We arrived at Giovanni’s house on a rainy morning in late June, to visit his studio and work on the exhibition.
In this area of Val di Cecina near to Volterra, nature seems to have never changed in its isolated and wild, away-from-tourism, paths. The smell of wet hay all around, large passing clouds, sometimes gloomy, sudden glimpses of new light to the west in the evening from the sea, and westerly winds rising up. Scrub vegetation starts from the white roadside and climbs up to the gentle surroundings hills, while the plain discloses itself, leading to the luminous strip of sea, towards the horizon.
Exquisite views, yet “ordinary”, that in every season, day, and time offer themselves as the light changes before the eyes of the painter. Views that he captures, quite by accident, with quick snapshots from his own cell phone or his son’s or a friend’s.
Then a visit to the atelier, which is not far and is immersed in the wet branches of the forest. Green light, vibrant from the vegetation, enters from large horizontal windows and makes it almost as if we were diving in an aquarium.
Giovanni opens his most recent portfolio, which he has named Ordinary Nature (Natura ordinaria) in keeping with a quiet recording of daily life, without symbolism, without messages, in an act of absolute faithfulness to the way we look at things. Sitting in front of the printing press, we leaf together through the large format prints with multiple plate etchings, one after the other, in sequence, to be displayed at the Bisonte this fall.
Sun in the fog (Sole nella nebbia) is the first to startle, a silhouette of trees dried up by frost against the light. It points directly to the heart of an emotion experienced on a winter day by the sight of the woods in which the study is wrapped. Starting from the image printed on the plate, the artist’s hand has developed a dense arabesque of interwoven branches, transfiguring the real picture, looking for contrasts with the pale blur of a circle of white light in the fog. Any given clouds affects in the same way. The image field is totally occupied by the ruffled thickening of clouds that veil, at times, the cobalt blue sky, and then are illuminated by the white slashes of light of the moon. Turbid and shining, in its more turbulent recesses, Sea-light (Mare-luce) opens in a diagonal and shortened perspective of a dramatic night. Light everywhere (Luce ovunque, Val di Cecina) refers directly to the landscape that opens in front of the windows of the house, recognizable, yet transfigured by yellow and white blades, almost tangible, in the light of a winter sunset on a distant strip of sea.
Giovanni explains that he has not chased the romantic surprises of Friedrich’s mystical spaces, and neither the hallucinated state of mind that burns the indefinite spaces of Turner, nor the vigorous beauty of Constable’s clouds over the flourishing countryside of the Avon and Somerset valleys. He has, rather, represented a truthful reflection of his landscapes of Maremma, first trying to fix it in his memory with a simple click. He then studies it through a succession of plates, first exposed and then colour-inked, one after the other, clamped by the rightness of rulers, with an essential palette of primary colours and a few other tones, one for each pass through the press.
Strict control of the medium and an analytic attitude allow the artist to calibrate effects with mastery, but then again, something unexpected and unpredictable always happens, which is part of the game. From the sequence of inked sheets and the repetition of the printing tests, the expected image emerges, almost found thanks to sensitivity. Eventually Giovanni stops and decides to terminate his research, which paradoxically might never end; but thus comes the last print. The history of the whole process remains condensed In that result, the dozens and dozens of initial and intermediate tests pile up on the shelves of the studio to dry, then to rest.
In Honeysuckle (Caprifoglio) the search moves toward other results, data from a close-up view through the photographic lens. A fading effect in the shape is produced, which is granulated in search of abstract solutions, where the contours of the flower lose all graphic definition and abstract forms of fuchsia prevail, expanding with exotic harmony.
The angle of the image, so close as to isolate the detail in the distilled purity of an ellipse, comes in Small Cup (Tazzina). It emulates the possibility of a macro shot, in that particular way of perceiving the world in fragments, typical of those who see with the eye of the photographer, in a poetic distortion of the truth. The humblest ordinary ornament is transformed with metaphysical effect, seemingly immanent, as if removed from the natural flow of time, not unlike landscapes fixed in a present moment that is eternal, awaiting.
