Presentation of an artist's journey


for the occasion of Sogno di un nuovo mondo - opere recenti exhibition     vedi gallery
Museo dell’Antica Grancia, Serre di Rapolano, Italy
July 21 2001

transcription of the presentation:
(….)What I would like to present to you tonight is a synthesis of my journey as an artist starting from the year 1990 in San Francisco and concluding with the works exhibited here, which were painted in a studio in the Sienese hills earlier this year.
Firstly I would like to mention briefly why in 1990 I found myself so far from Tuscany and from my home town of Siena. I should, however, start from the very beginning and say something about my “vocation” for painting which first emerged quite suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 16. Just as sudden was my decision to enroll in the Institute of Art and in so doing to abandon the scientific studies I had started shortly before. But it must be said that this sudden passion for painting must have had quite a solid foundation given that it has never abandoned me and has continued to grow in both intensity and significance over the years.
As a matter of fact, the decision to embark on my artistic studies occurred in a period of my life characterized by intense emotional difficulties especially on an interpersonal level. Looking back I tend to see this decision as an integral part of an unconscious movement which sought to overcome the existential conflict I was going through in those years. It represented therefore an unconscious attempt to use painting to determine a change, a transformation in my life which I felt to be a vital necessity.
This profound intertwining, the relationship between art and life, the repercussion on my paintings of my emotional states and their transformation in the course of the complex process of elaborating images is a constant in my work as an artist to the point where each painting can be interpreted as a page of the diary of my life.
After completing my studies at the Istituto d’Arte di Siena, I attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze for a further four years, determined to embark on a career as a painter. On concluding my academic studies and after a series of study-trips to various European capitals, I once more felt a sudden urgent need for a separation from a daily routine characterized by repetition and isolation and which seemed at the time quite hopeless. So, unwittingly and quite by chance I found myself in San Francisco at the end of 1987 where initially I was to experience considerable difficulties in part but not solely because I was abruptly and directly confronted with a foreign language which seemed hostile and a cultural context and lifestyle which were totally new to me. Once again my artistic research and the effort to paint at all costs represented a fundamental point of reference, a sort of lifeline which would help me time and time again to neither give in nor give up in the face of difficulties.
The first images to be projected date back to 1990 and were preceded by two years of work characterized by an often tenacious struggle on my part against the impossibility to paint, as if there were an internal emptiness which made every attempt to construct an image futile. Inevitably I would end up turning the white canvas into black, where it was impossible to see a form or figure of any sort, at most one could perceive an indefinite, rarefied and timeless atmosphere.
Around the autumn of 1989 I reached the climax of this existential crisis.... every brushstroke seemed pointless and would be irredeemably and swiftly cancelled. At that time I was attending the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the most avant-guarde and important art schools of the USA where I was able to become familiar with the art scene of that city.
One morning, once again seized by a sensation of extreme dejection, I found my way to the library of the Institute where a book caught my eye on the works of Paolo Uccello, a Florentine painter of the 1400s for whom I had developed a great passion years back when I was completing my studies at the Istituto d’Arte.

Leafing through that book I was immediately seized by a myriad of stimuli so irresistibly beautiful did the multicolored images appear.... I would insert a particular from one of these paintings into the canvas I was working on and which I had just left on its easel downstairs. A painting which was in truth dominated by white and light blue and which seemed to represent a landscape, perhaps a seascape, characterized by an indeterminate nature, a foggy indecipherable atmosphere.
Inserting that particular within my composition in the far-right corner exalted if the image created in this way corresponded to an internal image of mine which I had finally found a way to represent. Or, perhaps, the fragment from Paolo Uccello added that touch of vitality which at that time I was unable to find within myself and which I was forced to borrow from outside.
I’d like to point out that from that moment onwards the more or less partial insertion of elements, re-elaborated to some degree, from the Italian and especially the Sienese pictorial tradition from the late Middle Ages-early Renaissance period forms a constant in nearly all my work of the 90s in the United States.

