Pietro Roccasecca: solo show From the slant shadow, Carlo Bilotti Museum, Rome, Catalogo De Luca Editori d’Arte, 2019
GESTURE SPACE AND MEDITATION IN THE WORK OF VINCENZO SCOLAMIERO
I have admired Vincenzo Scolamiero’s work and his works for some fifteen years and have followed the path of reflection and research through which, step by step, he has made the figure dissolve into painting.
Today I can finally write about Vincenzo Scolamiero’s painting. I can because my own research, into painting as a pre-verbal cognitive process, crosses paths with Scolamiero’s. I don’t know whether there’s a tangency between our two research paths, but Vincenzo’s work undoubtedly inspires me to ask questions and suggests answers that I now understand better. A painting like Vincenzo’s has increasingly detached itself from the universe of verbality, but not from that of thought, which instead it represents in a way that educates, concentrates and frees itself from disordered echoes, as if the pictorial gesture flows from a meditation.
The poetic of a confident, quick, exact, never reworked gesture, light, fluid and aerial which, in the potential spatiality of the surface (i.e. the preparation of the support), creates, defines and articulates a space measured by a sign that is the consequence of a movement, one that pulses with an inner rhythm. A mark that doesn’t erase, but which (in the transparency of the pigment and through the linear geometry of form) invents, constructs and evokes the dynamic of a choreography of materials, within which the pulse, weight, physicality and mind of Vincenzo dances.
In addition to the gesture there is the material – or rather, the materials – that dialogue and react with each other and the brushes (made and invented by Vincenzo according to the requirements of a work and of the moment); and the reactions of the pigment which – solicited by the gesture and the encounter with other pigments – creates places, dimensions and distances. They invent forms that, while no longer (or still not being) figures, evoke ideas and sensations, not merely visual ones.
Spatial and musical composition
The musicality of Vincenzo Scolamiero’s painting lies not only in his pictorial gesture but also in the planning and organization of the composition of his works.
In the artist’s book with autographed notes by Silvia Colasanti based on the score for a quartet of harps, Ogni cosa ad ogni cosa ha detto addio (Every thing has said farewell to every thing) (the same title of a book of poetry dedicated to Rome by Valentino Zeichen) the relationship of Scolamiero’s painting to music is made explicit. Nevertheless, it is important to remember now that Vincenzo’s pictorial inspiration is principally the observation of a space, of a place, which in painting becomes objective in the game of spatial illusions of painting itself.
If painting is the construction of an illusory space, its composition has a musical nature.
Setting aside the necessary semiotic and perceptual differences, painting has a material nature and music is an event. The former, once completed, has an independent life from that of its author and the length of perception is decided by the observer. The latter exists in the moment in which an interpreter performs it (LP, CD and WP4 are material documents of art that is an event). Finally, one needs to be aware of a substantial difference: in music the composer and the executor can be two different people, while the painter is both composer and executor (with the exception of a copyist or a forger).
For this reason, it is essential to clarify that a comparison between painting and music involves a duality: the execution and the composition. As I have said already, Vincenzo Scolamiero’s painting is a painting that flows from a movement (and I’ll return to movement later) that leaves a trace, generated by a profound concentration, from a meditation, which has already begun in the moment in which Vincenzo invents and constructs paint brushes ad hoc for the painting that he is about to execute. Regarding composition one needs to recall that, at least from the middle of the twentieth century, the painter has moved away from narration and (on a par with men of science) has engaged in the formulation of ideas and concepts (often untranslatable) which, as an artist, he or she transposes into visible forms. This new approach of the artist distances painting from theatre (musical or otherwise) and draws it closer to instrumental music, to symphony.
The painter composes visible forms in the space of the pictorial surface as the musician composes resonant forms in a musical space. And it is in the very construction of a poetic space that Vincenzo Scolamiero’s painting finds its analogy with music, as well as in movement: in the dynamic and the pulse of the rhythm of his brushstrokes.
The neuro-aesthetic of the work of Vincenzo Scolamiero
The search for a graphic and pictorial equivalent of an idea, the transposition of concepts into visible forms, has led to the simplification of forms and/or the liberation of the pictorial gesture.
