There is a photograph hanging on the wall of Orazio’s studio that he took over 20 years ago on his family’s land in Italy. It is not a view of the sloping hills or the olive trees or the mountains in the distance; the camera is pointed straight down at the earth beneath his feet, capturing the dirt: dry, cracked and uneven, strewn with sticks, bits of straw and small stones. This land, his earth, has always been central to Orazio’s work. His earlier series, Terra, explored this geography in maps, both imaginary and personal, using handmade lime paint, pigments, oil pastel and graphite. For his new work, Terra Bruciata, Orazio takes on the role of alchemist.
Alchemy or Al-kemi derived from the Arabic/Egyptian meaning “divine chemistry” or possibly “black earth”. Simply, it was the process of transforming base metals into gold. But it was so much more than that. It was an early form of the investigation of nature and and ancient path of purification and transformation. It was a seemingly magical process of a combination of materials, a burning off process and a transmutation or metamorphosis.
For this new work, Orazio collected buckets of dirt from the street being excavated outside his Brooklyn studio. He combined the dirt with crushed charcoal, bits of straw and ash, then took this mixture and pressed it onto 500 pound watercolor paper, making a thick durable surface. This is the prima materia to which he then adds handmade lime paint, earth pigments and shellac. To this, he takes a blowtorch; the fire setting off an alchemical/chemical reaction, creating a deeply encrusted surface, rich with color and rare patinas. By combining and experimenting with raw, organic natural materials and utilizing the four elements: earth, air, water and fire, Orazio has succeeded in creating objects of are beauty, evocative of place, emotion and breathtaking experience.