Enzo Cucchi, Sandro Chia and Michael Warren are three artists who, though they share many qualities and attributes, may appear on first glance to form an unlikely triptych. Nevertheless, there are numerous and significant shared concerns and connections. Italy itself is of course the most obvious link. Italians Cucchi and Chia have been friends for more than three decades and have exhibited together a great number of times. Warren spent four years as a student under the tutelage of Luciano Minguzzi at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, where like his fellow protagonists in this exhibition, came under the spell of the giants of Italy’s glorious roll call of masters: Lotto, Masaccio, Pontormo, Piero della Francesca and innumerable others. Piero’s magnificent Montefeltro Altarpiece (1472) is located in the Pinacoteca di Brera of Milan next to the academy. Warren’s most recent museum exhibition was entitled Those Who Go / Those Who Stay [a title taken from Umberto Boccioni’s 'Stati d’animo', Quelli che vanno (1911), Quelli che restano (1911)], and Pica Pica, a sculpture exhibited at the 12th-C Chapter House of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin, makes allusion to Piero’s Nativity; so Italy and its artists from the Romanesque to today have proved a rich source of inspiration. Literature is of importance to the three artists too. Cucchi is a respected writer and poet, and there are a myriad of direct and indirect literary references from ancient myths to the masters of more recent times such as Beckett, Calvino, Joyce, Svevo and others to be seen in the work of all three artists. Perhaps identifying such intersections is unnecessary, better to see that, as Michael Warren remarked, “permeating all forms of authentic art there is a particular weight, a hallmark that we intuitively recognise. We can connect to this and, in the connection, be uplifted".
Visiting Rome to discuss the exhibition with the artists reminded me that this Roma Aeterna was also the final home of one of the English language’s finest poets. In the city's Piazza di Spagna a small museum quietly sits at the foot of the bustling Spanish Steps; it is dedicated to Keats, Shelley, Byron and the other Romantic poets but it is most importantly a shrine to John Keats who died there in 1821 aged just 25. Standing in the bedroom where Keats passed away in the arms of his friend the painter Joseph Severn, one cannot but be moved by the tragic tale and the atmosphere that still fills the room. Outside tourists in their thousands flood the piazza and steps in endless waves. Inside, a sanctuary. Picking up a slight volume of verses in the museum’s small library, activated in me a sort of madeleine moment, remembering not sweet cake but a slim padded volume entitled Eroé, a beautifully produced record of a wonderful initiative by Enzo Cucchi - making art on handmade clay bricks. This brick-sized book is one that I return to again and again not to read but to hold, look through and enjoy.
Just metres from the teeming crowds of the Piazza Navona, Cucchi’s studio too is an oasis. On entering it, the first object to catch my eye was a simple swing; the seat painted with a skull, a painting suspended, a practical work of art. A reminder once again of Cucchi’s innovativeness, art to be experienced, felt and enjoyed and perhaps also a playful nod to Gilberto Zorio’s Odio (1969). I do not know whether it was the sanctity of the two spaces or perhaps Keats’s concept of negative capability, "that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”, that linked the two in my mind but it made me see these artists too as practitioners in the tradition of romanticism.
These three artists have fearlessly demonstrated for many decades a shared lack of interest in a contemporary art world obsessed with style and fashion, like Keats’s proclamation that “That which is creative must create itself… I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest”. Their’s is a world that acknowledges the ongoing in art’s history; as Chia observed “a work of art is only a link in a chain of works of art”. This is a sphere where the magic and mystery of art, its energy and spirituality are at the heart of an exhibition whose stage plays host to three outstanding actors with the range to move from the exactness of Beckettian sparseness to the richness of grand opera - a realm of the imagination and wonder - in a word, Meraviglia.