Text written for the artist Carlo Guaita, 1999
THE YELLOW OF THE FLAME; LIFE IN THE DESERT; AFTER THE WORD END
When we look at fire burning – any fire, a wood fire or that of the kitchen stove – we see the flame severed into various colours. We know that yellow reveals the presence of “impure”, chemically heavier parts. The combustion of these particles generates the blue, purer, part of the flame, produced by the aerial oxygen which reminds us of the colour of the sky.
Is there such a pure flame, completely blue – or completely white because blue leads to white? A flame that will not rest on anything heavy?
When we look at the desert we wonder at its luxuriance, at the life animating it. And yet books have prepared us to meet small – only apparently – withered plants or little long-legged jumping animals. Obviously pictures do not “forerun” the wonder that catches us in front of the living, even if they anticipate it (and by anticipating it maybe they humiliate it).
What will still grow, in the desert, and what will men look like in the future if desertification will take place? Will we still use moveable objects, or will we have to do without them?
If we have enjoyed a movie, we are glad to stay on and watch the credits. Still after the word “end” we hope there will be some extra film, a trace, a nick saying: it’s not over yet, stay a little longer. These are the signs we take home with us, joyous matter reminding us what the story we have just looked at is made of.
Why and when does the word end give us so much joy? When it ends a great story? Because it sounds like an appointment?
Dear contemporary of mine, for whom I am writing, forgive me if I place my impressions before your painting and the reflections on it. After all, isn’t interpretation – not in the speculative meaning of the term, but what the actor does when he identifies with the character he’s playing – what leads to all questions? Isn’t this what allows us to relate ourselves to the painting by living its original adventure over, even though in a different way?
So, if I try to identify with you as a scholar -or student?- of chemistry, of geography, and, finally, as a reader of philosophy, I find myself playing a part I already know: that of a “contemporary painter” who wants to bring the former world, his former life, what he was before he became a painter, into painting . Since he knows that, his entire world, his experience, will become a chromatic experience, where what he was before will be less and less important; colour will be form and judgment, joy and matter. In the impure yellows I see the need to give a non-abstract consistency to representation (to representation?), a sort of heavy base sinking into the matter of painting, not to discover its origins, but in order to better settle itself . A weight which, once placed, becomes the premise and basis of lightness and ease. The same can be said for other colours, never a “pure” tone, definable by indicating the producing company. It’s this impurity that appears to us, even before becoming a representation, a telling story.
What does this story tell us? Better yet, what does it “want” to tell us? Since apparently there actually no plot, hence no story. It tells us of a will (stubborn, preceding desire), not expressing itself as a “will for power” (or, maybe, discovering its more essential nature). A will which at first results as a private, moral choice, and later expresses itself in an essentially artistic dimension where morality is no longer a forced rule, but a qualitative and expansive dress, a creator of beauty, hence of the will to be. I know the purity of this specific impurity of colours, I know its beauty, i. e. what appears to us not in a virginal aspect – no first communion dress, please! – but adult, not tired, not cynical, with an open face.
“An impure open face” seems a contradiction: not in the experience of a painter who.darkens white in order to make it at the same time yellowish and bluish, and black greenish and reddish, and green purplish, and red grayish. The cohabitation in one single colour of more than one tone (sometimes in opposition) gives rise to a chromatic bastardization that tends to become a story. A story made of nuances, even though uniform, inconstant monochromes, literature of colours. A story made of hinted reliefs of oily colour paste, partly removed or mixed toward the borders with underlying visions of canvas wefts, obtained by scraping, as one does at the bottom of a pan because of the instinct (typical of the bastard) to reach the bottom, discovering one cannot go any further.
To go further would mean to widen to much the horizon making it too broad, incomprehensibly wide. The painter is interested in the stillness of that portion of space he is occupying; he also knows that that portion is not interchangeable with others, even though each one speaks for all. The wide horizon is the open space of the desert in Judaism, it’s the horizon of the book running after the single stone and the single grain of sand asking it to turn into a word capable of relating that landscape. A landscape incommensurable for the eye, too wide to be reduced to unity, where all happenings seem to have already taken place, as well as geological events.
The western – with a small w – painter withdraws his gaze from the sun, at the most he admires the effect of the light on things and observes the action of the heat, at times corrosive, at times vivifying. When he wants to paint with water he uses methods and processes similar to those experienced by the earth in a succession of floods and drainings.
Dear contemporary of mine, am I out of place writing this? I know the difference between a “wet” and a “flooded” “dry” or “drained” watercolour. Many things distinguish them: the time necessary for evaluating the results, the possibility or impossibility to give life to pictures, even though casual, and finally the texture: the former transparent, descriptive and morning-like; the latter opaque, translucent, concrete and meridian. Each watercolour of this kind draws our attention towards small natural events, such as salt deposited at the bottom of a small hollow, or that spot of intense green where light shines brighter. At the same time it takes us to the heart of the earth and far away, where the winds together with atmospheric powers decide our fate of western beings. Will something grow on this earth, in this moving landscape? Do we have to prepare ourselves to live in the desert? Is it advisable that paintings be small in order to be closer to the size of a seed? Will there still be walls on which to hang them?
It’s strange for paintings to bring up these questions: we started saying that the painter, as he becomes such, turns into a chromatic spirit, into someone who understands and judges himself and the world through colours and not vice versa.
That’s the way it is; the colours of our contemporary painter are, in fact, the seeds of hope that carry us after the word end. Evenmore, they make this word seem transitory, suitable for an episode, not for the entire story. We are all beyond and the end is behind us, we have crossed it almost without noticing it. The story has come in our direction, and with it the screen, englobing us without our perceving it.
We were not aware of being both actors and spectators. We went through the credits where we read our names without paying attention, and when we came to the word end we didn’t hit a wall, we only met a short pause before finding ourselves in a space made of signs drawn by hand on the film, a space asking to be filled. This is the space where the chromatic spirit operates; not old or new, pre or post, a space to be made before being named, maybe to be called for, certainly to be lived together, contemporaries and not.
Translated from italian by Luisa Piussi