2014 - Art and (counter) movement in Antonio Scaccabarozzi, by Gian Alberto Farinella

Art and (counter) movement in Antonio Scaccabarozzi.

We know that the artist, when he is such, never makes a forward move, astraight progress , a linear development; but rather draws a curve which turns on its own axis, in a spiral motion tending to infinity. It is a vortex propelled by selfobsession, delusion, of more or less shameful phantoms, of "sublimation," but also by projects and research born of intellect and evaluated by the proper use of reason; which control the results, gives rise to new solutions, and determines the expectations.  A spiral, thence, the movement of which rises from the gloomy depth of that magmatic dream state that, from Freud onwards, we call unconscious, to the light smooth surface of  waking life, in black and white, that which defines thought and makes a work legible. In short, this is the passage from the soul to the idea; the will to give order to the wealth of experience and chaos of feeling, to give shape to life, to derive the meaning. 

Nevertheless, during the twentieth century, interpretations were produced moving towards the opposite direction; and it is here where the problems begin. Namely, when you want to return to the nether regions of the origin of form and meaning. To that season en enfer, anticipated by Rimbaud in his famous "Je est un autre", where you return to the surface, with eyes a little red-rimmed, and perhaps, a few bones broken. It is in this "counter-movement", which apparently pushes from the top down (or rather, we should speak of counter-effect, that for an instant stops the flow, to then redirect it in the opposite direction), where the need emerges to redefine the terms of "making" art, so eradicating the roots of a possible interpretation immersed in psychology, of inner life that gathers around the personalized image of consciousness, and therefore of the artist tout court. If there is, in fact, something that we have learned from the husserliana, radicalized by the French phenomenology, is that consciousness is not constituted by any being and never rests on itself, but manifests itself as a push towards the exterior. Therefore, it is devoid of given identity and of prerequisite singularity, open and in constant self-transcendence, to quote the words of Sartre, "as clear as a great wind". 

In this way, art and life, strength and shape, leave behind empty conformist sterilizationsand false dissolute deviations of "expressions of emotion". Because it is not only a matter of pulling from the inside out, of solipsistic inspiration, of narcissistic pleasure, of I and of the world; or of opposing the sentiment to reason or the dream ofart to the awakening of thought and of criticism.  But rather, to take up a position in respect of life, to give it a new form, to recreate it starting from the ambiguity of reality that brings with it the anxiety of the incessant question of existence. It is from here that the counter-movement then becomes the moment of union between what is outside and  what is inside; between which only the differences depart in two opposite directions, toward those incurable fractures from which the web of life  is often woven.

 What is gained from all this? Surely the enchantment of pure, naked existence. That whirling dynamism that is the maximum expression of energy and freedom, a fundamental innocence for any true artist, as is and was Antonio Scaccabarozzi.  

An artist who, it is appropriate to say, has made counter-movement a "way of life".  A free spirit, not prone to compromise, who had been living for art in anyway and anyhow, despite the adversity that destiny, at times, had taken.   Of humble origins (born in 1936, in Merate, in the province of Lecco) Scaccabarozzi moved to Milan in the early 50s and began working at a young age as a draughtsman at a photolithographic studio , while in the evening he attended the School of Applied Arts at Castle Sforzesco, where he stubbornly gained  graduation (he wanted to enrol in the Academy of Brera, but the obligation of daytime attendance precluded entry). They were hard years, in a Milan deeply marked by class differences , where it was easy to be crushed in the lower depths in which one was born, even if being of promising and hope. 

Seven years spent in such a narrow life, was finally more than enough. Therefore deciding to leave his secure job he got on the back of a Vespa and, accompanied by a companion from the Castle school, set out for adventure. After a few years spent in Paris, where he worked as a theatre set decorator ; he then travelled to London, Holland and other European countries  to "experience" the world (getting to know Pasolini, Franco Zeffirelli, and “La” Callas), and in 1965 returning once more to Milan.  There he exhibited his first work of perceptive geometric study- , the so-called "puntini" (dots) from the cycle of “Prevalenze and Fustellati”. Experiments where there are static and dynamic balances of a Gestalt nature, in which sequences of simple visual units, some obtained by die-cutting, create an optical tension in the visual space. They are serial works, executed with almost maniacal precision, where the  extroversion of the points alter the surface of the canvas, modulating the light effects and iridescent shadows to vary the angle of the source of light. Their use is not only intended to give movement to the picture, stripped as it is of any natural reference, so as to lay bare the reticulated geometry that forms the structural skeleton, but also, and above all, to complicate the point of view of the observer of the work, to question the act of perception of the very maker.  

For Scaccabarozzi, the choice is made. Art must leave and arrive supported by itself , it must analyze its elementary components (light, color, form, movement) overcoming any allusion to function, to freely probe the dynamic and formal aspect towards abstraction, without losing itself in realism.

