Analysis in two voices Interview with Andrea Zucchi… almost an Autodafé

Posted on Agosto 4, 2004

A plethora of visible elements inhabit the canvases of Andrea Zucchi, Milanese artist (born 1964), inclined to give life to surprising combinations and estranging iconographic juxtapositions. In his paintings, Nature and Technological Civilization bear each other witness, cultured citations and the pleasure of mimesis mix, generating unprecedented suggestions. Author of a figurative research of distant metaphysical lineage, Zucchi, into the visual structure of his paintings, inserts geometric elements of a Neoplastic flavor, reverberant with the influence of digital graphics.

Tapping the photographic repertoire of printed material, the art of Andrea Zucchi finds its balance in the coexistence of opposing and contradictory elements.

Ivan Quaroni: At first impact, the most evident element of your work is the effect of estrangement, provoked by the juxtaposition of images, which have no connection with each other…

Andrea Zucchi: In effect, they are fragments of reality that I artificially associate, which purposely have no relationship to one another, if no more than an occasional, subtle and arbitrary parity. Being attracted to a multitude of options from which I cannot and do not wish to choose, I must inevitably devise connections among incongruent elements, thereby accumulating a series of contradictions, which are stratified without becoming confused.

If this generates an estranging effect, it is probably the reflection of my confusion before the plethora of impulses to which I am subjected. To me, painting is in part an attempt at stopping this form of multiple-vision, whether external or internal – at filtering and solidifying it, thereby rendering it partially intelligible through a fictitious formal order.

I. Q.: Nonetheless, the observer is compelled to find a correlation of sense among the different images…

A. Z.: In my first works, I played with the ambiguity of the meanings of these superimposed images. I created, shall we say, the illusion of a story, which in reality had no foundation. In these latest works, on the other hand, the iconographic juxtapositions have attained a purely formal value to me. Although they deal with combinations of a primarily visual nature, it is almost inevitable that some people tend to project upon my work meanings that I have never fathomed. But I see the fact of still inducing in the viewer the questions, “Why?” and “What does that mean?” as a limit, an uninteresting game, in that I do not believe that an image’s power of fascination resides there.

I. Q.: Do you mean that you don’t preconceive any possible meanings that your works may suggest?

A. Z.: Obviously I think about it – a lot. The choices of associations that I make are partially instinctive and partially thought out, but never completely random.I am conscious of the chance of possible interpretations, but that which drives me is more the assemblage of images on the basis of a formal and compositional choice rather than a narrative one.I banally use the mechanism of free association, already systematically exploited by the Surrealists, but not in the sense of psychic automatization, which requires that the artist poise himself as a receptive medium of the forces of the unconscious. More than with the dream state, I am a medium who is synchronized with multimedia. In some way, I want to stop the chaotic flow of media images and turn it into an object of contemplation, not of interpretation.

I must say that, apart from a certain juvenile fascination with Breton and Max Ernst, Surrealism never completely conquered me. Above all in the beginning, my work was influenced by Metaphysical painting and the art of Francis Bacon, which precede and conclude that movement. Then, I painted paintings that were of interiors alla De Chirico, inhabited by distorted, almost horrific figures.

I. Q.: Another evident aspect of your research is the insertion of geometric elements of Neoplastic origins, which could be interpreted as an attempt to rationalize the image. Is that true?

A. Z.: The addition of geometric elements to the figurative system is the result of a long process. I began by inserting lines that dissected the painting like a kind of wound. Then I transformed these wounds into subtle lines, like the cross hairs of a viewfinder, serving to frame the image. Later, the lines were transformed into squares and rectangles, recalling on one hand the Neoplastic artists and on the other, the influence of digital graphics. Today, these intrusive elements have become an instrument of separation between one image and the other.

Originally, these additions were the reflection of a strong dissatisfaction with my work, an attitude that forced me to constantly intervene on the canvas. With time, this weakness of mine was transformed into a modus operandi, becoming a salient feature of my stylistic language. It is as if, without that type of intervention, I would not be able to conclude the painting – to pull myself away from it.

Despite the influence of digital graphics, I wish to point out that I am a purist of painting and that technology in art interests me only relatively. Actually, I love painting, and I consider it the purest among the visual arts because of the poverty of its means; any type of support and pigments are all that are required for the thought process to manifest itself therein, without intermediation. Painting does not allow for tricks other than those, which are specific to its means, and this is why it is so difficult.

I. Q.: What is the iconographic source of your paintings?

A. Z.: I always begin with a photographic image, usually chosen while browsing through any kind of magazine or book. When I find something that strikes me, I feel the need to reproduce it – to succumb to my impulse of mimesis.

