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Alberto Sughi

Absolutearts Blogs 2005/09

Alberto Sughi

 

15 October 2009, And maybe it's not even like that

In an old notebook I recently found this paragraph, which I would like to underline.
“I work until late at night, concentrating on an internal conflict that I find impossible to resolve. I still hope to be able to produce something good; but I need to receive a few “brilliant ideas”. If they don't come, I'll have to put the work off for longer. I imagine that this is what's going to happen, because it isn't really a question of a few “brilliant ideas”.
The fact is that nothing in our state of mind is ever clear, and our painting suffers from this lack of certainty. Sometimes I feel that the meaning of my work is exclusively connected to the production of a painting; to its continuous references and modifications; to small discoveries, like rafts to which a shipwrecked man clings, and which then sink to the depths, taking with them lines, colours and pseudo-meanings.
The finished painting, on display, framed and photographed, is only a conventional act. It is an ancient norm of the profession of painter, but is unable to represent us completely.
In other words, in the end, the story of our failures on canvas would be better guidelines  to understand the mind of the painter, than the sum of the methods, compromises, experience or other tricks we use to bring a painting to fruition. And maybe it isnt’ even like that!”

 

I thought it would be worth submitting this paragraph, so that my friends at AbsoluteArts could read it, as a way of thanking you all for following my blog so attentively.
I send you all my best regards and wish you good luck with your work.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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25 June 2009, The Ruling Class

Back in April 2009 a reader of my Blogs for AbsoluteArts posted the following comment:
“On the www.albertosughi.com website there is a very powerful painting called "Ruling class". Would love to participate in a discussion on that piece.”
Since then I committed myself to holding such a discussion and today I will try to maintain that promise.
Possibly in order to understand The Ruling Class (“La Classe Dirigente, Oil on Canvas, 165x140cm, 1965)
we need to place and read it in the context of another group of works also painted between 1964 and 1965. So let’s start by examining the Historic Moment (L’Ora Storica), a work I painted at the end of 1964 and that clearly is a prelude to The Ruling Class itself.

This is a triptych, 165 by 420 centimetres, one of the paintings that most reflect if not the world of Bacon, at least Bacon’s style, clawing at the canvas, his very open way of painting first on unprepared canvas, with a great sweep of background colouring, that had a strong influence on me. I felt most attracted to three painters: Degas, Munch and Bacon. In fact, I then felt an affinity between them, even if secretly, not from the thematic point of view, but as a way of confronting the canvas, a great affinity between Degas and Bacon. In fact, Bacon was influenced by Sickert, who was influenced by Degas, and had a certain way of painting nudes that could also allude to the scabrous style of Munch. A painter who has no problems with poetics, because he is sure of always being himself, does not have any difficulty in stealing from others what can serve for his own paintings. I mean that painting derives from painting, but is continually modified when it meets an artist who is not contaminated by the poetics of someone else, but appropriates methods, techniques, ways of giving strength to his own imagination. This is a painting, a triptych. It has Bacon’s style, but does not represent anything that Bacon’s work represents. It is a painting inspired by the criticism of the Italian political world and the refusal of the ‘historic compromise’. We are afraid of governments, afraid that someone will stand at a black pulpit or on a black throne. When I painted the black of the desk I was even reminded of Malevitch’s black square. And then there is a figure without a face getting up, in the act of taking off his jacket in readiness for command. If we want to digress to consider the subject-matter, I could have stolen the title from Goya, ‘The sleep of reason generates monsters’.  

Immediately after the Triptych I worked at a group of new paintings: Man at the window 1964 , Man with a dog 1965  and The Ruling Class itself. In this group of paintings there is, in comparison with my previous work, the addition of a geometrization above the figures or imprisoning them, locking them in, as in a cage, or giving them greater prominence, as in Man at the window, who is looking out from the inside. Even in Man with a dog there are two lines, almost pointing to the door out of which the master is coming, and the dog goes towards him. Above all in The ruling class we see some geometrical shapes overhanging the figures. There is a geometrization that was previously absent and that is very clear during this period. In commenting on these paintings I can say that every time that I have faced the problem of The Ruling Class - even the Triptych faced that problem - I have always spoken of it as if the reason could be found there - the root of the discomfort of contemporary man - almost as if really the job of the managerial classes is to make life easier for everybody. Whoever has the job of redistributing wealth and power, of making the rules, is rather, in effect, a figure who doesn't have anything to say to others, but only to himself. Today we speak of a political caste. Every time that I have represented anything concerning politics, I have always spoken as if it is a caste. And it is strange that even in a painting that was painted much later, in the Eighties, but that is connected with these themes, called Roman Sunset, we see politicians bowing, kissing a naked woman who represents corruption, representing everything that a powerful Rome manages in inconceivable ways. As if to say that those who represent us represent nothing more than themselves, and that we are therefore alone in dealing with something that will never arrive, like the man, like men standing at a window and waiting for something, a person or an event, that will never come. Once the painter and novelist Dino Buzzati, speaking of my painting, said that it reminded him of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, men waiting for something that will never happen. He was perhaps thinking of his The Desert of the Tartars, but, in fact, I do have an idea that man cannot find something that he knows could exist, but that is hidden who knows where. After all, if I wanted to describe these characters, I would say that they propose the figure of a man who would like to wait and believe, but who has lost the faith for believing.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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24 March 2009, The artist's "journey"

It seems as though my best results are achieved through the continually mediated presence of an awareness and appreciation of an existence in which all the possible artifice of narration has lost its significance.  

I represent apparently everyday situations, but which are actually suffused by a mysterious atmosphere, penetrating and refuting any semblance of normality.
Consequently, a man smoking or a woman lying on a bed are no longer representations of ordinary gestures or habits, but become enigmatic representations, tending towards other possibilities. So the background may no longer be a bar, a bedroom, or a road, but time, space, or death.
Even painting, in its way, tries to measure itself against aspects that continually evade us.

The painting on my canvas seems to be of highly realistic. However, if you look carefully at it, you will see that the figures in it are completely isolated from each other. The composition does not represent a scene, but rather, it shows various situations. It is both all true and all false. I cannot illustrate: I pretend to tell a story, and this fictional work contains my idea of the world in which we live and of how to fix things. I don’t paint anything that is actually occurring, but always think of something different from what seems to be the subject of the painting. (…) The painting is the artist’s “journey” while it is in the studio, on the artist’s easel. Then it will acquire new energy, travelling through the eyes of those who are looking at it, adding and subtracting from it, finding references in it that the artist had not even imagined. At that moment the “journey” is no longer the artist’s, but that of the observer.

Our identity derives from a comparison with others, or even a rivalry, and is constructed through a formative process offering us cultural references, in the sense of knowledge of the world around us. 
Who we are, where we come from, and where we are going … are all eternal questions that our intellectual curiosity continues to reflect upon, searching for answers.

 Sometimes, when we are young, we think we have found “the missing link”. As time passes, everything mellows: what once seemed to be simple and essential needs to be regarded with other eyes. But everything that we have been, or that we have thought we were, that we have loved or refused, stays with us.

However, I have always thought that painting is a kind of laboratory to gain an understanding of the artist, even going beyond what an artist actually thinks he believes. But it could also be said that art is able to unify what seems to have been divided.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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18 December 2008, Out-of-season toughts.

1

It appears - but perhaps it really is happening - that the fog is thickening. I know where I am, but I can't see which way to go from here. Of course, there's painting but couldn't it just be force of habit that makes me think that it still has something new to offer me? Could I do without it if it weren't my only means of supporting myself? If this were true, the fog would get even thicker. If I want to continue moving on, I have to move slowly, not hoping to return to brighter times.

 

2

Things go their own way, and we should be aware that we can't change the way they are going. You hope that something unexpected will happen, that not everything is lost; but how, when and where, you just don't know. The day will come when you won't have the patience to "hold on" any more.

 

3

The passage of time leaves behind an emptiness filled with memories, for those who know how to preserve them. The passage of time anchors us to the present, which is so different from how we imagined it when it was our future; in comparison our memories, even the saddest, are as light as ideas. Time passes and walks with our tired footsteps.

 

4

Once I had scales to tell me the weight of things. And so I was able to represent even the most dreadful things that were going on. Today, I feel more frightened than ever, but I've lost my sense of equilibrium.

 

5

I think about a painting that I would like to create, but nothing springs to mind. I feel I lack new projects. At other times I have stood in front of a white canvas without ideas; starting to make charcoal marks, rubbing out and throwing on some colour. The painting took shape and seemed to be suggesting an image that I had not yet thought of. Will this happen again this time?

 

6

Did I ever require from painting to shed light on a possible path through life? There has perhaps been an exchange between my work and my life. I have simply followed the kind of vocation that made me choose this difficult and fascinating profession. Painting has, for me, become an essential means of self-knowledge and of knowledge of the world. I don't feel that I need to add any more.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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18 September 2008, That need of reconstructing the meaning of one's own work.

Although I have already done so in previous blogs usually I would prefer not to talk about my paintings, because the meaning that I attach to them is then transformed over time in the eyes of the spectator, into the thoughts of those who imagine something that the painter has not conceived, but which is still a perfectly legitimate way of interpreting the painting. Despite this, since I have recently spent a good deal of time reconstructing the meaning of my work (a reasonable task you will probably agree for an artist who will be eighty very soon) in this blog I will describe how almost twenty years ago I came to create a group of paintings (reproduced here alongside the blog) which I consider quite significant to understanding not only how my own work but also how a painting is born and how from this others may unexpectedly come into being.

In 1992, or the years before, there was the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of hope for an ideology that had affected the whole first half of this century and a conspicuous portion of the second half. Many people had believed in this ideology, the first great socialist revolution of the world. This idea of revolution was common place, the home of the thoughts, justice, and ideas that a great revolution promises. However, we know that all revolutions are unfortunately destined to be betrayed and, in the end, lead to corruption, fear and abandonment by the very people who had believed in them. And then I imagined a painting in red like the red flag of Communism, where the star is still visible, but everything is smashed and distorted.
To create this painting I examined the painting of De Kooning in depth, because it seemed to me that, through those broken and continuous structures, I could more profoundly express the significance of this crisis. A man in the foreground, like a black silhouette, is leaving with a pair of suitcases, and the title is perhaps an indication to help understand the meaning. Going where? I immediately made another painting in this cycle still concerned with the same problem: Going where? Goodbye to the red house which also has writing going across the top of the house, in almost Cyrillic characters. Here, too, a man with suitcases is leaving this house, which is, perhaps, the house of his hopes and dreams. Then the subject became dilated and no longer concerned the fall, the implosion of Communism, but the destiny of man. So then, immediately afterwards, or, in some cases, even before this painting, I painted green paintings with men in a landscape or looking down from a terrace, and who seem to be lost in contemplation, all entitled Going where? , almost as though Man is in a critical, temporary situation and is searching for an identity inside a labyrinth, represented in this case by the natural world. This could have been a great moment, a problem set out before modern Man that he has to resolve, but as to how, that is a mystery.
Then I made a very large painting, two meters by two meters thirty-five, entitled The game , more fantastic, or rather, more mysterious, in which I borrowed from Cézanne the silhouette of the two card players, while on the right a man looks as if he wants to know how this game is going to end. It is a red painting which, even if the characters' silhouettes were not so clear, could be exhibited just for its background, almost like an abstract painting.


