Antonio Del Guercio
From Alberto Sughi's voyage in the realms of the natural and the human.
Two years ago, a well-timed anthological exhibition of Alberto Sughi's work was held at Ferrara (Palazzo dei Diamanti, 17 April - 22 March 1988), which examined the "openness" of the artist's approach in an Italian and international context. Here, at Casa Masaccio it is a different occasion; if anybody really wants an exploration, then they may delve more deeply into the general text I wrote in Ferrara; meanwhile I will try to answer all the queries which arise - from the public and critics alike - regarding the peculiar structure of this exhibition. The exhibition is structured in two parts, in two series or cycles. An early "green" cycle, which includes works executed between 1965 and 1973, and a later "evening" cycle displaying works executed between 1985 and today. In the "green" works, the special quality of the predominan- t colours indicates the painter's determined research in which one finds the theme of nature, or rather vegetation, of something that involves, implies and recalls many other levels of life.Both groups show organization and autonomy in their composition; they also reveal a subtle but resistent linguistic thread of feeling, and a sense of the variation of Sughi's development and research over the years.The thoughts which animate these "green" pictures seem to "fly" from one painting to another, spinning a network that every now and again adheres to a theme, like an evocative dance, or something of that sort. Now one is reminded of Bocklin's silent and motionless Mediterranean, and then everything pulsates as in the "mer toujours recommencee", of Valery, "entre les pins...entre les tombes". Or one glances above a wall of deep green, dark and disquieting, ready to spring into another painting, towards the sky and its elusive architecture. Shadow, wall, gardens, houses seem to be human, from time to time taking their place at the poetic centre of each of these works, portraying a part of the discreet, pungent and doubtful protagonists; as if aware of temporarily occupying a space that transcends into its infinite cosmic curve, but unequivocally able to convey to the onlooker the critical and emotional consistency - the value of their "relative" existence. I would like to point out, even if it seems implicit in what I have already said, that nature's argument is never emphasized here from the aspect of a landscape "relationship". Neither is it pure pretext, pure external disguise of an emotive effusion . Nature has another argument, in relation to those two opposing alternatives.This is indicated by a specific step that Sughi accomplishes, with regard to his previous course - of the part, I would say, of nature intended as a pulsation of living, organic matter; at least in relation to Courbet rather than on the part of other suggestions that only attracted the painter by precedence. And such an acceptance of nature's discourse leaves its mark in Sughi's expression, which in this period brings about a fusion of all the earlier experience of "existential realism", to echo Marco Valsecchi's positive definition, towards new outcomes. New outcomes of meaning and therefore of language (if somebody prefers to reverse the terms, by saying that these outcomes are new linguistically and therefore in meaning, then go ahead: in this as in other questions of the chicken and egg precedence, I am only interested that both the chicken and egg are given equal consideration; I apologize for the digression). New outcomes, therefore, characterized by an internal corrosion from an explicitly critical or denunciary aspect of Sughi's painting, for the benefit of a more radical immersion in the vertical probings of a troubled conscience, and a more secret research of the ineffable rapport between a troubled conscience and natural and cosmic enigmas. A sort of travel encounter towards elusive and insoluble Leopardian questions which, not by chance, cross with the "green" painting, a moment of participated interrogation of the living material ness of nature. This journey, or better, his itinerary represents the mythologi cal "return journey", which spins the thread of language, of feeling and the sense that binds his early "green" cycle of work to his later "evening" cycle.One would like to say, a cycle announced in the sense that in some way it recalls all of Sughi's earlier work: it's not by chance that one finds several recurring or intermittent topoi of Sughi's painting: firstly, the theme of the human figure advances alone within a "consonant" space; and the diffused quality of solitude that emanates from places and things. But an announced happening is not - at least in this case - a discounted happening. Here in fact, the recurring themes of Sughi's work are profoundly modified, also (I would especially like to say) from the "green" phase, from that deeper and blinder immersion within the universal enigmas; from that phase of a critical, conscious contemplation, troubled and often painful, to a stretch of annulment of distance between the painter and the object. I already mentioned in my text for the Ferrara exhibition, two years ago, a "particular" balance that establishes itself between people and places, almost like a brief service or suspension of external or internal turbulence, and a "soaked silence of melancholy". Neither is