On Painting, Interview with Alberto Sughi (Part III)

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Biagio Maraldi How much do you believe that a work of art depends on the intelligence and craftsmanship of the artist, and how much on his talent and so-called "inspiration"?

Alberto Sughi It is often believed that the determining factor that distinguishes a work of art is inspiration. I don't use this word lightly, because I find its meaning conceptually obscure.

It is certainly difficult to analyse the elements leading us to regard one work as Arte, but to give another, which may resemble the masterpiece quite closely, very little importance.

And yet, a well-made copy oftens show signs of the artist's workmanship, intelligence, and even talent.

What is more, if we ask ourselves why a work that was once considered a masterpiece suddenly becomes worthless when it is revealed to be a fraud, we have to presume that this cannot depend on the nature of the work of art itself, but rather on the nature of our own relationship with art.

It seems to me that the main condition defining art is the ability to evoke, imagine and recognise it.

BM Your characters often portray a deep - at times even cruel - humanity, that they seem to find expression only in the pictorial terms in which you represent them...

"What Modern Man wants - Bacon once said, quoting Valéry - is a feline expression without a cat, that is, substance without background."

It seems to me that this is very true, and can refer to more than one artist of our times. Do you think that this could be said of yourself and your work?

AS I don't know. I try to represent situations, like a man smoking, or a woman on a bed, which no longer merely represent activities or habits, but become enigmatic representations alluding to something else. In this way, we can imagine that the context of these daily routines is no longer simply a bar, room, or street; but time, space, and death. A painter is often judged by what is hidden within his work...

BM You also represent Modern Man and his existential condition. And you do not hide your criticism of this Man. Is this pessimism directed towards people as individuals, or is it a feeling that involves the whole of society?

AS It is a question that I have never asked myself, but which I am often asked. In the '60s, for instance, I painted scenes of nightlife, but I never made my colours colder, or exaggerated the outlines in order to express my own particular moral or ideological stance towards the subjects I selected. I only tried to paint in a way that would arrive at the greatest possible degree of truth. These are, of course, my own observations. Perhaps some people have seen an excessively pessimistic and uncomfortable viewpoint in my paintings.

BM Some people have defined your painting as "history painting". Do you feel that this is a valid definition? By history, obviously, I'm not referring to inert and objective representations of reality, but to the critical, even polemic, interpretation of events and their promoters.

AS 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.

My 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.


BM From the "reportage", observed by some critics in several periods of your work, to historical painting, by theme. Is there any continuity between these periods, or are they expressions of an identical way of interpreting and accepting the concept of art as documenting suffering and crisis?

AS We talked, at the beginning of our conversation, of the concept of a mirror. Initially, we pay great attention to the images that this mirror appears to have captured, and we try to translate them and organise them, conceptually.

Then we turn our attention to the beauty of the reflection itself, the quality of the light and the purity of the glass.

Even a work of art inspired by great ethical tensions and civil commitment cannot escape its destiny of being judged within its primary dimension, that is, aesthetics.


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