Collective exhibition .
Matthew John Atkinson, Dragos Burlacu, Mitja Ficko, Michelle Marie Letelier, Chiara Sorgato, Stephen Thorpe
18-04 > 20-05
Perlini Arte Riviera San Benedetto, 56 35139 Padova ( IT )

The Importance of Being Original
di Niccolò Bonechi

The title of the exhibition comes from a discussion, concerning Italian language, about the Italian words originale and originario, that in English (the language that worldwide, and not only in art, is considered universal) are reduced to one word: original. The two words have, at the same time, a contrasting and homologous meaning. They both indicate something with a geographical and temporal origin, but they certainly show also a clear difference between the need to identify and insist on a primitive solution, because it is genuine, rather than wanting to perpetuate an extravagance that is often inaccurate. These two different attitudes represent the actual condition of contemporary art, or rather they underline two trends that have been taking shape since few years: there are artists who, involved in a general system of social crisis and crisis of identity, undertake an obstinate research of a continuous shock, of an excessive provocation, in order to get consent from increasingly distracted audience and critics. On the other hand, there are more and more artists, very well prepared technically and culturally, who put a serious and constant research before an exclusively speculative interest, that is typical of the art system. The sentence The important of being original wants to be a celebratory hymn to an original attitude toward life in its everyday approach. More and more often, in fact, we are seduced by frantic urges that separate us from reality: so we get involved in acrobatic swirls of colors and images, that alter the knowledge of who we are, forcing us to be what we should be. This is the now-established social (rather than dialectical) debate between being and appearance, that is the intimate need to fight against any enforcement in order to assert yourself against a stubborn will that wants to bend your primeval instincts with the purpose to adapt, standardize yourself to the mass, that energetically tries to impose its own rules. Sigmund Freud, in the collection “Three essays on the theory of sexuality”, says that the “primary” pulses are those aimed at achieving the pleasures of Libido, that is to apply our sensual faculties, that are linked to sexuality as the main engine of life and passions, while the “secondary” values are those that consider the value of reality, that is the presence of civilization, work and industry. Of course, the famous Austrian psychoanalyst, who wrote this treatise in the early Twentieth century, had no consciousness of what was going to be called society of mass consumption, let alone of what we today identify as media society. Anyway, through his studies and much ahead of time, he realized that the development of fast-paced economic system would completely change the approach of man to life. All along, art has been a mark and, at the same time, a privileged observatory of these social developments; it is an analytic tool that allows you to control and evaluate the current status of every civilization. Since the early Seventies, the art world has taken two possible ways: the first one, called “explosive” tends to alienate all the traditional institutions, to occupy infinite and unknowable material extensions, or to give up almost entirely to sensitive grips in order to stimulate the mind with keen conceptual impulses; the second one, called “implosive”, opens toward a recovery of its origins, its history, through so to say classic methodologies. These two only practicable ways exist and move in parallel, although they don’t disdain sometimes potential interferences between them. As occurs in this case, these six artists – Matthew John Atkinson, Dragos Burlacu, Mitja Ficko, Michelle Marie Letelier, Chiara Sorgato, Stephen Thorpe – have started a very personal artistic and conceptual research, and despite using techniques and tools from classical art, through different ways of action on the canvas each of them becomes recognizable in the contemporary art system. This is not about the will to surprise the viewer’s eye with acrobatic visual expressions, but rather to show the choice of a pictorial gesture that is able to synthesize the concepts that are at the basis of a intimate research, which is also inevitably deep. It’s the emblem of a clearly original approach, if compared to the ways of living and understanding life, with choices and innovative insights only on the level of formal research. In order to be able to understand Matthew John Atkinson’s research it is necessary to pay particularly attention to the titles of the cycles of his paintings. In them – Nowhere, Neverneverland, Neverneverworld, (Im)possibility through the In(finite)- is always revealed a condition of loss, of undefined, strengthened by a carefully selected linguistic and stylistic choice. In his paintings he recreates a different reality, an unknowable universe, through a personal imaginary, within which paradoxical situations and entities come to life. The viewer is invited by the artist to enter in his universe in order to deal with the fundamental human issues, faced, in this case, with the purpose of flip our regular understanding of systems that mark our existence, calling every social belief and mental construction into discussion. Atkinson succeeds in this attempt by alternating marked strokes with wide monochrome-filled backgrounds of watered down color, using a wide range of shades: from dark blue and brown are opened patches of red and yellow which illuminate the scene. So the color loses its meaning of signifier in order to take over the meaning of signified: from the level of decoration it raises to the signs one, so it results to be very necessary for a correct reading of the work. His painting could appear childish, but in reality it is extremely complex, as complex as the concepts that are discussed in it: from adolescence to death, from nature to religion, the scene is constantly pervaded by a symbolism that is at first esoteric and then clearer because is closer to a less personal iconography.

