GIACINTO DI PIETRANTONIO
FIRST PAINTING: ETERNITY
Even today – though this is above all an Italian vexation – people question the timeliness, the necessity and reality of painting; a national modernist provincialism and of course one that is past its due date in a country that has never really accepted modernity. Let’s immediately try to understand why, not regarding the rejection of modernity, but when it comes to the eternity of painting. We can try a simple experiment.
Imagine a painter – Velasco, in this case – who without showing you an image tells you about a landscape, a figure, a subject of any kind that he is painting, and asks you for your thoughts on the matter. Try to imagine if that painting, which he will show you as soon as it is done, can be a beautiful painting or not. The answer is that we are honestly unable to express any opinion, because a painting – whatever its subject – has to be seen before we can say of it works or not, if the work is a success or a failure. The issue becomes even clearer in the case of a non-pictorial work; here we realize that at least 50% of the time, if not more, we can express an assessment. It is not just a question of aesthetics, but also of technique, because this 50% or more of probability of the answer applies to video, photography and many other artistic techniques, with the exception of painting. Rest assured, I am not saying that painting is better than photography, or video, etc., or vice versa. I simply want to assert that painting, by ontology, has to be done before we can make a judgement. This means that painting can never die, that it is always necessary and therefore always has its own timely vitality, in spite of those who would like to see it dead.
SECOND PAINTING: PRESUMPTION
Painting is always an act of presumption with respect to itself and other techniques, because it is a manual medium that draws nourishment not only from its nature, but also from the confrontation with other techniques, above all the neighboring ones of “technical reproducibility” (Benjamin) that compose the modern and contemporary media-scape.
Here too the threat has been thwarted, and the quantity-quality of reproduction that was supposed to put an end to painting has wound up by not being an obstacle to the creative quality of painting itself, but if anything its very stimulus. As much painting teaches us, it can gain advantage from this face-off, achieving remarkable results. It is worth pointing out that some artists are directly involved in this relationship, while others do not fill their studios with photographic memos, images from magazines or television, and so on, but work from memory, because the reproduced images are all around us and therefore also inside us. By the way, it should be said that there was no need to wait for such modernity, given the fact that the reproduction of the artwork existed prior to photography, thanks totechniques of engraving.
THIRD PAINTING: ERASURE
Part of the exhibition comes precisely from this latter technical area, if as Velasco narrates some of the works were inspired by a view of Venice from the 16th century by Jacopo de’ Barbari. This image is part of a series of woodcuts of Venice made by the Renaissance artist, in which the black-white contrast gives the major work of urban cartography a strong character, prompting Velasco to make the black and white cities with metal grilles overlaid on the image below. In short, the ancient reproductive technique of engraving is de-structured and the subtracted signs are placed to float on the canvas in such a way that the imagery below seems to be erased, forcing the viewer to make a visual effort to put the whole image into focus. The whole seems like an erased surface made of multiple visual planes and many pentimenti. After all, we should not forget that the mechanical focusing of photography and that of Impressionist painting stem from the same period, feeding off each other.
FOURTH PAINTING: TRADITION
There is no point in denying the fact that there is a tradition in every work, a past from which we rightly cannot free ourselves, because it is not closed, but always an open form. In Truth and Method Gadamer tells us that Hermeneutics and Deconstruction teach that “our historical consciousness is always filled with a multiplicity of voices that echo the past.” In this case, there is a tradition in the path of which painting grows from its origins to the present, a tradition that is not only that of color, material and image, but also that of the measurement of space, given the fact that in many cases the works in question are works of non-measurable and non-Euclidean spaces, because they are fragmented, larval and abstract, often so much so that the starting sites become almost unrecognizable, though some traces are conserved. Here the “divina proportio” has had a breakdown and the “golden” Renaissance philosophy of Pacioli and Leonardo has been replaced by the liquid state and non-places of Bauman and Augé. Except in rare cases, Velasco’s placesare not recognizable; they could be anywhere, any place, the failure of place with the memory open to all places. Even if the painting displays a definite space, it alludes to animbalance of space and the contradiction of the order of places of the world.
FIFTH PAINTING: FAILURE
As we have seen, all this does not offer refuge for painting, nor does it place it above other techniques, because painting itself is also made of many failures, errors that need not be feared, because a skilled painter always turns them to advantage, especially his own mistakes. Much of the history of painting, as well as that of modern and contemporary art, would not exist had artists not decided to take advantage of this territory of defeat, as happens in certain martial arts that take advantage of the errors of the enemy. Masters of this approach of advantageous failure in art include, not by chance, Picasso and Duchamp, among the first to pave the way. Between hyperactivity and inertia, what they have taught us, first of all, is to take advantage of not fearing our weaknesses, our fears, telling us that our era and we are above all precisely this failure. Furthermore, fuelled by Nietzsche who saw the failure of the West, certain artists – instead of responding with a gesture of power – have thought of its opposite, to the point of provocatively requesting help not from Nietzsche’s superman, but from the amateur, though cultured and sophisticated, or from the creative innocence of the child, one of the hardest to equal because it is experienced in the state of grace of play. Velasco seems to have gained instruction from all this, and years ago he made a multi-colored abstract sculpture, placing it on a tree, the way children do with their tree houses. A tree house and a painting made of additions, oppositions, erasures, revisions, successes and failures that were there no danger of being misunderstood we might define as “weak.”
SIXTH PAINTING: FINISHED—UNFINISHED
A way of painting and shaping that is the result of inspiration captured in the neutral zone that lies between thinking and doing, because a painted image, at times backed up by its sister sculpture, always adds something of its own, managing to always be something more or less than you had imagined. This is why it has to be thought, but also why it has to be made, why it has to be seen. This frees painting from the decoration that makes painting, like life, into a gesture of authentic creation. This does not mean that Velasco’s paintings are existentialist; it simply means that they have a vitality that comes from the material and the sign themselves, capable of being organized on the canvas in such a way as to reveal, though in abstraction, informality and expressivity, artificial and natural reality. The cities of Velasco, his labyrinths, end up not being a realistic portrait, but a plane of pictorial signs, as there is no shadow of a doubt that his painting is made by adding matter but subtracting figure, in order to remove, together with realism, the narrative reliability as well. What we can grasp is the relationship between finite and non-finite, a dual pictorial register that is as old as the world. It is a world of images that over the course of the centuries, if we think about it, has given us a painting that is more symbolic than realistic. And perhaps the desire for realism, which surrounds us, is nostalgia for equality, if not primacy, as can be seen in the media images all around us. Painting seems to want to rebel against this sense of normalization, a struggle that is evident in Velasco’s paintings in which the figures seem to drown or surface, and where the painting of the Torre Velasca and the bronze sculpture of the table-lagoon-swamp in which the dogs seem to sink are clear examples.
The sensation is thus of a non-finished eternity, of a painter who has moved away from the canvas and could return from one moment to the next to complete it. Or it could be a way of encouraging an open series, a flight towards the next work.