Alberto Sughi , Rome

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4 April 2008, Drawing and Painting.

In my last blog I was talking about my very early drawings, some of them dating back as far as the 1940s (and please forgive me for not having been able to replay to all the comments!). Today in this prolonged, enjoyable, common effort of ours to make this blog also a place where we share our thoughts and impressions on our work so to understand it better, I will try to say something about another group of drawings, this time a very recent one. It is a group of three drawings I made in 2007, a group that, if I am right, I have already had a chance to bring to the pages of our Absolutearts blog when they were not finished yet. Though this is the very first time I am talking about them here.
They are large format drawings on inverted canvas, prepared on the reverse side, so they are made on the rough, unprepared, side of the canvas, because it is then easier to draw with charcoal and tempera colours. Using this technique the colour doesn't run, as on the prepared side, so there is a different way of erasing, drawing, and working on them. This method gives results that, in my opinion, are more suited to my technique. I also find it hard to call them drawings, even though I have found no other way of defining them. However, they are, in fact, large images that are the equivalent of painted images, both in their expressive strength and inner tension. I have always found that there is a strong connection between drawings and painting. They are not two separate techniques in my work, so much so that in many of my paintings you can find charcoal and pencilled lines, both under and above the colour. I have always mixed the two. I believe that a painter is interested in the expression, and is less concerned about the technique he uses to obtain it.
But let us go back to the drawings, starting from Drawing no. 3, the first one I made. During the war in Iraq there was a bloodbath of civilians in Mossul. I had this tragedy in mind, as perhaps many people did, but I didn't want to paint or to draw that particular butchery, even if, as an emotional basis for these paintings, the sense of tragedy that we are seeing in that war is certainly present. So I portray a pile of bodies, massacred, and a woman with a child gripping onto her, who is perhaps covering her eyes so that the child cannot see. The painting has become rich in references, because the woman is drawn in an almost classical style, as a distant memory of the sketches used by Italian 16th century artists. The tangle of bodies is perhaps more reminiscent, although I could be mistaken, of something going from Goya up to certain drawings or paintings of the concentration camps by Music.
Drawing no. 2 is more sketchy, but no less powerful in expressiveness. There is a woman, defending herself from a man, who is trying to rape her at home, and there are, on the left of the canvas, two children watching, gripping onto each other and covering their faces. This is very indicative of my way of starting a work, and since I think that a painting has to be beautiful from the initial stages until the moment it is finished, I have actually left this drawing in its first stage because, to me, it seemed very powerful, and also to leave a trace of my way of setting up a painting.
Drawing no. 1, which is the largest and is made not on inverted canvas but on white canvas, even though it is still a drawing, also has the feel of a finished work. it is not, in fact, a drawing that can be painted over. There is a man on a crucifix, a woman with a child going away, a man asking for charity, and a strong and powerful chiaroscuro. It is a very moving image, which also touches on the idea of where we are, and perhaps also points to how we could get out of this tragic situation. There is the idea of truth, of Christ, of a mother protecting her child. There are all the elements that, even when appearing at the height of tragedy, can point to a way of escape.
Only recently my friend and art critic Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, commenting on this group of drawings, wrote that there is a deep and constant dialogue between me and the tradition of painting. I have to admit that this is possibly true, because I believe that painting is like conversing with past or present art.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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20 November 2007, My early drawings.

At my last exhibition in Rome, Professore Arturo Carlo Quintavalle persuaded me to show a large selection of drawings I never presented in public before.
I was'nt sure about this decision since the drawings in question dated back to the mid 1940s' in other words back to an age before I became (I think) a painter. Now that that choice has been made, and since I firmly believe that when I write I am at my very best when I talk about my works, let me talk about those early drawings. As in my next blog I will talk, probably with more confidence, about later paintings.

(PS
Before starting this blog let me say a big thanks to our friend Andrew and my son Mario for helping me out in the task of replying to my last blog's comments. Thanks!)

More than a real album of drawings this was rather a series of individual sketches that my sister Leda brought me from the agricultural consortium where she was employed. They were actually bills, or receipts, that I used on the blank side to make the sketches. I had a passion for drawing, so she brought me the paper. I have always drawn, ever since I was a child. I sketched my first two drawings, I believe, when I was seven or eight years old and, unlike the drawings that most children make, they portrayed two old men in 'tapparella', that is, wearing overcoats and sticks. I watched them from the garden of my house as they climbed toward the Abbey on the mountain to eat a simple meal with the monks. My mother folded them and put them in her bag, perhaps imagining that she had discovered a talent in her child. Those drawings certainly made a strong impression on her.

When I made the other drawings, in 1943, I was about 15 years old. The whole series dates from when I was about 14 to 16 years old. After that, I kept on drawing on sheets of paper and typing paper, and I continued to go around with a notepad for years, as painters did in those days. Then the subject-matter changed. While my attention was first drawn to what I saw, it then changed when I started to understand something about art, glancing through catalogues belonging to my uncle, who was a painter. These were catalogues from the Biennale exhibition in Venice or the Roman Quadriennale. Here I discovered Rosai, Sironi, Fattori, Degas and saw the world through their eyes. Then everything changed again. I came into contact with the Romans, especially with Muccini, and I had other stimuli and interests, and became immersed in the problems of painting. There are also strange connections between my 'popularesque' works and compositions that are almost abstract.

Some of my drawings, if it wasn't for mere hints of human forms, could pass for abstract works. Young people come into contact with different things, quickly learning how to capture the significance of a look, to observe, catalogue, and compose. Perhaps what seems to emerge from these beginnings is that, despite this to-ing and fro-ing from one thing to another, as a young man should, there is always the same 'tension', and you can see that these are all my drawings. This means that, on the one hand, you gain technical skill, your ability as a draughtsman becomes sharper, and on the other, that the image itself takes shape, what I call, in a rather archaic way, the poetic world of an artist, which he feels imprecisely, but very strongly, within himself. If you observe these drawings, they are partly influenced by Mondrian, and partly by Masaccio. This might seem foolish, but it isn't. I say Masaccio because the figures are placed among houses, in squares, in the centre of the composition, and this is Longhi's idea in the critique that I had read, entitled Fatti di Masolino e Masaccio. Longhi says that Masaccio plants a nail in the wall and his figures are placed in perspective, while in Masolino everything is still flat. On the other hand, in my drawings there is a geometrical way of composing, with rhythmically spaced rays of light and subject-matter in an almost abstract style.

The 1951-52 drawings are quite different. I was more skilled in creating them, but even here there is a moment of artistic development. They are not drawings taken from life, but are imaginary. I wanted to portray the sense of light, space and movement. I wanted to experiment. In other cases there are sketches taken from life, such as the one with the lizard in the foreground, from 1951, which was perhaps inspired by Dùrer."

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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27 September 2007, Lo Studio.

Sometimes the painter’s studio looks like an artisan’s shop where friends as well as clients pay a visit or just come in for a chat. There are days indeed when those visits become almost too many and therefore not much time is left for painting.

This morning I had the coffee break with my art dealer who has come to Rome from Florence to talk about some future work projects. He was still in the studio when the printer arrived with a large folder and the proofs of some new prints of mine. The bell rings again. I go to the door myself and I ask the photographer if he could postpone our appointment till tomorrow. I beg my guests to forgive me but now I have really to go back to my work. But it must certainly be one of these days and I have only just put on my white coat when I hear that Sergio Z. and Renato Z. have just arrived. “Sorry Alberto we are a little bit early”. I let them in and as they take their seats I call my assistant. Please I tell her would you start to clean the brushes and take the canvas off the easel.

I still find the encounters with those friends of mine with whom I share a lifelong friendship very interesting and also useful. Sometimes our conversations are endless.

“Alberto”, Sergio starts, “the question of knowing how to look, created for Art with a capital A, has not contributed much to its understanding. It has merely celebrated the already famous and accepted the already accepted, allowing no possibility for interference, meaningful additions or subtractions. The art critic’s categorization and the museum system has frozen the communicative aspect in an intangible, sacred, reality, made of exemplary rarities, and so on. Alberto was this the destiny of art? Does it only represent something that has already "occurred", for itself and around itself: in churches, museums, art foundations, private collections, exhibitions? Is it only history?”

I have to admit I agree with Sergio. The questions that this writer and friend of mine arises in fact are the same as those I myself pose, but I am also convinced, and I tell him, that, by now, any explanation is useless. “Nobody is ready to listen Sergio, and the state of things remains the same.”

Renato is pacing up and down in the studio. Now he takes his seat again and says “Alberto, do you know what Mallarmé said about pessimism? "Incredulity is not genius!"

“Mallarmé was right too. Pessimism can only be measured with itself... it has no rivals, and is prone to being renounced. But mine is only disenchantment.”

I can only note that in those many years our conversations have not lost any passion. And before leaving Sergio wants to know if I was reluctant to let go of a painting that doesn't entirely convince me.

To be honest, I tell him, I think I am. I try to work on it, to give it that light that it lacks. It is difficult to let go, to throw away a work that you have devoted days to completing. You tell yourself you have found a way of saving it, so you continue to work on it, and the more you work, the less you know how to detach yourself from it. And then you think that it would have been better to abandon it before, when you felt that something was wrong with it. But by now you have challenged yourself to “sail your painting into the harbour”. It would be better to call it your canvas since, after so many changes, almost nothing has remained of the first version. That harbour, at times, is too far: the painting is sinking, and you with it, when you pick up the paint stripper and delete everything. But it is never only time wasted. You, the painter, in that unlucky adventure, have used all the resources that your skill had to offer, looked for original solutions, and have thought profoundly about the mystery of pictorial expression, have carried out a ruthless critical analysis of your work. Days of absolute devotion have passed. And, in the end, you have surrendered. You have destroyed your painting, but you will also have attended a painting course that you have given yourself. Then the friends leave and the studio gets quiet again. I start to turn off the lights. I stop once more to check the painting at the foot of the easel. And as I look at it I wonder how many paintings I have left under other paintings, and how should I know if they were all to be rejected. Certainly it has happened more than once, I say to myself, and I don’t know whether I have always acted for the best. Not having the vanished painting to look at any more, I don't have the possibility of making any comparisons. The painting generally vanishes with the increasingly complex modifications that are made and that represent the dialectic relationship between the moment of creation and that in which the painting is analysed. It is like a thread that is unravelling and it makes the vanished image merge with the one that has replaced it. I could then say that the previous versions, the sinopites, in the end tell the history of a single painting.

With all those reflections in the air I think the day in the studio must really have finished now. Instead the telephone rings. A journalist from a daily Roman newspaper introduces himself. He has some quick questions on the art market. I would like to tell him that the studio is closed, that everybody has gone, but I tell him only to try to be quick as possible as I was on the point to leave. “Without the market, how is the reputation of an artist formed? Who mediates between supply and demand? What is the role of the critic in making, concretely, the connection between the artist and the potential client? Or is good marketing simply enough? “

I try to keep my answer as short as possible. But it’s not easy. It’s late and I am very tired. So I try to say

“ The value of the work of a particular artist is only what the market dictates and it can go up or down just like any other item quoted on the Stock Exchange. So, as sometimes happens on the Stock Exchange, also in the art market, through particular operations, some groups are able to alter the value of certain products. The role of the critic tends, by now, to make the value of an artist coincide with his/her market value.

