, true subversion, which always seeks to create a difference. And finally we have those artists fated by their own condition so that, even though perfectly aware of the issues, trends and fashions of their time, find themselves doomed by their own formal obsessions. With no desire to contrast themselves with anyone or anything, or create something new or engage in the dialectic encounter with the paradigms of any era, these artists have no choice but to go their own way in pursuit of the treasured goal of producing work that transcends them and, in so doing, provides meaning to them. In the work and only in it, and by excluding all externalities can these outdated find their true home. It might be said that these artists would be outdated in respect to in any era they would find themselves living and working, hence achieving a perfect, ever-lasting out-datedness.
I believe that surely the ‘outdated’ such as this have always existed, though not in large numbers, in every era. By producing a particularly original, personal, and distinguished language, they have created a buffer, a protective film that acts as a border and yet must be dealt with by the era in defining itself. These outdated, impossible to include in any genre, ism, or critical delusion, travel within the flow of their own inalienable vocation towards a superb isolation. It is only natural that with this often comes many sumptuous misunderstandings. This condition inevitably produces a primary, essential organic difference and it is to this condition that we belong.
2 A few brief and banal considerations on the concept of actuality.
(in other words on all that does not interest us)
Without needing to consult a dictionary, we can include in what we define as actuality everything that happens concurrently, in the present, in its own time, in its own era, whichever you wish. Therefore any contemporary phenomenon, even our wrathful and aristocratic out-datedness, is fundamentally but an aspect, however borderline, of the entire actuality. This is a fact that we must accept philosophically, no matter how upsetting it may be! That being said, we can state, without fear of contradiction and with considerable evidence, that this debased era is unique in the simultaneous coexistence of all aesthetic languages and creative modes. In fact, it is hard to imagine one movement dominating the discourse again without the considerable financial support of the market and a concurrent propaganda campaign. We can, therefore, recognize that everything, absolutely everything, is up-to-date. Alas, this is also true for ourselves. So, why are we so stubborn in wanting to identify with this peculiar type of out-datedness, the site of our artistic creativity and growth? Let us try to explain it by analyzing some fundamental and secondary features of the dominant current artistic languages and the so-called ‘art world' itself. In doing this we can clarify the reasons why we quite naturally dislike them both.
a) Since the end of the Second World War the inheritance of the historical avant-gardes has been partially misinterpreted and thus, one of the main and most qualifying aesthetical-ideological categories of being contemporary, has been "new at all costs". The work of art is considered such and thus interesting only in so much as it opposes or discards style and tradition, even the latest one, in its quest for recognition as something new. Born as a dynamic plan for an ongoing revolution in aesthetic language, it has come, in no time at all, to resemble the worst in consumerist marketing strategies, perpetuating itself with the endless creation of accumulative novelty items. This has inevitably allowed global merchandising to overwhelm the organic growth of aesthetics replacing it with evanescent products, supported by sumptuously funded mass-marketing campaigns, created to stir excitement, demand, and profits both locally and worldwide. What a sorry state! Say goodbye to the Duchampian revolution and those aesthetic languages that should have been the bearers of a non commercial subversive tendency to produce a difference and instead have become a domesticated bourgeois status quo, subservient to the market and its commodities. A strange kind of commodity, indeed! But nevertheless a commodity and thus reduced and quantified to the inevitable status of products, merchandisable products. This is not to say that some very important artists have indeed emerged from this "new at all costs" situation, but the pressure on new creative generations, a pressure to be heard, to become successful, to constantly create something new, unprecedented and never seen before, has demanded a series of sleight-of-hand card tricks, circus entertainments, horror, ugliness, pathologies and autobiographical exposures, needlessly complicated and spectacular - in short, a constellation of mad, waking complications. It may not be exaggerated to say that not only the basics of the first Conceptual movement have been lost but that the very creative impulse itself- reading, interpreting and creating essential art has been, may be forever, undermined.
