For a “conceptual” painting without reason

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“For”. By using this preposition I wish to indicate a perspective that is open to a space of non-knowledge, whether it is not-yet, already-always, or the hic et nunc.

“A”. The indefinite article affirms the generic, open nature, one that is rigorously without determination of the thing applied.

“Conceptual” without reason. Mythological painting was, in its finest examples, a painting of concepts, that is, a “mental” painting, as Gian Lorenzo Bernini had observed when looking at the works of Poussin that Chantelou, in his home in Paris, showed him, but not for this reason devoid of that spontaneous gratuity inherent in the immemorial fibres of this art.

“Conceptual” and without reason is therefore how we refer to painting whose expression will offer a vision of space and of the world that is articulated accord- ing to the visible, but irreducible to it. A way of making it irreducible to it could be the paradoxical presence – put forward here – of an absolute that must be circled and mediated.

“Painting”. Saying “painting” and not “art” signifies taking one’s distance from the concept – equally generic and undefinable – of “Art” elaborated by romantic thinking and aesthetics. To this Art, a large abstract container, we oppose the arts, each of them concrete and determined, with their own techniques and their own story. Of these, painting, whose origins date to the first phase of the Paleolithic era, 30.000 years before our time and whose testimony we can still see in Las- caux, in Pech-Merle, and in many other places scattered across the Earth, is no doubt the oldest. We do not know what the purpose of the earliest painting was nor whether it even had one. The only thing we can state with absolute certainty to this regard concerns the state of vertigo and of inexplicable emotion that over- comes us when we gaze at it, even when it is just a reproduction. The historian Arnold J. Toynbee speaks of the superiority of its “author”, the Homo Poeticus of the Paleolithic, over the prevalent maker of arms and utensils, the Homo Faber of the Neololithic. Witness to the origin and to perhaps the highest – peaceful – moment in the evolution of human civilization, painting is an integral part of his genetic code. This is true, as we have seen, both phylogenetically, and onto- genetically, as every child, even the youngest, wants to draw. This is why human civilization will not be able to get rid of painting without at the same time get- ting rid of itself. Cohabiting and experienced in painting are the imaginary and the real, the oneiric and wakefulness, shadow and material, the sacred and the profane, the divine and the demoniacal, worship and the mundane, myth and silence, the hidden and the manifest, space and time, high and low, order and chaos, line and circle.

Like a haiku or a surimono, the void, the pure white of the canvas, traditionally covered by the ground, is rendered active here as an integral part of the image: like a threshold of the visible and a concrete perspective towards an invisible un- known. The visible liberated from its backdrop and from its context still remains open and under the power of the light: it projects a shadow, however, not in the place – ground or wall – where we see it, rather, on the blank canvas where the image will be posed by way of the pictorial gesture. And the painter’s hand also casts a shadow, almost as if in erasing itself from every context in the name of vis- ibility, the author him or herself became, like at the origin of painting, a shadow without a name. Nonetheless, it is a perspective that is evidently not conclusive, but dynamic instead. Enough to not be able to easily return to a single concept, but aroused by a free game of concepts all equally and pictorially plausible.

If painting is a way of articulating silence in the delimited field of the canvas, then it is White that we ask to open up for us the mental space we need to un- derstand this necessary void: Kandinskij said that White is the colour of silence.

I worked for a long time with a gold ground, never painting anything if it did not have this sort of secret and “transcendent” legitimization that seems to coincide with light: it was the profound belief transmitted by the tradition of the icon, which I embraced and tried to transfer to painting tout court. Then I noticed that the ground always tended to rise to the surface, even erasing the painted figures. At a certain point, this surfacing of the ground led to the negation of every ground, allowing the canvas to appear unprimed and without intervention. The spontaneous but necessary revelation, beyond every noise and history, of the silent power of White.

There was no design in this, if by design we mean the decision to make some- thing whose fundamental traits we are already aware of and that we intend to translate into the real. It is doubtful that the art of painting can proceed by de- sign; it is instead practice that dismisses the pretenses. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a method, if by method we mean etymologically venture down a path that we wish to take, even without knowing where it leads, because we instantly feel that regardless of the destination there is something about it that pertains Melaina Gaia, black Earth: this is the colour that Alcman, the lyrical master of the Spartan choirs, attributed to the earth in verses called Nocturnal; indeed, it also nourishes the most hidden forms of life, the ones that the eye does not know and prefers not to look at. It is the Night of the living, each entrusted to his or her species, which they will not be able too escape except in dream.

The Black of the common biological fate of thinking and unthinking beings. That the former can explore, but only in secret, sheltered from the diurnal reality in the sweet but forceful exile of the night. “O Night, O sweetest time, though black of hue”, wrote Michelangelo.

For Delacroix there were fortynine kinds of black, even though the alchemy of painting believes there are far fewer: Lamp or Smoke Black, the matter of the words; Vine Black, in a Blue key; Ebony or Bone Black, in a Red key; Stone Black, in a Silver key; China ink black, a liquid mixture of burnt fish bones, glue, and licorice that becomes the ink of painting; Squid Ink Black, the secretion of those that must hide; Mummy Black, a forbidden substance, subtracted from a dream of immortality, which Tintoretto used for portraits.

I took a canvas already woven in one of these Blacks, intact, without preventing me from imagining the last of these as their spiritual compendium. The colour Black discloses unspeakable possibilities. It is the night of the body and of mem- ory, of the mind and of matter after their consumption as they await another life. Here, in the blindness of the eye and in the absence of the object, through painting I pursued the shape of the Earth known as landscape, seeking to bring it close to me and bringing to the light at least a part, before losing it and becoming lost forever in its Blackness.