Paolo Gubinelli is known essentially as a painter, his refined "Papers" barely marked or engraved by geometric constructions which, despite their apparent order represent his innate emotionality, are appreciated all over the world. However, in his long and extraordinary artistic career he has also been graphic designer, advertiser and projector of architecture, maintaining professional and personal relationships with the architect of the Florence Santa Maria Novella station and the church of the Autostrada del Sole Giovanni Michelucci and with the master of design and graphics Bruno Munari.
Already in 1985 the latter wrote that Gubinelli "offers us pre-perceptive stimuli, even before the forms, almost fragments of signs and apparitions of colours. These barely marked sheets bring to mind the thoughts of a Buddhist monk of the late thirteenth century, named Kenko, author of the book The Tsurezuregusa". Paolo's art thus explores different worlds, which allow themselves to be discovered very slowly, as when the first light of dawn breaks through the darkness, delimiting only the profiles of the architecture, signs but not yet forms, i.e. pre-perceptive art.
Not that during his artistic career he did not relate to great contemporary artists, above all Lucio Fontana and his Spatial Concept, then with the abstract art of Piero Dorazio and the repetitive imaginations of Enrico Castellani.
Another important pole of artistic attraction was Osvaldo Licini, both because he was from the same territory, born in a town in Le Marche near Fermo, and because already in 1930 he painted what is considered his first abstract painting Abstract threads on a white background, and also because he was the leader of a school of other Marche artists: Acruto Vitali, Gino Nibbi, Felice and Ermenegildo Catalini.
In Matelica, the town where Gubinelli was born and lived until adolescence, there was often talk of the eclecticism and genius of Licini, who, despite dying in 1958 when Paolo was only 13, left in the young man an indelible memory of his charisma and of his works.
How and to what extent he has been influenced by artists such as Alberto Burri, Giulio Turcato, Hans Hartung, Alfredo Chighine, Bice Lazzari is difficult to say, but certainly the signs and abstract forms of Gubinelli's pictorial works converse with the aforementioned artists of the 'Informal' movement as well as with Michelucci's rationalist architectural language and with the multifaceted research of Munari, joint founder with Gillo Dorfles of MAC (Movimento Arte Concreta, which acts as a catalyst and synthesis of the arts in search of a convergence between art and technique, therefore also between painting and architecture). This is the reason that we can define Gubinelli's traces as "transcendent signs of architecture".
Thus it is no coincidence that the maestro in his work of acute and profound sensitivity uses white paper as a medium for his works, notoriously the basis of sketches and architectural plans, even going so far as to use glossy and transparent paper, the type where architects trace in ink their plants, sections and elevations, it is no accident that he almost only uses pencils and that when he makes collages he uses triangles of transparent paper, precious diadems with which to decorate and adorn oneself in imperishable geometry, certainly following Kazimir Severinovic Malevic and Piet Mondrian.
In the year 2000, the maestro himself explained: "In my artistic activity, paper has until now been my only means of expression [...] I have switched to transparent paper (architects' tracing film), always engraved and folded: or in sheets arranged in the environment in a rhythmic-dynamic progression, or in rolls - papyrus with very slight incisions at the limit of the perceptions that develop in the environment".
Pensieri di carta is the title of an exhibition staged in 2019 at the Bocconi University in Milan, where the artist exhibited works engraved and sometimes folded in the pictorial plane with a geometric order capable of translating into rhythms and signs of a dematerialized architecture. This was possible because Gubinelli, besides being a painter, is also a designer and architect; he draws plans, projections and perspectives with black and coloured pencils. He works primarily in the conceptual field of models, creating scenes, while on his worktable, the drawing board, the project takes shape represented in a myriad of signs destined for a hesitant fate.
