What advice can you give to a young artist today?
First of all, a young artist must ask himself/herself with great sincerity: why do I want to be an artist? What is art? What is the intention moving my work?
This question instinctively and obsessively came to me every time I faced the need to choose what direction I could give to my existence: I chose to be a painter because by painting I vaguely perceived I could understand the true meaning of life.
For me the art of painting is a work of knowledge and self-awareness.
This choice obliged me first of all not to give credit to the already codified artistic practices, against which I have always felt an inalienable, impatient aversion, as instinctively perceived as mortifying the natural dispositions to a learning fitting with individual talents.
If one chooses to become aware of one’s own destiny by working with the art of painting to make one’s own self, any pre-established work practice that is proposed to us from the outside cannot be accepted uncritically: then we are faced with a paradox, to face an existential condition inevitably conflictual.
How can you learn from work?
First of all by trying to honestly exercise critical thinking by learning it from whoever has developed it; rejecting all simplistic reductions, indeed uncritical. Authentic critical thinking, if practiced with great mental rigor, inevitably causes a healthy crisis, revealing an existential condition animated by violent contradictions; critical thinking has the strength to make us clearly perceive our limits, the limits of the institutions to which we should hand over the governance of our life.
But it also allows us to understand what are the mental, emotional, strong-willed attitudes with which we can face, hoping, actively hoping, the internal and external limits.
Not despairing of the difficulties, we can begin to glimpse, to realize how to overcome them with an authentically creative act, that is dramatically self-founding.
But to be able to express a creative act it is necessary to abandon the critical mentality.
Critical thinking does not give us the mental tools to overcome the difficulties, although it allows us to understand them clearly: the lucidity of critical thinking can constitute itself as a prison, a desperate trap.
Faced with the problems posed by lucid critical thinking, it is a matter of putting into action a dimension of oneself that anthropologically speaking is ontologically quite different from critical thinking.
Critical thinking gives us the awareness of the conditionings that limit, in a strictly political sense, the form of life imposed by a historically determined economy of existence but does not have the strength to create in ourselves a disposition of mind and spirit, a intelligence freed from the limited, mortifying forms of existence abstractly imposed by cultural institutions: the authentically Creator act is self-founding, you have to create it in yourself from yourself.
The creative act requires an inevitably, healthily painful effort; our small, presumptuous common self - even if culturally very sophisticated - cannot bear it but this painful, healthy effort gives the virtue of a real ontological transfiguration of all the forces of our existence, it is founding, self-founding: absolutely something else is unimaginable, it is necessary go through severe, dramatic but healthy pain.
Does the fact of reaching a crisis generate a dramatic, personal event, a drama?
It is necessary to give up to any form, any mere emphatic reaction towards the usual formulas of institutionalized culture in order to elaborate a real, vital creative event, epiphanic, one must go through a dramatic transformation of our common, stereotyped consciousness.
Does it mean losing the certainties even of critical knowledge?
Critical conscience, if rigorously exercised, leads meditation to consciously recognize, unequivocally, that there can be no certainties within the current cultural condition; whoever does not think so is - willing or not - intellectually dishonest, a deceiver or a superstitious person, even a criminal, whether you like it or not.
The experience of properly "modern" art, I don't mean contemporary, which means everything and nothing, contemporary in the common sense is conformist. Modern? How can we define it, anthropologically and ontologically? Where, when was the Modern born? It arises from the moment in which every metaphysical thought is abandoned, every abstractly pre-established conception of truth, every operative project aimed at a pre-established end, first of all in order to satisfy the desire to know the truth; for me, the contemporary Modern, strictly speaking, was born with Giotto, Dante, S. Francesco, ... San Francesco was not a monk, he did not want to found a monastic order, San Francesco did not want to dictate a rule of life, to him the rule comes from the inside, otherwise it is a prison! In Giotto the gold-coloured background no longer appears!
For the modern, meaning arises, manifests itself by crossing the experience that is based on the world perceived with the bodily senses, this obviously does not mean merely physiological.
But the sensitive experience can also regress to stereotyped, abstract behaviours, producing a disorganizing and mentally delusional existential condition. In the economy imposed by the nihilistic system that today governs our existence, everyone must begin to uncover his own delirium.
The images of life that contemporary economy offers us are sub-real, regressive; they show a delusional kaleidoscopic imagery, in fact they mystify an existential condition dominated by a desperate state of mind.