Generations of destroyers, most of them not even self-aware villains, but only minor functionaries, have undermined every facet of responsible tradition, including their own, all in the pursuit of some novel "uniqueness." All too often they discover themselves staggering alone in a bright and wordless desert, empty of truths. Just so, the vast ocean of human creation has now found itself choked by a huge poisonous mass of rubbish and plastic, leaving the once fecund waters now sterile and the fish strangling. In this creative biosphere, on land or in the sea, it is difficult if not impossible to take a creative breath. To these nihilistic trends we have replied with an absolute fixity of concentration on our vocation and obsessions, with the awareness of the radically non-anthropocentric nature of the image, with the ceaseless and harmonic beauty of repetition, with the solitude of the space enfolding and delineating the image, and a responsible and dignified relationship to aesthetic tradition, underscoring our own self-awareness toward it. By doing so, we have tried to live within the commerce of the market without compromise, standing upright and working tirelessly to promote culture, beauty, and meaning, certainly aware of how old fashioned and impractical it may all sound, including even these very words! Here, perhaps is where the source of our out-datedness can be found. We can only hope that the "new at all costs" is a pathogen soon to lose its virulence and so then give back to the artists their health and a true freedom found in responsibility, immanence and a relationship to otherness. That being said, we are not now and will never be motivated by antithesis, that ceaseless feeder of actuality. We can only report on a disease to which we are not even immune carriers. Our response is, as much as artistically possible, to walk our own road.
b) In our time (as in every other era before) the concept of what is "new" has embodied and been servile to certain rules that reflect what is declared by the dominant contemporary aestheticians as the pivotal language. Contrasting this actuality as such has been an artistic response, whether voluntary or compulsive, and in ways from time to time different, best described as the "anachronistic stance." While Giotto and others from around Siena were redefining the use of space of the Middle Ages iconography, most Italian artists were still painting spatially as had the Classical Greeks. While Piero della Francesca, Massaccio and Brunelleschi were setting the image and the world in their metaphysically perfect perspective grid, throughout the countryside could be found known and sometimes famous artists still painting in the style of the Trecento. Later, in the midst of the Impressionist Revolution, the majority of painters adhered to the self-celebratory and murky rules of the Nineteenth Century Academy. The Modern Age has seen in France a "return to order" and in Italy a rediscovery of the Nineteenth Century, as an act of rebellion against a perceived overreaching avant-garde and thus a return to the centrality of the image and medium of the painting. These were, generally speaking, the precedents of a movement in reaction to the aesthetic actuality that can be found even these days. The entire movement in art since the end of the Second World War has been inexorably toward the supremacy of conceptual aesthetics in art- audiovisual, performance, installation, mixed-media, photographic collage, and so on, all at the expense of artistic tradition and its two primary mediums, painting and sculpting. The dominant arguments in favor of this aesthetic have centered, mainly incorrectly, but sometimes with some truth, to the inappropriateness of traditional forms to speak to our times. Inevitably, there has been a plethora of artistic responses to this new conceptual hegemony. These have included an emphasis in the centrality of the craft, the tools and handiwork required to produce traditional art, and with that the essential meaning of the created image itself. So, ranging from the "Metacosa" and the "Transavanguardia" itself to "Anachronism" and the "New Italian Figuration," we see a focused, contemporary, and self-aware response to the dominant empire of conceptual languages. Nevertheless, in order to not fall into the trap of hurried and generic analysis, with its inevitable and facile contrasting lists, we must instead point out some substantive differences. When examining the history of classic painting, from the Middle Ages up to the Eighteenth Century, we cannot really talk of self-aware and active resistance and antithesis to the contemporary creative language, despite what certain optimistic Marxist art history might wish to assert. In this we see certain more recently established historicist categories used to judge retroactively and, using their own contemporary criteria, movements of a completely different nature and origin. Instead, what we see are the influences of tradition and parallel cultures creating pockets of unintentional resistance, if not, simply, the simultaneity of different languages. This scenario radically changed with the advent of the first avant-gardes: now, a language is defined as innovative and new because it is conscious and willing in its opposition to what has preceded it. Thus, we arrive again at contemporary actuality, that horrifying foe, with its constant "subversive" stances against any and all traditions, and its inevitable totalitarian growth in strict rules and rigid paradigms in what can be considered as the representing signs of our time and the mediums to achieve them, which in the end, does nothing else but merely reflect our times instead of actually subverting them. Only in the last 40 years, but these days more than ever before, we can talk of a real conscious "anachronistic stance," yet most of the art produced from this violent opposition to the conceptual aesthetic has been, in our opinion, very much like its opponent. It has not cut the umbilical cord of the twisted aesthetic game of creation by opposition, instead reflects an already well-worn repetition of systolic extremes first begun by the Impressionists. For these and other reasons, deriving more from the personal than the ethical, we do not feel that our use of traditional painting fates us to an "anachronistic stance," with its desire to be contrasted to movements or individuals, inevitably leading to the false and artificial dialectics of the unfolding of the actuality. Our perennial and perfect out-datedness relies exclusively on its peripheral gaze to identify the limits of the painted place and its meaning. Thus, if to most observers these places appear timeless and, therefore, absolutely anachronistic, they are so not because of aesthetical choice, but rather from the inherent fate and vocation of the image itself.