If, from the point of view of art history, the debt owed to the Milan avant-garde  in the fifties and sixties is taken for granted, and, not only that of Milan ( considering, for example, Victor Vasarely) it is not to say that the work of Scaccabarozzi is devoid oforiginality and unforeseen development.  In fact, in later years, his name is mentioned next to that of Alviani, Bonalumi, Castellani, Fontana or Dadamaino, just to cite the most important. However, his signature style is not anchored to any "School," or movement, albeit fundamental, even though it questions the event itself of creating art, its mystery, its irreducible contingency. That's why his work is neither an unconscious fantasy emerging from the fog of Milan, nor a power position taken up, more or less on good terms, in the face of the market and of the salon. If anything it is the result of a biography described through a hermetic model, capable of making the work of art the centre of a temporal questioning of how unconditionally singular life is. So to the childhood memory of grandfather at the table with a glass of wine that reflects its colored light on the tablecloth, becoming, Proustian in its chromatic magic, "alchemistic” painting, transparent and light, to be found again in later works such as the cycle of Geography and Velature cycle (2001-2008). 

Whereas, in the rhythmic color of “Essenziali” (Basics-1990s), so full of the light and air of Kefalonia the island of Natassy's grandparents "Antonio's partner, we find, instead, a familiar language of color lying on an ineffable and subtle conceptual palette, even if it is in substance almost an exercise in visual cleanliness, ethically resisting the anaesthetization and consumption of the senses of our era.  

In Iniezioni Endotele, at the end of the 80s, the privileged dimension is always the memory , exploring the relationship between a physical quantity of color and its ability to diminish when extended. Exploration followed up in Quantity, in which the interrogative pressure on the time frame of action painting has become the subject of aesthetic representation; the proof of quantitative value turns into a purely philosophical question : "how long will it last?" but also "how much is hidden and how much is shown? ".

At this point, the exploration finds its foundation. The counter-movement that art makes on life turns out to be a successful attempt to put the work of art on a fine line, between the visible and the invisible, where the eye becomes an analytic breaking into of reality.  "I'm looking into the garden from a window on the ground floor - writes Scaccabarozzi I look through ..., a composition of a vague almost Cartesian recollection  - I look again here and there, then return to glance again: I have just enough time to realize that I had observed the scene through a transparent curtain [...]. " 

So, it comes to educating the eye against the mystification of the already seen. To look in order to see better, and, above all, to see. But the educational function , which painting holds for Scaccabarozzi, is not based on a fluent discursive rationality, but is intrinsic to the eye. It sheds light on the mechanisms of perception based on the synthesis between concept and sensitive intuition , as taught by Gestalt psychology. If it were not for painting, visual perception would not be "seen" as such. Because, as Merleau-Ponty writes, in The Visible and the Invisible: "The temptation to create perception from what is perceived [...] is almost irresistible. "The gesture of the painter who converts  looking into doing, makes vision function. It demonstrates, borrowing yet again the words of Ponty, "wrapping the visible onto the body of the seeing. "

When Robert Musil spoke of "disturbance in the balance of the consciousness of reality," (according to the dictate of Arnold Gehlen, in pictures of the time), that is, of the possibility of painting  making visible a force that is inherent to the image, revealing a connection, inexpressible in words, between it and that what it appears to be, he was referring to a function of painting that Scaccabarozzi made his own.

It is only in this way, that the thought lodged in the reproduced picture may be freed, flowing to such an extent that consciousness suddenly jumps to another level. What then appears, is an absolutely external and objective dimension that is addressed, however, in a "spiritually visible perfection" (Gehlen); it seems almost to find, within that breaking into the consciousness of reality, a point of radiation that looks back at you. Here we are, as I said earlier, in the presence of a  consciousness in process, of a subjectivity without self-evident guaranties, that does not express itself, nor derive from a given inner being, or a complete subject, an "espresso"; but which builds itself in the anonymity of doing, in the dynamic and contingent empirical construction process.  For this reason, with Scaccabarozzi we can talk about freedom of action, of experimental power. Consider, for example, the use of plastic bags in Geografie, used, as well as for their veiling and for the effect of impalpable lightness, also for the simplicity of transport and installation: you can bend, ship it, and with two small nails, fix it to a wall. And there you have it, even the ugly plastic bag finds its place in the transfiguration that art has accomplished. Its common function has been cancelled, it has become images of an objective memory, soaked in blue, in pink, in Mediterranean purple, while the shape has found its rhythm, movement its trace, strength its mark.

A final consideration. If the conceptual dimension, as we have said, is essentially tied to a specific action, then you place the work of Scaccabarozzi in a tensional zone, always ready to be verified. But not only. it is, above all, charged with time. It becomes an infinite process, which does not exist outside of its making: like dance, or rather, like the fluctuating movement of the tango.  Tango, where in recent years the dance artist has taken up a place, a raison d'être: with  his figure, his raised and rapid footwork; his elegance and, not surprisingly, his development. Yes, because the tango is a dance based on improvisation, it is an art of movement.   Step by step you proceed with a walk that must conquer naturalness, combine forces, balance the body.

So it is that recovery and change  weave infinite textures, vortices which with Nietzschean impetus turn back on themselves, in a continuous movement Nietzsche noted  before his days of madness: "Every art has a tonic effect, it increases strength and augments pleasure. "   But there is a condition. Only when it is a counter-movement; and so it was for Scaccabarozzi. .

 Gian Alberto Farinella

Turin, July 2014

Additional Info

  • Autori: Gian Alberto Farinella
  • Data Ristampa: July 2014