The artist’s path, as the portfolio of etchings shows, offers seemingly distant choices, pursues the emotion of light in the vastness of the landscape, and experiments with cancellation of representation in the blurring of the contour of a wildflower, before arriving at the objective and clear reassembly of the details of everyday life.
You are looking at me (Tu mi guardi) confirms this path. The focus on the left eye of the son, who stands monumental on the whole available surface, implies a far-from-random organization of space and colour, and a very firm and objective grip on what is real, even more so in the difficult restoration of the skin’s colour scheme.
A game of cross references begins for the viewer. At times, the alienating evidence of a René Magritte painting seems evoked, or the rough metaphysical of everyday Pop poetry, Domenico Gnoli ‘s unsettling sense of suspension in the details of everyday life, up to the alienating, very slow filming of private life in Michelangelo Antonioni’s films of the sixties.
Giovanni listens to me; he certainly perceives and recognizes the path and reasons of my survey and my references, but at times with the amazement of one who’d never thought about it before. We must agree together that those are perhaps the ways of a shared narrative. For those of our own generation who were exposed to art in the eighties after the conceptual and minimalist period, it was possible to narrate through those paths that looked fragrant, modern again, attractive.
Thus, together with close and somehow fading objects and with the synthesis of a few obsolete details of everyday life, scenes of urban life also appear. There is the picture of a subway interior on a winter evening, punctuated by the geometric background of tubular steel handrails, or the back of the bleachers of a crowded stadium before the game with some details just out of focus, or even the vanishing point of a highway lane, while the distant headlights of a few cars light dusk on the Apennines.
A production inspired by the icons of contemporaneity is taking place. They remind me of a few brave painters and engravers who, in the sixties, frequented the printing house Il Bisonte in Florence, where Giovanni himself landed in the early nineties in order to learn the techniques of etching. I am thinking about Dino Boschi, born in 1923, who was relating with the world of the stadium, of football players, of the crowd on the terraces, in the manner of an all Italian Pop. Or about Leonardo Cremonini, who penetrated with a colourful repertoire of the carpentry of everyday life, raised to mythology. Interiors / exteriors are seen as from a powerful telephoto lens, described with lucid accuracy, but celebrating the kingdom of loneliness, of lack of communication, of feebleness. Or about the images of daily life by Gustavo Giulietti, in whose studio new presences entered, such as a bulky slide and opaque projector for displaying images on printed paper, magazines, postcards, and photographs. These were all useful instruments for a new method of ‘cut and paste’ with which to photocompose, zoom, project on printed canvas, then process pictorially, introducing to the observer the suspicion of a hidden ‘sense’, an implicit message, with solemn results. Adventurous techniques, neo-avant-garde ones, that were animated by incursions into the world of advertising and cinema, in the thrill of an exciting, young low culture that, also in Florence between the printing presses of Bisonte, found its own authoritative dimension in lithographs and serigraphs and polychrome etchings. Giovanni has probably never had the opportunity to study these experiences at the print shop, but he has certainly inhaled them, in contact with a school that had taken precisely those searches as an example, in the expected redemption of the incision towards a modernity that is full of promise.
I understand that Giovanni plays his game on another table. We feel a profound need to explore. In his prints, the development of the form lives in a different and particular vibration. It maintains a special torment, where the nature that inhabits those spaces is not imaginary but physically tangible, typical of an essentially empirical space where the artist gets involved emotionally.
“Return to the emotion of looking”, he says, and Pond in Santa Bianca (Stagno in Santa Bianca) comes to mind, with red fish that swim among the water lilies at different depths, as countermelody to the punctuation of air bubbles that float on the surface and that almost look like a starry sky. Or in Aven, the print that more closely pays tribute to the beloved Monet and Cezanne, but with a sense of modern restlessness that well represents the artist of today, with density of thought.