c) To be frank, in this age of technological media, if one wishes to be a part of the strictest actuality, one should utilize the most cutting-edge technologies and techniques and use them fully to attempt to bring forth art. From cinema, for example has come great contemporary works uniting technology and vision. Similarly, much can be said of the works of documentarians and photographers, though perhaps rarely of computer artists. If one chooses to remain a painter, with all the difficulties that choice entails, one must be a complete painter. This calling must be pursued without resort to dissimulation, trickery, or insincerity. We can daily see painting fully culpable of these failings, seeking a guilty and furtive actuality by appropriating signs and fashions foreign to it. For us, it is not a question of finding inspiration in the products of cinema, cartoons, or photography, as occurs with so many so-called "painters," who instead seem not unlike amateur hobbyists, struggling to represent a vase of flowers or a paint-by-numbers landscape! Instead, we relate directly to the gaze which opens our relationship with the world and bears it through the work of art.
For us, the central truth is the image, born from its relationship with the other (also including cinema, cartoons or photography!) and the unique way that, unchanged since Lascaux, it creates the world and makes it visible. It is this same fundamental image that most novice painters unimaginatively appropriate from other aesthetic languages (even while declaring themselves at war with them) and thus lose any hope of finding a primordial vision, a uniquely individual gesture, an absolutely personal figural destiny! We, personally, have never lost this hope and work stubbornly and relentlessly in the both giddy and risky certainty that here can be found the opening provided by that primordial image, of the knowledge produced by its surplus, and its endless hermeneutic possibilities. Thus we find our perfect out-datedness.
d) In general critical usage, the term "appropriation art" refers to the historically aware and learned usage of antique images in contemporary art. We strongly believe that today a perversion of this usage runs across all extremes of aesthetic language, from the radically conceptual to the handcrafted neo-traditional. This perversion derives substantially from the disillusionment accompanying the perceived inability to create anything truly new- that great, incurable modern obsession! And yet, how many times, after hearing from the preachers of the inconceivable that "everything has already been done" and that "nothing new is possible," do we then immediately see promoted on the market the latest circus spectacle by the newest genius, all carefully calibrated to make money and thus feed the many open mouths of the idlers! There is no doubt that this approach, used and abused time and time again, has worked remarkably well for those who have grown wealthy from marketing the latest wonder-work and its manufactured controversy! This approach, so grounded in dishonesty and bad faith and so commonly echoed by the ignorant, has no bearing on reality as a whole. We believe that the truly original artist, called by his innate language, sensibility and vision to create and form image and space, inevitably contributes something individual and new to the language he is using to express himself. It may be true that whosoever is a slave to the "new at all costs" dwells constantly in the bitterness of being unable to produce anything new, for "everything has already been done" and instead floats, either in pain or happy opportunism, in a rising sea of appropriation art rubbish! It may be that this is why, due to the persistence of the paradigm of "the new" and its survival as an absolute value, that this appropriation art perversion is so widespread! After all, whosoever trusts in leaving his own creative expression to the debris of someone else's art often displays the lack of a unique worldview, of an individual dream, and of an inevitable vocation. As for ourselves, we believe that appropriation is not a negative per se, even when made obvious, rather, it is implicit in the act of painting, for it stands as an homage to the true masters. By aspiring to synthesize and metabolize its essence within ourselves, we perceive it as a responsible act of acknowledgement and devotion to a tradition we esteem and wish to continue. This love for the great masters produces in the true and authentic artist a profound desire to emulate them, not so much in direct appropriation, which even in a best-case scenario is only a shortcut, but rather in what ensues from the attempt. That is, that the frustrating and constant failure resulting from the very act of emulation leads back to your own path, your own truth, and your own limit. And it is exactly at this limit, carefully and consistently inhabited, on this thin red line, that one can still make a difference.
