Romano Manescalchi,

The Paintings of Alberto Sughi: A look full of combative wonder.

Alberto Sughi carries within himself a reflection on his time, marked by that Montale-like "ma! de vivre" that has given him the incurable stigmata of the mind known as Decadentism, without however having brought him to the point of giving up or giving in, still safe in his trench of an active and warrior-like desperation.
On the other hand, a diffused reaction surfaces in which the whole of Sughi's work can be gathered together: an anticipator, in contrast to this diffused nihilism. Against all these denials it is true that the "in colour life resists" (Barbara Squarotti), that our feelings, thoughts, sufferings cannot be reduced to an absolute nothing. And here we are, it seems that lately all our attention is here: in this "wonder" in the face of a world that in contrast to all the denials, "resists ". This wonder in front of a being, a rediscovered being, seems to me to constitute, to return to constitute, the centre of a meditation in general: therefore it is this "Staunen Qber das Semi Wonder confronted with Being", which is the title of a book recently published in Germany (Thomas Stauder- Staunen uber das Sein, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1997 ), a title that seems to recognise a turning round in the world and in life itself with this "wonder". It is no longer that seizing "rejoicing for delight and in the ecstasy of wonder" of a Bartoli (La Recreazione del savio, book I, chapter II, published by Guanda pages 40-41) but a turning that is shown by numerous clues, and some of the latest are the pictures of Alberto Sughi. It is an awaiting/a hope generated by the conviction that, against all gainsaying "in colour life resists ". It is, and we also are: our suffering guarantees it. This "waiting" that is a "hope" is definitely born of a "faith", from this "wonder about being", faith that is not yet declared and, perhaps, not even clearly recognised, still implied, but which is certainly strong and constructive.
To this conversion, to this regaining of the positive or getting over a mentality that is too insistently negative, it seems to me that the pictorial enquiry of Alberto Sughi is connected, which adds perhaps to the faith and the hope also known as love, not without suffering, of human concern, therefore of love, regarding a desolate and destroyed, poisoned, humanity:
not lust the impossible rhythm of our life, but also the plundering of those moral and psychological resources of traditional culture - such as "II personaggio inesistente o Ia giacca di un uomo (1968) that perhaps brings back to today's world the intuition that Calvino had projected into the cavalier world with "II Cavaliere Inesistente" - resources ruined by the psyche like that pained humanity that was torn from its roots which were more at the measure of man: environments to save, perhaps with the desperate trepidation of the embrace of liquid cement (like the Burn clay of Gibellina): they are richness that can revive all melancholy individuals - shattered psychologies, unknowing zombies, often smiling and apparently satisfied (cruelly denied by scandal: "He was a quiet boy, earned a good wage, liked to enjoy himself. Who would have thought it!'? How clever they are at hiding their anguish, the emptiness that is inside that devours them like an insatiable black hole!) Sughi shows them with infinite patience and pity insistently like extracting them from the various moments of daily life, underlining the cracked sheilds while they telephone from a bar, or smoke, totally indifferent to those around them, or happily chat (without hearing). But I will leave to others the subject of Sughi's paintings in general, to concentrate on the commitment of these portrayals concerning Italian literature, a field where I can say something more significant. Why above all this loving and exhausting commitment in the field of literature? Is it perhaps the nostalgia and yielding of one who, beaten, hides in the world of adolescents, shutting himself away from life's problems, in an ivory tower, and giving up the fight? This does not seem to be the case with Sughi who goes forward in this area with intentions that are anything but surrendering. It is an attitude that seems to be part of the general conversion of an obstinate person, a stubborn, (and perhaps not totally proven) with a nihilistic vision, that everything wanted to dig out and destroy towards a vision of life that certainly does not make easy illusions but does not want to be prejudiced and closed to the recognition of what one cannot see and admit. It is not a nostalgic, lazy indolent and, in the end, inert wish to regain, in a museum-like way but a sober, solid and courageous look at the reality of things to recognise what it is and what it is not: with the understanding of the knowledge of the worth of these roots, that can recreate structures of those disintegrated psyches that were mentioned before.
And outside - intelligently - of critical conditioning still under the influence of unending signs that do not encourage and guide the reader, but confuse him: with an extremely personal reaction that perhaps cannot satisfy on a philological level, but that is surely alive. On the other hand the Divine Comedy that like every other work of art, is worth what it communicates each time, for what each time we manage to make ours. We cannot betray what these writers who have accompanied our adolensensces have said. What they have made us understand or dream is their substance in us. Only giving back in this perspective can they be alive and convincing. And Sughi recreates them, according to how he relived them inside himself, according to what they have meant to his life. For example the portrait of Manzoni is derived philologically from that of Francesco Hayez in the Brera gallery, affected perhaps by that hung in Manzoni's house in Milan, that shows the writer as a 63 year old in 1848. In all of them the same thin face of a scrutiniser. But Francesco Hayez gives us a tranquil and serene Manzoni, olympically the dominator of reality (as Manzoni never was). The portrait from '48 is more tormented, modern and full, with the head bent by thought that does not seem to be about his Faith (which Manzoni perhaps did not have): and it is already nearer Sughi's version, with the hint of a smile, of him who wants to give some tone and is certainly not the wide smile of Hayez's work, but also there is not the lined forehead or the tormented shadows of Sughi's work. Same dress and hairstyle, but Sughi shows him standing, in the commitment of one who fights and searches, and not comfortably sitting like someone who has "arrived". In one word this "Manzoni" by Sughi has become a brother to many individuals of our time whom he often represents.
The same liberty with Dante. A very clever thing, seeing the inextricable interpretive labyrinth of the wild forest relating to this poem, a truly Amazonian virgin forest. It is therefore wise that each trusts to what he has done during the encounter that we have all made with the poet and from which we have all taken vital lymph. Sughi's representations are more like autonomous works rather than illustrations or interpretations, they are like those of Botticelli, Luca Signorelli, William Blake, Johan Heinrich Fussli Gustav Dore' masterpieces to admire in their own right.
Sughi is interested in the use he can make of these elements of past cultures, to understand and represent the present day, what is happening now. Only if we understand this can we understand, for example, a cycle like "Dante fra noi" (Dante amongst us) where the sum of the poet is mixed with people of today: to measure a distance or to signify a presence that however continues, seeing that, even limiting ourselves to just scholastic literature, we do not have problems with Dante. The same thing can be said for the other production directed at Dante, such as the illustrations for "Vita Nova" (New Life) where the characters seem to come out of the rarified atmosphere of the novel and burden themselves with the feelings of everyone. As is evident in "Ritratti immaginari di Dante" (Imaginary portraits of Dante), in not even a very hidden way, we seem to be able to read the torments and tensions of a man today, a transposition, I feel I should say, of the contained tensions of the man and artist Alberto Sughi.

Romano Manescalchi, 2003

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