Perhaps the greatest power of image is to be able to give infinite readings of itself, in fact it is extremely evocative and polysemic. This assumes a bigger conviction when something rooted in a mental process supports it, as well as in art, where if something is tangible doesn’t mean it is true. Whether art is presented as it appears, or depicted through classical artistic techniques, it is always an artist’s strictly personal choice, who can’t ignore an unambiguous and immediate interpretation. The feelings that you have from the view of Dragos Burlacu’s paintings, especially those belonging to the last series – “Moments”, “Understanding History”, “Remade in Romania” – are an apparently genuine pleasure and without political implications. The light strokes of the brush are almost imperceptible, as if to testify the intangibility of the painted scenes. They are popular representations, fragments of a history not so far and not yet assimilated, moments of life lived within a social and cultural contest imposed by decades of socialist dictatorship. Starting from a series of frames depicting the Leader Ceausescu in moments of apparent normality (Understanding History), unmistakable places and typical popular traditions (Remade in Romania), the artist rebuilds the collective imaginary of Romania at that time, with the aim to show how the raising of a subject to an icon has represented, in this case, a desire to hide the objective truth by creating a completely artificial mythology. The interest that arises from those reflections leads Burlacu to develop knowledge of the past, which has to be understood as the necessary base for the birth of a new society, free from any kind of political and cultural restrictions. The very personal poetic and stylistic research of Mitja Ficko has its roots in a life lived in close contact with the nature in the remotest regions of the former Yugoslavia. Beyond every metropolitan contest, in the artist grows a strong awareness of a realty emancipated from all the social constructions, an awareness that he enforces during a several months trip in the Middle East, a trip made at the end of his studies. This experience turns out fundamental not only for his artistic growth, but especially for the development of a conception of reality that is difficult to place within a clearly delineated contest. Through a free and disenchanted painting, Ficko depicts ascetic atmospheres, where the nature, beside being a constant presence, plays a key role in the complex theatricality of its compositions. The nature is released from its semantic symbolism by the artist, in order to take anthropomorphic qualities: its function within the structure of the work, in fact, is not to recreate a setting where a hypothetical action takes place, but rather to depict the allegory of human feelings. The impact with Ficko’s works is definitely alienating, not only because of the complexity of the objective reading of the work, but because of the generative thought that springs from intimate reflections, that degenerate in a non iconic painting, where every object seems to lose its own primitive meaning, at the expense of a rise to a higher, mystic level, where what appears is not what it really is. What results from this, and what the artist constantly tries to solve in its paintings is a dichotomy between real and unreal, between Noumenon and Phenomenon. Self-knowledge, understood as an intimate research of his own being, necessarily begins in the context where we live, understood as geographical area or cultural environment. This is the first step to acquire a historical awareness about what the society has produced steadily over time, as well as a moment for a collective evaluation that draws from the universal to the particular. Michelle-Marie Letelier, starting from these considerations, through any medium (from video to installation, from performance to painting) asks herself about human condition in connection with the social-economic policies around the world. The artist’s attention is constantly directed to landscapes and industrial objects, in particular the ones related to coal extraction. Her art necessarily retraces her own life and vice versa: from her childhood in Chile, to her experience in Mexico until her actual “house” in Germany. Letelier has always confronted herself with the cruel reality of land over exploitation in terms of environmental pollution and social involvement. In the case of her last series of painting as “Des-hecho”, “F6”and “Machine studies”, the artist feels the need to develop further the complaint about the situations that she usually depicts and, at the same time, to move on a higher level, through an operation that is both material and conceptual. The use of charcoal and graphite, both of those manufactured through extraction processes taken into account by the artist, creates a direct link with the subject portrayed, evoking in the viewer a feeling that is no more anguish, but rather a shared will for emotional involvement, as well as an awareness of topics often intentionally neglected. Chiara Sorgato’s works remind of the first experiments of the surrealistic avant- garde because of their heterogeneous mix of events. The sur-realty, in Breton’s words as in the Paduan artist’s imaginary, lies in assigning to the dreamy vision the same levels of solidity and presence that we usually give to reality. This is possible thanks to the free associations method, that is the core of Freud’s thought and that was very important as for the theories of Breton as for the experiences of Ernst and his fellows. The artist acts on three different levels of experimentation: a micro-organic one, made of scenic fabrics that remind of abstract characteristic typical of the 40’s and 50’s Informality; a semantic one, when on those fabrics is displayed a personalized intention that shows itself in these characters coming from a very personal mythology. And finally the attempt to “set” those creations in a nature not totally earthly: the depicted trees and plants lose their appearances, they melt like wax under the sun and lose themselves in that chaotic backdrop that, at the same time, is the generator of new creative nourishment. The artist finds refugee in his works, where he can give vent to his fantasy. He uses his works as a secret diary, where he quotes in a constant flow what the mind dictates. There is absolutely no will to represent lived moments or real meetings: as in a dream, the narration of the work isn’t linear but fragmented and interrupted by other impulses, by new efforts that build themselves on other, creating an explosion of visual feelings, which accelerate dramatically the brain activity of the viewer, who is involved (unsuccessfully) to bring a logic into the composition. At first sight, Stephen Torpe’s works hit the viewer over the lack of perspectives and, at the same time, over the wealth of the details of the depicted interiors. With quality of interior designer, the artist builds these environments apparently familiar, letting perceive here and there imperceptible orthogonal projections, instruments typically used to maintain proportions and to calibrate the spaces, in order to make the composition realistic. In contrast to what you might expect, the imbalance created by this geometrical technique creates in who watches the painting a feeling of alienation and loss of orientation, reinforced by the persistence absence of human figure, that is a symbol of a real possibility of existence in a hostile environment. Also the method by which Thorpe prepares the canvas has the function to support this theory: in the drying phase of the bottom different layers he manipulates the painting and creates a series of involuntary imperfections, which gives rise to a friction between the surface and representation. Even if a possible, thought paradoxical, existence is proved here and there by everyday items like a bed or a fireplace, once again the artist faces reality in an ironic and mysterious way. As it’s possible to see in the work “Portrait of a young man” in the room corner, as spectral presences, the artist mentions a chair over-topped by a chandelier apparently unusable; he puts next a random and shapeless assembly of objects, that immediately catalyzes the gaze and interrogate the viewer. In this chaotic universe of real objects or assumed ones, where does the presence of a portrait reveal itself? Thorpe’s articulate compositions reflect the situation of contemporary society; constantly struggling with those compromises that push away the individual from pursuing a right way to a peaceful existence based on comparison and sharing.