Universita' di Parma

di Arturo Carlo Quintavalle


Alberto Sughi has constructed, over the years, a new direction in painting. He has certainly known or decided to choose a very different path from other modern artists, even if he has always conversed with intellectuals connected with realism. But if he has always allowed his works to be interpreted through their contents, and not through comments, providing meaning for the contents, he has also felt the importance of a line of artistic expression that was not subordinate to others. It is certainly true, as he recognizes in the interview, that the influence of Guttuso, during the three years that he lived in Rome, was important, as was his experience with the Portonaccio group, but their paths immediately went different ways. it is true that Sughi, Vespignani, Ferroni and Banchieri met in Milan at the beginning of the 1960s for a series of exhibitions, and sometimes Sughi has been identified with Existential Realism, a happy formula to describe a group of painters, who were certainly realists but also experimentalists, and open to new ideas. If Guttuso and the Communist Party wanted to exclude Eliot, Bacon, Beckett, abstract painting and American pop art from the world of art, Sughi, by abandoning Rome, developed a very different viewpoint. This prompted his connections, first of all, with other artistic worlds, with other experimentation, and then his awareness of the complexity of every pictorial act, and the need to paint in a new way, to avoid accepted movements, analytical or synthetic cubism, and realism, or rather, all the different forms of realism and, above all, post – Zdanoviani realism.

It is difficult to reconstruct the phases of Sughi’s pictorial development, because interpreters of his work have, to some extent, confirmed the line of realism, but it is important to understand that Sughi’s early years were very different, and we have tried to reconstruct them. There is his highly diversified dialogue with other artists, from Turin to Rome and Milan, from Germany to the United States. There are few connections with the official Soviet or German form of realism of the 1950s, but, instead, a sensitivity to the avant-garde, American Abstract Expressionism and the European Informal artists. His awareness of the philosophies of existence, and also of a great intellectual crisis in the West, brought him closer to artists who expressed this crisis, such as the English painters, from Bacon to Sutherland, but without forgetting, for the expression of his own paintings, the work of Hopper, and, more generally, of American painting in the 1930s and the oneiric dimension of some works by Otto Dix, or of early Grosz or Beckmann. These painters were certainly politically committed to the Left, but, for Sughi, this commitment, always acknowledged, also means examining human reality and proposing it in various forms and styles. Where and how can you paint time, if not using De Chirico and Magritte, not to mention The Island of the Dead by Boeklin, the suspended atmospheres of Max Klinger, or the terrible, haggard figures of Egon Schiele? All this explains why interpretations of Sughi’s work have not been those of any ideology, but of the novel - of the nineteenth-century realist novel - but also the theatre of the absurd, and therefore the theatre in which events do not exist, but rather an expectation of events, where spaces do not exist if not in relation to gestures, where people do not meet, but wait for each other, as in Waiting for Godot by Beckett (1952) or in Jack or the Submission (1955) or The Rhinoceros (1959) by Ionesco. Expectation, non-events, empty spaces in existence, the difficulties of working in a world of objects, people's isolation - all this is in the theatre of the 1950s. It is in the existential reflection of Jean Paul Sartre before his conversion to Marxism, and also, as I understand it, in the painting of Alberto Sughi.

In general, if we reflect on his artistic development, we discover that, compared to so many other realist painters who kept away from the main-stream artistic movements, his work is still very actual today, perhaps because realism is too restrictive as a definition of Alberto Sughi’s work, and he may fit another kind of definition, that of a great narrator of our time. He uses the means at his disposal, his advanced artistic expression, and therefore not just traditional realism, not only to express his unease, but also to carry a great positive message: the history of painting as an inexhaustible source of new stimuli, and the need to connect painting on both sides of the Atlantic, with no opposition, no barriers. Sughi, as we have seen, is a great narrator, but also one of the few painters today who knows how to talk about his work, alongside other modern artists, such as Giacometti, Bacon, De Kooning and the sculptress, Richier. There are certainly many others before him, from Dix to Schiele, from Grosz to Beckmann, but all of them were too often limited by a sociological interpretation. Perhaps, to understand Grosz, Dix, Schiele and so many others, we need to appreciate their ability to confer strength on their work by the great number of references to German 15 th century draftsmen, from Schòngauer to Dùrer. This could help us understand how much the history of illustration influenced the idea of the spaces that Sughi knew how to construct, or rather invent, and how influential the figures of Gustave Doré and Daumier were in the construction of the great, absurd, empty spaces surrounding Sughi’s figures. Even more importantly, we see how much the idea of inventing a cycle, many cycles of lithographs or engravings through a sequence of tablets, suggested to Sughi the idea of painting in series, of systems of connected paintings, to produce a great narrative design, a kind of novel.

For this reason Sughi is a great narrator, not a great realist narrator, but rather a narrator who manages to transform apparently realist art into something sublime through new forms of abstraction or different styles, enabling us to understand every story better. Those stories are in his cycles of paintings, drawings, lithographs and engravings. In the end, Sughi’s art is the art of the novel, of intimate confessions, of those that express the profound. So the tradition of storytelling connected to the post-Viennese world of psychoanalysis, of Kafka or Musil, more than Thomas Mann, can, I believe, help us to understand Alberto Sughi.

  • From Arturo Carlo Quintavalle: Alberto Sughi (Ed. Skira collana CSAC, Jan.. 2006)

Alberto Sughi nei volumi SKIRA

Published for the exhibition "Alberto Sughi nella Collezione CSAC", Parma Salone delle Scuderie n Pilotta, 21 December 2006 - 22 January 2006

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