About La Pietà
The latest sequence of images produced by Giovanni Greppi focuses attention on important aspects of the interpretation of the morphology and the iconography of his work, which is clearly not subordinate to the expressive
integrity of the graphic genre, and all the aspects that are traditionally associated with it, including the tradition of instrumental application and reproductive seriality. Nevertheless, I would like to consider these elaborations as belonging to the field of engraving, even if the aesthetic effects obtained are substantially identical to the pictorial results already achieved by the
artist, characteristic results achieved by the widely accepted hybrid, created by associating photographic and pictorial elements.
I would say, then, that these works fall within the field of unconventional multimedia creations apparently, but not always functional which characterise figurative art at the beginning of this century. The most interesting, and in some ways the most disturbing aspect, which differentiates this operation from all others like it, is not the use of techniques tending to the achievement of anomalous results, or the indifferent equipment in relation to the contents, but rather the material, the pragmatic use of the meaning innate in the chosen image. There is little or no use in determining whether these sheets are to be assigned to a precise category of expression, as a graphic product (but single works) or rather “paintings”, in which the use of the photographic image may hark back to the collage operations practised on a massive scale à la Rauchenberg or Warhol, substituted by the result of the technically complex elaboration in the aquatint procedures, similar in appearance to lithography: neither of the two, in reality; or, if you prefer, both of them. The interesting aspect which prompts a careful analysis of these sheets, then, is a profound meditation about the truest meaning of the images used to construct the work. We need to appreciate the reference to the history of art and of civilisation, the ideological meaning, the social commitment, the political aims (using this term, which is inevitably suspect, in its noble etymological sense).
Greppi’s images are composed of everyday experiences and affections, which flow together with other equally impelling images and are submerged by them, even frustrated by this unexpected event. It is as if it were possible to see the confused, yet agonising thoughts that the anxiety of life and the violence of our age arouse in the mind of a man who is contrary to every form of abuse of power over the individual. These images can be turned upside-down or in any other direction without sensing any difference in the signifier. It is an upside-down, distorted, incongruous and often incomprehensible world, where forces follow one after another without establishing any permanent relationship with individual consciences, seeing that we ourselves are disorientated in the face of the repetition of vicious events.
Those who encouraged us to remember, so as not to repeat the errors of wars were deluded: the same errors are committed again, and sometimes the victims of yesterday become the torturers of today. Wrongs are repeated, and, worse still, not only against the bodies, but against the consciences, and often the weapon used is the image, appropriately manipulated in order to become, often deceitfully, coercive and violent. And as the icon that witnesses to these current tragic events is the photograph above all the photo-reportage we must recognise the “state of necessity”, the urgency to which Greppi has responded by collecting photographic images in order to make them a material sign of his poetic expression, partly because a photograph is, in itself, rapid, as a figurative procedure, and thus it is capable of responding to tensions that require immediate answers.
For a century or more, in the hands of painters, the camera has been considered an improper weapon, or simply an ambiguous support. It would be helpful, then, to consider the long-standing debate, which has now become a rapid dialogue, between painting and photography in the history of art: a problem that was immediately tackled by artists on both sides, with alternating fortunes, and which today would appear to have arrived, among the infinite possibilities of meeting that have been found, at a form of integration between the two languages. In this sense, the sequence produced by Greppi reveals a further, refined possibility. The artist has taken images that particularly challenged or touched him, drawn from news reports, or from the work of other artists, or from his own photographs, in a wide-ranging exploration that goes from the Renaissance to our times, from Michelangelo to Neshat, images gathered and superimposed on family testimonies, all chosen by following his own emotions or reflections.
In reality, this is a pondered existential diary. Consequently, the photos of wartime atrocities come together with those of christian pietas, and testify, in a timeless realm, to the natural inhumanity of the human race, in contrast with love for children and in conflict with affective existence. This is death in opposition to life, but consecutively and unceasingly, due to the circular nature of the temporal dimension, in a continuous, infinite contest for mutual predominance. The search for noble roots for Greppi’s latest production, if we may compare his figuration with recent or contemporary forms of expression, shows that links may be seen, but only at the external level, with well-known procedures of simultaneous representation, where the written word is used to favour the reception of the overall meaning, as a memory and a testimony in a continual and synergic relationship with present experience; however, this is a completely different simultaneity compared with futurist solutions, though it is similar to the superimpositions practised in the frames of certain films and installations by Peter Greenaway, where the thread of referred experience is connected to that of the present. Thus, alternately, the negative images swallow up the positive ones, and vice versa enhancing or diminishing their strength depending on the chromatic tones of their printing. It is not easy to detect those that succumb. It takes careful observation, reconstructing their form by means of the chromatic denotation, and an accurate exploration to determine their profile. There is no solution of continuity, it is all an agitated maze, dominated by the confused sensation that the formal order of the structure is, in the end, the fruit of the disorder and confusion created by the contrasting, simultaneous aspects which determine the thought and the way of living of human beings, a chaos dominated by man’s instinct for bullying imposition. In this ordered disorder, Greppi does not assume the role of a judge, but expresses a compassionate solidarity, confessing his own inability to understand. At this point, the contrasting cultures come into the picture, through their signs and their writings the Catholic and the Islamic, the apocalyptic prophecies common to religions in conflict.
