[ENG] Luca Beatrice, Un classicista in cerca d’imprevisti, catalogo della mostra / exhibition catalogue, Silvana Editoriale, Fondazione Durini, Milano

Posted on Agosto 4, 2008

In mathematics, the functions between ordered groups are called monotone sequences if they maintain the same order. These functions were first defined in analysis and then they were generalized in the most abstract environment of the theory of orders. In analysis people often talk of monotone increasing sequence and monotone decreasing sequence; the theory of orders instead prefers the terms monotone and antitone or that preserves the order (order-preserving) and that inverts the order (order-reversing).

From Wikipedia.

In the introductory test to the catalogue “The painting of modern life“, Ralph Rugoff observes, “Instead of yielding to a death sentence after the invention of the photographic camera, painting absorbed photography into itself in order to redefine and extend its own conceptual reach”. The Rivoli Castle is currently hosting this exhibition, from London’s Hayward Gallery, which highlights the important relationship between painting and photography developed in at least two periods from recent history: the Sixties, when artists like Warhol, Richter and Artschwager transcribed the images of social affairs in their paintings, and the Nineties, which witnessed the rapid diffusion of a kind of painting that camouflaged itself with the language of photography, attracted by live Realism.

The bond between painting and representation of modern life however dates back to before the Twentieth Century. The definition “painter of modern life” comes from the famous Charles Baudelaire tale and is particularly suited to that form of “the transitory, the transient and the contingent” present in city life. Let’s now return to the feeling of the show. Interesting, although it has arrived at least a decade too late, since, as stated above, the painting-photography relationship was put under the spotlight above all in the Nineties after the rapid diffusion of some of the technological tools which that were bearers of a new aesthetic. Home video, with the DVD players that replaced the VHS recorder, allowing you to find and freeze an image, for example defined the increase in painters who “copy” cinema (or are inspired by it), believing that the infinite archive contained in film memory is fundamental to their poetry. Disposable and digital cameras, which have become more and more economical and easy to use, spread the aesthetic of the snapshot, or the instant, live picture, which doesn’t pick out reality but catalogues it. This type of photographic style, which rejected posing, also decisively influenced the painters, who paid attention to day-to-day, non-noble, contingent subjects, inspired if not indeed seduced by the peculiar grain of the digital image, substituted in the last period of the century by the photos and video-cameras integrated into mobile phones, or rather the triumph of the “here and now” imaginary that perhaps will not allow particular virtuosities but in terms of Realism finds no equals.

Despite emerging right in the Nineties, Andrea Zucchi does not belong to this family of “photographic” painters. You only need to cast your mind back to his shows of that period (the personal shows at the Studio Grossetti, Milan 1993 and at Spazio Consolo, Milan 1998 as well as the various exhibitions dedicated to the “New Italian Figuration”) and you’ll realize how his iconographic and cultural references were already far removed from the metropolitan-realist mood that was in vogue at the time. Zucchi was rather more concerned with the Metaphysical, Magic Realism and Surrealism: shadowy areas in Twentieth century painting sacrificed on the altar of the Avant-garde, venerated by a niche public and in general not highly considered by critique. A Classicist by vocation, the young Zucchi was looking at Testori and Bacon, huge yet fundamentally isolated figures. This is in any case about a “pure” style of painting, far removed from the photographic trend.

From the start of the new decade onwards Zucchi was creating and developing what we can nowadays consider to be his mature language. Or rather, in the painting we find images of different natures matched together. At the start separated by fields of monochrome colour, a sort of chromatic pause that helped bestow rhythm and order to the composition (see the Obraz show, Milan 2004), whereas the later paintings presented a structure that was completely free and deprived of any restrictions. But let’s take a step back. Andrea Zucchi was born in 1964. These were the same years in which for the first time painters were seen to be discovering the potential of photography and using it in their paintings. It is perhaps just chance, but it was the same era in which there was widespread interest in the Realist image. When we were children, Conoscere [Knowledge] started to appear in Italian homes, a new illustrated encyclopedia, not organized in alphabetical order, but in a set of about fifteen volumes “where the subjects”, writer Giulio Mozzi remembers, “followed on from each other in no apparent order, and yet you could always look them up in the index; and where, flicking casually through without the aid of the index, I would get an amazing image of the infinite variety of everything”.

