Federico Mazzonelli

“In Ascolto” – notes on Joan Saló and a work by Giorgio Morandi

Matter, time and space are the constituent elements of the pictorial process, understood as a concrete and real activity of manipulation and transformation of shapeless and ephemeral substances, such as light and colour, into images. I have often wondered what is the real dimension of the images, their true nature. Although from time to time I have found different answers, the question remains open. It seems as if the material in question – the image – always manifests itself in the form of a mirage, something elusive and ambiguous. Its intimate substance appears to evaporate every time one tries to focus on it. Then, reading a text by Manlio Brusatin, I noted this comment: “Images like shadows, perhaps they need more light than their body to exist”. Here – I tell myself – perhaps the mystery resides here, in the epiphany of signs, shapes, stains and strokes, coloured or monochrome, which define abstract spaces and profiles of objects, environments, places. They all emerge, almost as if by magic, from the void that surrounds them and are fixed forever in the light (or shadow) of a two-dimensional surface. Painting is always a suspended place, a space as real and present to our gaze as ephemeral and evanescent in its sensual lightness, in its irreducible immateriality. There are images capable of assuming in the viewer’s gaze a depth that is both physical and psychological. They are capable of redeeming, even if just for a moment, the transience of the world, its objects and its projections. Although the only element in common between the work of Joan Saló and the engraving production of Giorgio Morandi is the use of lines and strokes, the latest cycle of the young Spanish artist, if observed more carefully, seems to find much more substantial affinities with the great Italian painter. From the very beginning, Saló’s research has in fact been directed towards a process of careful and sensitive transfiguration of matter. A slow and patient crossing of the surface of the canvas, whose warp and weft is recreated both chromatically and perceptively, allows the artist to re-establish, in each new work, his own action. Saló, starting from the physicality of the canvas, slowly draws its surface as a three-dimensional field of energy and light in expansion, a place both imaginary and real, suspended in time and yet in constant flux, abstract and irreducible. We cannot however speak of austere painting since Saló’s paintings are always crossed by an ambiguous visual tension. This even when they rely on monochrome gradations of grey-black-white. Saló seems to work on the construction of spaces from which the confusion (of the world) is excluded. Each of his works is the result of a specific elaboration and practice and yet seems to nullify the effort made, as if the plot of lines, interruptions and starts emerged spontaneously from the bottom of the canvas. This constant movement of the line gives rise to an intermittent drawing that instead of saturating the surfaces lets them breathe, creating a veil of shades that captures and releases light, a refined drawing of light and dark that is both object and image, figure and ghost, volume and transparency. Just Like Morandi’s engravings, Saló’s works seem to find in the reiteration of a subject and in the re-proposition of a slow and obstinate modus operandi, the possibility of making a cognitive experience whose intensity is based on the widening of what can be done and seen. In both artists’ work, the construction of the image is never frontal, but always presupposes a slow progression through layers that intersect and cross each other, zones of light that alternate with areas of shadow. There are spaces, intervals, interferences that open up on the white wall, and arise from an intense but controlled explosion between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality, between a static appearance and a slow but inexorable dynamism, capable of moving the image from the inside. Both artists’ work also presents a sort of nostalgia for what might be called a golden measure, a feeling of order the two artists respond to in apparently different – but intrinsically similar – ways, in the search for tools or poetics that can allow them to reassemble everything into a fragment. Saló’s work is linked to the tradition of abstractionism, or at least to a generic aniconic language, since one of the main characteristics of his works is that of being there (real presences, entities that hold nature in check). Instead, Morandi’s work resorts to perspective not only as a symbolic form, but as a privileged instrument that rather than adding order to order, wants to compensate for external disorder, precisely by resorting to a canon, a measure that constantly tends to the ideal. It is also interesting to note how the two researches, certainly distant in time and in poetic intentions, recall each other in a sort of game of mirrors between differences and identity. Whereas there is a pre-minimalist rigour in Morandi’s work, a sort of abstract figure in his iconographic monologue based on manual industriousness, concentration and silence, in Saló, the reiteration of the gesture becomes an almost liturgical act. Although rigorously abstract, and alien to any imitative or representative intent, Saló’s work seems to take place as a narrative process, leading to a settling of the gaze, to a slow immersion in the deep plot of his paintings. Beyond their existence here and now, the distance that separates them beyond the exhibition space that they find themselves sharing, both in Morandi’s objects and in Saló’s weavings, the iconic substance seems to be made not to resist. These are images that are barely perceptible, images that could be consumed at the very moment in which they are internalized, made their own as a memory that emerges and then disappears again in the intermittent flow of memory. “Painting – writes Merleau Ponty – evokes nothing, and less than ever touch”. It does something quite different, almost the opposite: it gives visible existence to what the profane vision believes to be invisible, it ensures that we do not need a muscular sense to have the volume of the world. This devouring vision goes beyond the visual data and opens on a plot of being of which the sensory messages are only the punctuations or the caesuras, and that the eye inhabits, as the man his home. Both Morandi and Saló seem to have listened (in ascolto), where their lines, their forms, their images, cut out the profile of the world and its becoming in the void; constant, silent, in-finite return of the identical.