Just beneath the surface

January 5, 1998

It seldom happens that a visual work of art, a painting, does not call to mind space, but rather time. Nevertheless, that is what happens with Mauro Pipani’s works. For a linguistic convention and for the clearness of its instruments and its results, art develops into space synchronically, while it is words that develop into time, diachronically, unravelling one after the other, up to building, the castle of narration. Then, why does an artist decide – his certainly is an expression of strong will – to challenge linguistic convention and maybe even the perceptive common sense by staging something – time – that it’s so difficult to show in a painting.

I believe that an inner urgency to save a valuable asset lies behind this challenge, that valuable asset being represented by one’s own memory.

In fact, it is the territory of memory which can be the meeting place of the various languages, before they prevail and, owing to the strength of linguistic codes and the instrumental necessity of the means, start to sort out what is still a vague sensation.

This is the way of feeling, the world, that Pipani wants to express – express, not tell or show – and that is the reason why the artist tries to plunge into those areas of feeling and perception that are the places of vagueness, memory, and, maybe, even nostalgia.

On these “surface waters” there is a sense of time, of one’s own individual time, which flows with that levity and lightness, and which leaves, on the surface of things, a thin layer, just a ruffling, a fragment of memory, which belongs to the quiet flowing of life and which is the emotional drive of Pipani’s work. It is true, these are not yet the considerations on his works, they also belong to that emotional territory which in not linguistic yet, that may not be communicated to others through language, but they certainly are the necessary premise to understand his works, otherwise bound to an empty formalistic criticism: Pipani's reasons and emotions will be perceived through his works, like through the transparency of surface waters.

By looking at the artist’s work, it is impossible not to think of a soft quietness, where small things, small variations of life happen, deliberately taking on that apparent monochrome which directs us to a more penetrating and attentive look than the usual glance we reserve to the world. It is not the fixed contemplation of the universe which succeeds in delving into the abyss, here the water is shallow, but in order to see the distorted bottom, a peculiar sensitivity is necessary to assess the slightest and utterly arbitrary movements of the objects, which are nothing but the metaphor of recollections,“moved” as well by memory’s often arbitrary, and by nostalgia’s always utterly arbitrary constructions.

Pipani therefore acts on the level of memory, and does so with a most considerable visual and constructive knowledge, proving to be able to use the pictorial language without blurs, and without slipping towards that sentimental excess which is the main risk for anyone who decides to stage such a subtle emotion as memory is.

Avoiding such a risk is only possible by means of the paradox of an intended use of the device that the language of painting makes available to the artist: it is the balance between these two elements – a sense of memory and the tools mastery of linguistic device – which allows to face that challenge we mentioned earlier, by means of which a territory difficult to conquer by the weapons of painting is invaded.

A sense of surface, an almost obsessive attention to variation, small games of visual movements, sentimental hits through the word, poetics of the fragment, a different repetition, masterly paging in the single work as well as in the serial composition of expressive cycles, using material out of analogy or difference. A thin page set side by side or overlapping a transparent sheet, or an aluminium plate in which a hand writing dating almost to the 18th century is close to the manufactured article’s serial number: these are the basic elements of Pipani’s pictorial construction. Their selection and their variations themselves allow an endless number of combinations, which require from the one who creates them the ability to stop one moment before the obvious, and from those who watch a sort of aware, lucid participation.

As a matter of fact, exactly because it is other than a “loud”, expressionist painting, its sense and its need come from the ability to perceive the hidden subtleties. It is a work which does not run towards us, but rather draws back, that is why in looking at it, we need to pay the kind of attention similar to that employed by the artist in creating it: distinguishing the various shades of grey is much more difficult than distinguishing black from white…

But there is also one last consideration which successfully concludes Pipani’s encounter with the hazardous territory of memory. In fact, he not only stages that sort of perceptive slowness, of temporal bewilderment of the glance, but he also acts according to that rhythm. In other words, although alleviated by the craftsman’s expertise, by the ability to manage the painting tools, Pipani does not move from the nostalgia’s game carried out through language in order to get to that pre- linguistic region of sense, sensibility and feeling, rather he moves along the opposite path, from that magmatic territory of sense to the need to express it with the means and, above all, with the times of that same inner territory. Being able to communicate it is, by itself, evidence of the need of this work of his.

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