There are, thank goodness, seriously committed artists who, although almost ignored by the market, still find their own admirers and collectors. By a strange coincidence, these artists are also almost completely ignored by the critics.”

At the other end I hear a bit of silence but then I realise the questions are not over yet.

“Professore. I have one last question for you. What damage or benefit will an artist receive if, out of impatience, sense of freedom or arrogance, he or she refuses to follow the logic of the market?”

“If his value could be measured by a pure measurement of artistic assessment, I reply, it would not suffer any damage. However, since it is not known whether this measurement still exists, or even whether someone continues to believe in that kind of measurement, I think that the artist is more likely to be damaged than to benefit from it. “

“What opinion do you have of your relationship with your dealers?”

“Sorry it is really too late. Now I have to go.”

And I tell him I will try to answer this last question another time.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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26 June 2007, We are all the history of our own lives.

A) I am so used to mixing drawing and painting, not following any of the conventional rules. In my paintings, I often continue to draw over layers of colour, and vice versa, there are layers of colour over the drawings, which can sometimes be seen as a trace of the development of the painting.

I would perhaps consider my identity as an artist to be this strong connection between drawing and painting, both assuming a vital role within my works. I am basically a painter of the human form. When I lived in Carpineta, in the midst of green trees and meadows, I tried to understand what my relationship with nature was, since at the time I was captivated by its charms, without managing to analyze my reaction.

I entrusted my queries to my painting, in the hope that it would enable me to understand something more, and created a series of paintings representing the trees, hedges, and the sky above the cypresses and the great oaks. They were not vistas or landscapes, merely portraits of some fragments of nature. I may have thought that the time was ripe to give energy back to my work again, to find solutions that went beyond the formal structures that I was used to. But those words could be interpreted in a different way. They could be used to understand, for instance, how insufficient the tools of conventional judgement are, when used to analyze and govern the crisis of a world that is changing at an inconceivable speed.

B) Saturday morning my dear friend Sergio (Zavoli) visited me in my studio, as I am preparing this new solo exhibition at the Complesso Vittoriano in Rome, he found me within my thoughts and preoccupations. And he asked me. Alberto does the concrete value of art still exist? If so, what is it? Do you believe in the power of market forces or the cultural viscosity of the phenomenon? Art is a word with many meanings, so each of us attributes different roles to it, that are all equally legitimate and often verifiable in those works that we universally consider to belong to the realm of art. Often a novel or a painting, a poem, or a piece of music are viewed as documents of exceptional value, more than any other kind of document, in discovering and reconstructing the main issues of the period to which they belong. However, these considerations do not regard the essence of art, but what art can offer to different observers. Art cannot ask itself whether it matches its time, because it is an integral part of it. And a work of art, created entirely by one individual, belongs to those who know how to evoke it, recognize it and imagine it. It is alive and essential as long as it produces intellectual soul-searching and cultural resonance that helps people to compare their own beliefs with those of others. It becomes useless and inert when, to recognize its value, we have to base our judgement on the prices reached in auctions or, like the TV ratings, the number of visitors to a well-sponsored exhibition. We are all, as individuals, the history of our own lives. In the end we keep what has taken root within us, what has found fertile ground on which to build. Everyone has arrived at a crossroads in their lives, where they thought they might be able to change direction. Would our lives have been different? Perhaps, but only as different as the titles of different novels written by the same author.

Art testifies to its own time: our increasingly confused moral values, ideologies that seem to have dissolved and others that survive in a state of alarm and conflict, the overwhelming triumph of reason, that seems to have lost its ancient charm, philosophy, forced to reflect on the brevity of time, politics, fighting for power, but then showing all the difficulties of governing a society that does not know, or want, to distinguish between progress and development. The wars, religions, and terrorism at least partly explain the entity of the crisis that has, quite unexpectedly, invaded a world that is in the most advanced state of wealth. This crisis has also affected, as a natural consequence, the world of art which, not being a metaphysical entity detached from the context in which it was created, bears the burden of the crisis and sends out signals that are anything but reassuring!

I don't believe that these considerations of mine, whether correct or not, can have anything in common with attitudes of a neo-romantic or aesthetic nature. Perhaps they should be included, as we said before, in what has affected our lives.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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21 May 2007, Live and painting.

The legacy of painting

There were years when no famous critic who reviewed my work failed to recognized an echo of Bacon’s painting in it – some in the content, others in the colours, the style, or the expression - disregarding the obvious "indivisibility" of the artist’s work. And this has increasingly legitimized the comparison between my work and that of the great English artist. One could say that this excessive insistence has ended up becoming banal and showing up the lack of originality of some reviewers. To demonstrate the validity of this comparison they have even altered the character of Bacon’s painting.

Bacon is, above all, a great and tragic realist painter, oscillating between nightmare and agony. When Bacon is given as a point of reference for my artistic research, he is depicted as an artist who paints loneliness, emptiness, the suffering of existence, whereas, in fact, the scenario that stimulates Bacon’s imagination is completely different: it is a nightmare environment inhabited by men disfigured by a fierce expressionism who, between latrines and couches, show what is not really loneliness, but rather a disrespectful and terrible detachment.

If it was up to me to point out the difference in terms of content between my work and Bacon’s I would say that his painting depicts a tragically beautiful dimension, with a strong realist vision. I would add that my work concerns loneliness - Man suffering the reality in which he is immersed.

But Bacon is among the greatest of modern painters, and I am certainly not one to favour the comparisons, and illusions, of flattering similes.

I have observed Bacon, Munch, De Kooning and many others with the attentive respect that is reserved for inspiring teachers; this attention towards some artists, rather than others, could mean that I have looked for something in their work that could help my own painting to develop. I have always thought that painting continually feeds itself on painting. This is valid, I believe, for every form of art.

All one's various influences are transformed so greatly over time, and become absorbed and interlinked, so it becomes really difficult to say which artists have had the greatest influence on someother artist’s work. I also have to remember that often an artist manipulates the work of great artists who have inspired him. In order to produce an entirely original work, an artist cannot avoid betraying the works he most admires.

 

Betrayals

The scandalous episode of the Japanese painter who copied my works, exhibiting them in Tokyo and receiving critical acclaim and a prestigious national award, which last year "filled the newspapers around the world", has taken on a metaphorical significance that coincides with my disenchantment regarding the intangible, even sacred, value of art.I was amazed by this unprecedented event in the chronicle of scandals that have shaken the art world.

The Japanese government has revoked the award. The association of Japanese painters has expelled him. The museums that had purchased his paintings have removed them from the walls where they had hung.

In an interview some time ago I said that "if we ask ourselves why a work that is considered a masterpiece suddenly appears meaningless when it is discovered that it is a fake, we have to understand that any possible answer to this question cannot concern the work of art itself, but rather our own relationship with art, that is, our ability to evoke it, imagine it, and recognize it."

 

Life and Painting

It is difficult to say what life is, since it is almost never only one thing. If some aspects of our existence have ended up representing our identity, others, kept in a kind of shadow, represent its hidden aspects. It is true that, with the passing of time, painting has become my life. Perhaps this happened when all the contradictions that I had carried with me took on consistence, unity and duration within my canvases. I certainly go through moments of discontent, impotence, and often a feeling of uselessness, but these are everyday things, experienced by everybody.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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05 March 2007, A painting lesson.

We were in open country, on a wintry day, white and light blue with the snow and the sun. Otello.had placed his easel on the highest point of the hill and was look­ing at the view below him attentively and with great concentration. I was hold­ing his box of paints and looking at the landscape, too, glancing up at his eyes to try to understand what he wanted to see. He was clearly performing some kind of translation - transforming, in his mind, the trees and the snow, the river and the hills into exciting colours, shapes and rhythms.

He took the box of paints from my hands and, while I was taking out his palette, he spoke.

"It looks like a good view. Perhaps we can make a good picture. Painting a land­scape in the snow isn't an easy thing to do. It all looks white, but it's really full of colour."

When he started spreading the colour, choosing the tubes with his large hands, he said,

"First we put the white, then the natural sienna ochre yellow, then the burnt ochre, the umber, the 'Pozzuoli' red... These are the colours, Alberto, that the ancient masters used. They are nearly all natural clays, and you can paint any­thing with them. And here is the green earth and, for the light blues, we'll use cobalt and ultramarine and, finally, vine black."

The palette was ready, smelling of colours. It looked as if all the natural land­scape around us was reflected in it. Otello held it firmly in his left hand. At the same time, he started scratching the canvas with a piece of charcoal. "You have to capture the basic lines of the landscape - to know how to recognise the movement of these hills without getting distracted by the details that weaken its structure. It's always better to have a harmonious whole, to draw bold and generous lines, rather than being trite. You mustn't dawdle over painting". Then he started to paint. His handsome face was serene. The thoughts that he had gathered in his mind during his long and careful observation seemed to melt into colours that spread quickly over the canvas. It was like watching a magical cloth being woven. Every brushstroke intersected the others, giving life to that pattern, from which the painting mysteriously emerged. His brushstrokes became less frequent, his touches lighter and accompanied by a

movement of the painter's head, reclining on one shoulder or on the other, get­ting closer and then stepping back from the canvas, as if he had to see whether there were points that needed to be more clearly defined ... "I'll leave it as it is. If something needs to be added, I'll do it when I get home. It is freshly painted, and its a first impression. I must be careful not to deaden the tones of the colours. I think it shows something a little poetical". He took his eyes off the painting and looked at me, pleased to see my admiring expression.

"Do you like it, Alberto?" "It's wonderful" I replied.

He smiled and, while he closed the box of paints lying on the snow, he said, affectionately,

"One day you will make better paintings".

On that wintry afternoon I took the first and fundamental painting lesson of my life. I was fourteen years old and my uncle Otello Magnani was thirty-five.

 

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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14 December 2006, A painter's thoughts.

A) There are various reasons why a young man may choose to take up the challenge of painting, poetry or music. A natural talent for writing, a natural ear for music, or hands that have a natural ability to draw can help you take that first step; but this does not, in itself, determine whether you will become a painter, poet or musician.

Talent is a precious tool for anyone who has something original to say; but it is a useless, even harmful, natural gift when it does not lead to self-expression, but simply to virtuosity.

I do not know whether we can be sure that drawing and painting is one and the same thing; however, at least to me, they seem to be inseparable.

B) Glancing through the pages of the history of painting; your models will be those that have instinctively attracted you.

Some sign of the passions of your youth will always stay with you, even if they are hidden within the intricacies of your painting.

C) I don’t think that only being yourself, if this is, in fact, at all possible, can derive from an awareness of having to be just that; but rather, I believe it has to do with the desire to push oneself beyond one’s limits, to know, to experiment.

D) Our identity comes from comparison, and sometimes confrontation, with others, and is constructed through the formative process that our culture gives us, in other words, our knowledge of the world in which we are immersed: who we are, where we come from, where we are going, etc.. Our intellectual curiosity keeps on searching for an answer to these eternal questions.