The reality of natural sensible appearances, if observed with no mental prostheses, the more you see it with intensity and the more you experience anguish and terror, because the ego cannot contain the immeasurable complexity of natural appearances, tree, sky, earth, birth, death: modernity is the search for an original state of life that can be experienced here, now, in this moment between you and me, in the present: projecting it into the future or into the past is irrational, desperate.
The great personalities who have been animated by the need to be modern, beyond all failed experiments, let’s say Duchamp, Picasso, Giacometti, ... Rilke, ... are the prototypes of a serious, tragic existential experience, as they have understood what it means to be Modern, and even if they have failed they have authentically sought, ... sought, sought: their "failure" is, however, paradoxically edifying.
Their work is a knowledge - not an ideology - of the negative, which in itself is not evil.
Why has Picasso went to a lot of trouble?! Every pictorial practice he invented to free himself from the memory of the past, every aesthetic invention turned out to be a trap, a prison – at the end he practiced irony to escape mortal anguish. Invented to forget, but then he understood that to forget, to be free, he had to experience the unconceivable, the unthinkable; this miracle has succeeded in Cézanne, as Picasso recognized.
Picasso, not only him, of course, was looking for the absolute.
All those who sought the modern being in the contemporary world recognized in Cezanne the authentic witness.
Cézanne has no style: you cannot say that the tree has a style, the tree is a living being, and each reduction to an image betrays, mortifies, its existence.
The ego that reduces appearances to an image deceive itself by thinking to possess them, but actually it regresses its own existence to a shapeless vitalism, to a mass of anguished impulses.
Cézanne's painting has no style, there are no geometric procedures: Cézanne's painting is a living being, it manifests the existence of an ego that seeks the truth of its own immeasurable Life.
It is his ego that seeks the foundation of itself, there is the presence of the unfathomable in the work of Cézanne. The presence of an original Life appears, Life which is beyond all birth and death.
Cézanne sees: he simply sees, but in order to truly see, he experiences darkness, he becomes blind to all imagination, his true strength is to remain in that blindness: he does not think, he perceives the presence of his life in consonance with that of the Neighbor: Tree, Air , ... Stone, ... Sky, ... Man. Presences like that of Cézanne are rare throughout the history of modern art.
There are not many.
I have mentioned a few: as regards painting, there are also Masaccio, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velázquez. In Cézanne's work we see precisely the healthy, painful, liberating, not anguished effort he makes to get out of the way of preconceived images, there is a way of feeling, of thinking, of wanting, different from the lethal aesthetic mystification.
I understand, I perfectly understand.
Exactly, ... it can be said in many ways ...
How do you relate with the art in Italy defined as "informal"?
The informal… in the 1950s (I was born in '35) when it was not yet well defined what job I could do, rather, I was instinctively intolerant and ran away from any planned project of existence, I saw the great retrospectives of Picasso, of Mondrian and then, again at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, of Pollok.
I had the strong, although confused, impression that with Pollok we had reached the extreme consequences of the search for modern art: it was not possible to proceed further in an attempt to find an artistic approach that would allow us to think on the actuality of life in order to have an authentic knowledge of the true meaning of Life: what to do?
The Informal, which does not mean formless, is an aesthetic category that has caused big and gross misunderstandings; very few are the authentic informals and Pollok is the clearest expression of this.
In general, the so-called informals make psychic lyricism a form of naturalism, Pollok is anything but.
Pollok reaches extreme psychic aphasia, suffocates, experiences the extreme vital limit and the anguish in itself without any object mediation: he sought an art form as knowledge of the world, not as interpretation.
In the 1950s, Palma Bucarelli, director of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, organized Sunday lessons on modern art that I attended regularly. At that time in Italy there was from one side the ideology of neorealism and on the other the various abstractionisms; there were the Guttusos, the Turcatos, the D'Orazios, the Novellis, the abstractionists. To me it was not a matter of choosing one or the other side; the strong experience of modern art was animated by the original need to know the true meaning of the being of existence in itself, it aspired to know man in himself. The strong individualities of modern research were looking for an art, a work in painting which, while remaining in historical existence, would allow it to be observed from a suprahistorical climax, they were not looking for not another artistic style, artefact images, inevitably mystifying, alienating, but the founding element of authentic life in the sense that allowed the ego to know itself, its original foundation other than the economically determined, planned ego.
The ego wishes to experience the world in itself and outside itself, it wishes to observe and understand it at the same time from another vertex, out of the small common self, even if culturally very sophisticated; the ego aspires to understand the nature of the relationships that govern the relationships between the small contingent ego, anxious to dominate natural phenomena, and the nature of the will that animates its intention.
