lecture at the Accademia di Brera

brerawebmeeting with the artist Franca Marini:
experiences as an artist between Siena, San Francisco and New York

January 17 2003, Accademia di belle Arti di Brera, Milan

transcription of the presentation:
Firstly I would like to thank Professors Esposito and Braga for inviting me to present my work. Now a brief word about my professional and personal background before turning to my work as an artist. I attended the Istituto d’Arte di Siena, and then the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. I followed the usual iter, just as each one of you in this room, I imagine, is currently doing, of anyone who is sure of his/her artistic vocation from the very start. After completing my academic studies, I traveled and spent a few months in London, then, a little later, at the end of 1987 unexpectedly I found myself in San Francisco. At that time I was suffering a period of great personal difficulty and a sense of frustration which was without doubt heightened by the atmosphere in Siena, the city where I was born. Siena, an art city, is so very beautiful, as is the surrounding countryside... a beauty which transported me to a timeless dimension and on which I felt a sort of dependence. At the same time I felt oppressed by the provincial climate of the town, which felt alien to me and to which I attributed at least in part the responsibility of my profound sense of isolation. Besides, I was frightened by the thought of becoming an artist in Italy, where I felt it would be impossible to gain recognition on the sole basis of my work. However, as I mentioned, I did not make a conscious decision to go to the United States...I had no concept of the new world I was to encounter, it simply happened suddenly, born of my urgent need to make a clean break from environment in which I was living, of my longing for a change that would be not only physical but above all emotional. The one thing I was certain of was my desire for an artistic career, to be an artist.
In San Francisco I attended the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the most avant-garde art schools in the United States, where I came into contact with the art scene of that city. This was to prove a very significant experience, providing a direct confrontation with the American art world. The next important chapter of my life, both personally and artistically speaking, started in early 1991 when I moved to New York, where I stayed for the next ten years.
The slides I am about to show you are a synthesis of my work from 1990 in San Francisco to my most recent works created in Siena. As you will shortly see for yourselves, my means of expression is painting, so my main interest is image. I start creating an image from a stimulus or an idea, though without a preconceived mental image of how it’s going to turn out. Between the initial idea and the final image, sometimes produced through an almost extemporary elaborative process while at other times the process is more complex, taking days or even weeks, there is always a difference, I'd say there always has to be a difference, an element of surprise. I believe that any image created to be truly artistic must somehow contain within itself an element of originality, surprising in so far as impossible to foresee prior to its creation. This can come about during the process of construction of the image, during that process of physical creation to which I attach great importance since it is the moment when, perhaps due to a temporary suspension of consciousness, unconscious dimensions of the artist come into play without which I do not think it possible to truly create. If he is to work well the artist must "lose his head", he must not think but simply rely on his professional know-how and his intuition. The greater his professional capacities, his skill and confidence in the use of the tools of the trade, the more he will be able to let go and get away  from a rational thought mode.
Personally speaking my most important works have often proved to be those in which I  struggled hardest or rather those whose creation  led me to a point when I felt completely lost - that was the moment when I knew I had to question everything I had done, dive into the work, risking everything I had created up to that time. If I could find a way to “re-emerge” then the work was bound to be particularly significant. If not, I would simply have to start from scratch.
I am fully aware of the fact that choosing painting as a medium is now a fairly tough choice ..... one risks being labeled “retro” and so on. Besides, I do not in the least believe that painting is the only valid means of expression, I'd be insane if I thought such a thing. It's just that, in part because I find it particularly congenial to my artistic sensibility, in part perhaps out of laziness, it continues to be my preferred mode of expression. I confess, however, that I have become interested in video and I hope in the future to be able to experiment with this medium. As I was saying, I think the medium of expression is important, but not crucial for the artistic result, in the sense that there can be no hierarchy of expressive means. However each artist, and this can be important, needs to discover the one most congenial to him / her.
A prevalent feature in the field of contemporary visual art, which seems to me questionable and with which you will all, I suppose, have to engage, is the frenzy, the conscious determination to produce something new at all costs, a novelty more or less conceptual in nature (derived, albeit with variations, from the Duchamp provocations of 1913-17), for which what is important is not so much the work itself but the thought, rather rational in my opinion, which produces it and the concept it aims to express. Thought that often seeks originality in the abstruse, the enigmatic, the bizarre, the incomprehensible.
Between the image conceived, which arises from the intention of the artist to communicate a specific thought, and the image realized there is no difference; the image realized will be that conceived, envisaged in the mind beforehand. In the creation of this conceptual kind of work the process of constructing the image in which the artist can manage to draw on unconscious thought is abolished or much diminished.
Let's face it, it is not sufficient to paint to be an artist…. there's a plenty of painting around that is not art but is rather an academic exercise and so also extremely rational. Artistic creation should be characterized by a depth of image since it should be the expression of the artist's inner world. If this is the case, then it will be original and probably be expressed through forms that are new, although this may not always be obvious or immediately discernible. To achieve this the artist needs both skill, as I have already pointed out, in the use of his chosen means of expression, a factor not be underestimated and which also requires years of training, and a surge of unconscious vitality and imagination that an artist as such must possess. This is not a once and for all gift, but rather can sometimes be lost and so need to be recovered and renewed. A complex problem that can obviously be neither posed nor solved rationally.
One feature of my work is that it proceeds in stages that may last up to 2, 3 or more years during which I develop an image, an idea, until I have exhausted its possibilities. Each stage is also characterized by a particular style, as if to produce new images it is also necessary to explore a new means of creating them. A necessity best understood if we presume that a work is all the more valid the more the idea, the content is merged with the form or the more  form is expression of  content.
Between one phase and another often periods of transition occur, characterized by a kind of creative block, by difficulty or a sense of impotence in conceiving images which feel valid, which will lead me somewhere new. There is a precise correlation between my ability to create images, to paint and my subjective situation and life experience. The darkest moments of my life have been characterized by an almost total inability to create images. This, however, is another story, to explore perhaps on another occasion.