Each reader was able to choose his or her own route to follow (a little like what happens in Trivial Pursuit or in a sort of ahead-of-its-time hypertext) but also to be inspired by what he or she did not already know; the aim was not to hyper-specialize but to learn a little about everything. The all-colour iconographic system could take you to where the consultation of a traditional encyclopedia would never have taken you, and in this way surprising matches could be created between things, and the memory got used to being mobile and fluctuating.   Conoscere in some way responds to the Rhizome principle expressed by Deleuze and Guattari in Millepiani [A Thousand Plateaus]: a particular kind of root that can penetrate the earth via a horizontal extending movement, as opposed to the usual type of tap root, which penetrates in a vertical direction until it takes root deep down. This figure was used by the philosopher and the psychoanalyst to represent an entire diagram of position and movement of thought. In fact one of their intentions was to outline a method of thinking the surface that might be used in alternative to the metaphysic of depth.  The Deleuzian reference of writer Michel Tournier is fitting: “strange prejudice that blindly exploits depth to the detriment of the surface, maintaining that superficial does not of course mean of vast dimensions, but rather of little depth, whereas profound means of great depth and not of limited surface area”. The geophilosophy described by Deleuze and Guattari, using texts from distinct cultural environments (from psychology to anthropology, from literature to aesthetics) on the one hand attempted to capture all of the observable landscape in the surface vision (that is not to be mistaken with attention to banal detail) for every topos identifying its exact position, its consistency, the relationships established with other points, the multitude of figures that designs in connection with other figures; on the other hand, according to a historic perspective, the stratifications that followed, sign of diverse eras, in which the historical factor intertwined with the territorial structures in a continuously unexpected game of throwing away and perseverance.

Going back to a specific aesthetic, there were no photos in the volumes of Conoscere, there were illustrations instead. The authors were therefore asked to copy reality, reinventing it through matching up. The design suggested a realistic approach, never photographic, and the many hands involved prevented a levelling out in stylistic terms. The combinations between different things responded exactly to the Dada and Surrealist principle of this case. In the same way that Eizenstein’s theory should be remembered in relation to cinematographic cutting and editing, according to which image A added to image B does not result in the sum of the two parts, or rather image AB, but a third, indeed virtual image, C.

All this goes to explain that Zucchi’s painting is based on the obsession for iconographic and formal research. The objects go well together not because they might signify the same thing, but because of structural, chromatic similarities, starting from denotative elements that only afterwards can become connotative. Still on the subject of generation, let us not forget that when our generation was of university age we breathed the air of semiology, a subject that studies the phenomena of signification and communication, whereby for signification we mean each relationship that links something materially present to something else which is missing (the red light of a traffic light means “stop”). Each time that this is put into practice or a relationship of signification is used, a communication process is activated (the traffic light is red and so I stop the car). The relationships of signification define the system which is implied by concrete communication processes. This all goes to confirm that even in the background of a painter as explicitly figurative as Zucchi, analysis greatly exceeds narration.

Nowadays – the leap in time may appear much riskier than the facts would demonstrate – we are in the age of search engines, of Google and Yahoo (and the dispute over which of the two is effectively better, more efficient and more complete has come about in recent weeks). Tools which have supplanted traditional methods of documentation above all because of speed. Once upon a time, in order to write a text like this, I would have had to look up scores of texts and catalogues on my bookshelves, and that not sufficing, I would have had to go down to the library. In the 2000s all you need to do is type in keywords or images that you want to track down. Rapidity goes hand-in-hand with the immense quantity of data available, evident or hidden, but the founding principle is not too different from that of Conoscere, Dada and Surrealism. Google (Yahoo)’s creative mission is to favour unexpected matchings, following the Serendipity philosophy – discovering something that you were neither looking for nor expecting while you are looking for something else.

With respect to painting, photography favours the flat approach to reality; it strikes and seduces in its evidence, and reworks it with difficulty. Nowadays, it would no longer make sense for a painter to copy an image (a frame of a film), yet it is necessary to make one of his or her own. The methods of writing (faster, less orthodox, favours curiosity, niches) and representation have changed. Since the start of the last decade figurative painters have been working on images placed side-by-side or juxtaposed on the same plane of interpretation, even if they do not show necessary links between each other: for example Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer in Germany, Alessandro Roma, Manuele Cerutti and our own Andrea Zucchi in Italy. Only a flat, superficial interpretation of his language would reduce it to photo-Realism or Hyper-realism. Zucchi’s texture is uneven, tangled, and anti-analytical chromatically fixated on a monotone which governs the formal organization of the paintings. Only afterwards will we be able to observe if and why archetypal subjects and feasible architecture or persevering examples of the ancient and effigies of modernity sit well together. It will be interesting, curious, but believe you me it’s not important.