di Cynthia Penna
The exhibition centres on a dialogue between two artists that are very different in terms of geography and culture, and that is unusual and perhaps daring, but also aesthetically vibrant.
Brad Howe, a Californian based in Los Angeles, creates sculptures in painted steel that interact with the surrounding space; it is a matter of three-dimensional works that relate to the spaces they are introduced in, establishing a dialogue in terms of spatial relations, proportions, masses, colours, shades and projections.
The plastic quality of these works is wholly contemporary; they may be angular but also soft, and may in terms of inspiration be retraced to the American 20th century tradition, from Alexander Calder to POP art.
The artist has assimilated the lesson of American minimalism, which attenuates the rigidity of the geometric form in its pure state by means of bizarre and unusual colours, which Howe uses to introduce a discourse on colour that ranges from the American POP art of the central years of the Twentieth century to primary colours and to soft intermediate shades. The latter, and especially the pinks, pale greens and turquoise hues remind us Europeans, and Italians in particular, of a certain Venetian Renaissance.
Amedeo Sanzone, Neapolitan of birth and cultural cast, has the Neapolitan painting tradition in his blood. With those landscape and genre scenes as a starting point, he ventures on a personal itinerary that has led him, through simplification and elimination, towards a radical minimalism and a cancellation of any element that is not part of the structural base of his work. It may be pure geometry, but it is a meaningful and “emotional” geometry.
Everything is cancelled and observed by the colour and light reflected back to the eye from the mirroring surface of the work.
Sanzone is considered the most “Californian” among Italian artists precisely because of the way in which he detracts, his use of plastic materials that reflect light, and his interest in the effects and interferences of light on the work.
The two artists have been invited to a dialogue on the meaning of the construction of form in space. The support, wall or room become a canvas or surface on which to express individual values of significance and meaning.
The amazing ability of both artists to create chromatic effects renders their work pure vehicles of emotion: I would define them as “emotional vectors”.
Irresistible combinations of colours make the onlooker feel as if he or she is discovering a new lifeblood; her senses are awakened, perception sharpened. The works stimulate hitherto ignored perceptive abilities. The dialogue also unfolds by contrast: reflecting surfaces versus absorbing surfaces; pastel colours versus bold and strong colours; plastic materials versus steel, pliant but resistant. While there is no resemblance or apparent bond between the works and styles of the two artists, they are united by a similar way to approach the material, to make the most of its potentials. They share a sense of changing the material, of moulding and controlling it, or letting oneself be guided by it towards a new perceptive discovery. Everything is, in the final analysis, aimed at taking the emotional involvement of the onlooker to a new level.
It is not so much a sensorial as an emotional perception that is activated.
The works seem to invade and consume the space; the perception of the background of the painting, the canvas or surface becomes wholly secondary even if it serves as means, support and point of reference of the works. The latter unfold against that background, but at the same time they cancel it with their presence.
The wall is used as a surface on which to activate the work, to trigger it and make it “move” or come alive; a work made of form, colour and lines that intersect with one another, blending with one another through a certain “movement”, space, colours and form.
The lines cross, pass above one another, meet, in a pursuit of chaos motivated by the apparent order of things.
Howe’s new sculptures bring to mind those cartoon figures who come alive at a given signal, when indecipherable crumpled pieces of paper suddenly begin to move, change shape and turn into beings with beating hearts and breathing lungs. This is the magic of cartoons, of movies and of art. Transformation, birth or rebirth of a new body with a new identity. Howe’s small sculptures therefore seem to suddenly change before our eyes; colourful folded pieces of cardboard or paper seem to change before our eyes, to unfold and open themselves to a new life, almost as if they are born again as new beings with an own, new and independent identity.
They are not immovable and rigid sculptures, but embryos of something else that contains life.
Howe’s works can be looked at from different angles and take on different significances depending on the angle they are seen from. We may speak of “multiple perception”, of a multiple relationship with the work depending on how they are perceived.
This is why we, according to Howe, cannot rely on the pseudo-certainties of our rational speculations, but must abandon ourselves to a “navigation by sight” that can change day by day, and be open to new experiences and new lessons.
“The interaction between spectator and work of art may be seen as an event, an act of transformation of reality of which ultimate end cannot be boiled down to foregone and clear principles or to the field of rationality.
What happens is an epiphany off discovery, something new, a happening in which our stable and clear base of understanding is temporarily “disturbed” and we perceive our hidden speculations underlying our way to understand, and which for a short moment becomes an acute awareness (intense awareness of self).
