2007 - Rocco Ronchi

Veil Rocco Ronchi "Il grido silenzioso" Milan 2007

Natural language possesses a wisdom that sometimes verges on paradox. It happens, for example, that a verb, “reveal,” derived from the Latin revelare, which taken literally ought to mean “veiling a second time or once again,” has the meaning, even in the Latin tongue, of “making something fully manifest. The word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures is said to be revealed, and all those signs that attest irrefutably to the actual presence of something which has been awaited for a long time are called revelations. Revelation is direct communication, light without shadows, exhibition and certainty. A strange semantic destiny for a word whose etymology contains such an insistent reference to veiling… However, this singular presence of a veil in the process that ought to lead to something being revealed (to the absence of a veil) is not so mysterious for the artist, who in the veil—in make-believe, in the mask, in the imaginary scene—is completely at home. To be a poet, wrote Wallace Stevens, means to produce “supreme fiction,” but a fiction in which—and this is the paradox of art—it is things as they are which are in the end revealed in their essential nudity. The veil, therefore, not as something that covers but as medium of a manifestation. As if the things that surround us in ordinary life were not able to emerge and show themselves in their disquieting simplicity because they were not sufficiently hidden: too close and too at hand to be really seen. Thus the veil-and everything that acts as a veil in the practice of an artist-has the sense of that distance without which no authentic presence would be possible. Of this fertile distance the artist is the custodian and, since we are talking about veils, the patient weaver. In Enrico Lombardi’s “pictorial machinery” the veil plays a fundamental role in almost every phase of the execution of his project. In the first place in a highly technical sense. “Veils” of very liquid glaze evenly cover the whole of the painting; further coats of one or more pale colors are laid over the zones of light to emphasize their contrast; and when the work is almost finished the paint is fixed with a transparent acrylic varnish that, as Lombardi said in response to a question I put to him directly, “should have the mild effect of livening up the tone and the intensity of the color.” However, the significance of these methods of glazing and “repainting,” particularly widely used in Lombardi’s work, is not solely technical. Moreover technique, that technique of which the so-called “figurative” painters who are his contemporaries are so proud (as if technique alone gave legitimacy to painting!), hardly ever plays an essential role in his work. Lombardi is not a “technical” painter. If anything he is an automatic painter who sublimates a compulsive desire in repetition, bordering on obsession. For him technique is always at the service of this desire. It is his faithful handmaid. What is banally called the use of color - but which cannot be a true use, given that the painter, when he paints, simply exposes himself to the logic of color - in Lombardi refers in reality to a more general metaphysics of expression. It constitutes the horizon of his painting. It could be summed up in a few words: for Lombardi painting is truly revelation in the paradoxical sense of the term referred to above. That is to say it is manifestation— and what else could painting be if not a showing?—but a manifestation that takes place through subtraction, veiling and veiling again. Thanks to the veil the thing appears. Indeed if the veil were to be torn away it would not leave behind, as one naively imagines, the naked thing. The thing would go away with it, just as darkness vanishes when it is sought by the fool with a lamp in his hand. If one has the chance to watch Lombardi at work, the non-technical sense of his technique becomes clear. He acts in a disconcertingly methodical way, resembling more closely a monk at prayer or, what amounts to the same thing as far as the “form” of the action is concerned, a worker on an assembly line, than the commonly held image of the “creative person.” Nothing could be further from his character than the cult of spontaneity and chaotic expression. For him work is at once production and prayer. So all the times (of production-prayer) are rigorously respected. Just like in a factory or monastery. At each step it is the phantom that is clarified and defined. A little drawing sketched in pen and ink will sooner or later be turned into a picture ready for exhibition, but each technical passage—and this is what is essential in order to understand the non-technical sense of Lombardi’s technique—does not add something to the previous one, as it would be natural to suppose. Rather it negates what was present before and obstructed the vision. Let us explain: the colors added to the drawing on the canvas do not complete it, just as the drawing in white crayon on the canvas primed with a uniform color (“laid on in several coats until absolute flatness is achieved,” to quote Lombardi again) does not add details to the sketch made rapidly on the pad. Instead something is removed at each step. Whatever was too much in the previous stage is eliminated. In this, Lombardi’s technique of painting is similar to that of the mystical aphaeresis which consists in drawing closer to the object of one’s desire (God in the case of the mystic, the phantom in Lombardi’s) through a progressive exercise of emptying, denying one after the other everything that had just been said about him. Naturally this series of progressive negations which permits the phantom to take on blood and color and, finally, to exist, is carried out with the means of painting, which are not those of sculpture. The reference to the sister art is enlightening. In this case the removal at each passage is evident and there would be nothing in the least paradoxical about the claim that sculpture is a form of expression carried out by subtraction. It would even coincide with the tritest image we have of sculpture: the piece of marble that contains the figure virtually, the sculptor who has to limit himself to removing the superfluous, etcetera etcetera. In the grammar of painting, the taking away that shows can only be done by adding. For example, through the use of color, which in Lombardi has a subtractive and not an emphatic power, to the point, recalling Lombardi’s own words again, where it requires a work of “reanimation” once the work is finished. Acrylics, which are naturally cold, can in fact take the image to a degree of iciness that is almost unbearable. Distance already inhabits these colors materially, preventing them from functioning “naturalistically” as simulacra of sensible appearance. So in Lombardi painting becomes that slow and laborious process by which what had appeared before and which, in its immediacy, still container too much, is “veiled” one more time. The sheet with the pen-and-ink sketch had too much feeling in it, too much emotional passion: for this reason it had to become a stylized drawing, mediating itself with the pictorial memory laid down in other drawings (Lombardi is wont to return to the scenes of his “crimes,” going down already trodden paths with each new work, modifying them imperceptibly and proposing them again: differente and repetition is the motto of his painting). And the drawing demanded color with the same urgency with which modesty cries out for a veil that will shelter it from prying eyes. Finally color asks for its natural arrogance to be hushed, requires further veils of glaze to keep it under control. Each passage is always a new veil. But veil after veil, as with the sculptor’s chisel, it is the phantom that appears. In the end what remains is something unidentifiable owing to its excess of clarity. Apparently we have the names to describe it, and they are the most common ones: house, water, wall, sky… But it doesn’t take much to realize that on the canvas there is no longer either wall or sky. There is only a form that is grammatically incorrect but full of meaning: but of intransitive meaning. In fact there is no reference to any given perceptive reality, but neither is there the pure abstraction of color emancipated from its link with reality and made self-sufficient. What is there is the invisible of the visible, the disquieting hidden pattern of the real that has been turned into image, without betraying its insurmountable difference in this revelation. The supreme fiction has finally shown, with its acrylic abstraction, things as they are (Stevens also said that the fiction had to be “abstract”). And things, as they are, are phantoms that haunt reality without ever finding a place in it. They come from elsewhere and go elsewhere. In the middle, to stop them in their tracks for a moment and to give them an imaginary substance, there is the veil of painting, which, like the Veil of Veronica, is inevitably impregnated by it.