Gonella. Of the Eternal Movement
I had a dream. It was the emergence from the sea of colors, contours and faces, echoes of emotions. They broke into pieces and came together again, in unchanged oscillation, until they combined into a cohert yet fragmented unity. Until they disappeared like night shadows at the first light of dawn.
“In the past I used to sketch my dreams out on a piece of paper and develop them later on through my painting. I would let them settle for a while and see where they would lead me to, but this phase gradually ended”. With a clear voice and an utterly familiar accent, the man in front of me mixes words without being bothered to check whether they fit into formulas of immediate sense, as a sense they will acquire once juxtaposed to his pictures.
Giuseppe talks, and I hold in front of me his In The Same Breath: I vivisect it, I analyze it. There is a lot of blue, and this overlapping of arms and legs, this intersection of bodies as if they were lying on a seabed. He claims blue has the power to touch certain chords of the soul, to enhance a peaceful introspection. Cause blue is not only related to melancholy, as it was in other instances for artists such as Picasso. “Blue is a sensible color and always a good start. It recurs in my works as it diverts the viewer from reality while evoking a less descriptive, yet highly impactful naturalism”. As it happens in this canvas, where the characters lay down in an embrace while intently listening to the breath of one another. Sunk in the same vital blow, they perceive nature with shared and all-encompassing intensity and to nature, together, they surrender.
On his large paintings, colors spread as to claim more space in an attempt to go beyond their boundaries. He somehow admits suffering of horror vacui since he has got the inclination – “typical of our generation” – to fill holes with suggestions, to saturate spaces with codes. But more than that is his desire to completely involve the viewer, to arouse a feeling pretty similar to bewilderment.
“I want my works to become bigger and bigger. If I had the chance to keep in my studio all those accomplished to date, I am sure they would continue to live, expand and get closer to each other in a unique, never ending story”. As it happened in 2012 when, shortly after leaving New York for Leipzig, in the cold German winter he painted a canvas of 9 meters that marked a change of style for his artistic development.
One might call them works of impact – potentially because of the use he makes of acrylic. “The acrylic conveys rich and pure chromatic tones. The type I paint with, dries more slowly, allowing me to work on subtle and sophisticated fragrances and oil-like veiling effects”. Giuseppe’s pictures are to be observed both close up and far away, since they offer an intricate balance of vivid colors and delicate transparencies which resemble the colorful mosaics on the windows of a Gothic cathedral. Not a random comparison, this one: indeed his artistic training took place in the studio of his father, a master glassmaker and mosaic artist. “I shall thank my father for teaching me not to be intimidated by the pure tones and transparencies, and for being wise enough to let me freely choose how to realize myself as a man and as an artist”. Among the myriad of undefined faces that populate his works lays a 2×1.5m portrait of his father entitled Twin Stare. The rest is an interwave of visages with deliberately vague traits of One, No One and One Hundred Thousand identities.
In his paintings there is nevertheless no shortage of accurate, almost photographic descriptions. “Many asked me whether photography is or is not a tool I make use of. The answer is no. To me photography works more as a reminder, an instrument to be exclusively used in certain phases of the painting process”. If the immediacy is a cornerstone of his technique, the movement intended as an engine for the existential quest is his inspiration, perhaps his obsession. Conceived in the country of origin, long before Berlin and New York, his first works found in the act of running a recurring theme: “I wanted to express my desire for redemption, the anxiety to discover new horizons, to find geographies more suitable to self-realization.” Because, as the title of an exhibition of his that took place in Naples in 2010 says, the real danger is to stay still.
Actually not always. We happen on occasions to be particularly sensitive to external stimuli, like when at an exhibition of contemporary art the work of other artists seduces us to the point of provoking a sense of deep yearning – as strong and unexpected as the heartbeat that is unleashed when we are inadvertently touched by the hand of the person we love. This forces us to stop for a while and catch our breath. A temporary immobility which is in reality a prelude to the achievement of some new awareness, as in February the buds on a tree herald the coming of spring.
Giuseppe gets lost in his silence full of images, then talks again. “Mine is a total and totalizing search. The emotional tension inherent in the creative act is perceived by my mind as a chaotic tangle of wires, among which I go looking for a pure and throbbing meaning, a true one despite all the contradictions. I love developing apparently incoherent visions. It’s on things that seem more difficult to represent that I start working, with the aim of redeeming them”. It ‘s like walking into a messy room full of all sorts of objects. The painter touches them one by one, gives a name to each one of them. He imagines what new use they could serve, which new features they could assume that do not necessarily follow the logic of the world”. And in the meantime distances get shorter, spaces get filled, mistakes are made and lessons are learnt. Only then would the artist move to the next room, to the next canvas. “It’s this insatiable curiosity of mine that helps me to survive each painting”.
The inspiration comes from suggestions, songs, landscapes, fragments of personal history – his and others’. “The source is irrelevant. What matters is the smooth emotional interaction between the viewer and the picture”. An interaction, the features of which mostly depend on the attitude of the single person. I ask him if and to what extent artists have got a social responsibility. “Whichever way it is done, painting aims to express opinions, to raise awareness”. I observe his Mente Locale, where everything – acid greens, contrasting tones, beams of yellow light resembling contrails of genetically modified bees – is aimed to recreate an unsettling, post atomic atmosphere that forces the viewer to wonder what escape routes there might ever be, how and where sustenance might ever be found. Or his Gezi Park, dedicated to the protests of Taksim Square, where the human greed tries to rip the guts out of a tree, unaware of the fact that Nature is taking its revenge by germinating new, green plants elsewhere. In the background Istanbul is depicted with uncertain traits, almost drowning in the warm colors of the horizon.
Back from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where he visited an exhibition on the late Rembrandt, Giuseppe is already off to Madrid where he plans to spend most of his time at the Prado. But, as he likes to say, he is not a traveler in the traditional sense, he does not feel the anxious urgency to leave. Still, thanks to the projects he took part into, he had the chance to live and work in several places: Venice, New York, Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin. Germany, in particular, allowed him to interact with other figurative painters in a stimulating and international environment.
I ask him what’s next. He mentions a remake on canvas of The Baal, a play by Bertolt Brecht which the German director Voker Schlöndorff converted into a movie in the late Sixties. “The Baal is the story of perdition of an alcoholic poet, whose own profligacy drives him towards social exclusion and a miserable and lonely death. Investigating the highlights and shadows of a man who lives at the mercy of his genius is a challenge not to be underestimated”.
And of challenge we are talking indeed, or, better said, of the fire that incessantly nourishes his creativity. A fire that never extinguishes, cause by the time it extinguished it has rekindled already. “If I had found the instructions for use of art, my story as a painter would have ended even before starting.” But maybe the instructions do not exist or – if they exist – they are hidden in a way not to be found. Because change is perhaps the truly unchangable condition of our existence as our immutable destiny is to learn how to dance with the waves. Yet with their eternal movement, to become one.
Giuseppe Gonella, born in Italy in 1984, lives and works in Berlin.