Sometimes, when we are young, we feel we have discovered "the missing link". As the years pass, we absorb more and that progression, which once seemed so straightforward and necessary, we now see from another viewpoint; but everything we have been, or have believed, loved or refused, still remains fixed within our innermost selves.

E) I have mentioned, in the previous point, what could appear to be a coherent and linear progression. In fact, it contains, as always, many contradictions: contradictions that, when we think about them, most people carry around with them. In the case of painters, showing their work to the public, the antinomy between their thoughts and their work is more clearly evident.

I have always thought that painting was a kind of litmus paper enabling us to understand an artist even better than he understands himself, but maybe art is also able to unify what appears to be completely separate.

F) The strong opposition between two ideologies (Communist and Fascist), which marked the postwar years, certainly influenced the choice of subject matter for several generations of artists.

Does my work show visible traces that can be interpreted as expressions of that clash of ideologies? I don't think so. Not being able to experience ideology in an orthodox way, I have always exploited the sense of total freedom that painting affords.

At the beginning we stayed together among artists because of the affinities of our work, then groups arrived and "movements" formed, compiling anachronistic manifestos.

They always seemed to me to be merely gimmicks, stolen from the historic avant-garde, to get publicity. Prompted by an innate sense of distrust, I have never wanted to be part of this process.

For some time, lasting over a long period, the political culture of the extreme Left observed with great interest the work of certain painters, among which I was included out of affinity.

Perhaps they formed a distorted interpretation of our work, unless, unaware, it was their guilty conscience that appreciated our results.

In fact, those paintings were not created to gratify anybody, but rather to highlight the existential discomfort of Man, as an individual, within contemporary society.

F-1) Working alone is never easy, but what does this mean in today’s world? Is there any point in finding a teacher to guide your hand if, in order to succeed, you then have to forget that teaching as quickly as possible? In 1970, G. Colacicchi, then Director of the Art Academy in Florence, offered me a professorship in painting at the Florence Academy. I thanked him for the respect he had shown me in asking me, but declined his offer. I knew that I had nothing to teach anyone except myself. If it were up to me, I would close the Academies.

G) Politically involved art criticism.. This is a story that originates from a heated debate, within the Left, between painters who chose Abstract art and those who were convinced about the superiority of figurative painting.

I believe that the fact that each of the two factions claimed some sort of supremacy, and that the method to obtain it turned into a dispute that was to symbolize divisions within the political Left, led to a completely distorted viewpoint (and also damaged and created divisions within Italian art).

Within this dispute, the role of the art critic took on a particular significance, different from the role taken by today’s critics. They very definitely took one side or the other, as militant supporters in the struggle for the supremacy of one of the two movements (Abstraction - Realism).

Probably increasing the damage, the Italian Communist Party heavily intervened in this foolish and provincial quarrel, producing a famous article on Rinascita signed by Rodrigo (a pseudonym for Palmiro Togliatti), which expressed open and deliberate support for the Realist movement.

In this way a culture clash, that could have been considered anachronistic and provincial, took on the form of a serious, but senseless, political debate that has continued to have a negative effect on the history of Italian contemporary art.

H) Art is a word that now seems to refer to just about anything, and it is gradually losing its traditional significance. The significance that we have traditionally assigned to art can no longer be the same, ever since, over a period of time, it lost its original function. Modern Man has now turned to science, religion, politics, perhaps even to philosophy, to find answers and comfort for our expectations and anxieties.

The result is that art now plays a marginal role. In other words, I have the impression that I am living at a time when Man does not need to produce Art.

I) My painting reflects my thoughts; I would even say that it offers greater insight into my thoughts. It has often been said, or written, that my work represents the feeling of loneliness. But has nobody ever thought that my painting, as it takes shape within my works, could represent the loneliness and distance of art from the world in which we are immersed?

J) I have never thought, neither in the past nor at present, that I needed to be detached from my own feelings. It is possible to equip oneself to survive on a desert island, so there is no reason why we cannot carry on doing a job that we love, even when the shape of its significance seems to be fading.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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28 September 2006, A new white canvas.

I’ve just removed the painting I’ve been working on from the easel: a girl with one hand on her chest holding a white sheet that partly covers her body is peering through a half-open doorway. We don’t know what she is looking at: our only hint being her astonished and frightened expression. It may seem odd, but often the painter doesn’t know much more about what is going on in a painting than the spectator. This means that everyone can come to their own conclusions and, in some senses, complete the artist’s work, which is why I often say that the act of painting does not ‘recount’, but rather ‘represents’; it represents something around which the viewer constructs his/her own story.

However, I didn’t sit down here at my desk to describe my painting, but rather to return to the subject of my previous Blogs: the case of a Japanese artist who has copied my work, and to whom the Japanese Minister of Education first assigned and then, after the plagiarism was discovered, withdrew a prestigious art prize.

(Those who wish to read more can go to the heading ‘Controversies’, which gives a complete account, on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_S ughi)

 

Last month I read your comments with great interest and pleasure. Some of you expressed contrasting points of view: some suggested that I should immediately put on a show in Japan to take advantage of the considerable publicity that this situation has generated, others felt, and this is also my own feeling about it all, that I should wait until the Wada affair has died down before thinking about any eventual exhibition in Japan, but there are convincing arguments support both points of view. I also thought that the question, as it had been formulated in my previous blog, had been phrased in a rather misleading way. A painter paints because that is his job. He certainly wishes, and perhaps feels he has the right, to see his paintings exhibited in the best context for his finished work. But it is not up to the painter to organise exhibitions. It is not part of his job, and he may not even be capable of doing it. It is the public, or rather the appropriate bodies (museums, galleries etc.) who propose and set up large-scale exhibitions.

At the moment no offer, among those that I have received for an exhibition in Japan, has particularly interested me: they seemed too concerned with the commercial aspect, rather than deriving from a genuine cultural interest in my work. If, one day, I am offered a project that interests me, I will be very happy to present my work in Japan in a different context.

Now that I have taken my painting off the easel and it is leaning against the wall, I glance at it again, and it looks to me like a good painting. Tomorrow I will put a new white canvas on the easel and start to work on something else. That is my job.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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5 July 2006, Somewhere behind.

The fact that there would be someone, somewhere else in the world, who copies your paintings and signs them as theirs, to then become a famous painter in their country and reach such recognition that the Ministry of Culture of their well-reputed nation, advised by a commission of “experts”, should award him an important state Prize, is incredible, to say the least. It would seem that the world information net has holes large enough to let through impossible stories that would be too farfetched even for April Fool’s Day.

As fortune would have it, some April fools decided to delve a little deeper into the net, only to discover that the paintings by the award-winning painter had been copied from an artist living on the other side of the world. This puzzling discovery led them to inform the Ministry of Culture, providing photocopies of the works for comparison. And that is how one of the most unfathomable scandals of modern painting - or the least a case of plagiarism without precedent – has come to light.

At this point, I think it is fitting to inform the reader that the country where this scandal has broken out is Japan; that the artist who has copied the paintings is called Wada; that the Japanese ministry of culture has recognised that, indeed, it is a case of plagiarism, and has revoked the award granted to him; and, lastly, that the painter who has been plagiarised is an Italian painter called Alberto Sughi, who is none other than myself.

Since that day, I have been barraged by Japanese televisions and journalists wanting to know when, how and why.

“Did you know Wada? Are they copies or reworkings? Have you decided to sue him?”
“Yes, I have met him, as I have met so many other people who have not, however, plagiarised my paintings; these are cases of real, clear plagiarism, which can be proved by comparing these photographs; the harshest penalty and charges have been applied by the Japanese Ministry of Culture, which, for the first time in the history of the award, has revoked the coveted prize from him, to his great dishonour.

My internet site has been contacted by tens of thousands of Japanese people, and I have received many emails apologising for the disgrace.

At the same time, I have learned that Wada has received other prizes from private museums, and that already in 2004 there had been mention of the possibility of plagiarism.

These past days I have had the chance to examine many photographs of paintings by Wada that are copies of my works.

Recently I have had proposals to take part in major exhibitions in Japan – I, however, would prefer to exhibit my work when this scandal has died down. My painting, I hope, deserves cultural attention, and not merely curiosity spawned by a scandal of this magnitude.

Major Culture Foundations would like to rush me, taking advantage of the popularity of my name in Japan as a result of all this.

What do you make of this? What advice do readers of Absolutearts blogs have for me?

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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5 May 2006, The Art of Recollection.

In 1980 I began work on an important narrative cycle Imagination and memory of the family, which was exhibited for the first time at the La Gradiva Gallery, in Rome, the following year.

The real innovation of this work, compared to my previous paintings, consisted in its requiring the aid of my memory, which I had never demanded with such persistence, to recapture all that we had left in our old house; to understand what it was right to leave there, and what we should have brought with us. In this reconstruction it seemed essential, above all else, to capture the sense of dignity that neither discomfort, nor suffering, nor pain, could destroy.

If this dignity is the existential sign of a proletarian society, a comparison with the neurosis that characterises man in a consumer society seems inevitable. This is not nostalgia. There is no desire to go back to a past life, to revive reassuring places and times. Memory, when linked to nostalgia, is not secular memory, but only generates illusions. I would like to use memory to bring something to the present, so that modern man will know what he has lost without even realizing it, and what price he has been forced to pay to emerge from poverty. I don't know how, but modern man needs to retrieve his integrity, dignity, and humanity, without losing what he has gained. If it is true that the values of Christian ideology found their most natural habitat in peasant life, it was unthinkable that this would not also emerge in my cycle of paintings about the family...

For this reason, it is still difficult for me today to imagine that this pictorial cycle took on the significance of a thematic choice (as some have claimed) that, in some ways, would break with, or even counteract, my previous work.

I have always tried to conduct a tireless investigation into man’s condition; his existential discomfort, which is evident in apparently reassuring situations. For instance, in 1967, when I painted a man's portrait, entrenched behind lines of televisions, refrigerators, heaters and telephones, I wanted to represent the danger that man would run, if he did not understand in time that he should not glorify a well-being that was entrapping him. Well-being should be used to live better. You shouldn’t sell your life in order to obtain it. So, in 1976, when I painted the Supper cycle, I made that man's portrait again, amazed that he had not understood in time that he was even losing the recollection of his ancient dignity. His loss of 'memory' became the most alarming sign. And in the cycle entitled Imagination and memory of the family I have tried to represent this lost memory. I have not portrayed a peasant family, but have tried to recover our recollections.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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8 March 2006, What I love most of all about painting.