The Ego that wants to understand the world but if to realize its aspiration it invents an abstract conception of the world, the Art, work can only produce unavoidably mystifying operations, as arrogant as they are powerless, intimately contradicted, alienating art-made ways of thinking, wanting and feeling coagulated in a certain determined psychic condition that indefinitely founds and refounds conflicts, discord, separateness, murders and suicides: an existence that runs in neutral.
The ontological need is to get out of the labyrinth of psychic phenomena, if you can get rid of psychology and be aware of what causes it to enter an authentically cognitive relationship with yourself and things, this place other than the self , historically determined, is what men were looking for who had the innate feeling of the true meaning of work, large or small.
This is the great drama of modernity.
On these serious questions I have always been spontaneously, intuitively urged to reflect as I could, even without realizing it, leaning here and there; the results of my attempts have been collected in a book edited by Omar Calabrese: “Per uscire dalla Valle. Critica di me stesso.”
For sure, experience cannot be done by proxy; each individual must create it for himself in absolutely unimaginable ways.
For me, contemporary modernity was born precisely with those three people, those great figures mentioned above.
Each one shall find the way in himself.
First of all, one must always be aware of one's infinite ignorance: never betray it.
Let's go back to the Rome of the 1950s, to Palma Bucarelli, Guttuso, Argan, ... Ragghianti, Nello Ponente, De Grata; to Picasso's exhibitions in the 1950s, ... to Pollock's: this, as I said, provoked in me a dark intuition: painting had celebrated its funeral, it was over! Art could not begin from art, it had to start from something else, from a life experience, a life completely governed by a codified economy.
In Rome I used to work in advertising, I attended the courses of the Scuola Libera del Nudo at the French Academy, I had met Guttuso, ... and I made a new acquaintance that radically changed my imagination.
This new meeting gave birth to a fantasy that made me leave Rome, with new companions, we went to live in an abandoned peasant farm in the Aretini mountains.
Here I experienced an unpredictable daily condition that forced me to discover forces in myself that I was not aware, this happened spontaneously as well as confusedly: the imagery that prompted the abandonment of Rome immediately turned out to be absolutely dreamlike, unable to contain what else was experienced every day from the previous way of life.
I found myself experiencing an existential situation at the border, if not outside, of the usual, urban economy of organized life, and I was experiencing a state of mind shaken by violent turmoil and anxieties, even without objective references; in an easily vulnerable psychic condition, one is irrationally pushed to seek a rehabilitation of one's conscience, inevitably destined to a series of failed tests that humiliate pride, always in search of an autonomy that will always be deluded and disillusioned, with the risk of resolving regressively the violent crisis but this, despite me, did not happen: by fate?
You once told me that then unexplained events took place in that house where you lived.
Yes, sure, unusual psychic phenomena: one decides to leave for an unknown place and believes to be equipped, ... then, suddenly he realizes that he is on the high seas, in front of him a horizon opens up without reference points on land, he is in a boat and he no longer has the compass; well, in this condition a real force can make its way in yourself that, although sometimes is unclear, supports you intuitively.
Then I began to trust this force, you feel that you are no longer adrift, you no longer think of going back, it is a force in which you hope without a plan because you begin to have the feeling that whatever you encounter will support you.
Did you have any feeling that informal Italian art had a political meaning?
Yes, obviously every human expression has a political meaning but what is the sense of this meaning?
The Informal appeared at the end of the war.
I told you that in Italy in the 1950s the aesthetic problems were on one hand those of the abstractionists critically supported by Argan, by Bucarelli, positioned on the recovery of artistic phenomena experienced and already taken for granted by the so-called historical avant-garde, and on the other hand, neorealism: two illusions.
For me there was no choice, I sensed that they were two "lies", two manifestations of the same epochal crisis: the pangs of the end of ideological thinking, the so-called end of ideologies: I felt, obscurely, intuitively, the need to free me, in a manner of speaking, from any form of ideological psychologism and I suffered a sort of existential impatience: but where could I start from, what could I do ?! The Informal compared to the historical abstractionism was nothing more than its inevitable fatal conclusion and the left neorealism another lie.
But what is meant by "informal" or post-war abstract expressionism?