Successively, as if creating an abstract composition, or a pictorial blob, I reflect upon the possible combinations.More than the flow of life, it is the stasis of images that fascinates me, above all, those of a world, which I do not know and would like to make my own by translating them into painting. However, I don’t consider myself one of Gerhard Richter’s many descendents, even though he is a painter I highly respect and love, especially in his series “18 Oktober 1977”.

Copying photographs has always been a natural and primary impulse that I began to practice when I was a child, something which momentarily satisfies me, but which ends up inadequate, like a sweet I can’t resist that leaves me a nauseating aftertaste regarding myself.

I succumb to that impulse, I know I will regret it when I am full, but then I begin to gorge myself again at the next stimulation.

Nonetheless, I believe that recycling the photographic image is somehow one of the main themes that painting is still confronting today, and I prefer to confront it directly on the hard and pure level of realism rather than to resort to overused expedients already branded as neoexpressionist, pseudo-digital or, worse still, pop.

I. Q.: In your works, one can sense a fascination with the oriental world and esotericism – Shaolin monks, Shadu Indians, women with burkas, ancient Egyptian artifacts…

A. Z.: They are elements that surely derive from my love of traveling through the Orient, even if, honestly, I have always preferred painting things of which I have no direct experience, passing through photographic mediation.

Regarding esotericism, it was my reason for living between the ages of about 17 and 24. I became interested in various oriental and occidental doctrines, particularly Gnosticism, and I became part of the Rosacroce group, but then I realized that I was living that experience in a distorted and contrived manner, and I distanced myself from it. Today, I respect those teachings and practice a sort of suspension of judgment. My soul, if I have one, has fallen into a sleeping state.

I. Q.: Continuing to examine the dialectic of opposites, which seems to me to be a primary characteristic of your work, I have noticed that you frequently combine the natural universe with the technological and civilized…

A. Z.: Since I was a child, I have always loved drawing animals. I am fascinated by the immense variety of forms that life can generate, on a biological as well as on a cultural level, as I do not perceive man’s creations as being separate from nature. We are immersed, I believe, in a single reality from which we only gather microscopic fragments here and there, in relation to our state of consciousness and deformed by our ego. Perhaps my constant need to combine realities that are distant from one another is no more than a way of seeking or desiring a primal unity that we are never able to grasp – a Heraclitean unity, which contains in itself an infinite multitude of worlds in continual transformation.

I. Q.: To what extent are you influenced by literature, particularly by science fiction? (We spoke of Frank Herbert’s Dune, remember?)

A. Z.: Observing my works representing women in burkas, I was really happy when you said they made you think more about the Dune cycle than about Afghanistan. I would never have thought of that, but effectively it was a recent reading that had enchanted me. I am a passionate reader of science fiction, noir and horror, but my background tends to be more closely tied to classic literature rather than that of a certain genre. Before painting, I made a brief attempt at poetry, with uncertain results.

Even though I have always come closer to pure visualist positions, my background is certainly saturated with romanticism and symbolism.

I. Q.: How do you assess your artistic career in its present context?

A. Z.: A disaster, probably, because I find myself continually in the faction of stray dogs, the isolated ones, not those who at least belong to a little group. The most current avant-garde artists view me suspiciously because I am too closely tied to a traditional pictorial language; I’m avoided by those who uphold a reassuring style of painting, as mine is considered “difficult”, or not suitable for decorating a salon. Unfortunately, I feel like an orphan of Dadaism, bored by now with the intelligent games of Duchamp and blinded by the unattainable splendor of Velasquez.

Besides that, the current scene is bizarre and depressing at the same time, because when everything is possible, everything becomes quite empty and uncertain. There is a great deal of professionalism, much entertaining, and also, naturally, a lot of slovenliness, but it is truly rare to see something really moving, necessary and revealing. Contemporary art has generated a continual sequence of special effects, which no longer generate any effect or surprise, where more often than not the same ideas are recycled over and over again. And at the same time, none of us is immune – we are all in it, the good and the not so good. From aspiring to Glory we have turned to desiring success, which is something completely different.

O tempora, o mores!”

I. Q.: Would you like to be a different artist from that which you are?

A. Z.: Theoretically, I would like to be a more instinctive painter, less reserved, freer, but perhaps only in theory, because in Art I am a promoter of that undefined “Great Style”, which requires a strong formal control, in any case.

Certainly, painting that is too refined and descriptive does not interest me, but paradoxically, my nature has carried me in the opposite direction. The fact that I am never satisfied with my work – that I repeatedly return to the same painting – has made me a formally “clean” painter.

The little drama of my painting is, therefore, that it seems photographic and illustrative even though it is generated by a chaotic stratification of superimpositions.