Let us take some examples here and there. I believe that the whole of American informal painting has had a great influence on Italian figurative art. I have loved painters like Rothko and Rauschenberg; At the Biennale exhibitions I skipped all the other paintings and only studied one or two to understand them well, and to understand the innovations they contained. It is difficult to select by artistic movement in a society such as this, where everything is mixed up. The art critic Crispolti, when he wrote an article about me, spoke of my “Informal derivation”, because I don't remove all my sketched lines, in contradiction with the details of the more finished paintings, making no sense if not inserted into a fabric that involves them, into a framework that either overpowers them, or makes them come to life. To understand this, you need to understand when a painter decides that a painting is finished. Some of my paintings could appear to be unfinished works, like something that I have not managed to complete. Some parts of paintings are very well-defined, others hazy, others left vague and full of sketched lines. It may also be that I have not managed to resolve the incongruities, since I am not able to resolve them in my mind, and I leave the contrasts between them, like many things in my life that I have not been able to reconcile. I leave a few spurious lines, dirt marks. At times, when I’m explaining how I paint, I say that I should start from the dust left by the charcoal, the fusaggine , the dirty rags of color, the messy hands, a confusion that I try to dominate and that, while I am painting, becomes increasingly evident around me, even the piles of brushes that I no longer clean. I realize that, in one of my so-called creative moments, the dirty brushes multiply from 3 to 7, 10, or more, and I stop when I can no longer think of anything else to add. The painting is finished when the path has no further turnings to explore. What does this mean? That the painting is finished when your journey inside the painting is over. The painter has finished at his journey’s end. The meaning is part of a fantastic adventure. You think you are arriving who knows where, even if you know that, if everything is as it should be, you will actually get to the places you know best.

I loved Ben Shahn when I was a boy, then I discovered other American painters. I was not so keen on Hyper-realism, and I don't consider it Realist. There is Realism in so much American Pop Art, in Rothko, for instance: his idea of space, his extraordinary relationship with a wall that finally finishes in a dark line; Segal, for me, has concentrated too much on mechanical things, and has taken both the Hyper-realist movement and metaphysics to exasperation. The mould, that gesture, that object removed from its normal and well-formed context in a way that increasingly resembles something by Duchamp, even if Segal is considered completely different from him, he is, nevertheless, linked to the avant-garde. I see him as a man unto himself, halfway between the historical avant-garde and Metaphysics, who has had so many mediocre imitators all over the world. Everything that painting doesn't need, in one way or another, I don't know why, ends up being painted. Hamilton is a painter who has transparency, distant horizons. I see in the cinema amazing possibilities. Some English and Irish directors have done incredible things, have almost gone into competition with Impressionist painting, with light, time, the endless expanse of space, without usurping the world of painting. Impressionist paintings are not beautiful because of their ability to gather colors and light. In fact, they have always had hazy textures, with the consistency of the surface of paint. Instead of always talking about the discovery of light, to love the Impressionists we should remember much more about their relationship with Velazquez, for instance, and the landscape of Saragozza. Manet is more clearly referable to Velazquez, but they all show his influence. If only painting could think about retracing this road, to realize that painting is painting. I get excited when I start to speculate about how Velazquez painted; I wonder how he held his brush, how he worked. If painting doesn't have the lightness that comes from the hands, not from the head, and here I return to the great seduction of craftsmanship, if we don't bear this in mind, then we are just using painting for other purposes, in different areas, using it as provocation. If you look carefully at Caravaggio you realize that it is painted with nothing. If you see it in a photograph and then you see it close up, you realize that the movements that he had to make in order to paint were certainly much simpler, more obvious and natural than they appear in the painting as a whole. Painting is a strange thing. If you let it become too intellectual it loses its identity. Painting is not expressed by what it represents: it is a thing that is made. I have always loved Caravaggio very much, not to imitate him, but to understand the movements of his way of painting.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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11 January 2006, Art and Reality

I would like to start with greetings and best wishes to all those who take part in our discussions. I gain a great deal of pleasure from reading your opinions and comments, and in trying to answer them, in my own way, by incorporating your ideas into new and later discussions.

Today I will touch on a subject that has always been very dear to me: the relationship between art and reality. In the early 1900s, great interest in the themes of work and social justice had already been expressed by many artists. This could be interpreted as the natural conclusion of the process of emancipation that had occurred at the end of the preceding century. In Italy, this interest in social themes was expressed and obtained important results in the works of the early Futurists. More precisely, we can recall that the " Expanding City" (by Boccioni) was originally entitled "Work". In the same year, 1911, Carrà painted his famous work "The funeral of Galli the anarchist". This is evidence of the relationship between the Futurists and the Anarchists, and between the Futurists and the Trade Union movement. This centrality of the theme of work did not decrease, but was rather more present than ever in a great artist of the Fascist era, and who considered himself a Fascist: Mario Sironi. It was to continue, then, up to the beginning of the 1940s, in the works of many artists. It is important to state immediately that this was not only happening in Italy, nor even mainly in Italy: the world of the disinherited, the poor, the workers, as well as the desire to fight against social injustice, has been an important source of inspiration for many twentieth century artists from Picasso to Leger, from Orozco to Permeke and Bensahan. We must certainly also consider literature and the cinema, above all, American cinema, which represented the world of work and the struggle for emancipation with the same, if not even more intense, enthusiasm. This is essential when examining a large part of artistic expression at that time. The period did not last long: social themes that seemed to have found a place among the main sources of inspiration for artists, directors and writers were gradually abandoned. Artists, not only in Italy, started to concern themselves with other matters. The world was changing. After the victorious war against Fascism, at the end of the fifties, we entered, more or less consciously, a period that took us centuries away from our more recent past, and weakened our certainties in the modern world. Still waiting to enjoy the benefits of this technological and cultural revolution, people today are still paying a high human cost. This is what Saul Bellow wrote on the subject:

" In private life, disorder or near-panic. In families - for husbands, wives, parents, children - confusion; in civic behavior, in personal loyalities, in sexual practices (I will not recite the whole list; we are tired of hearing it) - further confusion. And with this private disorder goes public bewilderment… It is with these facts that knock us to the ground that we try to live…The decline and fall of everything is our daily dread, we are agitated in private life and tormented by public questions… And art and literature - what of them? Well, there is a violent uproar but we are not absolutely dominated by it. We are still able to think, to discriminate, and to feel. The purer, subtler, higher activities have not succumbed to fury or to nonsense.” (from: Saul Bellow – Nobel Lecture December 12, 1976 http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1976/bellow-lecture.html)

Bellow believes that artists, true artists, are still able "to think, to discriminate, and to feel". Is it wrong to place this trust in the artist's determination not to fear his own loneliness? We need, above all, to listen to those voices that do not sing along with the masses. Owen Barfield has commented that we cannot stand the eternal mechanism that replaces what really counts with a stage of chatterers about what really counts. In the sixties, artists' interest in social themes started to decline, while the fortunes of movements that proclaimed themselves "neo-avant-gardists" and heirs of the Historical Avant-garde were growing. Given their experimental nature, they were able to find a consonance with the great transformations of the day. They were also able to vindicate a natural connection with those theories that point only to technological development as the ultimate aim of progress. In this way, mankind, the soul, destiny are no longer central to artistic reflection. Artists are improvised wizards and alchemists, producing works with hidden meaning. Arnold Hauser states that the public has to realise that in works of art we are confronted with a set of rules that we have no knowledge of. This separation between art and public taste will then be repaired, using almost medianic techniques, by singular critics and art historians, who speaking as if they were priests or witch doctors, hypnotise the public to feed its market. It is enough here to quote some words by Achille Bonito Oliva "Since the style does not reflect the world, it belongs to its own mystic nature, and therefore specifically to the imagination, which elaborates for mankind the hope of immortality". If, then, there are those who, despite everything, cannot manage to suspend their natural distrust, they can always be attracted by the value of a painting in dollars, and since "commerce is concerned neither with the soul, nor with noble aspirations" interest in the essence of art is replaced by interest in the commercial value of the work. There are certainly other scenarios that could be investigated, if one wanted to understand the complexity of problems that originate in the increasingly difficult relationship between art and reality. The whole universe of the visual arts and representation finds, in television, an instrument that, while absorbing the most modest perceptive possibilities (being directed at a huge public) also contributes to form, address and finally pollute the "imaginary", of which it presents the most banal and indulgent "image".

"To live better in the eyes of the people". This aphorism, by Cicero himself, captures the aptitude to assign representation to its more natural consumption: and who can say that art is not to be included in it, perhaps by one of those homologating processes that are in the very nature of mass communication? And who can say whether the great escape from reality corresponds to the repossession that art operates on itself, and for itself, in an attempt to emerge unscathed by contamination? The popularity of photographic images had already provoked, in its time, something similar. The advent of TV has been even more upsetting. It has not only taken on the task of representing the visible, but also aims to decipher its meanings, to become a tool that changes, modifies and, in some cases, transforms the very reality that it represents. The ground under our feet is very uneven, but it is our ground, on which we can plan and build something positive. We have to find the strength "to think, to discriminate, to feel", the strength to speak out. "God save us from a guilty silence, my dear friend, because an evil silence exists, strangling every activity of the Spirit and it is the source of no emotion whatsoever." (Giorgio De Chirico) And the advice I always keep for myself and my friends is to try to become a voice to counter the "guilty silence". The aim of art is certainly not to publicise ideas or to send messages, but it cannot avoid being a free and creative comparison with reality. The word “Moral” is to be used with caution, like medicines. However, nobody can do any artistic research - difficult, problematic, and interminable - if they are not sustained by profound moral convictions. It is this tension that allows us to proceed along our path at the cost of losing so many things on the way that we thought we could never do without.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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23 November 2005, The gesture of the painter

(Observations on painting - Part Two)

In the first part of this Blog I touched the thoughts and problems of this man who is a painter, now we can follow the artist’s work and better understand his choices and uncertainties, desires, and the restlessness that accompanies him. Now I believe we can follow the artist with greater clarity. As I am talking about my own experience as a painter, I will return to a more personal account. I have always felt a particular excitement in front of a large canvas; as if the wide space offers all those possibilities for my imagination that have been denied in smaller formats. For this reason, I prepare a large canvas.

I could paint more figures: the table prepared with people standing eating. The most unexpected things could happen. Some dogs could come in to frighten the guests; they could drink so much that they get drunk; a lonely, hysterical woman could be taking off her clothes, causing interest or indifference in the others; people could stand close together, drawn together by enjoyment, or fear. Everything was possible. That great, white space could be the scene in which I became aware of my life, or rather of the moods and curiosities of the life I have known, or observed. I started to sketch figures, movements and actions in charcoal: the act of eating, a man taking off a woman’s fur coat, an inquisitive dog in the middle of the guests, two people standing close together and looking at each other, a woman with bear shoulders, a close-up of a detached man.

The sketch was full of atmosphere; full of provocation; of possible solutions going in opposite directions. When you draw with charcoal there are no problems, of size, light, or space. It was like an inventory of images, on which I would have to reflect, to understand and select. I told myself: “Who knows what will happen during this supper? Who knows how this social gathering, waiting for something to happen, will end? Anything can happen, or nothing could happen at all. The characters could act or end up static, immobile, like statues”. I talked to a dear friend of mine about it; he seemed amazed about my reasoning on the subject:

“ Alberto, - he told me, - you talk about your painting as if you weren’t the painter, but only a spectator. But only what you want to happen will actually happen; only what you know about life could happen”. I tried to say that this wasn’t true, that I was ready to follow those characters, that as soon as I had more specifically defined a physiognomy, that I had fully understood the subject, I would have set in motion a process that was not only mine. I only wanted to interpret, to watch, to register. I was ready to depersonalise myself in order to create a painting. To depersonalise means, above all, for a painter, to willingly decide to live without all those characteristics, those personal traits that seem to create themselves in his hands. To remove, from the work, all those automatisms of execution that have come from familiarity with a way of painting; all those "hallmarks" that seem to be an integral part of what is called the "personality" of an artist, and which, in fact, are nothing more than a deposit, the ashes of the work that, out of idleness, have never been allowed to settle.