Informal does not mean that it has no form: a painter empathically chooses certain expressive procedures, certain rhetoric of doing: choosing, for example, to paint still lifes, pears, apples, tables, draperies, etc .: still lifes have been painted many but what distinguishes one still life from another? One landscape from another? One pear from another?
It is not the theme that gives value but the way it is painted. So it is a question of seeing how it is painted, which means that specific way of painting, that feelings, thoughts, volitions, intuitions, psychic and mental tensions manifest themselves in the procedures of this and that pictorial act independently of the chosen themes. The operative processes of painting are always necessarily "abstractions": but how to evaluate the intrinsic meaning, the anthropological value of this or that pictorial procedure?
It is about understanding the value of feelings, volitions, desires, thoughts, the imaginary that manifests itself by painting, it is about empathy of empathic quality: of Eros.
Eros!! Do you understand?! The Informal, and I take Pollock, De Kooning and Giacometti as emblematic examples of that historical situation: what empathic qualities, what intentions do they express in their pictorial process?
They express a serious, dramatic, even tragic existential condition, a condition of existence in a delusional state, an abysmal anthropological, indeed ontological crisis.
In my opinion, Giacometti is a unique case, he manifests a great pictorial intelligence, a deep awareness of the state of crisis, he also had a critical awareness in a strongly political non-ideological sense. He understood the anthropological error professed by surrealism, the mystification, the fetishist superstition that is practical in surrealistic procedures; with all the interest that surrealism has historically had from the experimental point of view, it represents a phase of the epochal crisis: the surrealistic act is symptomatic, inventive, completely creative.
Now with all the interest that surrealism has had from the experimental point of view it has anthropologically failed, even Dadaism, all the experiments of the historical avant-garde have failed with respect to the intentions that had provoked them.
We need to understand the reason for these failures.
They were attempting, not to give another frame to existence, but to remove all frames and understand the Origin of Life, of the mystery of good and evil, of birth and death.
The original need that animates every true, authentic artistic research is to seek and find the Meaning of the World, of the forces that bring it into being, not to interpret them.
It is a question of knowing the Nature of the World: seeing the forces that give life to the tree, to the stone, to hatred, friendship, enmity in the early twentieth century and at the end of the nineteenth century, then we speak after these, but the real transition, how did you go from figurative representation to the possibility of painting what you wanted?
No artist has ever painted what he vaguely wanted, far from it! Mondrian, for example, paints to understand the true nature of his will, his intent on seeking a pictorial process that would give him back the true vision of the being of things, he was looking for an art that generates knowledge.
He was animated by a need that can properly be called "mystical", he aspired to an intelligence capable of actively contemplating the living Mystery of the World; he wanted to be aware of the mystery of Life and Death that he was no longer subjugated by dialectical-dualistic reason; he wanted an entirely ideological art, merely aesthetic but capable of giving him an immediate vision of the original, irreducible forces generating the world of appearances.
But to reach this state of creative, archetypal Intelligence, you must first pass through an absolute mental silence! You have to extinguish every mental image and every conscious but above all unconscious psychologism, which means thinking about Nothing or experiencing the death of the pretentious, delirious little conscience.
Do we live in a paradoxical situation today?
Paradoxical in the sense that we are unable to bear and transcend the conflicts that anguish our emotional, volitional, thinking life.
Paradoxical, as always in modernity, that is, paradoxical modernity, in the sense that it recognizes itself as paradoxical.
The art that you represent seems almost a sort of stratagem not to lose the thread of reason, the sense of speech.
This is only one aspect, already evident in my first tests: if you read carefully all the critical texts contained in the catalogue of my anthological exhibition at the Mazzota Foundation, you would see that from the beginning, intuitively, instinctively, more and more consciously, I tried to practice an art at all ideological, in different ways Ragghianti, Argan, ... Bellasi, Marramao, etc. testify it.
When Massimo Cacciari saw my works, he understood immediately: my work tries to know the Truth but for this it is necessary to transcend critical thinking, to reset all the conscious and unconscious, subrational images, without getting entangled in the labyrinth of indefinite psychic automatisms. It is necessary however to start by practicing critical thinking rigorously, not practicing it in an ideological, botched, approximate way.
To reach an authentic intelligence or a transcendent vision, it is necessary first of all to assume critical thinking, not to evade it.
I mean Reason in the sense of the possibility of operating, otherwise there would not even be the possibility of living, if at all.
In the current moment we have a way of existing that is well defined, for example, by the concept of man-Mass.
