On Painting, Interview with Alberto Sughi (Part V)

Theatre of Italy   flash
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

Biagio Maraldi Before starting a real discussion of the painting, I believe that an introduction to your working methods is essential. When a painting starts, do you already have a precise idea, including the details, of what you intend to represent, or does the painting develop gradually, through invention and modification, until you finally decide that it is "finished"?

Alberto Sughi Great ideas and intentions are often not enough to make a good painting. On the contrary, a less ambitious project may prove to be much more successful. Ideas are generally important to a painter, especially those that bring his visual imagination to life and stimulate his creativity.

Beginning a painting is like moving in a certain direction. Painting is then like travelling along a road, which is often rough and full of obstacles, and which can lead you to quite unexpected destinations.

Despite what many critics believe, the modifications that a painting undergoes should not be regarded as the artist's "second thoughts"; rather, they provide a measure of the very tense relationship between idea and image. Within this tension, hypotheses are destroyed and projects are reworked. In fact, in the making of a work, the complexity and ambiguity of the relationships that each of us has with himself and reality are continually recreated. I am in love with my own work, because it enables me to be almost totally absorbed, and to become aware, through this figurative experience, of things that I knew nothing about.

BM You seem to have a great ability for narrative, certainly more explicit in the pictorial cycles of Cena (Supper) and Famiglia (Family), in which the story develops over several chapters. In Teatro d'Italia you gather the text into a single large creation, abolishing the chapters, and give us a single work with multiple situations and meanings…….

AS Narrating through painting, and naturally through other figurative forms, is very different from the type of "narration" that occurs in literature. In painting there is no development of the action, no interaction, no meanings to infer from the argumentation and later episodes. We see the image in a painting in its total and definitive form, like objective images in the real world: we take in a work of art at a glance, in the same way as, in everyday life, we recognise the features of a face, observe the contours of a landscape, or interpret the beauty of a sunset.

However, although figurative art is able to take on the consistency of reality, like any other art form, it is not able to reach the continuous conceptual and expressive complexity of literature, which can record the fleeting nature of reality and the development of events, transforming the subject into an ever-changing, controversial and yet contextual "continuum".

I believe that Teatro d'Italia is a painting with little of the "story" element; even if, at the same time, it could be considered a "potential story", though deeply ambiguous and ambivalent. Teatro d'Italia introduces, or rather, lists, the characters in our Italian "commedia". It does not go beyond this. However, through the suggestion of its composition, it allows us to reflect, individually, on the state of things, on our world and existence.

BM When is a painting finished?

AS A painting is finished when the interactive relationship with the artist is exhausted, when there is no space for further intervention; when carrying on painting would only mean adding finishing touches, which often, in fact, reduce the power of the image.

I believe that a painting is finished not when you have reached the point you wanted to arrive at, but when you reach its own true, final and only point: the moment of separation.

You cannot say that a journey is wasted because you end up in India, rather than America! Picasso said that what you are looking for is not important, but rather - or only - what you find.

BM How do you "invent" your painting, from the moment you put a new canvas on the easel?

AS Let us take Teatro d'Italia as an example. I had spent a long time in hospital, and had been through some difficult moments. In those moments you tend to reflect on life, to examine and assess yourself, to look for the deeper meaning of things. When I recovered, and returned to the studio, I had already promised myself that I would create something to help me clarify where I was and who I was.

I propped the large canvas against the wall and began to draw the figures of two ballet dancers, a man and a woman, dancing towards each other. In fact, the painting is in two sections; the ballerina is in the centre of one section, while the male ballet dancer is in the centre of the other.

The painting gradually filled up with other characters, which seemed to hinder the progress of the two young people. Adding barriers between them was not my intention from the outset.

The painting became crowded with the characters and situations that my imagination, and memory, suggested. The result is a painting in which hopes and fears, power and loneliness, love and emptiness, all mix, so that it acts as a stage for those images.

BM So, do these two ballet dancers, these two young people, represent the happiness and joy of living?

AS No, they are only two young people looking for each other, in the midst of many threats and obstacles, people, warnings, and a disturbing atmosphere. They are all the things that come from our imagination, history, culture, and daily lives.

I do not want to emphasise, in the painting, a possible element of trust or distrust. I have never asked myself whether the two young people, crossing the scene, will ever actually meet. I have created nothing more than a large painting, in which it is perhaps difficult to identify the original idea that started me off.

BM I think that you have really already answered my next question. In Teatro d'Italia, what was the original image of your "invention"?

AS A complex relationship exists between the image that takes shape on the canvas and the painter's idea. What is created is never merely an illustration. During its development the image sometimes becomes detached from the "invention" you mentioned.

Following the "development" of a painting means, for me, confronting problems I had not foreseen, and which emerge during the creation of the work. I don't paint what I already know, but what I learn through the process of painting.

In other words, Teatro d'Italia was created from an idea I had when in hospital: I wanted to measure our common path through life, the character of our existence, through my own life.

I couldn't, by any other means, obtain any satisfactory answers. I had to turn to painting.

Perhaps, where thought seemed to become confused, my imagination as a painter would be able to clarify my relationship with reality.

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