slide projection starts
A characteristic of my work from 1990 until 1999 is the use, the integration into my works of elements borrowed from the medieval, or rather late medieval, painting tradition, from Sienese painting in particular (…). Around 2000 I began research into something entirely different,taking as my starting point the movement of line. (…) (1).


The latest series of works, Condensation, starts at the beginning of 2002 and is still  evolving. In pursuing my artistic research I turned this time to the process by which a collage is constructed, which I find particularly congenial since the image is built up without a pre-established design. Scraps of paper quickly torn into diverse forms and dimensions replace brush strokes in building the image and become an important physical entity with which I can interact and which may suggest ideas.
There are links with the previous series of works, Dream of a new world, especially with regard to the approach, that is to say, both are built without recourse to an initial design. Between the two researches, however, there are also significant differences. Line, a central element of the former, almost disappears in the latter, where the image is formed with difficulty from fragments of paper placed side by side, as if challenged to emerge from a chaos of colored fragments; chaos which is though only apparent because when you think about it, they follow a precise movement which traces or underlines the forms  that gradually begin to emerge. This process is, however, quite long and laborious because the image is constructed through extreme fragmentation. The final result is an almost three dimensional stratification of a myriad of fragments which together make up the image, in many cases only perceivable from a distance.
A recurring motif is that of a grid divided into irregular geometric shapes of various colors, a sort of harlequin which has its antecedent in certain works from 2001.
As I mentioned, the development of this series of work is still in progress, so I'm not yet able to offer a critical analysis... I hope this will be possible later after achieving at least interesting results! (2)

(1) for more on these topics see Museo dell’Antica Grancia Presentation.
(2) the collages from which I started were later transformed into large and medium sized canvases for which I adopted the same method of construction with only rare pictorial interventions. (November 2003)