On Painting, Interview with Alberto Sughi (Part VI)

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

Biagio Maraldi For the Cena cycle you spoke of "de-personalization" and of the cancellation of your own personal "hallmarks". First of all, you referred to your artistic knowledge, because you considered it inadequate to express "the new attitude of your own soul and mind". Did something similar happen with Teatro d'Italia, or in this painting did your work reach a new phase, a new moment in the progression - which rarely stops - that true artists follow during their career?

Alberto Sughi In Teatro d'Italia I have not only not removed the "hallmarks" of my work, but in some ways I have even followed them, step by step. These hallmarks and artistic expressions, excuse my repeating myself, often intervene and modify the ideas themselves, taking on the role of ideas, as it were. For instance: the choice of putting the red gown at the centre of the painting, in the lower section, does not derive from an intention to confer on it, or emphasise, any particular significance. Instead, it derives from a need to break up a compact zone of greys and blacks, which made the lower part of the painting quite monotonous. I am also convinced that this way of proceeding does not affect the possibility of referring to, and analysing, reality. It is an original method, which obeys its own rules, through which we can observe what is hidden between the folds of the outward appearance of things.

If I were only influenced by the composition and by my own imagination, my images would look rather arbitrary. But I am convinced that only a correct search for formal structure is able to absorb, from reality, meanings that do not often appear on the surface, or that we cannot perceive, or interpret. An artist doesn't perceive reality through rationally organised methods. A painter views and expresses himself through the medium of shape and form; and it is entirely thanks to this that he, or she, manages to highlight aspects of reality that would otherwise remain obscure. I believe that this awareness, or conscience, should be the focus of the real issues in modern art.

BM The question could also be posed in these terms: to make a common comparison, but one which is effective when describing a creative context, what is the relationship between the realisation of this initial idea and a formal transformation of the initial stimulus, in the context of form and content? How do you manage to reach full artistic satisfaction? What is the final result?

AS By way of simplification, I would say that the only thing which a painter can count on (as a kind of compass for orientation), is to trust in his, or her, ability to paint, that is, in the quality, or originality, of the work.

Painting means, above all, imagining spaces, shapes, ordering relationships, structure, balance, mixing colours, obtaining a sense of light, and so on. The painter has to trust his aptitude, as well as his tools, just as in other disciplines you use different methods to study this or that phenomenon. Painting is not, on principle, something separate from everything else, from what people already possess to help them decipher existence and push themselves beyond the limits of the known world. Something to rely on, even at the cost of contradicting established convictions, is the ability to interpret your own motives for painting, by giving yourself up to it coherently, consciously, and totally.

It is not easy to accept this rule, because it takes away many of our defences.

The painter has to withdraw from his own work, knowing how to interpret what the painting has to offer him. In that quite magical moment, form and content merge - if they merge.

BM This explains something that you once said, that "art and politics require very different times for reflection, and send out very different messages": for you "politics" remains within its own particular sphere, while art is produced autonomously and in full intellectual and ideological freedom.

AS Often, when painting, I have kept my distance from convictions I have acquired through political judgement, or consensus.

When you paint, requirements, opinions and cultural preferences count for less than you might imagine; and, obviously, this also goes for ideology.

Painting is also a way of critically verifying the validity of our thoughts. How many opinions, which appeared to be so steadfast and vital to us, are revealed to be weak, if not useless. Painting is an expression that cannot give voice to what is extraneous to it.

BM This is a principle in which you believe, and the basis on which to found your art. Don't you think, however (and I would like to be a little provocative here), that there are specific references in Teatro d'Italia to the time in which you, the artist, were influenced by specific historical and cultural events?

AS Yes, there is an explicit reference to the society in which we live, even more specifically to modern Italy. But I can only repeat that I did not use ideas borrowed from politics, or from anything else. Painting this work was a way of exploring the reality in which we are immersed, through an analysis of figurative language.

BM Do you therefore agree that Teatro d'Italia doesn't contain any moral message or expression of political protest, but that this representation of contemporary life derives from a way of understanding and interpreting reality that is truly yours, as an individual...

AS What I paint takes account of nothing except my imagination; but it may also reveal my attitude to the problems of our time. This is the reason why I often speak of a "testimony" in painting, rather than of a protest, or anything else. This testimony can be taken up, if the observer is interested, or ignored.

The goal of art is not to publicise ideas, or to send messages. At best, it expresses a comparison with reality, it draws parallel interpretations of it, that may be truer than the truth, and made reliable through the "prodigy" of transcription.

BM Teatro d'Italia has it own sense of inseparable unity and precise meaning, both in its structure and its composition. It is also, however, a metaphor, an allegory. Is the physical similarity with figures from a particular historical period only a point of reference for the representation of the many faces of power?

AS Let's start from the problem of the easily recognisable figure of Gianni De Michelis (but we could also mention that of Gianni Agnelli). De Michelis was not represented in the painting because I wanted to portray him objectively. From the moment in which he appeared in the painting he became a character in a representation that was extraneous to his political identity, whether as a Minister or as a man. In the painting he only represents something that is part of my imagination, which intervenes between reality and my imaginary world. He becomes a character, you could say, in my own "soap opera".

Let us imagine that a film director wants to give a politician a part in one of his films: there will certainly be a reason why he wants to show that particular Minister's face in his film. But one cannot presume that the minister has to represent himself and his own personal history, whether public or private. He serves to represent a symbol, and its purely intuitive value.

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