It is a mere surviving, not living. The individual - mass needs some psychological tricks that alienate him from his condition of real insignificance, otherwise he could not bear it: human individuality in the system of the contemporary economy can only passively vegetate, the Person does not really exist, only a unified Ego, but an ego that continually oscillates between paranoia and schizophrenia, the human is a ghost of himself and if by chance he realizes it, tragedies happen; he has no means to face the crisis, he eats pills and goes to the psychologist or psychoanalyst who cannot have a function other than the pill.
We have reached a social situation where reification of the false is as overbearing as impotent and unnoticed. The compulsive conditioning is as strong as it is unnoticed, it survives through the use of mental and psychic prostheses that can only generate indifference, slothful moods: when you meet your neighbor you do not create a dialogic relationship, and individuals no longer exercise an authentically dialogic conversation, or intersubjective relationships: passions, emotions are betrayed, denied, exploited by the unreasonable irrational reasons of the Market.
The beginning of the awakening of an authentic possibility of human conjugation with the neighbor - first of all with the neighbor who is closest to us, ourselves - must pass through a conscious assumption of the states of serious crisis in which daily one survives, day and night.
But assuming the state of crisis is painful, healthily painful: but how is it possible to cure yourself if you don’t perceive to be sick?
Let's go back to the 1950s: at that time I instinctively did not feel I could choose between one aesthetic address or the other and I sensed with great concern that with the advent of the Informal, pictorial research had definitively curled up, entangled in itself, closed in their emotional and mental worries with no way out.
The real question of the historical avant-garde had been: how to make an art that forgets itself, its indefinite fall back into its alienating separateness and gives man the ability to See Things as they are, grasp their authentic Presence, have an immediate perception of reality, not a fantastic, delusional reception?
Some strong individualities had understood the drama of the Modern but then they glossed over, they practiced psychological irony according to the various individual temperaments which is a way of escaping real problems, irony is basically a fascinating cowardice, a cover, a device. to practice a pusillanimous state of mind; irony masks an abysmal existential void which is useful only to inflate and deflate one's own historically determined little self.
Is irony a lightweight in figurative art?
It is a gimmick, an emotional trick, it masks an intellectual impotence and a real sentimental impotence! In the ironic practice Picasso is deadly, he fiercely exercises it.
Becoming dramatic and playful.
It is a human disaster: it is a betrayal of the basic need that every individual naturally has: the need for freedom and fraternity.
In the field of visual arts, it is completely detached from history, it shall in any case draw from literature, and it always draws in the wrong way.
Detached from history? Why?
It cannot be recognised by anybody
Irony says and denies: whoever practices it is inevitably destined to be overwhelmed by anguish and by sloth. Irony mortally wounds natural emotions and passions, betrays the original desire for truth, freedom, beauty, friendship and love, irony is the mask of an abysmal despair.
Life cannot be betrayed, you can choose to face the innate violence of the contradictions that animate the human soul or to mystify them narcissistically, but at the end you are fatally overwhelmed by the nihilistic spirit, bored and indifferent, oppressed, depressed, desperate.
The sadistic-masochistic oscillation is lethal, it upsets the natural vital energies of existence, generating indefinite forms of overwhelming impotence.
But if we slowly, very slowly, patiently exercise the strength that gives us the ability to inhibit the perverse, first ironic then angry and finally delinquent, narcissistic - sadomasochistic complacency, in reality we accept to suffer the healthy pain of a cure that will blind the gaze. ill but actually heals the eye, and slowly, patiently, we will begin to simply see the World: See it truly.
One will simply see with the heart amazed in recognizing beyond the apparent lack of sense of existence the innate beauty of created Things.
Octavio Paz states that "If the eyes are the organs of contemplation, the Heart is the centre of loving".
In the moment in which the impulse of the Faustian will is extinguished and the indifference or detachment of the Ego from adhering automatically to the flow of the indeterminate, you experience blinding psychological vitalism and yet the attention is not enchanted in a state of slothful insignificance, but remains awake, alert, in this very particular moment the art-facts procedures disappear and the immediate, unspeakable presence of the Other appears, "teaching the clumsy and hasty hand delay and greater delicacy in grasp [...] the genius of the heart, from whose touch everyone departs richer, not pardoned or amazed, not benefited and oppressed as by a foreign good, although richer in himself, newer than before, unsealed, breathed and blown by a southern wind, perhaps more insecure, more delicate, more fragile, more broken, but full of hopes that do not yet have a name "- it is Friedrich Nietzsche speaking.