In all the studies that had made me decide to begin this large canvas, all my usual ways of proceeding in my work were, in effect, still present. There were quick sketches, moments of careful analysis, contrasting with others that were hastier and more vague. In other words, those characteristics that have always been an indication of my artistic education were still present: in a combination of post-impressionism and expressionism tending towards realism. This time I had to choose another way of proceeding. I didn't want to enter into my picture; to force it to contain a pictorial background that I did not think would be able to portray the new spirit that had captured my soul and my mind. I had to “depersonalise myself” and therefore to decide, as a first step, to remove my hallmarks. Despite my determination, it was not so easy. It’s like suddenly feeling tired of your own voice and your own vocabulary; or realising that your own voice and words can no longer express your thoughts.

“Depersonalising myself” in the way I intended, to answer my dear friend, could not, on the other hand, mean only this. It must mean something more. Perhaps it was a self-appraisal that I wanted to carry out; to understand better who, and with whom, I was; not to remain locked inside conventions in trying to interpret my life, and I was searching, in an artistic way, for a back door to get out. Other painters will have interpreted their profession as artists in this way. I started to remove all the figures that had a relationship with the other figures. The man removing the lady’s fur coat disappeared; of the two figures looking at each other only one remained, his eyes now merely fixed on emptiness. The inquisitive dog disappeared, as well as the woman undressing. Of the twelve figures I had drawn, only four were left. Their actions remained the same as when they were together; but since I had removed all the relations between one person and the other, those actions, which had been created in the context of a common aim, became foolish and ritual. That was the moment that I started to paint more convincingly, more precisely, without emotion. These paintings, as I now observe them, finished and signed, are the result of a work that lasted seven months, and that started when I decided to paint a man talking.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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7 November 2005, The gesture of the painter

(Observations on painting - Part One)

I want to paint a man talking. So you can see all his teeth. I want it to be the portrait of someone who feels satisfied because he knows how to choose his words. Typical of a class that I don't like much, who talks of territories, districts, of exploiting and profit-sharing. But really he’s a cynic. He doesn't believe. I don't like the way the picture is turning out. His open mouth talking is so different from how I imagined it would be; and then you can’t listen to what he is saying. That’s it: you ought to be able to hear him speak; but then someone would like it. And that mustn’t happen. And so I take my time and paint the background: some pink, a lot of grey. But the eyes are right. The nose, the mouth: they are all right. What’s missing? I get the idea that the open mouth could be swallowing something, instead of speaking, so I draw a hand bringing a bun to his mouth. Now I like the idea of the painting. It’s very rough. Doing it quickly helps to capture the liveliness of an expression, of a movement. The vague outlines give us a glimpse of a wide range of possibilities. They are lines that don't confine the image. I leave the picture in this state. I will think about it later. For now, I am satisfied that I have created something to be pleased with. Today I take another canvas and sketch a woman eating, with a large mouthful puffing out her cheeks. I think about not giving too much importance to the meaning, or the story. I want to paint the act of eating as if I was painting a still life. I don't want to represent a purposeful action. But rather a portrait, where the gesture, removed from the reason why it is made, gives physical substance to the figure I’m painting. I put the two pictures next to each other and start to think about painting a buffet supper. I do other paintings and realise that they could be placed next to each other. The supper would be recreated in the eyes and minds of the spectator. The characters appear alone; it is their belonging to a group, a social class, a rite that is being enacted, which is the only reason for this alienated proximity. They are together because, as individuals, they have the same parameters of cultural background and interest. And these parameters are so much part of their physical being that they emerge, through the material form of their gestures, faces, and clothes. They are solid and well-defined figures, like geometrical shapes. They don't look at each other, they just are together. Life goes on a long way away from this scene, populated by statues. It is the end of solidarity, the negation of affection. This negation seems to create an impenetrable wall; a wall with no flaws, violently rejecting every weakness. The ideas and thoughts of these dinner-party characters are only physical. The act of eating has become a way of thinking. Their static pose reflects the unshaken moral inertia of their lives. People who have made their protective shell into armour, hiding the emptiness that they carry inside: lack of pity, an ideological void. These "people" are terrible. They can scare you. How can an artist paint in terms of "beauty" and experience an aesthetic attraction for this frozen and violent world? How can the artist take so much care in painting a face, gesture, clothes, when he is well aware that the more detached he becomes from his work, the more successful his painting will be? It is a question of split personality that he experiences, and which makes him determined to carry on a work in which opposites cohabit and interrelate: an optimistic wish to give the form and substance of beauty to a painful and pitiless life that he considers alarming and violent.

I said that I wanted to paint the act of eating, as if portraying a still life. But it actually shows something different and sadder: a still life is the representation of objects that are useful, or that have some kind of relationship with man. Acts belong to man; they are part of man himself. It would therefore be more correct to say, straight away, that I wanted to portray the absence of man. I therefore mean the absence of all the references to ancient art, from museums, that have accompanied me in providing formal, stylistic solutions, and techniques, in my paintings. These paintings, deriving from a strong obsession with content, could only be successful if conceived inside an eclectic and rigid formalism, that placed the characters in a neutral "space" within history. This is the space that the dehumanisation of man has always taken within history; when, whether positively or negatively, man has been portrayed in terms of power or impotence. My relationship with neo-classical painting, including evocations of more ancient art (some reference to certain types of light, to certain physical characteristics of the "sacraments" of Poussin, some suggestions of Guido Reni) has therefore been a historical-social interpretation, aimed at understanding better what I wanted to say, and finding the most effective ways of doing it. It has certainly involved a transformation, and the use of light and forms occurs in such an arbitrary way as to appear unfaithful to these references. Nevertheless, they are there, and they are not motivated by any academic nostalgia. At this point, I have to say what the existence of an avant-garde that has furiously attacked and destroyed any relationship with tradition for over half a century, means to me. Essentially (strictly within the contest I am here talking about) it means not allowing the modern artist any possibility of a stimulating re-evocation of history and tradition, if he doesn’t want to have to live in a climate of hostility and distrust.

Returning to my work and, above all, to the method with which I have proceeded, I have never liked the use, any use whatsoever, of photographic material. I am convinced that the artist’s memory, draughtsmanship and skill provide a more precise and synthetic image of the idea which he, or she, intends to convey. Precisely by denying recourse to any external documentation, the painter can exploit all his, or her, structural devotion to the image, which neither wishes, nor is able to reproduce reality; but which represents a relationship, a judgement, a criticism of reality. If a problem of abstraction exists, and has always existed, in painting, it must be identified with the need to remove from painting all those misleading and superfluous elements, from the point of view of judgement, that are also present in a scene, in an event, as they are in real life. Abstraction, in other words, is the elaboration of a style that gives material substance to the painter’s idea of reality. I have, therefore, worked without the aid of photos, or even of models. I have taken considerable pains to give a correct form to these representations. I want to examine the method I developed to make the first large-format painting of the supper. I will try to be as precise as if I were writing a diary of my work. But let us pause for a moment. I believe we first need to ask ourselves a question that requires an answer, if we wish to provide more than a report of what I have called the diary of my work. What is the relationship between the artist and his, or her, paintings? But I shall speak personally. Is this world, in which I try to give substance to an image, something that happens outside and against myself? Something for which I can feel sorrow, fear or condemnation? Or do I paint these pictures as if, looking at myself in the mirror, I see inside me those marks of coldness, those signs of a man imprisoned in a coat of armour? It could be both of these things. It could be that the artist identifies himself, at the moment in which he’s creating, with the figures that he is painting, just like an actor on stage takes on the character that he is interpreting, even if he has a negative opinion of that character. But it could be, on the other hand, something quite different; that is, that the artist transfers to an external world, to a social class to which he feels he does not belong because of his cultural identity, the weight of guilt that he cannot bear to recognise in person. In this case, the artist wishes to transfer his, or her, own psychological problems, from personal experience, to a dimension that takes on a social context. The artist therefore wishes to use his own existential problems to express the characteristics of a social and moral situation. In other words, it is a belief that what has happened inside us is produced in a wider context, and we are only containers of these difficulties in life. We need to ask ourselves if these things are useful or useless, if they are able, that is, to produce an answer, or if they will remain unresolved forever. The "ourselves and others" relationship is the key to our anxiety. It is our awareness of detachment, which we try to overcome through the concept of social behaviour, that gives unity to the loneliness that is tearing us apart. It is an activity that we cannot conduct alone. It is a journey that we take on with others, and within history. But even if it is a clot of existential anxiety that we want to melt by seeking out sociability, it would be an illusion to expect that this act can be controlled by rationality. Anxiety is irrational; it is always and only something pertaining to the uncertainty of our being. Its emotive potential is compressed by reason; it tries to suffocate its self-destructive tendencies, and to channel them towards something socially profitable. It organises our relationships with the external world, with others. But this relationship cannot naturally turn into an idyll. It could give rise to a painful clash, in which each of the parts looks hopelessly only for reassurance.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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19 September 2005, Writing. Painting

As I tidy up the studio now that the summer is coming quickly to an end, I find in a forgotten drawer notes and diary pages written many years ago. I open another drawer one with more recent letters. I take the letters and arrange them on the large desk standing by the window. Now the old and the new letters lie side by side! Next  I make a broad selection, assemble some of the writings together and rewrite parts of them. Then I cut a lot and add a bit. So now let me see how it looks this copy and paste operation, an operation that in painting would have been quite difficult, not to say impossible.

I'm walking down the street. The face coming towards me (and that I'll soon be passing), has a color, shape and look that remains fixed in my mind. …. I seem to recognise people that I have never seen before, as if I had always carried them inside me. The people I meet are almost like a mirror that I never tire of looking at. However, my reflected figure is hazy and the silence that lies between myself and the people around me makes this image more mysterious. These chance meetings with other people in the street give me the same sensation every time. But perhaps it's enough just to look. Perhaps it's important to observe this mass of people moving around the city - this only too apparent and monotonous rep­etition. The city contains obvious meeting places: the cinema, subways, pave­ments, bars, pedestrian precincts; and there are equally obvious backgrounds: walls, posters, signs on the wall "no smoking", "exit" "entrance", "slow down"; and then there are the neon lights, the skyscrapers, the windows and, high up, little pieces of sky.

People seem to be caught in a net and their movements seem to fit into fixed patterns. Sometimes, it seems that only our private lives can fill the monotony of time; only our private behaviour can give meaning to our existence. Is this our destiny? Of course not. Perhaps this isn't everything. The strangest things fit together in life and there are small and great occasions to break the circle that surrounds us, and that we have constructed to defend ourselves and our lives. Sometimes a book, a picture, a newspaper, a gesture, made by one or a thousand people, is enough to make us ready to shake off all the habits that time has loaded onto our shoulders. So we still have to walk round the city; to look more carefully, to get to know it with our eyes wide open. On the walls I have seen the writing of peace and war. I have seen people run­ning with banners in the sunshine (and I still remember other people running, while the sirens were blaring under an iron sky). I have seen women bending over their children and women making provocative gestures. In the city, every­thing gets mixed up. The sky sometimes looks like the eye of a young girl, wide open. Houses sometimes look like people and people sometimes seem to be life­less. In some galleries I've seen abstract, "informal", nuclear paintings, looking like urinals, exhaust pipes, dirty, mouldy things - and there are people who look like those paintings. Hollywood stars smile in the newspapers next to photographs of hanged men. On one page we find high society gossip with a furcoated lady and, on the next, tor­tured Iraqui prisoners.

