Texts by Daniela Lancioni and Daniela Bigi for the show In memory of Nicholas Santoleri, Cantina Casa Santoleri, 2011
On Alfredo Pirri at Guardiagrele
We were given a warm welcome. I remember a fine day dedicated to the work of Alfredo Pirri in the company of friends and a host who generously allowed us to visit his lands (I was particularly fortunate to visit an old lady who made lucky brooms). We left Guardiagrele with the recollection of a wonderful exhibition and a gift which we have kept until today, a sort of officiant’s robe designed by Pirri for the bottles of Santoleri wine. We were also given the wine protected by the robe, but this was soon drunk. What I still remember vividly today is a room flooded with red colour. A red room that was only red to a certain extent. A room pervaded by pigment, in which you became part of a whole on entering. An intangible whole which cannot be described as an atmosphere because, though impalpable, it had an unmistakable character.
Alfredo Pirri had covered the furniture in the sitting room of the Santoleri house with white sheets. For someone of my generation, the same as Pirri’s, white sheets laid over furniture is a protective act, a way of protecting furniture from dust if you were away from home for a long time or during decorating work. Indeed, the room’s ceiling had been painted red. Hung from this ceiling was a crystal chandelier with light bulbs in place of the candles for which it had originally been made and which captured the colour and spread red reflections throughout the room. A red colour which mingled with the earthy colours of the floor and the walls but which was reflected back unchanged by the immaculate covering of sheets.
The effect was striking and I was surprised above all by the sense of finding myself faced with the essence of Alfredo Pirri’s modus operandi. The red room seemed to be the felicitous outcome of the work undertaken in his early Squadre plastiche.
Assuming it is legitimate to shorten the distance between the opposing systems of the rational and irrational, science and mystery, will and fate, we can see Pirri’s Squadre plastiche of 1987 onwards and some of his later works as a way of combining things that modern thought has separated and that post-modern thought, after reducing the terms in question to irreconcilable entities, has dismembered.
The hoped-for reconciliation in Pirri’s work lies in the invention of a form of painting completely unlike that which was popular at the start of his career, not reliant upon the phenomenology of the painting but on something immaterial, impalpable and vague, like a reflection. A style of painting which always manifests itself in relation to an element created or arranged by its author, a sort of device which seems to have the protective function of a shield. Not the painted shield of ancient heroes, but an austere sacrificial surface, something temporarily denied or partially obliterated.
At Guardiagrele the sheets placed over the furniture and on which the reflections stood out, in addition to the protective gesture already mentioned, were reminiscent of the covering of holy images in Christian liturgy during the days of the Passion. What is evoked in the Squadre plastiche is another rite of subtraction, that of the modern tradition of the tabula rasa. These are geometrical surfaces hung on the walls like paintings, tall and narrow like trees, columns and human bodies; they actually look like the gates of a fortress. Mute on the front, they are painted on the back, and their edges, set slightly away from the wall, irradiate colour like an aura or a halo.
To simplify, we could see in the orthogonal order and the serial nature of the Squadre plastiche the adoption of that esprit de géométrie which has rescued modern man from the negative aspects of the real world. But Pirri did not work further on these supports, ready for use, perhaps held back by an awareness of having to take the field with the support of other forces. Driven, perhaps, by a tendency to protest – a modern legacy but also a behavior distinctive of our generation – he applied the pigment on the surface opposite that destined for painting, the back of the support. The result is a colour which bursts into the environment like a magical presence, a fragrance, a wind, a breath, a soul.
Now trained to create a dialog between geometry and spirit, at Guardiagrele Pirri appears to have arranged his terms in space with self-assurance. The Squadra plastica softened in the fabric of the sheet continued to perform a protective function, this time playfully aimed at safeguarding the home-owner’s domestic appliances. The same sheets protected the work, and we who were its audience, from everyday events, unfolding an immaculate expanse in their stead. In this velarium-territory, specially designed for this place and for its inhabitants, an impalpable yet real presence burst forth, the same colour as blood and a reference to the opposites par excellence, life and death, which only the imagination can reconcile.
Alfredo Pirri’s work presents a number of constants worth discussing in this intense and dense context in Casa Santoleri, among traces of abandonment and rural sentiment, the legacy of a sophisticated industriousness and aspirations to renewal.
One of these constants, for instance, is the uninterrupted relationship with a profound sense of tradition, an incessant querying of that potential line of forms and motivations linking us to the past, recent or distant, making our belonging to a civilization tangible. It is here that we find that curiosity-filled respect for craft-working which the artist has often stressed, for that harmonious and meticulous relationship between the artisan and nature, and the materials of nature; a dimension which in an unforgivable oversight our society has decided to relegate to a marginal state where it does not belong. This now unusual dimension was a tribute to his friend and patron Nicola Santoleri, who based his business practice on precisely this ancient skill, as well as on ceaseless care.
Among the constants I would also mention the central role of sharing. The work created by Pirri in the house and cellars at Guardiagrele seems to have taken form through a shared process of surprise, a dialectic existential condition. This excited array of cloaked bottles rushing to the call of the new wine seems to betray the shared emotion of a value, the charm of a joyfully recurrent event. A vibrant image, in that cellar, among the tall barrels, opening up unexpected windows onto our history. The series of small sculptures which like slight apparitions mark the route between the rooms of the house also appear to testify to a sort of reciprocity. They abandon the spectacularized centrality of authorship, retreat from the rhetoric of the exhibition, seem instead to follow the narrative development of an oft-repeated, or at any rate prolonged, story.
Some time ago Alfredo wrote: “I am concerned with the authentic places of identity, which are the places of civilization”. Probably at some point this place also came to be one of these, for its emotional associations but also because its contribution to civilization could be extended.
And, finally, another constant: the chromatic experience of reality. Red and white, all of a sudden, stage a shrill drama of absence. Red is dominant, mobile, sumptuous. White is stable, solid, apparently inexorable. In fact, there are two whites: one, wrapping the everyday objects, speaks to us of the ineluctable passage of time; the other, the heap of flour, does not give in, its organic nature wishes to continue interacting with space and time, transforming them and transforming itself in accordance with the imponderable trajectory of nature.
to see the images of the show click here