Velasco is a painter. Whereas I’m a photographer. Velasco comes from Lake Como, whereas I’m from Sicily. So why on earth should we meet, and what was the point of me writing about him? That’s what I couldn’t help wondering when friends of ours suggested we should get together. I’m pretty ignorant about painting, among other things. But not because I don’t like it. In the course of life I’ve learnt a bit about graphics, the papers and acids and so on. Anyway the point is that I’ve always claimed that photography has more in common with the theatre, with literature, with the unconscious, than with painting. Indeed, I’ve argued that this mistaken affiliation and correspondence has actually acted to the detriment of both of them.
What really spurred me on to find out more about Velasco and then to meet him was literature. And just for a change, it had to do with Sicily. You can do your utmost to avoid it, but this particular aspect of Sicily always catches up with you in the end.
I was told that Velasco the painter, the man from the north, had fallen in love with Sicily and was preparing two major exhibitions of works painted on the island.
So I got to meet a passionate man who paints pictures with passion. And it turned out that many years ago he stole a book of Sicilian photos of mine to give to a friend of his as a present. The threads of the story are beginning to come together.
This little presentation of mine is possibly a form of punishment for that sin.
But I probably wouldn’t have imposed my worthless reflections on him had he not begun by telling me what he found so astounding about Sicily: the colour of the sky, a very particular shade of blue, an indefinable azure that never ceases to amaze him.
If I’m not mistaken, De Staël said something very similar about the Sicilian skies.
Then Velasco showed me his paintings and I understood what he meant. Those skies were almost black and ashen in their pursuit of colour, as though they were blinded by dazzling sun reflected off the fields, the villages, the cities.
I’ve always been surprised by the bright, apollonian light in photographs of Sicily and southern Europe taken by photographs from the north. As I always say, what I like about the sun is the fact that it projects sharp, hard shadows, because it can engender its opposite and create drama and continual contradiction. I simply can’t see that luminous and serene Sicily. My Sicily is black. Light and mourning, as Gesualdo Bufalino has pointed out, go hand in hand in Sicily.
Velasco’s Sicily is also black, and as soon as I saw it I recognised it. And this recognition surprised, embarrassed and touched me.
The surprise was to discover in Velasco’s work the same visual sensibility that I find in my favourite Sicilian painters, writers, and photographers. The embarrassment was to realise, and not for the first time, that the impenetrability that we Sicilians cultivate as a defence against incomprehension and contempt is simply a myth of our own making. And I was touched because deep down we actually want to be understood, and possibly loved as well.
Penetrating the landscape and its light means not only understanding the men and women who were born and grew up here, but also relating to the human condition of the people who have shaped the landscape in the course of history. The people are part of these landscapes, the landscape part of the people. The portrayal of the two go hand in hand together.
in Isolitudine, Charta, Milano 2001, catalogue of the exhibition