In an additional step towards understanding Vincenzo’s art one can attempt a neurological analysis of his painting. The neurobiology of vision is a relatively young branch of neurology that studies the functioning of the brain in response to visual stimuli. A full summary of the neuroscientific discourse regarding visual art is out of the question here. But I’ll try to give some idea of the issue.
Following recent discoveries on the behaviour of the visual brain, the neurobiologist Semir Zeki defines vision as “an active process in the which the brain, in its search for knowledge of the world, selectively chooses from among the available data [and] generates a visual image with a very similar procedure to that implemented by an artist.”[1
What is the procedure through which the brain generates an image? Light received by the eyes is transformed by the retina into a neurological signal sent to a specific area of the brain, which in turn sends it to specialised areas of the cerebral cortex that “see” colour, form, movement and other visual characteristics. These colours, forms and movements are not “seen” simultaneously. Colours are registered before form and that before movement. The absolute times are infinitesimal. The interval between the perception of colour and that of movement is approximately 60-80 milliseconds, less than a flash of lightening. Nevertheless, the relative times are significant time lapses in the sequence of cerebral activity.
Among the many artists examined by Semir Zeki I would like to use the example of Calder to explain how artists take into account the temporality of vision and its subdivision into specialised areas. For Calder, colours obscured the clarity of his mobiles and for this reason he decided to limit himself to black and white. According to Calder, red is the colour most opposed to black and white and the perception of movement. Neurobiology – Zeki writes – has shown that when one looks at an abstract pattern of colours, the activity of the area dedicated to the “vision” of colour increases and that specialised in movement decreases. In other words, the neurobiological activity of our comprehension of colour prevails and “delays” that of movement.
Calder was therefore aware of a process of visual comprehension that neuroscience would subsequently understand.
Let’s return to look at Vincenzo’s paintings. After what has been said one can’t help noticing that he mainly uses black and white and, to a lesser extent, red (in some cases a pink) and gold. Black defines the force field in which the touches of white move. We see the movement of white on the field of black. And we now also know why the dynamic sense of the white brushstrokes on black is so evident, while in paintings in which red and gold are the dominant pair of colours the dynamic impression is reduced.
The painting in which I find myself most involved belongs to the series Basato su una storia vera (Based on a true story), (#5, acrylic on canvass – cm 80×120). Vincenzo composes his white forms on a black, soft preparation full of warmth, creating a space for stratification by means of broad, soft and sinuous acrylic brushstrokes through which the black background shines through; or a flat opaque and corrugated one like glued paper; or areas with tufts of floating cotton, all united by long white strings.
The sharp clarity of the lines marked by the strings, their diagonal disposition, besides emphasizing the space “between” the floating forms gives them physicality, structure and material consistency
“The discovery that a broad number of cells react selectively to lines with a specific orientation has been a milestone in the study of the visual brain,” writes Semir Zeki, who continues: “physiologists believe that cells of this kind are the building blocks on which the neural elaboration of forms are constructed.”
The long streaks of the slender paintbrushes, constructed ad hoc by Vincenzo, build the forms in his paintings, stimulating single cerebral cells and obliging them to lose themselves in the spaces evoked in the recognition of the formal relationships set in place by the artist; a comprehension that manifests and eludes, repeating itself continually.
Such visual impressions are due to the dynamic and the temporal sequence of inner vision and Vincenzo Scolamiero, like all great visual artists, is aware of the cerebral process of vision. Such awareness allows him to predict the reactions of the eye-brain system of the observer of his paintings, stimulating their neurobiological cognitive activity.
By stimulating neurobiological visual processes through the pictorial transposition of spatial ideas and concepts into visible forms, Scolamiero absorbs into his meditation whoever observes his paintings and reawakens the enjoyment of the free play of intellect and imagination
 (Semir Zeki, Inner vision, 1999, Italian translation, La visione dall’interno. Arte e cervello, Torino, 2003, p.35); all references to neurobiological arguments are drawn from this referenced work by Semir Zeki.
By Pietro Roccasecca