e) Today, there is only one god, a god that all the peoples of the world kneel down to, the god surviving God's death, which has blossomed and flourished beyond all limits as a giant concretion of totalitarianism and totalization: the Market. To this absolute and incomprehensible (despite its undeniable immanence in our life) divinity, to this cruel and illusive divinity, mankind is sacrificing the planet and its treasures. In the art world, this god of quasi-biblical powers has long held sway with its rules and scales of value. We are all, with no exception, subject to it ("Money has replaced meaning." R. Hughes). From minor works displayed at street fairs to ambitious works in major (and minor) galleries or at auction, everything has a market value. There would be at least some sort of justice to this, if not for the fact that monetary value has largely supplanted the paradigmatic value of the artwork itself. There was a time when the difficulty in selling a work of art was a signal of its aesthetic value, of the rigor of its ideas, of its essential difference. Now, unfortunately, it is only the sales potential of the work which marks its absolute value, but often its very survival. Obviously, if art is only a commodity, it should be treated as such and so subjected to the laws of commerce and the marketplace. By affirming this view, art dealers have gone on to apply marketing strategies to the merchandising of works of art, with their willing accomplices, the compliant critics and the grand Cultural Institutions across this planet. Without going any further into this line of analysis, which could easily be worth an entire book devoted to its many complaints, it seems obvious that the modern art market, with only a few rare exceptions, is unsuited to fostering the growth of a truly great artist. The pace for the marketing of easily realized surplus value (profits) requires a rapid velocity of sale and resale and the constant replacement of the new with the newer and the newer still and so on… Any artist instead, regardless of what he does and the medium in which he works to express himself, requires real time, true time rather than this insane, compulsive, and engulfing speed of the contemporary market. This is why, leaving aside facile arguments regarding the value of the market as such, in seeking to achieve our perfect out-datedness, we have chosen to take our own good time, rather than fall under the dictates of any externalities or the hectic and contingent market. To maintain a dignified and healthy rapport with the market god does not require the sacrifice of the art itself, either in quality or quantity, but rather to believe, with a certain aristocratic naiveté, that it is the market that should adjust to the artist and not vice versa: otherwise, forget it!