it just by chance that in this text I have evoked the name and lessons of Alberto Giacometti many times: the painter who, among those that I have had the good fortune to meet, knew how to talk with a more painful radicality of a hunger of realistic representation of things and of a minor aspect of that hunger; that it is impossible, as I was saying, to tackle it within the irresistible flow of existential and material mutations, of the artist, as of his themes, along the warp of time. It establishes realism, however, simultaneously as necessity and impossibility, and art as a sublime tension between these two borders.The ancient theme of melancholy, is, I believe, in Giacometti, which up to the point of actual first surrealistic experience (moreover original) is one of his new versions following that which, at the beginning of the "vie moderne" (it would be better to say at the beginning of the awareness of the traumas of the "vie moderne"), was elaborated by Baudelaire. The poet shares with the artist, a bond based on the urban theme. Now the theme that Giacometti tapers, in the emaciated sharpness of his thread-like forms, Sughi executes in another way. He abolishes or reduces to the minimal the visible scenarios of urban life, which have been produced at other times (for example, "The Dinner" cycle, in the mid seventies); he also introduces - or inserts - the theme of the irresistible flow of existential or physical mutations which always "approach" (in the most simple, significant origin of the word) the rapport of the individual with the world, giving an inevitable sense of loss in this relationship (a loss which approaches that referred to in the second principle of thermo-dynamics, and which suggests to some artists and critics of the sixties, the use of such a term as entropy).Up to this point, this information, which for me outlines one of the most decisive areas of culture and art in our epoch, shows that Sughi has found the original solution to the ancient theme of melancholy.It's a sort of unravelling of pictorial material inside a light which also gilds itself when evoked, of a theme nominated by evening, the uncertain state of spirit that is induced, or rather ingrown.An unravelling that never becomes unsteady, fragile or poor in pictorial material; this rather, beats within a truly autonomous pulse, in no way subordinate to imperative images. It is out of this tangle of teeming, locally abstract forms that an image is composed on a wide expanse of canvas, which I would define as structurally organic: in that not only does the pictorial material bring us back to that living notion of a piece of nature, which has matured in the "green" phase of his work, but also in the sense of going back to the same level of throbbing, non-hierarchical materialism; being human and elemental (natural or artificial) are likewise crossed by the same meditative, restless vibrations, but brought back to the strange, suspended and thrilling calm in which, it seems to me that the more recent poetic landing of Alberto Sughi condenses itself.
In "evening" Sughi offers, in terms of actual artistic content, a landing in which it is difficult not to see the relevance. A landing that fuses the position of art both inside and outside Italy, in a difficult moment, but which at the same time does not lack new and significant openings. Within such openings is one that refers to desire, most of which has much active criticism on an international horizon, to stimulate a re-interpretation of post artistic vicissitudes; in particular, an outstanding part of those works which immediately followed the post-war era, after the depletion (at least from the viewpoint of the preceding generations of artists) of informal change. I'm referring to those experiences, both of a figurative and abstract type, which throughout the sixties and seventies, in some way received less attention than they deserved, in relation to that afforded to American Pop Art, to Conceptualism and Minimalism and to other trends. I have no intention of denying the importance of these, seeing that I have followed their course from time to time, giving or limiting approval according to conscience, as one says.
Certainly, from several forerunners of change in abstract and Op Art (the outstanding painter Bridget Riley), the entire British branch of Pop Art and of critical European figuration (between which Sughi's change fits in), is overshadowed, partially or relatively, and that it is expressed in a single vicissitude, which has been the "object" in different ways and levels. In any case, a total critical compensation prevails, rendered even more indispensable by the unexpected interference of some young artists on the international scene, such as Eric Fischl; knowing these it was no longer possible to withhold a series of specific questions. I am not only looking at the fertile nature of Edward Hopper's lessons (I am also jointly referring to, even if they are not evident, the various solutions for Sughi as for Fischl), but looking at an entire historical arc whose strength was definitely renewed in the sixties, and new contributions in which pursuits became successively articulated and cycles, but linked by a subtle resistent thread, as I have said, are still in action. offers a renewed interest today in Sughi.
Antonio del Guercio
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