I am the Door



by Emanuele Leone Emblema – Curatore



“We shall put together an Egyptian representation of the Sundoor guarded by the Sun himself and the figure of the Pantokrator in the oculus of a Byzantine dome, and explain that these doors by which one breaks out of the universe are the same as the hole in the roof by which an American Indian enters or leaves his hogan, the same as the hole in the centre of a Chinese pi, the same as the luffer of the Siberian Shaman’s yurt, and the same as the foramen of the roof above the alter of Jupiter Terminus; explaining that all these constructions are reminders of the Door-god, of One who could say “I am the Door”.

A.K. Coomaraswamy from “Why exhibit works of art?” 1941


That painting, that is to say the human urge to draw on the walls, is somewhat akin to the attempt to open a symbolic door to other places; is a quite ancient idea. Indeed, one of the many names of the Byzantine icon, the prototype of the painting as we normally intend it today, was “Royal Door” (P.Florenskij). But if a painting is a Door, it certainly is quite a strange one. In fact, it does not lead to anything but itself. In other words: true, the painting is a door, but it is also the only room to which it leads. An ontological situation, that is anything but easy to realize; because a Door is generally the opposite of a Room.

It is on this principle of opposites, on this relationship between architectural line and its negation, between painted surface and perspective projection that much of Peter Lodato’s work is based. The L.A. artist represents an interesting confluence of sensibilities in the scenario of Californian art from the late Sixties until today. He has taken inspiration equally from the lyric humanism of Beato Angelico and the extenuating rituality of Zen painting; from the frontal arrangement of the American avant-garde and the clever structures from the European tradition, combining a predominantly painterly production with a constant attention to the environmental and architectural space. Indeed, he has merged painting with certain sculptural results to such a point that it becomes impossible to appreciate the one without knowing the others.

As Peter Lodato points out himself with regard to the concept of Door and Room:

“… The recurrent image in my paintings was an empty room, without ceiling and with two doors … However, these paintings were not intended as representations of a room, of a chamber. But they had to succeed in creating the same perceptive experiences as one would have in such a space …”

But this recurrent image is more than just a whim of the artist; it is more probably a factor innate to the very essence of Painting and its evolution. And to realize how radical the question of the Door and the Place to which it leads may prove to be for art history, we may attempt an experiment. It is somewhat empiric but, all things considered, fascinating.

Let us take a work on wood, the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael; one of the most canonical works of Renaissance. Ignoring the figures in the foreground, we will focus our attention on the door of the building in the background; which is also the vanishing point of all the perspective lines. There is something in that precise point, in that goniometric point in the painting which, if we think carefully, has very little to do with Renaissance painting. Something that seems more closely related to the research of Turner, Fautrier, Rothko, or Newman, or the environmental suggestions of the Californian Light and Space artists; something that is there, in the middle of the Door, waiting for us to focus on it and gradually bring it into the foreground. A visual intuition that somehow designs the perimeter of Painting itself. Of all Painting.

It is the tension between the infinite space of the horizon and the artist’s need to compress that almost transcendent vision in a form conceivable by humans. The attempt to condense it within the two posts of a Door; to capture it in that rectangular trap, which we have for linguistic comfort accustomed ourselves to call painting.

This experiment is naturally little more than a play. It has no relevance on a philological level. What matters, however (and what helps us to clarify the profound relationship between image and architecture in Lodato’s work) is that Painting has always based its existence on a premise of a constructive type. Ever since the times of the graffiti of Altamira and Lascaux, via the Byzantine mosaics and the great frescoes of the Italian quattrocento, the image has needed a room, a wall, to realize its full potential. The icon, the altarpiece and finally the painting have represented a progressive emancipation of Painting from the environmental context. But the further it has been removed from the wall, the more Painting has begun to regulate its interior with typically architectural laws and approaches. The painting began to take on an environmental dimension. And its illusory space began to be built according to the rules of geometry and mathematics, as if it truly had to pass an exam of structural solidity. Arches, squares and every kind of urban element began to appear in the painted scenes. And even when one ceased to apply perspective theory so rigorously and the clear architectural references were eliminated, the concepts of Room and Door continued to emerge in a negative sense. It reappeared as intense light from doors left open, but placed outside the scene (Caravaggio); as perceptive effects and projections of shade (Rembrandt, de La Tour and until the Impressionists), or as building materials (practically as a building matter) in the plaster, concrete and stones so dear to the Informale avant-garde.


Peter Lodato has worked practically in the same way throughout the forty years of his career. Beginning with the analysis of the laws and forms of the real space and gradually acknowledging the painting’s possibility to be an environment in its own right: an architecture. From the environmental operations of the Seventies to the paintings and sculptures of his later production, Lodato has changed neither the goal of his research nor his expressive mode. He has simply replaced Newton’s laws of gravity with the rules of light and color. He has translated “Dimension” into “Proportion” and flattened the perspective depth to the point of rendering it as a variation of rhythm and symmetry. And he has, finally, channeled the reasons of the structural solidity into a wholly painterly principle of formal equilibrium. However, in the course of this constant work of reduction, Lodato has also distinctly perceived the risk of turning painting into technical drawing. And to avoid this, he has inserted a profoundly emotional factor in the structure of the work. And this factor has enabled him to immunize his work from the ice-cold rigor of the plan.

Since he included this emotional experience in the equation – as if it were a true structural element of the work – the painting has finally managed to clarify even its most intimate nature. Resolving, to a large extent, the ontological paradox we observed in the introduction: that of a Door that always and only leads to itself.

True, the painting is, in this sense, a Door. But it is a door that we are already looking at from within; in other words, from that symbolic room into which we ask to be conducted. However, the duty of painting is not to transport the onlooker to a hypothetical elsewhere, but to manifest that elsewhere in the existing everyday space, where Man already finds himself. Somehow painting, after having spent centuries in an attempt to move away from the wall, has eventually had to return to the wall. However, it has not returned in the form of decoration and ornament, but as constructive element. Not as a possibility of escape, but as a kind of nomadic architecture that has the power to appropriate the space with which it comes into contact in a given situation. And, by virtue of its own emotional mass, the painting not only appropriates the environment, but changes it: it models it to its own image and likeness. Somewhat like celestial bodies that, by virtue of their own weight, succeed in distorting the universe around them.