f) If the majority (of course, not all!) of contemporary critics have long shown that they have forgotten the very reason for their own existence, the very function that they assigned themselves, of being the first hermeneutic filter between the work of art and the observer and thus beginning the endless spiral of interpretation, analysis and naming of all the artistic phenomena they come in contact with, artists have been therefore deprived of their initial and most natural interjection. The constant tailoring of the critique to the demands of the market, the soft-pedaling of negative opinion, or, to be a little less harsh, the closer and closer economic collaboration between the two entities, has diminished the role and language of art criticism to the point that they scarcely exercise the critical function at all. The damaging effects are obvious and, though pointing out the shortcomings of art critics is not particularly enjoyable, it is necessary to point out the results. Over time, the repeated use of empty and intellectually dishonest terms, of stereotypical and clichéd expressions, of meaningless though uselessly complicated language, has replaced almost completely the healthy exercise of the hermeneutic function. The result has been a sort of linguistic holocaust, leading inexorably to the barbarization of our society (... taking already exhausted words to the crematoriums). As for ourselves, our relationship with words as well as art has found its eternal solution in a perfectly outdated fashion: given the choice, as in this essay, for instance, we have chosen to ally the works with the words. There have been other instances where we have relied on the interpretation and understanding of our work provided by those- critics, philosophers, novelists, and poets- with whom we have established a serious and authentic liaison, rich in interpretive possibilities. When possible, we have worked with the intention of constructing true intellectual relationships based on mutual esteem and affinity, where parallel paths sustain and reinforce each other, carrying forth the mutuality of the writer and the artistic work which they contemplate. There, have been other times, to be honest, where, often with the best of intentions, the relationship has not worked, the words have arrived unsought and already dead, and we have been forced to emphasize our distance and lack of complicity in them.
g) In conclusion, and in attempt to end this brief and somewhat generic attempt to differentiate ourselves from actuality, we would like to devote this final observation to another prevalent contemporary phenomenon in art: the depiction of ugliness, deformity, and the pathological. It would have been unimaginable just a few centuries ago, other than in the occasional genre work, that ugliness could be such an interesting and relevant topic for art. Yet, for some time now and in various media, ranging from conceptual art to photography, and then to the most traditional painting- and this is just to mention the visual arts- the ugly, the ill, the misshaped, and the pathological have become a central theme and subject of great and sublime fascination. The reasons why this has occurred would fill a much larger and more wide-ranging multi-disciplinary analysis, but we would like to point out one distinct aspect of this phenomenon. There have been artists who, supported by the innate power of their obsessions, have been able to alchemize remains and rubbish (Mattia Moreni) and ugliness and deformity (Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon) into poetic and socially conscious works of art. This has been one of the great accomplishments of modern art- nothing is taboo as a theme for philosophical investigation and representation. However, artists who today delve into degradation and the pathological seem to lack powerful and authentic poetic motivations. The repertoire of deformities, abjections, gore, and vivisections have instead become fashion and rote rhetoric losing their thoughtful and subversive power and becoming subsumed into the commodity. This neither involves nor fascinates us in the least. With all due respect to those who choose to rummage through the detritus with great skill but with no respect for those who do it just for the sake of cash, we have different priorities. We have a simple wish to produce meaning through the ideal of beauty and so we aspire to it in every moment of our creative life. It must be admitted that our own subject matter is often ruins or remains, but our formal intentions toward them are of redemption, or, even better- resurrection in the form! We too may be staggering through the desert of dead aesthetic languages, but gently and solely led by our own vision, the certainty of having already lost and the awareness that true, it may only be a mirage, but we have no other choice but to pursue it until the end.
3 The point of view of a stranded whale.
And so, witness the whale, after having swum the oceans alone, solitarily spouting in the desert of the seas. And after having sung its heartbreaking chant to its lost companions, echoing across eras and centuries, echoing in the hollow, empty nights. And after being confused by the sonar of distant boats and choking on the pollution pervading the waters. And so, witness the whale, with its immense weariness and disenchantment without remedy, after ending its days stranded on the beach. Its immense and unsettling wet eye has gradually dimmed while staring at a land it never sought. Yet, there can be found a rare clarity within the dimming of the light. Perhaps, in a more insightful reading of the history of art, the truest artists have always been outdated. Perhaps, or even certainly, in this era of the doxa, our words will be brutally subjected to the common sense rulings of commodity circulation and either ignored, misunderstood, or their meanings perverted. Nevertheless, we have no love for sophists and stubbornly maintain our faith in the principle of truth through the practice of the maximum possible honesty in what we do and how we live. And yet, in the end, this is nothing more than the point of view of a stranded whale.
1) cf. Rocco Ronchi, L'ignobile splendore: bellezza e abiezione, In Il Luogo della mente. Mattia Moreni a Santa Sofia, Santa Sofia City Hall, 2005, pp. 22-33. On the same subject by Rocco Ronchi also refer to Filosofia della comunicazione, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2008, pp. 27-58.
