1992 - Fulvio Abbate

Fulvio Abbate, Enrico Lombardi, pittore delle rêverie, in L’acqua dello sguardo,

exhibition catalogue, Milan 1992

With what eyes, yes that’s exactly what I mean, with what eyes can we look today—at the end of this century—at the pictures of Enrico Lombardi? Let us admit it, the arms of criticism have lost their edge, and the theories are shaky: they are making their way clumsily along an illegible prospect: a place in which the perception of things is entrusted to the uncertainty of thinking about the future. Not even what was known as the project in the culture of the Modern enjoys good health. And yet something must remain, something that through painting is revealed as conscious and loving testimony of the way of thinking about the world, something that bears witness, in short, to the memory of the world, its heart or its ashes. The work of the painter, we know, sometimes includes the supplementary duty of giving the world back the reasons of the sublime, as well as safeguarding its initial essence. I am speaking of something that an implacably mystical French philosopher, a philosopher of fire (and one of whom I have discovered Lombardi himself is fond), has identified as the “metaphysics of the unforgettable.” Well, I believe I have found that it is to the metaphysics of the unforgettable to which Lombardi’s painting resorts in order to exist. If it is true that it wants, without a shadow of doubt, to be a painting of salvation, i.e. a painting that aspires to preserve the best of the world and its memory. It is in this way, out of this intellectual calculation, that the landscape appears in Lombardi’s work. A picturesque landscape as such. And therefore, nothing could be more unnatural, nothing more abstract, nothing more virtual. A landscape/place for meditation/feeling protected by the expressive constant of geometric melancholy, where the volumes of the houses are entrusted to an absorbed perception of the ages. In appearance it is the Italian landscape, but indirectly it is a place that belongs to countries which are familiar with the After-history. Will the painter too, at this unsteady and defenseless end of the century, have to find an imaginary refuge of his own, perhaps a place that will keep intact the feeling of being in the world in the name of harmony? And so we have a solemnly composed landscape (in the formal as well as the allegorical sense), a landscape of time that preserves and reaffirms the aspiration to the sublime. At the same time, however, in their narrative succession Lombardi’s pictures renounce being landscapes of picturesque nostalgia. I say this because we do not find in them any sign of the anachronistic spirit that in the last few decades has sometimes set about turning canvases into tombstones. In fact Lombardi’s poetic necessità is located elsewhere: he has chosen to express himself in the form of an interrogative, suggesting the idea of the threshold. In fact his pictures seem to ask the following question: does the world that we recount still exist? And if it does, where is it located? Certainly not in the vestige, nor in the architectural heritage that the centuries have left behind them. No, history has very little to do with Lombardi’s painting. The feeling that guides it is another, it is the immobility of true things. It is a concept that sums up the possibility of finding a science of the emotions in the absence of the weight of history. It is striking that it should be the painter who tries to save the world, with that painting which in the age of telecommunications has chosen to bring with it the breath and the magic of reverie. Among Lombardi’s pictures there is one entitled Time Up. And this is a statement, a declaration of poetics. As if the painter had identified the historical distance that separates the present from desired places. It would be misleading to bring in the banners of the so-called Novecento movement here, to conjure them up as mute presences, as guardians of Lombardi’s poetic world. Certainly no one can deny that here Carrà and there Morandi or, if we were to go much further back, the tradition of a Piero della Francesca, peep out among the shadows of his landscapes, but in Lombardi this landscape paradoxically brings the shadows and the severity of the After-history; it has become an ideal place, administered in the first instance by the realm of poetic calculation rather than by the tautology of nature and its imitations. It is not even a literary landscape. Instead it has the exemplarity of suspended time, or rather, to use the artist’s own words, of time that is up. So on the canvas rises an Umbria or Tuscany which is imaginary and at the same time concrete. Lombardi presents them to our gaze through the filter of painting. He offers us an elegy of the landscape, an ode cadenced by the volumes of the constructed and by the shadows of the cypresses that mark a limit, a threshold. Tree and shadow, perhaps, watch over absence and enigma. But in reality it is an enigma revealed, one that is not waiting for any last judgment. Enrico Lombardi’s painting has no need to believe in palingenesis. It is aware of the world, it remembers it, and at times seems to recapitulate the reverie to itself, as if it were an exercise in ethical consciousness. The world, when all is said and done, can continue along its course and move away towards its epoch-making vanishing points, but this painting does not run the risk of losing the certainties of enchantment.