These “disturbances” can happen, they warn us that we need to be chary about our predefined psychological structures, that we relate to, in order to make us “navigate” day by day” (Brad Howe from the Objet_a catalogue)
In his new works Sanzone explores the countless possibilities of lexan, bending the material without heat, moulding it and taking it to the limits of its physical potential. He works on and with the material, bending it, contorting and altering it in such a way that it takes on completely new “attitudes”, aspects, meanings and significances. Sanzone thus introduces a new era of his experiments, and thus of his poetic. It is no longer sufficient for the artist to speak through the reflection of the light; it is no longer enough to include the onlooker within the work, or to mirror the observer’s image in his or her eyes. In these new works, Sanzone introduces another element: the distortion of that image, reflected in the mirroring surface.
In a world and an age of great “distortions”, of manipulations and alterations of reality, in a period characterized by diffused ambiguity, Sanzone makes the onlooker realize to what extent reality may be distorted and disturbed; the spectator becomes part of the work, he or she is absorbed in it through the mirroring surface, and reflected by it. But this time the image will appear “altered”: elongated, narrowed, deformed or in any case different. The result will be a new perception of the self and the surrounding world: a discovery of one’s own image which suggests something beyond, inviting to an investigation of the I.
The human being is not static, but is subject to changes, both imperceptible and great, both physical and interior.
All life is experience, and Sanzone wants to show us the path of modifications, of change, of discovery, of research.
It is not just the subject that changes; the whole world around the being moves and undergoes mutations: mutations of meaning, perceptions, sentiments, emotions. We are invited to discover new things within ourselves, to research our inner selves.
At this point Sanzone also eliminates the objects that have been applied to the surface of his works, those very elements that until now have represented the central elements of his work.
We have until now been accustomed to observe foreign, external objects placed against flat surfaces, elements that made us focus our gaze on a single point and to then abandon it to see the work as a whole, without getting lost or dispersed within it.
Those objects have represented a kind of hold, something to grip in order to avoid falling into an apparently immaterial void. But now these elements are no longer there. The artist has chosen to instead focus on a psychological investigation of distortion; movement, the modulation of matter and the distortion of the image which is projected on the work, and which thus becomes a product of it, has allowed us to do without a “grip” or a psychological hold of reference to a solid, safe body placed outside the work: everything happens within the work itself and its surface. The smoothness of the material, the mirroring surface no longer disturb our feeling of solidity and grasp on reality.
Sanzone has reached a point where the relationship with space is complete: a body which travels on the spatial surface accommodating it: a relationship of division of space and dialogue of the form in and with space.
We might speak of a constructivist kind of relationship between space and surface, between space and form. But in Sanzone’s work the method, the approach to the form, to space and to the surface is by no means constructivist, technically speaking. The spontaneous and emotional approach to the work and its construction is intact in his work. The work must pulsate, express its sentiment and soul through its form, colour, movement and light.
In no case does the artist forego the impact of the light, which in hitting the surface gives rise to an optical/perceptive reaction which is not limited to the eye but aims directly for the emotive and emotional part of the brain.
Sanzone offers visual and perceptive inputs which are transformed, tout court, in an emotional language: the epiphany of a personal and intimate emotion which does not have to be shared; it remains closed within us, giving us a sense of aesthetic gratification.
And so we return to the theme of this exhibition which is, precisely, disturbances. But in what do they consist, and at what is the goal of these disturbances and upheavals?
It should first of all be pointed out that the central theme of the exhibition is the dialogue that is established between the two artists, and which is based on both contrasts and things they share.
The soft, embracing structure of Sanzone’s works dialogues with the apparent angularity of those of Howe. The geometry – which is not the result of calculation but of meaning – of Howe’s work, seem to “project” themselves within the rounded shapes of Sanzone’s works, to the point of being absorbed, phagocytized and re-elaborated by the latter through a perturbation of vision. The result is a kind of perturbed and distorted vision which suggests that reality is not always what it seems to be or what it is, but what we consider it to be.
It is a matter of an alteration of reality which does not take place in the real world, only in the way we perceive it.
When something causes a disturbance, it unsettles our certainties; nothing is foregone, taken for granted; no certainty is “certain”, because reality is full of facets that deform our perception, so that we do not experience it as it is or should be, but as we believe it to be. We attribute values and symbols to it which do not exist in reality.
Both artists, in their research, therefore focus on distortion and the fragmentation created by facets.
How many realities can coexist in one and the same situation? It depends on our angle of observation, just as we observe their works from many different angles, and every single one shows us something new and different. Each speaks a different language.
We open ourselves and our world to perceive these changes, and we accept them as part of ourselves, because the facets, the shifts and the disturbances are part of reality, of our world and of our way to be.
Disturbances / Scompigli di Cynthia Penna