Il lutto di ciò che perderemo, acrylic on canvas, 200×135 cm
Il giorno più felice (non mi appartiene), acrylic on canvas, 135×200 cm
Gli alveari non sono miei, acrylic on canvas, 100×100
(Fotografie) in mancanza d’altro, acrylic on canvas, 100×100 cm
Senza domande si apre il bosco, acrylic on canvas, 50×50 cm
Anna Caruso | Sei se ricordi
For years now in the contemporary art system we have spoken about a powerful return to painting, in particular to figurative representation, reborn from the ashes of its past, both abstract and informal, above all from a total reset of theoretic knowledge – and applied clumsily – from Postmodern philosophers. In the favourable climate of “historic twists and turns” a significant number of “independent and militant” art critics have taken it on themselves to support the presumed rediscovery of figuration in painting, without however carrying out in-depth studies of the personalities and languages and consequently, without demonstrating any real cultural contribution. For these reasons, this newly born fervor ended up a banal reaffirmation of the individualist id of each single artist – a theory already postulated by Postmodern –, that “automatically” paints outside their own times and the present context, often justifying (and sometimes disguising) the inconsistencies of certain pictorial researches with hyper-conceptual superstructures that support and claim the expressive freedom that has just been reconquered and thus a liberation from a dusty hypothetic past, denied a priori, but one which represents a priceless expressive and visual heritage latent in our art historic traditions. In reality, cultured painting whose language reflects and builds on past experience to decode contemporaneity and then represent it, has never ceased to exist, nor have engaged and talented artists stopped practicing it: to tell the truth, it is only that there is a lack of interest in it because of the profound cultural crisis which has assailed – and still today grips – western society. In fact the epistemological value of a work of art is a painting’s raison d’être, its existing: the discontinuity of the phenomena (as a consequence of the crisis) suggests a different way of looking at the reality in which we live and seeing it, accepting it and integrating it into our own sensibility: a work of contemporary art – as Umberto Eco wrote in Opera aperta – “though adopting the conventions of common speech or figurative symbols accepted by tradition, man bases his value on a new organisation of material as in every instance it constitutes an increase of information for the user”.
Well, Anna Caruso is one of those artists who has managed to resist the pressures of Postmodern philosophy, elaborating an eclectic and very personal method of painting, remaining aware of historical traditions but extremely original in her results, who lives in her times and it is from this time as well as the past that she absorbs constantly to give iconic form to her experiences, memories and to the constantly changing present. Right from the beginning, the young painter embarked on an intense pictorial research that forced her to compare her with herself and to accept that she “was composed” of memories, experiences and restlessness. The artist tells her life history on the canvas, in an enigmatic and almost obsessive way, transferring to it the outcroppings of her most intimate memories. Often Anna Caruso repeats, “We are what we remember and will be what we will remember”. So the temporal element is necessary and essential to understanding the complex narrative and iconographically sophisticated system that characterises her paintings: the filter of time, passing inexorably, dimming individual memories until it cancels the psychic images and distances each of us from “have been”, slowly transforming autobiographic events into reflections on the universal and omnicomprehensive of the meaning of the memory. A French psychoanalyst, whom she likes very much, André Green has written that, “Memory because of its associative nature is not something we find again but rather a creation”. Every canvas is a twining of several stories, every canvas is a palimpsest of fragments of life and every canvas traces the pictorial boundaries of the caesurae of time. Anna Caruso is constantly searching to recompose, reconstruct and rationalise her life to the certainties that, paradoxically, destiny will never allow her to have. And thus all is chilled, the moment is frozen and the time for contemplation begins. The tonalities of the colours fade, the white starts to prevail and becomes dominant on the canvas, both as acrylic paint and as the neutral background on which no paint has been applied.
So with this certainty denied her, she retreats into painting, where in composing the psychophysical space of the picture she recreates an ideal world that protects her fondest memories and sends away those she finds most painful. This world faces the past and interrogates as regarding the future because as in the Tempest of existence “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded in a sleep”. The large painting of 2014 around which the project for the Anna Marra Contemporanea show was designed was not given the title Memoria Bianca by pure chance. The choice of colours and their juxtaposition, the structure of the forms and their placement in space, the overlapping and veiling of the images – of men, women, children and animals –, the bulky abstract architecture and the mysterious woods in the background are the tesserae of an internal mosaic that visitors to the exhibition must patiently reassemble to understand the intimate existential message that Anna Caruso wants to transmit without however immediately revealing its meaning. In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky describes this psychophysical process in detail:
“To let the eye stray over a palette, splashed with many colours, produces a dual result. In the first place one receives a PURELY PHYSICAL IMPRESSION, one of pleasure and contentment at the varied and beautiful colours. The eye is either warmed or else soothed and cooled. But these physical sensations can only be of short duration. They are merely superficial and leave no lasting impression […] A first encounter with any new phenomenon exercises immediately an impression on the soul. […] little by little. In this way the whole world becomes gradually disenchanted. […] As the man develops, the circle of these experiences caused by different beings and objects grows ever wider. They acquire an inner meaning and eventually a spiritual harmony. It is the same with colour, which makes only a momentary and superficial impression on a soul but slightly developed in sensitiveness. […] But to a more sensitive soul the effect of colours is deeper and intensely moving. And so we come to the second main result of looking at colours: THEIR PSYCHIC EFFECT […] Whether the psychic effect of colour is a direct one, […] or whether it is the outcome of association […] The soul being one with the body, the former may well experience a psychic shock, caused by association acting on the latter. For example, red may cause a sensation analogous to that caused by flame, because red is the colour of flame. A warm red will prove exciting, another shade of red will cause pain or disgust through association with running blood. In these cases colour awakens a corresponding physical sensation, which undoubtedly works upon the soul. […] The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.
