Italian Imaginary. A question of space. Pietro Gaglianò
“ For when the intellect puts forth refined and judicious conceptions, the hand which has practised drawing for many years exhibits the perfection and excellence of the arts as well as the knowledge of the artist.” Giorgio Vasari
Drawing is not only a medium but can be described as a space for thought where the artist is at the centre of a dense network of relationships with things, their image, and the complexity of the tangible world. This is why drawing, as well as painting, takes on a political scope: because it includes in its own production and manifestation the presence of the other. In this continuous exchange the perception of the social world comes into play, with people and movements entering and leaving the work’s surface and always being a constituent part of its existence. From the Middle Ages onwards, residents of Italian cities have constructed this relationship with art. In the great cycles of frescoes, in the representations of civic space and in the symbolic ones of myth or religion, they have observed the forms of art by intensely participating in an experience that concerns and enriches their lives. They have not only found themselves and their world in the semblance of representation but in terms of an intelligent presence. What has changed today, after a century and a half of emancipation and aesthetic revolutions that have subverted the social culture of the European brand, is the position of artists; their independence won from the roles of hegemonic commissions has made it possible to free pictures from any didactic function. In this sense, in this dimension between the author, the work and their interlocutors, there is real room for the possible, the uninterrupted, and the autonomous: a synonym of freedom.
The three artists gathered in Italian Imaginary approach drawing with different motives and with original and very personal interpretations. For Giuseppe Stampone it is the cardinal medium of all his art. It is a vigorous and extensive aesthetic affirmation. For Luca Pancrazzi it is a meditation on the poetic questions and processes of representation, and runs alongside painting, sometimes preceding and sometimes eluding it. For Sergio Breviario it almost has the character of a breakthrough compared to the other languages used: drawing crosses them, supports them, and questions them. The common trait that frames the research of all three is the assumption of drawing as an exercise in knowledge, a practice as much intellectual as practical. Artists always start from the observation of the tangible world that surrounds them: in the extension between the mind and the hand holding a pen, charcoal or pastel, the act of understanding takes shape, that is, literally, to understand by including and assimilating. The formal restitution of this process does not aim for the reproduction of the visible or for verisimilitude, which is never necessary except as an interpretative choice; but it is in this attention to truth, even in its heretical conjugations, in its critical implications, in terms of reinvention, the possible common trait of an Italian way of drawing, as described in the variety of the work of Breviario, Pancrazzi and Stampone.
It is difficult to describe the layers of references that nourish Sergio Breviario’s research. His work is conducted as a continuous critical review of the apparatuses of art and systems of channelling it set up by the system (which is sometimes confused with art). His works occur at the convergence of different techniques, even if not mutually congruent, connecting the languages of tradition to performance, installation, video, and the combined use of completely irregular materials and objects. The results could be defined as devices for questioning; in their presence visitors find themselves faced with a challenge, for which they are fortunately unprepared. This could bring both them and the work closer to a new and unpredictable form of presence (and the latter seems to observe this development with pleasure and curiosity). Drawing is apparently a unifying factor between the various parts put in place by Breviario, having an almost classical aspect at first glance. But the heteroclite patrimony of iconographies to which the author looks instead requires a further shift: they precipitate a certain taste for medieval miniatures, grotesque Flemish and German hallmarks, the canon of Renaissance portrait and a whole series of symbolisms and metaphysical twists that seem to refer to a line of great twentieth century Italian authors. With regard to all this, Breviario creates a texture of small disturbances of the compositional norm that have a centrifugal effect and are gathered, finally, in the extreme chiasmus concocted by the artist: the creation of a dimension that is almost sub specie aeternitatis. The drawings have a timeless surface, given both by the background and by the technique used: with specialised technologies the sheets of polyester paper are glued on a mirror, creating a lunar space, colourless and almost without depth (except for the phantasmatic reflection of the viewer’s face floating in the mirror). On this plane the artist draws with a mixed technique that includes graphite, silver, aluminium and lead point. The choice of durable and resistant materials is part of the search for a place: that of the work’s existence, perceptively eternal. The faces and shapes drawn by Breviario take on the appearance of everlasting idols, in contrast to the instability that surrounds them.
