The Interior Landscapes

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Robert C. Morgan
exhibition catalogue, Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1996

There is a story in these paintings - a story that is on the border between fantasy and reality. These paintings are microcosms of a spiritual awakening told within the simplicity of a mythological world. Franca Marini's new series of paintings is about the interior landscape - the place where reality is transformed and given a mythical stature. Yet her knowledge of these images comes from a perception of the exterior world. To paint from the interior and give it a semblance of reality is a single-minded task. It requires a certain obedience to one's vision, to one's inner vision. Access to Franca Marini's paintings may come by way of her Siennese heritage, but there is more to the story. The "Interior Landscapes" are much more than an historicist's venture from the past into the present.
Franca Marini came to the United States several years ago, initially settling on the West Coast in San Francisco where she attended the San Francisco Art Institute. She returned to Italy for a few months, then came back to New York where she has been working for nearly half a decade. Although these "Interior Landscapes" are informed by the villages of Tuscany, their symbolic presence becomes the issue. The huddled groups of people with their horses and cattle, the looming sky with its pear-shaped clouds, the hills, the strange, mystical light, the abstract specters, the angels in black and white, soaring through the heavens -all of this is a far cry from Manhattan's hard-edged urbanity. Yet, to distance oneself from the source of memory begets a certain pleasure. To get into another mode of reality in order to re-discover one's past, and then to transform that reality is the task of art (or psychoanalysis). As the writer Thomas Wolfe discovered, sometimes being too close to one's origin may prevent the likelihood of ever discovering how one feels. The struggle to learn of one's origins may require a necessary distance.
Some artists are possessed with themselves in such a way as to project a deluge of narcissism into their work; but then there are others who express hope and who give us another understanding of life, a fresh point of view. Franca Marini is an artist who delivers a story through a highly articulate visual vocabulary. It is a story that emanates from another source, a source that is closer to nature than the cynical endgame of fashion and urban despair. To really see these paintings offers the viewer something special. To read the color and the forms and to look deeply into the texture of these surfaces is an experience that goes beyond the normative structure of everyday reality.
To experience Marini's paintings is the opposite of designating oneself as victim in the electronic, hypertextual morass at the end of the second millennium. From a Buddhist point of view, one might say that the paintings of Franca Marini affirm a faith in mind. They are the gift of a painter who understands that life never really gets beyond the basics, and that the history of art is essentially a lesson in how we envision those basics. This is what brings the sun-drenched bottles of Morandi in contact with Malevich's Suprematism. They are works that represent a simplicity and directness -a painter's vision that is made manifest for others to see.
Franca Marini's paintings of village people huddled together under a huge sky offer a reverberation of color and an excitement about life. This is what happens when life exists in relation to the spirit of art. And what is the discourse that supports this spirit? Here is a task for semioticians and social scientists to unravel. But for most viewers, the pleasure of these intimate visions, removed from the metropolis, has much to tell us. Marini has searched the interior at a distance in order to evolve a new perspective on the present. It is a discourse ultimately about painting; yet within these paintings are representations of simple lives ridden with spiritual anxieties that are close to all of us, regardless of culture, race, or class. They are paintings that represent how life stays the same and remains the source of pleasure and mystery if we allow the experience to become our source of understanding.