Andrea Zucchi, the eccentric sumptuousness of painting – Interview by Chiara Canali

Posted on Marzo 19, 2008

Right from the title “Spaesamenti” [Being out of place], this new cycle of works seems to reconnect with the poetry of the metaphysical in the use of a process that matches realities that are unusual and irreconcilable with one another within a naturalist dimension. Do you believe that your study may have a debt to metaphysical experience and in other places pull away from it?

It’s been many years since I have looked at De Chirico carefully, but his ascendency among the painters of the twentieth century, along with perhaps Bacon, has been a defining factor in my formation. As with many contemporaries, their ability to not interrupt a consistent dialogue with the canons of tradition and to develop meaningful variations of them from within is in my opinion much more interesting and difficult than inventing new ones. I would however prefer to talk about Realism, which reworks our perceptions of the world in a more stratified manner, rather than naturalism, which above all follows the “retinal” appearance of vision.

Matching up unusual elements is a practice that is widely used nowadays, but which can still create rather diverse effects.   Unlike the Surrealists, who dragged it off in a visceral and imaginative direction, I believe that the Metaphysical’s sense of being out of place has its origins in the plastic manipulations of compositions rather than in the juxtaposition of subjects, and in this sense I would happy to be considered someone who is continuing the tradition. Nowadays I am effectively moving closer to De Chirico again, but perhaps to his “Seventeenth century” phase, rather than the drier style influenced by the “primitive” Italians. I had even thought of using the title “Metaphysical of Exoticism” for this show, but it is such an abused title that I found it a little indigestible.

In your images exotic figures and animals are put inside places that have nothing whatsoever to do with their ethnic origins. As well as the perception of being geographically out of place, you also get a sense of temporal disorientation…

I use what attracts my vision the most, but I need to adopt a common denominator for my cycles of works for fear of becoming lost.

The perhaps easily picturesque variety of exotic subjects and the spectacular, sometimes even frivolous nature of a lot of contemporary architecture really suited my need to capture and mix a multitude of subjects. If I have to identify something wonderful in life and in the world, something that is not always easy for us humans, I find it first and foremost in the infinite and incredible variation of forms, living or not, that life produces over the course of time. Only on reflection, (as Brigante says, I’m a bit slow to reflect…), do I have to admit that this forced, aesthetic “matching up” of architecture and exoticism, which perhaps contains an sci-fi fantasy imaginary aftertaste, inevitably also brings up even, dare I say it, socio-political themes. Pockets of resistance of ancient cultures and animal species will be able to survive a system that is increasingly undifferentiated and uniform, so that the magnificent Molochs of modern buildings might grow into their contrary nature, only for unexpected adaptations and migrations. However much this is visually extreme in my paintings, it is already taking place in reality; you can find ostrich or vicuña farms even in Padania[1], and dairy cattle farms are nowadays looked after by communities of beautiful Sikhs in red turbans.

What criterion guides you in this systematic operation of connection between ethnic groups and architectural structures from near and far? Is there a logical, consequential motivation or an anthropological or literary type of reason?

The same criterion that a good painter of still life would use in putting animal carcasses together with fruit, vegetables and crystal glasses.

Only that in the place of aubergines and pheasants, I put together images lifted from printed paper and recombine them in terms of formal and chromatic correspondences or contrasts. The headdress of the Papuan and the hornbill’s beak recall the constructive lines of Calatrava, the hyper-decoration of the Ethiopian warriors melts into the Baroque décor of the Collegio Clementino, and the metal discs on the face of the Berber woman are laid out in the likeness of the structure of the Atom monument. Of course, not everything goes to plan, but I try at least to differentiate between the shapes. I have furthermore tried to dedicate a lot of care and attention to the chromatic relationships, even if no one notices any more, blinded as we are by the taste for pop art, shifting myself towards a decided colour scheme and a limited range of shades.

Having said that, I can’t escape the problem of narration, to which I am slowly coming around. I don’t want to set up stories yet, but if the images that I develop generate a story, then it no longer bothers me, it actually begins to intrigue me, because deep down I bow down before the superiority of literature.

The exotic dominant feature of the figures from the Third World put into depersonalized spaces and altered environments, which correspond to the non-places described by the anthropologist Marc Augé, defines a sensation of voyeurism linked to a feeling of solitude and individuality.

Is yours also a reflection on the loss of geographical confines and on the sense of being out of place of super-modernity?

I’d like to be able to answer “I would prefer not”, like a well-known Melville character, but that would be dishonest. I’ll therefore hide behind Flaubert with a “le dépaysé c’est moi” [I’m the one who is out of place].

According to L. Strauss’ Structuralist interpretation, forms and content of a work must correspond and reflect each other perfectly in order to transmit a complete communication. In your case, painting can be a ductile instrument for recording and transmitting the traces of a thought, but at the same time it can also become an exercise of virtuosity in itself.

The choice of subjects is never neutral and has no small influence on the formal solutions and vice versa.

In this genre of painting, the danger of virtuosity is always lurking in the background, and you often fall into it, but it is a risk that I find nobler to face because it is a much more powerful, devious enemy than the sloppiness that is in fashion nowadays.

I would like to be able to work with the aid of the design, but I have realised that I wouldn’t get anywhere if I were to take that direction. I therefore work on this limit, which is not even that bad really, and I try to tack scraps of real painting onto it, sometimes being successful, and often failing.

In photography, my works turn out very realistic and analytical, but if you observe them carefully they are equally as rough and imprecise, with shaky lines and blurred details, rendered with stratified, grainy pictorial substance.

Your work can be considered a breathing gill of that period of the naturalist pictorial tradition with Realist leanings, which is placed in the golden mean between the composed equilibrium of Renaissance Classical or the excessive exuberance of Baroque Mannerism. Who are your masters of reference within the history of art?

That’s a very broad and ever-changing question, because tastes and interests change. Above all else, Egyptian Art and leading down from there, Greek Art.

When I started painting I loved El Greco and Pontormo beyond belief, I loved the visionary nature of William Blake, even if he wasn’t a great painter at all really, Bacon and De Chirico as I mentioned before and good old Van Gogh, because he is the Patron Saint of social misfits.

In general terms I can say that I am more in tune with artists who find themselves working when a formal language has reached saturation point, where the variations can only be developed in either a very sophisticated or highly eccentric fashion. The periods of great innovation are too fresh, dynamic and vital, and with my bovine soul I find myself at ease with things that are heavy, reflective, and not ostentatious. In this sense nowadays I am more and more interested in a classical, sumptuous but not self-satisfied line of painting, that rises up with later Titian, echoes with the stage-lit excess of Caravaggio, on the one hand in Velazquez and on the other in Rembrandt, reappears briefly in Goya and Géricault, and then fades away with Manet.

If possible, I would like to learn something from that school and set off again, leaving the frenzied Twentieth century to refine itself a little

[1]hypothetical political area covering Northern Italy