San Francisco 1990
This series of paintings marks the true beginning of my professional activity. Not only because thanks to them I experienced my first success, my first professional contact with a gallery, my first exhibitions and sales but also because they represent the beginning of a formal research and the birth of a personal “style”, determined in part by a greater relationship with my tools as a painter, by a more physical relationship, more closely engaged with the very act of painting.
I was beginning a process that tended towards a fusion, a synthesis between idea and execution, image and matter. Whereas prior to this moment the mental aspect had prevailed over the actual execution of the painting and the images had been impressed onto the canvas rather than originating from, being fashioned from the materials themselves. Fundamental to my research was the use of new tools and materials: palette knife, modeling paste, crumpled up tissue-paper applied in layers and glued onto the canvas etc.
Each painting of this period had a long and tormented development. The completion of each painting can be seen as the resolution of a conflict, often accompanied by dreams which reflected the process of the creation of the work.
I’d like to say something by way of explanation as to why I was so strongly attracted to the painting of the late 1300s and early 1400s which represented the transition from Medieval to Renaissance art. As we know, Sienese painters did not fully embrace the lessons of the Florentine Renaissance but continued to refer to the narrative tradition of the Middle Ages which was rather naive and anecdotal, enriching it, however, with research into a spatial depth which was conducted intuitively rather than in the illusionistic and somewhat rational manner of the Renaissance.
It was as if I could perceive in the images of these artists the presence of an expressivity which went beyond the subject represented, filling the painting with tension and a special, sometimes almost magical atmosphere.
What also struck me was the insertion out of context of elements which had nothing to do with the subject of the picture, more often than not of a religious nature, and which would take on new and undecipherable meanings, such as the two gigantic black crows in the sky in the painting “Saint Anthony Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold” of the Maestro dell’Osservanza, which dominate the scene and appear to be the true protagonists. Or like the little boat that seems to have run aground on a green field and the extraordinary trees in the background which take on almost human forms and are full of life.

New York 1991-92
Around autumn of 1990 an important phase of research both on a personal and artistic level began to take shape... I had the sensation that finally I had found the kind of solid foothold which would allow me to continue to encounter and explore new realities without succumbing.
I was, in short, ready for my next big step... so soon after at the beginning of 1991 I moved from San Francisco to the great metropolis of New York.
During my first few months of work in New York I found the rarefied atmosphere of my paintings, which had characterized also the art works I had created in San Francisco, quite insufferable. The insistence on using dark tones and earth brown tonalities also created problems and difficulties in their execution as the brushstrokes on the canvas and therefor the formation of the image was not easy to distinguish.
After many attempts, around May of the same year, I managed to bring to light a further change, once again with a little help from Paolo Uccello and from Ambrogio Lorenzetti, in particular his famous small boat ("Landscape", recently attributed by critics to Sassetta), which I had already inserted into some works in 1990 and would re-elaborate in numerous others. Figures and forms begin to emerge, whilst my palette grew richer and I was no longer strictly limited to dark colours.
In the paintings completed around 1992, many of which inspired by a Sassetta’s work, “S. Antony beaten by the devils”, greater importance is placed not only on the subject matter of the images but also on their execution. The material grows thicker; the dense acrylic impasto applied to the canvas almost exclusively with a spatula cannot be removed but only added to. The images that emerge are the result of layer upon layer of matter.
What begins to take hold in these paintings is a method of working in phases typical of all my work in the 90s. The development of an idea, persisting until the theme exhausts itself, always goes hand in hand with a transformation of “style” and thus providing confirmation of the impossibility of separating the ideation from the physical creation of a work..... as if new contents can only emerge through new forms.
The transition from one series of works to another is always marked by a period during which I feel quite empty and unable to create; perhaps this may be due to a difficulty in breaking away from the artistic elaboration of the previous series of works which in turn then prevents me from divining something new worth developing.

The fall of the rebel angels  New York 1993
With this series of works, inspired by the painting of the same name of the 1300s housed in the Louvre, I felt that  I had finally put behind me the previous  period, finally I could tolerate images with definition, forms whose contours emerge and stand out from brightly colored backgrounds and are no longer hidden and suffocated by a rarefied atmosphere.
Their creation marked a special moment.... for many years I considered them my most important works, the most “successful”, those I was most proud of and perhaps I still do; this may have been due to the successful fusion of ideation and realization (they too are painted with palette knife and with a rich acrylic impasto), perhaps to their monumental character or their grand visual impact or to the unconscious content they portray of which I was, however, unaware.
For about a year after their completion I was unable to produce anything important; every attempt would end up being a desperate mechanical repetition of the process that had led to their creation. At the heart of this crisis lay the more or less conscious conviction that I was incapable not only of going beyond but of ever again equaling their artistic level.

