Gabriele Simongini: solo show From the slant shadow, Carlo Bilotti Museum, Rome – Catalogo De Luca Editori d’Arte 2019

SUSPENDED BREATHS                                                                                       

I loved to admire the beauty of things,

to discover in the imperceptible,

through insignificant things,

the poetic soul of the universe.

Fernando Pessoa

“It was one of those days, a minute away from snowing. There was this electricity in the air. You can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just… dancing with me, like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That was the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. Video is a poor excuse, I know. Buti t helps me remember. I need to remember. Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world I feel I can’t take it. And my heart is just going to cave in.” One could watch and keep watching endlessly the magical and hypnotic scene of the plastic bag dancing in the wind among autumn leaves immortalised by a masterpiece like American Beauty, by Sam Mendes, with a soundtrack by Thomas Newman, that came out in cinemas exactly twenty years ago, in 1999. The words – inspired by Ricky Fitts and addressed to Jane Burnham, while he shows her the video of the scene that he has shot himself – praise the infinite beauty hidden in the apparently most banal, overlooked and invisible day-to-day details of a world dominated by pragmatism, by untrammelled consumerism, by an obsessively utilitarian concept of human relations, by now founded exclusively on the principle of convenience. And how can one not reflect on that “need to remember” through images, that sweet and melancholy yet profoundly essential need to lose oneself in the vertigo of memory as an authentic inner and existential source, with the illusion of recovering that which is unrecoverable? The transcendentalist DNA of the film, its locating of beauty in small and neglected things, the continuity that binds its beings in a circular course composed of mysterious connections, seem to echo, through a path moving back in time, in some of the many admirable passages from Walt Whitman. The smallest sprout shows there is really no death/And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it/ And ceas’d the moment life appear’d./All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses/ And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” That “nothing collapses nothing is ever lost” from Whitman’s great poem, that dance of plastic bags among the leaves, set against a red-brick courtyard, came back to my mind, mutatis mutandis, thanks to the evocative, refined, synesthetic painting (painting that is also poetry, painting that is also music, painting that is also dance) of Vincenzo Scolamiero, forever furrowed by a melancholically unquiet wind, which, first and foremost, is the wind of inner breath. It can be seen clearly in all the works exhibited at the Bilotti Museum. They can be admired chorally, like frames in a pictorial film on fragility, but also on absolute desire. There’s a kind of ideal osmosis between the internal and external exhibition spaces, with that poetic nature suggested by his paintings and papers through small, anti-heroic relics and remains in a microcosm made of small things: twigs, dry leaves, tufts of grass, pebbles, reeds, nests. An attentive and patient visitor could find their real equivalents in the surrounding Villa Borghese park, before or after visiting the exhibition. But what Scolamiero is seeking is “another” nature, immersed in an almost amniotic dimension that often becomes umbratile and visionary. His are “hybrid icons” with forms in transit towards mystery, fluidity, a becoming capable of annulling all distinctions between abstract and figurative art. The title of the exhibition is that of a cycle of works on show here, Dalla declinante ombra (From the slant shadow), so distantly remote from “social”, “English” and “hi-tech” titles, the glamour of so many exhibitions poised between over exposed, sociological plagiarisms, the ‘rubbish dump’ effect or “theme park style”. The exhibition takes us by the hand and leads us steadily back on a path of inner reality, of poetic illumination, on a path towards origins that trace back to Celan, Rilke and Hölderlin (to mention just some of Scolamiero’s lyric reference points) in a mythic space realized through a painting style capable of being simultaneously both as dense as a shadowy wood and as transparent as a crystal, as precise as a mathematical formula and as evocative as a lyrical song, existential and potent on the wave of informal heritage but also a light and accomplished manifestation of spirituality such as those found in an oriental context. Thus, our artist could well agree with what Kandinsky wrote about his own painting, defining it as “a piece of ice within which burns a flame”.

