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A fior di pelle.
Ricerche sulla superficie
Enrico Castellani / Paolo Schiavocampo
Barbara Colombo / Lorenzo Di Lucido / Ludovico Orombelli / Rolando Tessadri

Curated by Gabriele Salvaterra

In his book published for the first time in 1959, “Il divenire delle arti”, Gillo Dorfles clearly establishes one of the conquests of twentieth-century painting that will be a point of no return for all his subsequent experiences. "The surface of the canvas that once pretended to be a three-dimensional space finally returns to being only a two-dimensional surface. And from this moment on, the whole surface is given to a new value". This apparently rather banal and limiting recognition reveals a series of previously unexpressed possibilities that can unexpectedly develop infinite approaches. From this, concludes Dorfles, it follows that "we must also confer on that surface the value of 'protagonist' - or at least of deuteragonist - dialectical complementary to that of the form that is circumscribed and opposed to it".

The exhibition “A fior di pelle”, starting from the comparison between the antithetical researches of the historical masters Enrico Castellani (Castelmassa, RV, 1930 - Celleno, VT, 2017) and Paolo Schiavocampo (Palermo, 1924), represented by an iconic work for each, tells a series of artistic declinations able to probe the incredible qualities of the pictorial skin. In spite of its two-dimensionality and reductionism, the surface shows in fact an inexhaustible vivacity, as indicated also in the research of the most recent generations of Barbara Colombo (Vimercate, MB, 1969), Lorenzo Di Lucido (Penne, PE, 1983), Ludovico Orombelli (Como, 1996) and Rolando Tessadri (Mezzolombardo, TN, 1968).

Castellani and Schiavocampo highlight two possible ways to use the surface as a device in its own right. On the one hand the rigorous, rhythmic and mathematical treatment of its developments three-dimensional, on the other hand the concrete, material and factual that brings it back to the flow of everyday life. 

Enrico Castellani is, in fact, present with a work of medium size, an Untitled of 1967, which in its simplicity indicates an important pole of this discourse. It is a monochromatic rectangle with an almost industrial drafting, there are no signs or gestures but its coloristic treatment is assured to the most complete rational inexpressiveness. The entire artistic value is therefore entrusted to the same modulations of the support that, in the practice developed alongside Piero Manzoni since the end of the Fifties, tends to animate the surface of the painting, otherwise left to an algid tonal unity. The difference between the two main personalities of the movement Azimut / Azimuth is clarified by Castellani himself who, in an interview, says: "Even after a long time I would say that the difference lies in the fact that I have always been linked to the surface and the object, to their analysis and definition, while Manzoni was concerned to work on gestures and behaviors. Thus the surface of the painting, considered in its quality of simple object, opens up to the relationality of the environment, in the light, in the shadows and therefore in the "rhythm" that it is able to create on the basis of a "simple" but very sophisticated dynamic of pointillist concavity and convexity of the pictorial plane.”

In some ways the activity of Paolo Schiavocampo is broader and kaleidoscopic, an artist with a long experience rooted in the twentieth century, who, initially trained in architecture, considers his activity beyond the disciplines, having dealt not only with painting, but also with sculpture, urban planning and construction in the broadest sense. The surface that is proposed, for example, by the Cements of the nineties is completely different in nature from that of Castellani, nourished by the multidisciplinary that characterizes it. Luigi Erba defines this corpus: “They are mixtures of various materials that cement binds, memories of walls, persistence of windows, of alleys. It’s almost a materic renewal of the legacy of the informal, invested by a deep architectural and constructive sensitivity. A different surface that takes us downwards, towards the body and the urban reality that surrounds the experience of contemporary man. In the work on display, from the series of the most recent Tapestries (2015), these suggestions are distilled in a series of coloristic "tears" that preserve on their skin operational signs of chromatic matrix.”

Between these two significant extremes, the proposals of Colombo, Di Lucido, Orombelli and Tessadri move between pictorial manual skill, tautology, tactile synaesthesia and moulding procedures, relaunching the potential of the surface in the new millennium and making it, each according to his own inclinations, still the protagonist.

Barbara Colombo, for example, presents works belonging to two different series, but united by the same material/concrete treatment of the surface, obtained by a complex procedure that subjects paper, powders of various origins, ashes and pigments to the burns and heat of the fire. The resulting work, a silent monochrome rectangle, reveals to a careful look an incredible and deep vivacity of folds and wrinkles that can give existential and poetic reflections to the artist's practice. In the smaller and more delicate fragments this logic is further strengthened, leaving the work at the stage of pictorial peel with jagged edges that is freely arranged on the wall as in a mobile constellation, composed of many interrelated elements.

Lorenzo Di Lucido, representative of the young Italian painting of the new millennium, leaves aside any experimentation of materials to develop his mysterious calligraphies using oil, canvas and wooden frame, exactly as a fifteenth-century painter would have done. This static nature of the pictorial lemma fascinates Di Lucido in the possibility that it can be contemporary and ancestral at the same time. In the series of works presented, uniformed to an intense green monochrome, following Robert Ryman's teaching, it seems the artist's intent to simply "cover the surface entirely" and, by doing so, comment on it with gestures that are almost invisible because they are limited to the same color. It is necessary to move the body and the eye in order to rediscover a whole swarm of unexpected pictorial values, which let us enter the informal forest of a nature first dismembered and then recomposed on the plane of the canvas.

The very young and almost emerging Ludovico Orombelli, even though he gives a lot of importance to the chromatic and dimensional quality of his productions, seems to want to attract the attention more on the tactile aspect of their skin as if he wanted to make the eye an "organ of touch". In fact, these shrouds with their irregular contours are actually casts of sheets, doormats, fabrics and other studio materials, used as matrices, where the final work is, in fact, an epidermal cast that introduces decidedly sculptural procedures into the pictorial sphere. In this superficial short-circuit, Orombelli seems to put into action the "similarity through contact" theorized by Didi-Huberman, making the work a trace, an imprint, of something that is no longer present (or that at the most is folded on the ground near the work).

Rolando Tessadri brings the speech back to its beginning and to a territory that for apparent self-control and radicality reconnects it to the expressive landscape of Castellani, from which we started. Modular works from the refined correspondences and subtle colors are rhythmic, this time without any concession to the extroversion. This is nothing but a technical expedient that let to situate on the actual surface of the support its artistic representation, realized with a “frottage”procedure. The interweaving of the real canvas and its illusory doubling meet in the same infinitesimal thickness of the support, creating a tautological effect and revealing, behind the apparent balance of these compositions, an extremely dynamic and mental optical vertigo.

Gabriele Salvaterra

January 2021


Exhibited artists

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Ludovico Orombelli