Is there still a place in contemporary art for painting? We talked about it with Alessandro Moreschini on the occasion of his "self-portrait" at the MACRO auditorium, Museo di Arte Contemporanea di Roma. On 26 October, in fact, on the occasion of the Rome Art Week Moreschini spoke about his artistic practice with me as well as with Giorgia Basili and Beatrice Burati Anderson. The following is the text of the interview which has explored some points of the intervention and of the debate.
In your works painting becomes a texture that covers not only canvases but also objects. What is the reason why you decided to "get out" the painting from the framework?
Is it perhaps a rebellion!? Painting goes beyond the pre-established boundaries of two-dimensional space! It seems clear to me that since the painting was born, I think of the cave paintings of Lascaux, then it always used what the succession of millennia and centuries put at its disposal. Even a director can be a painter with film! You can paint with words, with musical notes, but when you paint with brushes and colors you feel more responsible than any other artistic practice, painting is the oldest practice, therefore the most difficult to renew! Finally, painting always reaffirms its own vitality, unlike those who would like to make it retreat, declassify it, make it feel inadequate with respect to the contemporary. Nothing new, already the Futurists with Balla, pushed the painting out of the canvas to paint the frame, as if it were recording the vibrations and the movement that spread from the inside to the outside. If the Futurists thought of tomorrow even before they really understood today, later, Giorgio De Chirico Pictor Optimus, he thought of yesterday having understood very well today. On the other hand, contemporary painting, in my opinion, no longer makes temporal shifts, as in the avant-gardes or in many '900s, but is instead characterized as a perfume, which is perceptible but it is not clear where it comes from and above all where it really goes! However, it is present and leaves a scent in the contemporary world.
Is painting still a contemporary "medium"?
Janis Kounellis claimed to be a painter, painting is a non-technical state of mind. Painting is a condition of the spirit and not all artists live this condition. Federico Fellini was a painter in his cinema, as Janis Kounellis was a painter (as he liked to call himself) in his works, even if the real pictorial production is limited. Francis Bacon in the last century, renewed painting and certainly did not ask himself whether painting could be a contemporary medium, he simply demonstrated it with his work, even though photography and cinema were widely distributed and painting was considered not very contemporary. The point is not which medium to use, but how to use the medium that is most congenial to you, as in a couple relationship you discover it as you go along... and if it works, the demonstration is under everyone's eyes, even if there will always be those who will say "it cannot run". We are in the 21st century and painting responds to the appeal and, like other mediums, confronts the complexity or the banality of reality.
In your work there is a constant slowness in the realization and an almost meticulous, obsessive attention to detail, in a world that instead goes fast, very fast and in this speed it also becomes superficial. How do you live this relationship between your practice and contemporaneity?
It is true everything goes fast, always faster... The Futurists already mentioned, were aware that the world seen from a running car was different from the one seen from the window of our home. It was always the same world but seen in two different conditions! Speed implies a condition that is not congenial to me, while slowness in my opinion is the most appropriate way to see and not just to watch! The surface is the first thing I see, which I analyze, which I scrutinize, which I see and on which my gaze rests. Andy Warhol had understood how much we are fascinated by the packaging and not so much by what it contains! The shape of a car is seductive even if it is not in motion, only after we discover that perhaps there is nothing under the bonnet. A few really care about knowing what's inside a contemporary museum, the exterior is often more rewarding as it is the backdrop for the endless and forced selfie of the hit and run. If superficiality were a sin, then there would be mileage in front of the confessionals... It seems to me instead that today the superficiality is to our time as the proportion was to the Renaissance! Also the painting is on the surface... but not for this it is superficial.
An element that is immediately perceived by observing your works is the decoration, so little appreciated by contemporary critics, always attentive to a conceptualism often an end in itself. How do you relate to decoration, conceptualism and contemporary criticism?
It is quite inevitable, in my practice, to use a starting geometric pattern, often made up of modules that then become decorations, which cover even three-dimensional surfaces. The Western point of view has been figurative and anthropomorphic since the days of cave graffiti, and has been developing this model for millennia. Nowadays, with the diffusion of texts and images on the net, almost everyone knows that in other cultures, not even so far away, it has not always been so! In Arab culture, the mathematical geometrization of surfaces is actually the representation of the complexity of the divine, which must not have a human form. In the England of the industrial revolution the fabrics and objects of William Morris are art as well as the paintings of Edward Burne-Jones for example. The oriental and decorative taste of Venice does not make it less fascinating than the geometric and perspective Florence. It is simply a matter of understanding that a music is interesting even if it is not accompanied by a sung text. The contemporary universe is made up of a mixture of points of view, you in 2015 held a conference with Renato Barilli entitled "The decoration as an element of contamination of the Western artistic canon and as a possibility of intercultural dialogue". Finally, the same Barilli in 1997, in his essay in Officina Italia already recorded the weak presence of decorative resurgences. Personally, it seems clear to me how much decoration represents a gene of contemporary DNA, perhaps a crazy gene... an unexpected variant that critics have certainly recognized, I think of Yayoi Kusama!
The ethical/aesthetic relationship is a very close relationship, contrary to what is believed when ethics is placed almost in opposition to aesthetics. In reality the word aesthetic contains within it the word ethics, therefore it has ethics at its root. What is the relationship, the link between your practice and aesthetics and ethics?
Ethics and aesthetics an ancient combination that comes from classical Greece, where everything began or almost. It then re-emerged in the Renaissance and imposed itself with Neoclassicism theorized by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in the Roman Villa Albani today Torlonia. Certainly in our contemporary times ethics is on the way to extinction, while aesthetics, on the contrary, has developed into hyper-aesthetics, attacking everything and everyone. It is the triumph of form without content! The use of selfies combined with the fragile certainty of "I exist" as they are image, so I would add surface! How to combine form and content, aesthetics and ethics!? In my artistic practice I sometimes propose to rebalance the balance, for example in the work Ora et Labora I carry out a pictorial intervention on 86 spanners, symbol of western materiality which I then dispose in order to evoke the geometries of an Oriental carpet. Two different worlds and today very close indeed, which set themselves in an ideal balance. Or in Meditate actions on water I use four small statues of Buddha, which properly painted, close their eyes to see... that water so essential that in the future it will become more and more precious. Aesthetics without ethics is like a cell phone without a battery... even if you still need to recycle and not throw away!
One of the terms to describe your practice is virtuosity, which stands out in a flat world, which does not make quality and study, research its own reason for being. Do you experience this condition as a limit or a resource?
The virtuoso is perhaps the one who, in order to oppose the shortcuts of everything and immediately, of the haste to arrive and to obtain the most immediate result, prefers to ask questions. Leonardo was never satisfied with his painting and retouched his works to infinity, a virtuoso for many, in reality a genius in constant search for improvements with his own experiments, sometimes even totally unsuccessful. One is born virtuous or becomes one I could ask you!? Surely there is a predisposition in the individual who then finds fertile ground on which to develop. How is this terrain found!? We need to look for it, then cultivate it to avoid being trampled on! Virtue is both a resource and a limit; it is a resource when it is recognized, it becomes a limit when it is unknown!