Translated by Angela Lombardi and Alan Nelson
“What’s crucial in one’s life and work is to become something different from what one was at the beginning.” (M. Foucault)
In reality I do not paint images or figures. I do not have a descriptive nature. I am the pure passage through which they emerge in their original wholeness. I am only filter and threshold of their appearing; window of their looking out. This is why ‘my images and ‘my’ figures keep that monumental and almost ghostly quality of things unnamed. Their meaning lies exactly in that, they are not figures of something but figures of themselves. Figures of the act of producing figures, of that event that brings the undiversified things of the world inside the language, making them, for the first time, visible in the name and in the figure. I, thus, think of ‘my’ painting as a course of initiation and wisdom, not a pedagogical one but an unbroken exploration on how the image is created by itself, through us, subtracting itself from the undiversified universe. This is why I don’t own and never will be able to own the object of ‘my own’ figures. I may spy, perhaps, with the corner of my eye their fast passage into the visible. In this original gesture of letting the figure appear there’s a painful innocence, practically inexistent nowadays, which I sometimes see only in the art of a few Italian primitive artists and in mosaics. To the vertigo of this endless beginning I consecrate the entire life of my seeing: inside and outside painting. (Milan, September 26th, 2007).
I have no pictorial “technique” or “techniques”, only erotic liturgies, strict rules and well tested and always updated rituals. (October 24th, 2007)
I want to become more and more a structural, mineral, medieval painter. (October 24th, 2007)
The paradox is not just my modus operandi, my poetics but the fundamental status of the image itself. (December 15th, 2006)
The image is the modality itself of human nature to relate to the world. (August 29th, 2006)
“The act, even if repeated, is always virgin.” (R. Char) My images, too, despite their serial obsession and endless variation.
I feel like a parallel man. As if watching the world with the corner of my eye. In that constant perception of having missed something fundamental I live in complete nostalgia. And “my” painting has only two main themes: the threshold and the farewell. Nothing else. (March 4th, 2007)
I hear no voice. Words don’t come out. I only hear a rustle, as if something, non-stop, non-cease, would wear out by rustling. Something getting thinner and thinner. But I don’t know where or why. (March 3rd, 2007)
A car passes by. A boy playing by himself turns around to watch it. What made him do that? What is the nature of that curiosity that made him turn and which already contains its own answer? In that gesture of the head there is not just mere instinctive curiosity but also all of his tale. (March 2nd. 2007)
I tripped on a-three-step staircase. A foolish thing! Yet, getting up, I had a hard time recomposing my body in its harmonic wholeness, in its bearing, its experience. That small accident had somehow taken me to pieces. In these days I feel like I’ve been held together with a string of rope. (March 2nd, 2007)
“I have created a crystal world for myself, so that from anywhere I looked, I would fatally realize that it was not natural.” (Ungaretti). Me, too.
“I’m tired of yelling with no voice.” (Ungaretti) Me, too.
Today I saw the ‘world’ put on unusual proportions. Huge clouds entangle, like torn rags, around steep and unconcerned peaks. Men and “world’ live together separately. And this is the reason of our everlasting nostalgia. The real ‘world’ cannot be lived by men, who can only live their own universe of signs, built and made available to make the horror of their estrangement, their condition of exiles and their cosmic loneliness tolerable. The men’s ‘world’ is the poisoned fruit of their own imagination, of their own language, of their own dream and faith. Then, moving in this spider-web of signs, they freakily deceive themselves by thinking of being the lords and masters of the other “world’. But they’re never one, not even of their own fragile and pathetic canvas. (July 3rd, 2006)
“The ritual sign is not a representative sign”. (Baudrillard). All my signs are ritual and ritual is also my modus operandi. This is why my figures represent nothing else but their own appearing.
“… it is about casting a radical doubt on the principle of reality”. (Baudrillard) ‘My’ painting expresses and give shape entirely and substantially to this “radical doubt”.