His “pictorial-architectural” work is conditioned both by his studies conducted in Rome and Milan and by his familiarity with the city of Florence. Born in the Marche but Florentine by adoption, Gubinelli has lived and worked for several decades in the "cradle of the Renaissance" and for a person of his culture and sensitivity it would have been impossible not to be influenced by Filippo Brunelleschi's octagonal dome or by the linearity of Giotto's bell tower on the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The geometries outlined on paper by Gubinelli recall golden proportions as were in use in the Renaissance and could not have been achieved without the artist having seen the rigorous geometric structure of the marble facade of the Church of Santa Croce, or that of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in green and white marble designed by Leon Battista Alberti.
The special relationship between Alberto Burri and Gubinelli led the latter to stage a retrospective exhibition in 2008 in Città di Castello. "Staging an exhibition in Città di Castello was a project that I had been cultivating for some time, in honour of the friendship that bound me to Alberto Burri" - with these words Paolo explained the choice of exhibiting his works at the Municipal Art Gallery, the works selected testifying to the evolution of his inspiration and his models over a quarter of a century.
The free and constructive sign of Gubinelli is an abstract sign that appears by its nature destined to this dissemination by his "Architectural studies". Those who understand his art perceive the spatial transfer of his sign on paper migrating toward architecture, with its absorbencies of colour and light, its opacity and transparencies, its descriptive geometries and the densities of matter.
Catalogues and specialized magazines have been published on Gubinelli's work and in particular on the construction of each painting, on the drafts of finest sensitivity that reflect a quiet harmony, together with a critical anthology of great historians of contemporary art who have written about his works, beginning with Giulio Carlo Argan, Enrico Crispolti, Roberto Luciani, Mario Luzi, Lara Vinca Masini, Antonio Paolucci, Claudio Strinati, Marcello Venturoli and including many others.
His classical-Renaissance vision was highlighted by Carmelo Strano who considers Gubinelli's rhythms to be forms absorbed in nuanced atmospheres that infuse declinations with an abstract-geometric flavour: "Lyricism, therefore, but highly motivated in terms not only of the matrices of the formation but primarily on the design level".
The relationship between Renaissance space and abstract space found by the artist becomes something much less immaterial and empirical in this colourful focus, to proceed concurrently with the narrative without ever penetrating it, without ever abandoning Osvaldo Licini's horizons full of enthusiasm.
In addition to architecture, Gubinelli has always related to poetry in the constant research of its place as a source and purpose of creative production, and the same can be said of music.
I listen to Ennio Morricone ... that refinement and delicacy makes me cry where lightness makes me fly in search of new emotions… only in this way can I find horizons of a new language.
True artists make little noise, they tend towards silence, they attend to the coherence of their language to translate it into personality. Gubinelli is a true artist and a truly authentic person, with acute sensitivity, a profound scholar capable of attending to his business with consistency, commitment and dignity, with a coherent language and silent reserve in an era of deafness and blindness. He is a person capable of being silent rather than just making sounds for their own sake, in other words he is a discreet person, in line with the Benedictine Rule of knowing how to discern the right measure.
In the summer of 2020 he created a personal exhibition at the Monastery of Fonte Avellana and for a period he stayed there, writing to me:
here in Fonte Avellana I am out of this world, without TV and without Internet, there is so much spirituality and meditation that allows me to touch the medieval architecture of the monastery with my eyes and mind, but also the nature and greenery of the surrounding lyrical landscape. The sky has shades of white, azure, blue, like the lyricism of Licini and Leopardi. An atmosphere where a dream gently touches the mind each day ... how beautiful life is when made of such little things ... how much emotion this harmony transmits to us. Just as classical music makes the space that nourishes and illuminates us vibrate, the symphony of the wind makes the trees vibrate waiting for silence.
Gubinelli's language is a deep and demanding message, his art is significant and it is difficult to enter his researches not least because his works are outside the system in which we live, they are not fashions that wear out quickly. Instead there is a classicism, a humanism, which belongs to a culture capable of traversing architecture, art, poetry, literature and philosophy.
A long and costly path capable of carving the name of Paolo Gubinelli among the greats of contemporary art.
(Translated from Italian by Derek Barnes)