When I look at Velasco Vitali’s work, which is critically assigned, with everyone’s approval, to the reassuring category of Italian figurative realism, I do not only see an author who virtuously and stylishly records predetermined paths, but above all an artist who anxiously listens to the realities we experience, but no longer seem to regard with attention or love. Harsh is the fate of a narrator through images in an era marked by figurative cynicism and by a zero gaze resulting from the glut of images filling our eyes and minds. Harsh is the path of an artist at a stage where, in order to change the perspectives on what we seek and create, it would probably be necessary to radically change the aesthetic of the gaze and to rethink the philosophical and conceptual categories according to which we identify and use things and actions in our life. Yet we can still have faith in the obsessive need that exists in every true creator who has to respond to the demands of his own body and soul to give a form to those inner urges, independently of external difficulties and the circumstances in which he works. But this may not be enough. After a century (which has recently ended) of radical metamorphoses of the concept of art, of alternating, conflicting and contrasting visions, of imploding visions, solutions, buzzwords, manifestos, movements, breaks, burials and rebirths, art seemed, like so many other humanistic disciplines, to experience a period in which its redeeming role was definitively relativized and it was apparently forced into the sphere of experience and individual consumption. Or, at least, that’s how it seemed. Because in this period of crises, and through the serious questioning of many of our points of view and advantageous positions, a new idea is emerging, namely that we might once again ask Art to account for its role in society and the meanings that it might express in the near future.
I am not alluding simply to the participatory and “political” aspect of art, which continues to create borderline experiences that are often extraordinary and certainly necessary for re-shuffling our “tired” disciplines, but rather to the values of meaning and alleviation that every quality artistic experience represents not only in the life of every individual, but above all for the various unstable communities that he encounters in the vast metropolitan landscape we inhabit every day.
Perhaps art possesses the powerful and archaic elements that would help us to get out of the doldrums of a century that is now behind us, in order to once again produce collective narratives that can be shared, and to give concreteness and substance to those symbols and images that are still able to nourish our inner memory.
There are, in fact, authors who are silently questioning themselves and seeking to reconnect threads for a narrative form that can progress from personal and local to shared and universal, opening up different, forward-looking scenarios. They are creative people whom we encounter in the most diverse disciplines, from traditional art to photography, from cookery to landscape, graphics and poetry. What they all have in common, however, is a burning curiosity that leads them to question, often quietly and in places off the crowded beaten track, the keywords, the tools and the points of view through which we usually interpret reality and the visions that shape it.
Viewed from this perspective, the art of Velasco Vitali, who encounters and reveals parts of Isola Grande in his new project entitled Foresta Rossa, acquires a different meaning. It is not simply a matter of poetic reactions to a unique and magical place like the island that has welcomed him. These works embody the idea that art can still help us to reconstruct complex narratives and to reconnect the threads – seemingly broken – linking simple myths to the natural power of places: vision and senses of a reality that we once again smell, touch and taste.
Velasco has transformed his personal lake imagery into various “stations” conceived for the island within a universal narrative that goes beyond the autobiographical to bring us into contact with the powerful force of the dream and of the symbols it is able to reawaken.
It is not coincidental, therefore, that the lengthy preparation which led Velasco to choose sculpture and free-standing forms sprang from an obsessive visual research on the form and nature of the contemporary city.
This research began with several actual places, with cities in southern Italy and with Milan, which were gradually stripped of recognizable symbols to become living flesh, thick impasto, material and light. It was as if they had gone back to the fragmented, impressionistic roots of the nineteenth century city and, at the same time, to the material, where the architectural body and the flesh of those who inhabit it are forged together, crying out and breathing heavily, in ecstasy and suffering, to express the metamorphosis that we now call the global metropolis.
The research did not end at this relatively simple stage – which, among other things, was carried out in parallel by other, mainly Italian, artists and photographers who felt the need to return to the city and its overall structure, in order to identify the models and forms that best express the transformation currently underway. Nor did it stop at inhabited cities but progressively moved towards a silent, unrelenting research on the hundreds of cities that were founded, built and then abandoned by man in the course of history.
A very long list in which Velasco was looking for Babel, the first of the metropolises built as an act against God and man, and then abandoned. At the same time, he was investigating the resistant nature of human madness, which becomes glass, geometric shapes, and places that exist despite everything, and as a sublime and terrible warning about what we are risking.
This important stage in Velasco’s artistic development could not but combine painting with the production of free-standing objects displayed in the open air on Isola Madre, thus linking the large exterior garden of Palazzo Borromeo to its interior steeped in memories and history.
In fact, a series of canvases devoted to some of the abandoned cities are hidden away inside the palazzo, with the intention of multiplying the interplay, the associations and the visual and symbolic cross-references between the splendid eighteen century puppet theatres and the sublime and mysterious images of these cities that are simply echoes of themselves and their lost memory.
With Foresta Rossa, Velasco Vitali has accomplished the feat of creating a generous and powerful circular narrative in which actual places, dreamed symbols, lost and forgotten cities, nature and the gazes of those who will inhabit the places and the island itself, all contribute to the telling of a great story in which it will be both wonderful and necessary to lose oneself.
It’s like when we were children and we used to play at letting ourselves fall backwards, hoping that the friend who was holding us would not let go at the last moment. This requires an act of faith that is rewarded with the momentary thrill of feeling yourself falling into emptiness and then being saved. In fact, Velasco is asking us to do just this, with the graciousness and quiet gentleness that always accompanies his work. He is asking us to let ourselves go, to abandon ourselves, at least for a moment, to this unexpected thrill, in the red forest conjured by our imagination.