I believe that it is not by chance, but rather due to pictorial instinct, that the contrasting idea is often accentuated, in these images, by means of the opposition of reds and blues: these are colours which evoke, also symbolically, different thoughts, concepts whose perspective is divergent, while they co-exist in spite of their mutual repulsion. This is not a position that the artist has suddenly assumed, in response to the dramatic nature of the events of our violent age; rather, it is the maturing of a restlessness that poets feel deeply, often ahead of time, not because they are seers, but because they are led by their sensitivity to be intuitively vigilant and alert.
Some time ago, Greppi already felt uneasy, as he contemplated nature in woods, streams and the seasons of vegetation, isolating the detail with a trembling, restless close attention, and entitling an unforgotten exhibition of his works of the decade 1987-1997, Cloud of Unknowing. Here, he explored the morphology of the subject from a position so close as to lose all cognition of it, as if an analytical gaze were harmful to the full enjoyment of natural beauty, and hindered its understanding. I did not think even for a moment that these works were inspired by a serene contemplation of the natural aspects of vegetation, pertly because in some images, there were (or were there?) human ghost-figures which seemed to disappear rather than appear, and it was above all the chromatic choice that indicated an intimate, perhaps unconscious, uneasiness. Together with this, there was also the alchemy of the elaborate graphic techniques that Greppi was already using the object of Nicola Micieli’s excellent comments which had taken the place of the traditional approach, as the ideal language affording the best results, perfectly suited to his need to verify numerous versions and possibilities, in proposing the same concept.
In their misguided aspiration to appear original, many artists try and try again to elaborate their own characteristic technique, in the conviction that this may give rise to an identity, or even a style that will make them unmistakable. However, the poetic personality of an artist does not consist of the invention of a particular technique of execution; in any case, it is useless if it does not aim to achieve a precise expressive purpose. On the contrary, it is useful to verify to what extent the technique employed does or does not contribute the demonstration and clarification of the poetic idea. The choice of the language, with appropriate instruments, must correspond to what is to be expressed (it is also a question of aesthetic harmony, the correct harmonious relationship between content and meaning): this serves to affirm and maintain the artist’s privilege to decide the terms of his expressive criterion, combining the needs of the contents with the poetic reason.
The artist cannot depend on pre-defined terminologies, above all if he is the creator of images, for which the semiotics is lacking in sounds, and is therefore inevitably forced to resort to optical evocation, by means of the symbol. Then, also the unconventional criss-cross superimposition of the matrices is significant, since the idea of the cross is, for all of us, even for laymen, the symbol of expiation and innocent suffering: but in this way, different conceptions of space are composed, and contrasted, disorientating our vision and making it difficult, in demanding a careful perception. For all painters, everything is a symbol in every element that determines the aesthetic form. The very sense of painting is, for each one, fraught with symbolic meanings.
Although Greppi’s work contains spectacular aspects the most attractive one, as I have already pointed out, is the impossibility of connoting it categorically and this fact contributes to enhancing its noble features, this is not what makes it worthy of the high consideration that it deserves. This is, on the contrary, its moral stance: ignoring the gratuitous, unthinking provocation which is so fashionable, easily acceptable, and welcome to the consumer mentality; renouncing the use of exasperatedly virtuoso methods which are functional to the speculations of the art market: refusing indifference to the anguish that obsesses conscious minds, not drugged by the political propaganda of the day; a consciousness of the suffering of the weak and the underdogs; a horror for the violent death and the blood of martyrs of all parties, all ideals and all times. Even in the presence of the exasperated individualism, or even narcissism, of the petit bourgeois, often banal, private world, generically expressed in current manners, far from the conventionality of experimentalist academicism, admiration for the quality of the content of Greppi’s work takes second place, even if it is usefully connected with poetic truth. What enhances and distinguishes his testimony is the presence of a passionate drive and indignation, a trust in the ability of art to narrate, represent and confirm the culture of “his own” humanity, the presence of feeling in his participation in the history of man.