In Luca Pancrazzi’s works there is a recurring perception of a movement that takes place on this side of the drawn or painted surface: a continuous shift of the gaze, almost always horizontal, at head height, or, more descriptively, at the height of a person seated in a vehicle. Whether it is aerial views of the Engadin Mountains, the hills of Lebanon, Milan’s most famous skylines or peri-urban visions of any city or industrial district, Pancrazzi always infuses into his work the dynamic impression of the one-to-one relationship with which he has observed the environment. The photographic documentation of the urban landscape images, which the artist perceives as constantly changing, runs in parallel to their translation into drawing. In the observer’s digital memory and retina the scenes wrap themselves as if they were part of a single narrative, an inexhaustible journey that spills over onto canvas, paper and other media. In the series of Indian ink works on view the techniques of drawing and painting overflow into each other, and every single work is linked to all the others as if they were frames of a single video shot, made by shooting in a circle. The drawings follow one another like pages in the notebook of a (motorised) flâneur and share the character of scattered notes, glances at the city internalised and returned without the desire to illustrate it. Pancrazzi’s work, in fact, has no documentary intent in its formal results; on the contrary, even in the representation of architecture or easily recognisable scenarios, the experimentation of the medium takes over. The author presents in two-tone, monochrome, the dematerialisation of the canvas and the decomposition of the figuration, sometimes denying the very meaning of the image in order to enhance the poetic dimension of the technique, the gamble in the artist’s vision, and the infinite possibilities of declination of reality through the language of art. In works in pen and ink, especially small-format works, this inclination is articulated through a series of gestures of freedom (with respect to balance, geometry, and initial inspiration) that takes an almost musical trend. The works follow one another as variations on a theme, a sequence of notes that is repeated as it changes and gives a very strong formal unity to each series.
Giuseppe Stampone has repeatedly defined his work as an artist as that of an ‘intelligent photocopier’. These words which, in addition to the recognition of manual skill, are accompanied by a presumed minimisation of talent, instead hide an amazing ability to condense a strong poetic vision and a clear and unmistakable aesthetic. For the artist, pen drawing has an almost obsessive character and is similar to a discursive construction where, picture after picture, a cosmos of iconographic, philosophical, and political links takes shape. Among the artist’s favourite subjects are scenes from Tuscany, taken from life or from famous artworks. It is the most famous among the landscapes represented in painting and any other language, now stratified through centuries of anthropisation. It is a universal model of balance, manifest between the work of man and the form of nature. The genesis of the iconic Tuscan landscape is contextual to the genesis of the very concept of landscape and the optical and mental instruments to observe it: the modern systematisation of central perspective has its historical melting pot in early Renaissance Florence, with the works of Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello and the studies of Leon Battista Alberti and Piero della Francesca. With central perspective the whole world is subjected to a mathematical transposition of the gaze, measured and disciplined by a grid of lines, celebrating the anthropocentric principle and the submission of nature. Stampone’s work is a critical interpretation of this appropriation of the visible: his reinterpretations of the masterpieces of painting of past centuries always contain semantic distortions that call into question the primacy of European brand culture and its financial conception (it is in the period just mentioned that the root of capitalism developed). Representation in the monochrome stroke of pen or graphite reopens the control of the landscape and makes it problematic. What we can observe in Stampone’s works goes beyond the representation of a rural idyll: it is a mise en abyme in which the picture contains and declares its inability to duplicate. It is the picture that narrates a picture that in turn speaks of the desire to reduce the world to pictures. It is an accusation of the idolisation of pictures, where it is necessary to remember that ‘eidos’ (idol) in Greek means both ‘figure’ and ‘representation of the figure’.
We can conclude with Giorgio Vasari, the founder of modern art historiography, who, writing about drawing, said, “the parent of the three arts of ours, architecture, sculpture and painting”, highlights its intellectual aspect. At the root of the modern conception of Italian and European art lies therefore this profession of trust in the quality of drawing, which “has its origin in the intellect and draws out from many single things a general judgment” but is “a visible expression and declaration of our inner conception and of that which others have imagined and given form to in their ideas” (Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 1568). Even in the measured words of a man of the court, with the limits we recognise today, the description of the talent of art that presides over every expression of figurative ingenuity exalts the subjectivity and uniqueness of the vision with which every artist transgresses the existing.