Terribly different things happen in the world at the same time. In one room a woman and a man make love, in another a woman is murdered. And there are others that are even more incompatible: "Top level conference to be held before November", "G8 will meet in Europe", "Iran Rearmament", "Blair in New York" are the news headlines. We have to observe, understand and be attentive. We mustn't laugh or cry too much. This entangled skein of wool must have an end, even if many threads are knotted together. And in this mass there are always men walking, drinking, reading, watching and women with children, women showing their legs and dyeing their hair. The newspapers, the radio and the posters, the cinema and the television, the one-way streets and the subways keep people enclosed within the labyrinth of the city.

But I get the impression that behind all this there is someone laughing, someone who doesn't follow the rules - someone eating, drinking and smoking on his own with a great grin ofsatisfaction on his face. This someone has little white eyes and roams around the deserted city at night - the owner of everything, with his hands in his pockets, satisfied by what he sees. I get the impression that the man who passed me in the street this morning, smoothing his lips with his hand, doesn't walk on the zebra crossings, but crosses over wherever he wants, that he is the one who leaks alarming news stories to the press, that the prostitute waiting for a client is waiting for him. And I think that he was responsible for sacking the man who hanged himself in desperation. And I'm afraid he exists because I, too, have allowed him to exist. I'm afraid that this man has his roots somewhere inside me, and that he is also, in some way, a reflection of myself. Can all this be painted? Yes, perhaps. I think it can.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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29 July 2005, Is painting dead?

 Here I am in my study, sitting in front of the easel on which my latest picture hangs, immobile. "Is painting dead?", I wonder. At the age of 77, it is certainly not the first time that I have asked myself this question. In the past, other people have asked me the same thing. And many other times I’ve read, on the pages of some newspaper or other, a statement with words to this effect.

For painting, this difficult period started between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, when it stopped performing the public function that it had traditionally fulfilled. From then on, painting was no longer the only means of narrating, or representing, civil and religious history. First photography, and then cinema and television, because of the speed with which they are able to transmit images around the world, have replaced the role that was assigned to painting in the field of communication. Painting has lost its actuality; but its profundity, and the specific characteristics of painting are not identifiable, luckily, with any particular role. We can admire a work of art without necessarily having to refer to the social reasons for which it has been painted. Perhaps we should remember that, ever since the early years of the twentieth century, many artists were already well aware of this problem, so much so that they concluded that, freed from any moral, illustrative or didactic restraints, the very essence of painting would finally be revealed. No longer under obligation to represent the world from an ideological point of view, it would be free to champion the cause of “Art for art’s sake”. In all this, I agree with my friend Vittorio Sgarbi, who states that the arguments of those who claim that the revolution in the sector of communication coincides with the end of painting are weak and irrelevant. Unfortunately, these arguments that my friend considers weak and irrelevant have become so intrusive and deafening that, today, it has become difficult to question them.

* * *

I am still sitting in front of the easel. And I still don’t like the way my picture is developing. As a painter, you are not only the author of your pictures, you are also often the first person to regard them with indulgence, or, at times, with severity. When you decide that a picture is finished (always a difficult decision to take), your judgement is generally based on the structure of the composition, the energy of its lines, the intensity of its colour, and so on. The issue of the message behind the work is, strangely, a matter that hardly enters into it. I am interested in measuring my painting through certain characters, environments, or atmospheres. I try to do my job as a painter well. When I paint, I don't send messages and I don't pass judgements. My painting demonstrates: it does not deduce. I speak as a painter, and can only speak in those terms. When I am in my studio I paint, I think, I torment myself. I do not imagine that I am creating a masterpiece. I paint a picture, I revise it, move it, destroy it, and refer to it as something that does not seem to have any practical use. It is, in fact, the absolute lack of any practical aspect that allows me to create a good painting, which can serve to make the person looking at it reflect. I am convinced that the job of the painter does not end with the finished picture. Instead, it ends in the eyes of the person viewing it. If there is no possibility of re-inventing it, to put the painter’s experience in his studio to our own use, then painting really dies.

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On a previous occasion I wrote that I do not generally agree with the way that art is promoted today. Yesterday, on the phone, I discussed this with a journalist from Rome. He said: "Alberto, do you think that the number of visitors to museums is growing mainly because people need to go to places where everyone else is going?" This is a very curious situation indeed. You stand in a queue in front of a museum. One exhibition attracts 30,000 people, another one, 100,000, yet another one, 20,000. It’s viewed in terms of a market survey. But nobody tries to understand why it attracts so many people. It is difficult to imagine, as I have already said, why people go to see an exhibition and then hurry on to another one that is completely different. And of course, more often than not, they can't even manage to see the paintings on view properly, because there are continuously people passing in front of them. It is rather like going to hear a concert where people are making so much noise that you can’t hear the music. Nobody worries. They only worry about the tickets that have been sold at the ticket office. And this kind of market phenomenon is all very good business for administrators, art dealers, and politicians. In the past, when you went to see an exhibition, you stopped to concentrate in front of a picture, to think, to reflect. I remember when I was boy, I went to Urbino to see the Flagellazione by Mantegna and, in the most complete silence, I admired it and tried to understand and capture the meaning and hidden value of that masterpiece. I do not think that painting is dead. But the way of promoting it, and perhaps the way of capturing its meaning, is dead. However, the history of painting cannot be reduced to the last 30 years. It seems highly conceited, to me, to believe that we have arrived at a point where we have an accurate method of measuring everything, in every single field. Before it matures fresh in the spring, wheat decays under the winter snow. I am convinced that art will also revive and bloom, even after a long, cold and dark night.

And I don't think (unlike others) that multimedia installations or other technologies can replace painting. These are other types of experience, just as the cinema, for instance, with the novel, with painting and the theatre. Even if the cinema has given life to a new form of language that has neither been an antagonist nor a substitute for traditional art forms.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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19 July 2005, Searching for a way out

10 July: I have been painting on two canvases that I had already started, making substantial alterations. One, showing a woman sleeping in an interior with a bunch of flowers, has become a young woman in front of a bar window. The other, representing a man watching, through a window, a woman absorbed in her own thoughts at a cafe table, has been radically simplified to gain expressive complexity. I removed the figure of the woman in order to leave the man observing as a central and mysterious image. In this way I have managed to depict something disturbing, no longer related to any particular event.

I4 July: This morning I went back to work on this painting. After defining the face and trying to outline the structure of the whole composition better, I decided to stop, because I seemed to be working too intellectually. I was trying to paint too well. I wasn't being helped by the inspiration that is essential in giving life to a painting. The second painting was going much better - "the woman in front of the bar window". I managed to find unexpected and pleasant touches, and I was enjoying myself. I felt that I was absorbed in the adventure of painting. When you find yourself entering this kind of world, you need to know how to distance yourself from everything around you.

I wasn't able to continue with my work because Millo arrived - whom I had arranged to meet a few days before. I would certainly have enjoyed his visit, if it hadn't interrupted such a creative moment. When you are in a period of intensive work, you mustn't even arrange to meet people you normally want to see. They nearly always arrive at the wrong moment.

I5 July: Now I have been "rowing" inside this painting for five days, and it seems to have become a storm at sea. And I, torn between faith and dejection, have continued to insist in not allowing the boat to sink. I have resisted well beyond hope. When everything seemed to be lost, the sea unexpectedly turned calm again, and here I am, in front of this canvas that has perhaps been saved from shipwreck.

The days are rapidly passing, and I still can't leave this painting alone. I often seem to have found the solution that I have been looking for. I feel a moment of satisfaction, which unfortunately doesn't last for very long. Then all my doubts come back and I decide to cancel and redo a part, which then means that I am forced to alter something else, and so it goes on. It is nine in the morning. I have come down into the studio a little while ago and have already looked at the painting in question. I could leave it alone, at least for today, and go on to paint something else. This would be a wise thing to do. But can someone who has always taken the risks that experimentation requires, ever behave wisely?

I6 July: This has been a rather uncreative day. Perhaps I am tired. For whatever reason, I haven't managed to produce anything and I have been forced to put off the con­ clusion (at least, I hope this is the case) of this wretched painting, in which my work for my next exhibition has got stranded, for yet another day. Time is not getting any longer, and all the time that I am spending on this painting will not be available for finishing the others. Since I realise that completing this painting has become the gate through which I must pass in order to go on my way, I simply have to hope that I will find a road that will be easier to follow beyond the gate. On other occasions this has been the case - as if the labour of giving birth to this creation, in which so much thought and energy is consumed, in which moments of exaltation are followed by moments of unease, leaves the artist with unexpected enrichment.

 

I7 July: Today is time for resting and thinking about my canvasses. A painting is created from all those that you have painted previously, and from what you have already learned about painting; but, above all, it is created from a wish to explore the world, to discover what continues to escape you.But as I wrote before both on this blog and elsewhere, I have the impression of floating on a wave that seems to be taking me towards the shore, but then takes me back towards a vortex in which I could drown.In this state of mind it is easier to capture the contradictory nature of existence, rather than acquire the insight and discipline of a historian. Perhaps we are lost in a labyrinth whose exit is always on the other side, whatever point we find ourselves in. I believe there is a time when painting could represent the drama of a world trapped in a labyrinth and hopelessly searching for a way out. Perhaps this is another kind of history: that of the labyrinth we have ended up in.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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22 June 2005, The state of Art in the modern world

Do the virtues that have, in the past, shown an artist’s greatness - talent, expressive force and original artistic research - still count, even when it seems that they are no longer fashionable? If we consider Italy today, my homeland, which has always been so profoundly divided (about everything, not only politics) into black and white, or red and blue, I am surprised to find that there seems to be apparent agreement in the world of art: above all, those artists who cannot agree to conduct their artistic research at the command of others, and who are unwilling to operate within the limited scope of commonly accepted norms and regulations, have been entirely excluded (from the national and international scene).

When I read newspapers containing contradictory or widely differing views, interests and opinions and compare them, I realise that, from the economy to war, from the internal problems of society to the free market, the points of view expressed are totally irreconcilable. We have to get to the current events and gossip pages in order to find any news that is less prone to heated debate, and, finally, to the Arts pages, where any differences of opinion disappear altogether.

It is often said that Art cannot belong to anyone; being universal, it is, by definition, for the common good, and cannot be exploited to serve the interests of any particular group.

Thank goodness: finally we have found a shared value, even more than the flag or the concept of patriotism.

But is this really true?

In fact, behind so many fine words, we find that numbers and statistics have been creeping in, and so the value of art is based only the quantities that they provide.

In fact, the same statement, according to which art belongs to everyone, expresses an intrinsic simplification in its rhetoric, and is ambiguous.

