Is there still any sense in painting the human figure and in particular portraits?
In my youth, during visits to the National Museum of Naples, Pompeian frescoes always fascinated me. Looking at these ancient paintings I got that special feeling of wonder and amazement that for ancient Greeks was the beginning of learning. At that time, my knowledge of old heroes and their stories was very shallow thus allowing me, to a certain extent, to look at the form without its interpretation. My sight wandered across the painted surfaces being absorbed, from time to time, by some forms or patterns of colours or by small fragments of terracotta or glass tesseras mixed into the lime mortar. It seems to me that the opaque surface of fresco painting is, somehow, attracting my sight to enter inside it and through this intrinsic and determining character, fresco painting, while holding our attention on itself, shows and defines itself as something that cannot be “said”, cannot be reformulated without being lost or transformed into some kind of other.
In the last century, the focus of art shifted from illusionist representation to independent objectivity. The contemporary notion of painting is of an autonomous entity that has no other need than to assert its own existence, with no reference to visible reality. Artworks are built to exist by themselves, with no need to look like or represent any other object. A painting interacts with the sight of the observer and from this dialogue without words is born a non-intellectual awareness.
I assumed the language of fresco painting as a system, where the meaning of a work depends on the organization of its concepts and its rules. Through the invention and use of syntax the work acquires its character of oneness and it is within such a system that verification procedures can be carried out on the meaning of the work itself. Fixing the meaning of the works in the paradigms of the invented pictorial language, the data of the optical perception is read and interpreted as an order of logical relations, of a grammar of seeing.
Playing with sand, lime and mineral pigments, the basic elements in the art of fresco painting, I posed myself questions on the essence of colour and on the meaning of the very act of painting in contemporary society.
The structure and process of fresco painting are basic tools in my work that I have developed using the most modern technology.
My search has spread in various directions, always having the art of fresco painting as their source.
One of these directions is close-up portraits, even though I prefer the word effigy to portrait, it conveys in a better way the idea of a symbolic image rather than a realistic one.
Basically I have developed my fresco painting in different ways where the technique and the construction practices become appropriate procedures for the artwork.
In Minimal fresco the sand and lime mortar are not used simply as a base but the different varieties are used as colours and textures in themselves, while the distinctive element of materic fresco is the thick layers of pre-coloured mortar, which are applied with a palette knife.
Working in this way, the process of building the image becomes the subject of the work as much as the subject represented.
Sometimes a series of hand sketches will precede a photographic session. Other times I use pictures taken from the media that I use as Ready-made Rectified; that which, in the terminology of Duchamp, is obtained when the author corrects a Readymade. I post-work the images by computer graphic programs and put them together with the hand drawings, resulting in several sketches, out of which will be chosen the one for the fresco painting.
Sometime the post work process results in interesting artworks and I paint digital watercolors using the mouse and keyboard as brushes to save the memory of a certain way of painting watercolors.
Transferring a portrait onto a large format means that the subject is never seen in its totality; the portrait is produced by working on small pieces without seeing the whole image.
Difficulties of this kind are crucial to define the nature of the image that will be built up through a process. Renaissance fresco painters solved this problem through the cartoni and spolvero technique (cartoon and pouncing).
The cartoon technique is a procedural one because it gives priority to the process and defines the steps of the work before doing them.
Transferring an image on cartoons is a rigorous and limiting process. The constructive process prevails on the subject that, to some extent, becomes anonymous, in spite of the fact that it has a name.
The subject assumes a secondary role in respect to the method of constructing the image and the division of the face into single parts and their subsequent resetting together, in order to restore the whole, does not produce a loss of description; the portrayed person is always recognizable.
Marking distinctions between observed phenomena, identifying relational schemes and drawing their maps are characteristics of the human mind. Since the most ancient of times, the continuous and unstoppable activity of the human mind has been to introduce distinctions in the phenomena that we observe, characterized by a sensibility to the differences, in particular to the difference that produces a difference, which we call information, and consists in characterizing patterns of relationships and constructing their relative maps. If the construction of maps is inborn in the nature of the mental processes of the human being, the mental processes, to be able to manifest themselves, need to be structured in matter and this helps us to relate the measure of man to that of the known universe.
From this point of view, I like to look at a human face as a territory and painting as a process to draw a map of that territory, having it clear in my mind that the map is not the territory, the description is not the described, and the name is not the thing named.