If seduction exists in ‘my’ painting, this is due to its absolutely artificial nature, since by quoting Baudrillard: “Seduction never belongs to the sphere of nature but to that of fiction. It never belongs to the sphere of energy but to that of the sign and the ritual.” In such strict, almost liturgical and normative ritual, all my pictorial action takes place. The image produced, the result of such ritual, that is the work of art remains invisible until the end of the liturgy which implies, in order to be seen, its complete detachment from me. This is why the figures I produce keep a sort of unwillingness and despite their scrupulous planning they always appear unexpected and unknown. (August 6th, 2005)
Painting is the conscious exercise, through its specific instruments, of the visual relationship between man and world. Its ensemble (body, brain, eyes, hand, brush or else able to lay paint and whatsoever support involved), codified right from the origin, has never really substantially changed although gone through several metamorphosis. This is why, painting, which is a complex, articulated and perfectly organized and regulated language, is inscribed among the fundamental acts of our civilization and culture. No predominant fashion or trend, in no epochal overturns, with the obvious exception of a real end of the world, can, unless led by a complete intellectual bad faith and extraordinary theoretical lowness, declare that painting is obsolete or dead, inasmuch as painting has always proven to be consubstantial to men in order to understand the meaning of their destiny, as much as their own breath. Any image that painting produces (either abstract or figurative or conceptual – words which I use in their cultural conformity, or better, in their cultural conformism) is a founding image since it invents and creates the original shape of the visual relationship of the painter with the world and thus the world itself.The painter never really sees until the work is finished. So, neither definite nor final shapes of things or objects exist, stereotypical shapes that a “good” painter should prove to be able to reproduce (thinking, in short, of such exercise as a simple skill, creating that dangerous virtuosity so often connected to the idea of painting) as any realism, in its own naivety, would pretend; but open and unique shapes, created and filtered by the peculiar sensibility of each painter, all different and all founding, proof of the relationship between eye and object, which is the only real issue of any painting.Therefore painting is essentially creation and proof. Painting, in proving it, creates the world and makes it visible to itself and the others. Any true painting, although respectful of history and the tradition of images, is a creation of a world ex-novo. The tree painted by Carrà is not the same painted by Morandi, or the one by Giotto (to whom he is fundamentally related and connected) or that of Piero della Francesca. This mysterious object that our civilization has called tree, finds in each artist its peculiar interpretation, its invention, its vision.Therefore painting is, when authentic and original, always a founding-hermeneutic exercise, which rewrites the forms of the world, giving life to an endless hermeneutic spiral.This is the movement of cultural growth roused from and nourished by painting. Painting is knowledge which creates knowledge and meaning, proof of our passing which leads us, with its questions and solutions to a continuous reflection and the growth of human civilization.This is why a painting aware of its fundamental duty, is always able to interpret, translate and give shape to the main questions of each single era, even of this one, in which a predominant culture, strongly ideological, has radically delegitimized its role, confining it with the violence of its own “no-problem” attitude, in a kind of Indian reservoir of pure decoration and interior design.If and when, a complete aesthetics portrait of how our time has been read by art would ever be wanted, then it will be mandatory to look at painting, too. Because, even in the most difficult and desperate moments, it remains one of the highest proofs of our meaning and passage, a fundamental act in the making of civilization and human community. (July 11th, 2005)
I do not paint to understand or exist (although it’s by painting that I understand I exist). I do not paint to explain myself or find my meaning. I paint to forget, to un-inhabit myself, to let myself go.
Painting happens in the silence of the words; in that space left empty by words: the space of their implosion. The word implodes because unable to name the radical difference of each figure and the one which is more exposed to the wearing of the name no longer contains this radical difference inasmuch it’s produced by the name itself as its illustration. Thus, in its nature of reiteration (plethora) it doesn’t produce the image of the figure because it lacks that unspeakable extra to nomination itself which is the true nature of the figure. Painting, which is the art of imagination per excellence operates, when void of weaknesses, either illustrative or of different nature, in that breach of the nominal language which is the extra of each figure. This, which remains the only human possibility to represent the world and therefore to build it and drag it out of the invisible and unspeakable, must keep, even when painted, that extra from which it was born.