The “slanting shadow” refers to a path of descent towards nothingness or towards Hades, in the chthonic world (“All here below is symbol and shadow,” warns Pessoa with his oracular tone) evoking the path that Eurydice had to retrace after being tragically gazed on by Orpheus, emblem of the poet. The dead must be left free. But poetry gives life to a dimension in which they can live (which brings to mind the epitaph on Paul Klee’s gravestone: “I cannot be grasped in the here and now. For my dwelling place is as much among the dead and the yet unborn. Slightly closer to the heart of creation than usual. But not nearly close enough.”) And Scolamiero is thinking above all of the poem Orpheus Eurydice Hermes by Rainer Maria Rilke, composed in 1904 and defined by Iosif Brodskij as “a disturbing dream in which one wins something very precious only to lose it a moment later.” Moving in random order, the verses dedicated to the underworld also help us understand much of Scolamiero’s painting, populated by apparitions and mysterious presences/absences where the visible becomes the go-between that gives form to the invisible. “That was the strange mine of souls. As secret ores of silver they passed like veins through its darkness”; and yet: There were cliffs and straggling woods. Bridges over voids, and that great grey blind lake, that hung above its distant floor like a rain-filled sky above a landscape”. Thus our own artist, with his urge for the absolute, could well adopt words used by Rilke himself (Letters to a Young Poet) “I’ve been unable to express […] all my amazement at how men for millennium have become accustomed to life and death (and let’s not mention God) and yet still today (and for how much longer?), faced with these primal, most immediate, in fact precisely unique tasks (what else do we have to do?) are so unprepared, like novices, between dismay and elusion, are so miserable. Is it not incomprehensible?”  For that matter, in Scolamiero’s work the titles themselves are also bearers of poetic resonance. The already mentioned Dalla declinante ombra; or, Come il cielo alla terra legati (Like sky bound to the earth), Lascia parlare il vento (Let the wind speak), Ogni cosa ad ogni cosa ha detto addio (Every thing to every thing has said farewell) and so on.

The figurative and natural forms (the dance of veils that runs through his works as a hymn to spiritual lightness is an endless source of marvel), objects rendered metaphoric by the artist, live in a spellbinding state of spatial and poetic suspension, a Breath crystal, to use the title of Celan’s brief but dazzling poetic anthology. Yet nothing is left vague or indeterminate. In fact, they are generated by the meticulous slowness of a pictorial gesture holding its breath. (Celan and his Breathturn again come to mind, a moment freed in the void between inhaling and exhaling, in which time, will and ego all halt) in order to not interrupt the absolute continuity of the creative act that gives life to a concrete, tangible space, “almost trompe l’oeil” Vincenzo tells us, well aware that painting is always illusion, capable of opening onto inner truths. In this way those admirable “speakers” of emotional resonance that are his paintings and his papers carry with them both the mobile fluidity of emotions as well as a lucid, steely objectification that reflects the analytical side of Scolamiero’s personality (“As a young man,” Vincenzo tells us, “I admired and studied Bacon’s “cages” with their ferocious detachment.”). One is left amazed, admiring the pictorial oxymoron that renders airy immateriality as concrete, material, haptic, almost lenticular, while conserving its lightness and luminous transparency. The tyranny and dominion of surface is dissolved in polycentric spaces that turn, dance, open and close before our eyes, revealing infinite potential. The polyphony of these works is also reconfirmed from time to time by the union proposed between different techniques and materials, masterfully modulated in an on-going eulogy of the pictorial act: oil, ink, polyvinyl, acrylics, pigments. By vocation Scolamiero’s research leans towards an intense monochrome as the womb for the birth of the image that it is evoking. In any case, all his works rarely contain more than two or three colours in order to reinforce the precise and essential inner and emotional concentration that the artist is aiming for. In this exhibition the reds of rust or blood in his recent paintings stand out in particular (from the cycles In un giro di vento (In a gust of wind) and Come aria alla terra legati (Like air bound to the earth), some of them realized for the occasion. They carry with them traces and memories of the incandescent and visionary reds of Scipione, the short-lived extraordinary star that illuminated Roman and Italian painting with masterpieces painted in just four, unforgettable years between 1929 and 1933. Linking the two artists, with all their differences, is an idea of absolute painting: the truth of an inevitable revelation.


Gabriele Simongini