Interior landscapes  New York 1994-96
This series represents a going beyond the crisis which followed the completion of “The fall of the rebel angels”, if only for the fact that my research into images took off again. Perhaps it’s not really a chance happening that the first work of this series, a small canvas  which was then followed in rapid succession by other works, was completed in my studio in Siena, during a summer holiday spent in Italy.
I could also put this renewed activity down to a change in painting technique. At a conscious level in fact I thought that this would oblige me to find a different construction of the image and therefore to achieve new results; the works of this series are in oil, a painting technique which, except for a few sporadic attempts, I hadn’t utilized for years. This new technique allowed me for a more intimate, even organic relationship between idea and execution: the ideas were immediately transformed in the fluid and rapid movement of the paint-filled brushstrokes without any intermediary whatsoever, without heavy impastos to worry about, to prepare and apply onto the canvas before they could dry out. I could add and easily take off brushstrokes of color, so that an error could be quickly corrected, a sudden change introduced or the original color brought back.
Although with references to Sienese art still, these works are constructed quite freely and in a rather personal way. This series, more than all the others, is rich in images and their realization entailed perhaps less conflict. It has also generated the greatest success I’ve had both professionally and commercially.

Invisible movement  New York – Siena (Montechiaro) 1997-1998
In these works I have attempted to represent the human figure, to represent interior movement, something quite indecipherable and uncertain which perhaps alludes to “primordial” ways; atmospheric images seemingly unfocused which recall a reality which is intangible and immaterial.
They were created without a model but with the help of a number of photographs and painted with a myriad of different colored brushstrokes placed side by side, whose movement defines either the background or more delicately the figure. The latter has no defined contours and never stands out from the background, with which is intimately connected.

  New York – Siena (Montechiaro) 1998-1999
The element of continuity with the previous series is represented by the presence of the human figure which is now determined by the lines which form its contours and has been inserted in a more defined and certain space. With this series in fact an interest in the line begins to emerge, though in embryonic form. What begins to take form is the idea of constructing forms that start from black line, from its movement, although this theme, which will be further developed in the next series of works, “Dream of a new world”, which is exhibited here, does not truly evolve in this series of works. The black lines, which often stand out from the background, break off just before the figures, which seem rather than formed by, to be enclosed within the lines.
The major limitation of these paintings, completed by the end of 1999, seems to me to be their structure, generally rather rigid and based on preliminary drawing. This is perhaps the most figurative series of works I have ever realized. Once again I have inserted elements from Medieval painting such as Lorenzetti’s small boat and Sassetta’s little devil while the human figures are from paintings by Titian and Rubens.

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Dream of a new world
 Siena (Montechiaro) 2000-2001
The end of the previous series was followed by a profound crisis once again, the vital need to have something new emerge coupled with a totally inability to create new images. Nearly all my attempts at painting ended up producing dark images where one could barely see dimly colored lines. However, the feeling that prevailed was that of uselessness, of incapacity to bring into existence ideas with any consistency. I could compare the intensity of this crisis with the equally severe one I had been through about 10 years before in San Francisco.
I must say that it was similar but at the same time also quite different since I seemed to possess a greater vitality than before. The way I managed to overcome this crisis was quite different too. In fact, I now felt very strongly the need to succeed in creating my images in a more spontaneous way without needing any preconstituted element, whether it be Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s small boat or a figure from Titian or any sort of preliminary drawing for which I felt a kind of profound aversion.
I tried working on paper, a material which I had once considered fragile, almost tenuous. Now, instead, the sheet of paper stimulated me to look for an image knowing full well that I could easily just screw it up and throw it away and start again on a new white sheet.
In creating these works I started from lines, colored lines which interweaving create forms which remain open, never rigidly defined. They are contraposed  by other structures in the background defined almost geometrically by blurred black lines.  Some of the works on paper completed in the year 2000 are also present in the current exhibition because they allow one to understand the paintings which came after.
Many have asked me the meaning of the black letters. In reality I really don’t know exactly but I can say that the idea followed straight after that of working on line and was prompted by some preparatory group work with a number of artist friends for a collective exhibition. One afternoon, entering the studio where we would meet every week, I noticed a pile of a wooden letters abandoned in the corner of the room. And all at once I envisaged them as black, pitch black. We tried to create a sculpture with the letters but it was never completed. Later I though of inserting them into my new paintings where  I was struggling between my rejection of using recognizable figures and the sense of anguish provoked by abstract imagery. The letters, with their allusion to language acquired a sense which, despite the fact they were defined figures, remained mysterious, as if undecipherable.  Overall I felt their presence to be necessary in my new paintings.
The works which are exhibited in the halls of this museums certainly do not represent an end point, but constitute the beginning of a research I have yet to define... I must add however that the path undertaken towards their realization has opened up to something completely new for me.