In painting, the disappearance of such extra, inevitably entrusts it to mere illustration, which is only apparently of the same nature, but truly its strongest negation. This nature, substantially explanatory and illustrative is, unfortunately, the denotation of a lot of contemporary art, regardless of the genre to which it believes to belong (abstract, figurative, conceptual, performance and so on). The image, in order to be figure, asks to painting an incredible effort of conscious abandonment that can make it return to its sphere of natural extra, in that threshold from which everything from the undiversified invisible becomes visible, which I call “the world without man”. This has always been the real meaning of the act of painting. (July 4th, 2005)
I believe that all this critical rave, which instead of asking itself about the true mystery of a work of art, is more worried about reassuring its own theories, has greatly contributed to blacken the real meaning of making art in general and painting in particular. In fact, we witness nowadays the paradox of a more and more popular art which illustrates the critique itself and the theory contained therein, while the critique entangle, in a perverse embrace, those images created by itself. In this way nothing really happens anymore between image and critique, if not just the ephemeral effect of the endless repetition of the latter, with the only result of a complete desertification of both. In this ‘waste land’, with no reciprocal growth, because the relationship has been emptied of the extra of the difference which is its only nourishment, we only witness postcards with captions. This is true also for those images or creative gestures whose ideological goal is that of being subversive, but in reality do nothing else but illustrate a theory.
Nowadays, the only possible transgression is to use the maximum care and attention in avoiding any possible transgression ideologically built and any contraposition with any other modality or aesthetics; the only transgression is to resist inside the image we were called to by the destiny of our gaze, even if not legitimated by any other images or any critique (obviously no other image but the one containing, in the tradition of painting, the same vertiginously anarchic and archetypal statute and no other critique if not the one born from the same threshold). (July 4th, 2005)
“A cage went looking for a bird.” (Kafka). No comment.
“From some point on there’s no return. This is the point to reach.” (Kafka). Mine was the starting point.
Despite its theoretical presumptions, which should lead it into a different direction, actually into the exact opposite direction, conceptual art is mainly a typically projective expression, subjective, and more and more often with the quality of being a diary, an anecdote. (April 21st, 2005)
Nowadays the image self-legitimated by one’s own ethics is doomed to appear obscure and subversive (even if outside what is considered such by the institutions) and sentenced to be marginal or violently invisible and denied. There is no ‘religio’, no iconic apparatus, no lecture on truth or meaning, no canons which can, nowadays, socially and culturally legitimate images as original because they are truly from one’s own origin. In doing so some of the best artistic works of our time are erased or accepted only partly amputated or misunderstood; and a truth left out to rot stinks more than all healthy lies. (April 1st, 2005)
I must be patient. Let time work. Let the water mine the stone from beneath where it is weaker. In such a way, the whole wall will come crumbling down. Only on rubble I can perform my de profundis out loud. (April 1st, 2005)
Giving up means and themes just to concentrate obsessively on a formal tension, a destination, an ethic doesn’t produce in art a frustration but a substantial satisfaction.
Like a good actor is able to hide the art of performing to enable the character to come through, just as well, a good painter should make painting disappear in order to make the truth of the figure visible. In such a process a strange paradox takes place, because what really interests a painter is almost exclusively the painting as a media and a way, and not the figure itself, which if analyzed carefully is just a pretext although consubstantial. Therefore, in order for the truth of painting to appear, it is necessary that it disappears fulfilling the paradox of the figure. So of painting as a media and way, of its endless lost gestures, nothing must be left – if not by paying the price of an attention useless to the plethora of the gesture itself (so dear to a lot of modern and contemporary art) – but the underground and longing beat of the superficial vibration. It’s painting the unspeakable of painting itself. (February 17th, 2005)
I look for figures to make them perfect in the icon through repetition. (February 20th, 2004)
I pull out volumes of nos