A work of art, the pure creation of an artist, belongs to those able to evoke it, recognise it, imagine it and appreciate it: it is alive and necessary as long as it produces debate and reflection, helping people to compare their own convictions with other people’s ideas. It becomes useless and inert whenever, in order to recognise its value, we base ourselves on auction prices, or on the sort of market survey, which is the number of visitors to a well-sponsored exhibition.

In election times, and in the Bel Paese (as we continue to call our country) these can be very frequent, the subject of “par condicio” (fair and balanced news coverage for all political parties) is considered the only condition required in order to compare diverse political opinions, in order to offer citizens the possibility of choosing between the various proposals.

However, in the field of figurative arts (today we prefer, rather ridiculously, to call them visual arts) are there any people, at an institutional level, responsible for checking that equal opportunities are given to the various trends in contemporary art? I very much doubt that this is the case. It seems to me that the same people are in the limelight everywhere, so much so, that it appears that the Italian artistic panorama consists of little more than a virtual puppet theatre.

(But is it like this everywhere else? Does this also apply to other countries?)

We started, first in Naples at the Capodimonte museum, then in Rome at the Galleria Borghese, and finally at the Accademia in Florence (on the occasion of the opening ceremony for the restored statue of David by Michelangelo), to exhibit the works of these nuovi maestri (new masters) next to ancient masterpieces. This is certainly not to stimulate an impossible comparison, but rather in order to certify, beyond any reasonable doubt, making a famous and provocatory theory by Duchamp into a norm, the incontrovertible nature of the work of art in these works. (In fact, Duchamp theorises that if a chair were hung on the walls of a museum, it would lose its function as an object of daily use, and take on the form of a work of art; such is the power and influence of a Museum! )

Functionaries of the ministry, councillors responsible for cultural heritage, and all those who are responsible, in some way, for the delicate job of promoting modern art and culture, are certainly not required to be discerning (they often believe that they are art lovers without being capable of recognising art). The task of those with institutional responsibility should principally be that of promoting the confrontation of new ideas and new trends, of supervision, so that those working in solitude are not penalised, and not always to trust in astute advisers and conformists, who are thoroughly familiar with the art of seduction, and who have, in their pockets, a tape measure full of numbers: those of the market forces.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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9 May 2005, War does'nt have its own colour

Late at night, in a room sheltered from the wind and rain, a man and a woman lie in a tender embrace.

In another part of the world, while the sun rises over a calm and transparent sea, a jet bursts suddenly and noisily through the sky, peppering the sand on the beach with rounds of ammunition: two soldiers lie still, their escape halted in dust and blood.

The sun keeps shining, ignoring the devastation of war. And the night falls on times of peace.

No light and shade, black or pink, to represent fear and serenity. So we see that in the natural world there are no colours of peace, or of war.

And yet black, leaden grey, dirty white, and violent contrasts of light appear to be most fitting in representations of death, destruction, terror and all the disasters caused by war.

But these are not the only colours of war; but rather the modern conventions we use to represent it.

In the church of S. Francesco in Arezzo, Piero della Francesca depicts a terrible battle in a great cycle of frescos, using a completely different range of colours. ( Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes, 1460 ca .)

There are spears piercing through bodies, the heads of dying soldiers glimpsed between the horses’ legs, elegant coats of armour, and standards waving in a cobalt blue sky.

The Renaissance artist held firmly to his principles. The ancient masters believed that "in colouring, we intend to show the colours of things as they are, whether light or dark, according to how they are illuminated" (“colorare intendiamo dare i colori commo nelle cose se dimostrano, chiari et oscuri secondo che i lumi li devariano”)

However, in the second half of the seventeenth century, battle scenes became a pictorial genre, like a great epic, with horses and riders combating in a vortex of dust among leafy trees, under skies variegated with gilded clouds.

Only in 1808 do we finally see the traditional representation overturned by Antoine Jean Gros and his Napoleon at the battle of Eylau. “For the first time a painter of violence does not embellish, does not transform carnage and death into a festive occasion, full of scenic beauty” (Á. Masson).

Immediately afterwards The retreat from Russia, the great and terrible canvas by Nicolas Toussant Charlet, irreversibly leads us to associate black and grey with the representation of war.

Then the moving images of film arrive, using colour to indicate the psychological, tragic and foolish, as in All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Delbert Mann in 1930.

And only recently we became spectators, through television, of a green backdrop with shadows stirring in the midst of white flashes on screen. It looked like part of a video game, but was, in fact, the war in Iraq, with its infrared rays: the most terrible war, the night bombardments in " Verona" green.

Finally, in coming to terms with war, there are the colours of our words, beliefs, feelings, our hopes and fears and, at the same time, the bitter colour of opposing views, which every war renders implacable.

Even though it is never easy to distinguish right from wrong, when we are at war, experiencing the devastation it produces, any kind of distinction becomes almost impossible.

Truth and Untruth often look very similar, and the differences must be smaller than we think, if it is so easy to present falsehoods as the truth.

And yet that difference, so difficult to perceive, contains the implacable contrast between the two terms.

But is it true that these two expressions are only, and always, contrasting?

I have often heard people say: “It’s the lesser of two evils.” Or “It’s black and white”. However, I have always been very wary of what people claim to be absolutely clear and obvious, and I continue to believe that the truth is so hidden under appearances that it is not easy to make it come to light.

Is it true that only history can disclose the real meaning of events, enabling us to understand the hidden meaning behind what we thought we saw? Or will even history continually have to be rewritten?

Or will art, instead, nurtured by ambiguity, adventure and judgement, be able to represent the unthinkable connection between truth and untruth?

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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2 April 2005, “The morning light”

...now I am alone in the silent studio with these great canvases leaning against the walls. At first I feel lost when I look at them, then I almost start to caress them. I would like them to guide my hand, to suggest what I must paint on them.

I don't know why I wanted to go back to a habit I had abandoned some time ago - that of preparing the canvases myself. Who knows, perhaps I wanted to go back to the craftsman's origins of the art of painting. Now I look at the canvas, that I have placed on the easel, as though I already wanted to see the image that would soon appear ... I already have an idea of the title that I wish to give this painting: "The morning light". My thoughts return to when I used to watch the sun rising, bathing the hill in front of my house in Carpineta (between Rimini and Bologna) in morning light. I would be entranced, watching the slow and magical process of shapes being transformed and defined clearly and precisely by the light.

So many times I thought that this spectacle in front of me had been repeated since time began - that an infinite number of people before me had watched the same scene, that I found so enchanting, and in a cultural and emotional frame of mind that was so different from my own. Anyway, they had also taken part in the same event: the light shining down on the hill was the same for them and for me. And perhaps they had been enchanted, too.

I would really like "The morning light" to be the first painting to be started today.

I wanted to highlight constant experiences. I wanted to go back to examine things that do not change, that, by there own nature, cannot change. It might seem strange that a painter who has always believed that he had to show the changes in people's behaviour, who has always tried, even by searching through news headlines, to represent the signs of the time, should produce a reflection on something so diametrically opposite - that he should want to turn his attention to a more dilated sense of time, in which differences fade away and similarities come to the fore.

And I'm not only thinking of "The morning light", but also of people's expres­ sions, of joy, smiles, fear - of the wish to run away, not to be alone and of so many other things.

So I don't believe, although I might seem to at first, that this removal of the con­ temporary in order to return to a denser and more profound sense of time is a sign of disengagement or disillusion. It is, above all, a wish not to die every day with things that only last for a day.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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20 Feb. 2005, Roman Fragments

I don't know whether the place we have left is more reassuring than the place we are arriving in. The best moment in a trip is when you are on your way, when you are far away from everything. I haven't been so "crazy" as to move back to Rome, after I had lived there from 1948 - 1953 and from 1968 - 1970, prompt­ed by nostalgia or by a search for comforting situations. On the contrary, I am convinced that you can only enter into the heart of things through a process of "malaise". Perhaps this seemed the last opportunity to follow a path that requires a certain dose of energy and youth.

.. .Rome expresses all the contradictions of the country as a whole. It contains something unresolved, chaotic, run-down and disturbing that marks the modern era. It has become very difficult to live there. But it is so ancient and full of hypocrisy that it ends up putting together and mixing up everything. It still exerts a fascination and attraction that cannot be destroyed.

Sometimes I think that a fragment of that crumbling and corroded city of Rome could even appear in one of my paintings. I don't know how. Sometimes I take photographs and then I forget to develop them. My camera is a spyhole when I use it. I hardly ever use the results. My memory is much better at selecting images.

Disorder also affects human relations. You often realise that the desire to be together hides a selfish interest, almost as though friendship itself serves to get somewhere or other. So then I refuse to move from my studio. I imagine a possible relationship with the world through my work.

A new song gets into your head after you've heard it several times. The same thing happens in painting: you need to get used to a style, a painter's work. Many people think that they love art more than they are actually able to recognise it. It is highly probable that, if my figures and their feeling of expectation had not appeared in books, magazines and newspapers, the spark would not have been lit. There is a natural human tendency, which is, nonetheless, deceitful, to give more importance to what has already been consecrated.

When did they start to give me credit? When I had no money at all, everyone wanted hard cash. Then, when I first started earning money, nobody wanted to be paid any more.

"There's lots of time, Professore. Don't be in a hurry. We'll be doing other work for you."

I used to live in the country. I could see the landscape from my window. But it was a mysterious, enigmatic landscape. It had a strange, stormy, almost menac­ ing beauty. That series of works culminated in perhaps the most atmospheric painting - two metres wide - that I left in Carpineta. It shows a man in a wheel­chair, looking at the horizon. He's being watched by a dog, and is surrounded by a mass of green trees and bushes. It represents paralysis in the face of things, a rigid attitude that extinguishes the will to understand.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

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05 Jan. 2005, Lost in a labyrinth

Yesterday I wanted to finish one of the large paintings that I am preparing for the exhibition for the CSAC in Parma ( Center Studies and Archive for Comunication, Parma University) . I hadn't worked on this painting, which I considered to be almost complete, for a long time. However, I had decided to touch up some of the colours and define some details on the figures more clearly, since I had left them too vague. The painting is 160 x 160 cm. The subject is a woman asleep beside a telephone. Since the painting seemed to be rather good, perhaps the best that I have made in the last few months, I tried to be very careful not to make any alterations that would have upset the balance of the image. I seemed to be progressing quite well in the task of putting the finishing touches to the work, making sure that I recreated the colours and hues accurately, so that it wouldn't be noticeable that the painting had been retouched. Unfortunately, I had forgot­ten that caution is the skill that comes most unnaturally to me. I lose so many of my qualities as a painter, if I don't paint as though I was in the middle of a risky adventure In a very short time I was lost in a labyrinth, and couldn't find the way out. I had to be more courageous. I abandoned my excessive prudence and tried to recuper­ ate my more natural style to get to the end. Too late. The large painting was already jeopardised and my insistence in wanting to carry on painting had only produced a progressive ruining of the image. At seven in the evening, feeling awful, I reluctantly decided to stop. My beautiful painting no longer existed.

Alberto Sughi , Rome

Alberto Sughi's blogs are t ranslated from the Italian by Coelle Crowle

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