IT IS EVIDENT THEREFORE THAT COLOUR HARMONY MUST REST ONLY ON A CORRESPONDING VIBRATION IN THE HUMAN SOUL; AND THIS IS ONE OF THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE INNER NEED.”
In fact it is by following the principals of the inner need that Anna Caruso creates her paintings associating a precise psychic, individual and personal value to the colours and the forms, which allows her not only to bring out her past experiences but also the interior projections that these have left impressed on her memory. The result of this process on the canvas appears like an “emotional caprice”, a landscape of relations whose boundaries are a search for one’s identity and a re-evocation of personal experiences. Anna Caruso becomes contemporaneously the subject and the object of her search. In maintaining this she cites the philosopher Michel de Montaigne: “I was offered by myself to myself as topic and subject”. This doubling, as we shall see below, solidifies – both physically and chromatically – as one passes through the exhibition, where it is possible to appreciate the most recent developments of the artist’s process of “rediscovering” herself. If instead we remain in the realm of a formal analysis of her works, the same dichotomy is made null, cooled in the painting by the equilibrium of the composition, by the flattening of the perspective, by the meticulousness of her work that influences both form and colour, by a sensitive lowering of the tonalities. Wassily Kandinsky continues in his Concerning the Spiritual in Art:
“Painting has two weapons at her disposal:
Form can stand alone as representing an object (either real or otherwise) or as a purely abstract limit to a space or a surface.
Colour cannot stand alone; it cannot dispense with boundaries of some kind. A never-ending extent of red can only be seen in the mind; […]But such red, as is seen by the mind and not by the eye, exercises at once a definite and an indefinite impression on the soul, and produces spiritual harmony. […]But when red is presented in a material form (as in painting) it must possess
(1) some definite shade of the many shades of red that exist and
(2) a limited surface, divided off from the other colours, which are undoubtedly there. The first of these conditions (the subjective) is affected by the second (the objective), […] This essential connection between colour and form brings us to the question of the influences of form on colour. Form alone, even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. […]The mutual influence of form and colour now becomes clear. […] FORM IS THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF THIS INNER MEANING. […]The two aspects of form just mentioned define its two aims. […]Pure artistic composition has two elements:
- The composition of the whole picture.
- The creation of the various forms which, by standing in different relationships to each other, decide the composition of the whole.
[…] The first task that we cited, the composition of the picture, is its objective”.
And it is exactly in the red area in Senza domande si apre il bosco, 2016, which intentionally without form, purely magmatic and explosive demonstrates clearly how the representation of this red has a singularly psychic value able to activate the visitor’s soul as he or she observes it (the physical act), if it is inserted in the general composition of the canvas through an association to the other constituent forms. The work is strewn with enigmatic clues and shreds of memory, becomes an harmonic composition of apparently indeterminant elements that lend themselves to several reciprocal relations and offer innumerable interpretative possibilities. It is left up to the observer’s sensibility to perceive the psychic solicitations coming from the forms and colours, follow the traces until they reach the correct reading of the work that Anna Caruso predetermined while she elaborated the canvas according to her personal principles of inner need. Thus a poietic scenario with an existential matrix opens, in it her personal experience is transfigured into universal knowledge using an attractive pictorial language that searches desperately to attract the observer’s attention to complete its existence and reach the goal of spreading the artist’s message. There is no doubt that Anna Caruso’s paintings cannot be read immediately nor are they easy to understand, they require time to be “grasped” (contemplation) and a significant intellectual effort is needed to intercept the route followed by the artist’s soul which is hidden within them. There are times they might appear extraneous or even pictographic because of the net contrasts between abstraction and figuration. If however a person observes the smallest and most hidden details carefully that person will quickly realise they are in front of an ecosystem that lives on flashbacks, negations and associations. In this self-sufficient existential microcosm even the titles of the works help orient us toward a correct understanding: Non era questo ciò che sognavamo, 2014, Non sei tu, sono io, 2014, Storia antica, 2014, Facciamo chiarezza, 2015, (fotografie) in mancanza d’altro, 2016, Il lutto di ciò che perderemo, 2016, and Il giorno più felice (non mi appartiene), 2016.
The title of the exhibition itself, Sei se ricordi (Remember to be), is the key to understanding the exhibition itinerary, which during the preparation confronted physically the dichotomy between past and present as declined in Anna Caruso’s most recent works. If, as we have seen, Memoria Bianca, 2014, represents and ideal starting point of the artist’s current idea about the future of her work, why does this key work end the exhibition rather than open it, as would be more logical? Because it synthesizes the opposite poles of the exhibition, each of the two rooms of the gallery represents one of these poles, and the works are placed in inverse chronological order: in the first room, the new paintings created for this show and in the second room, a selection of recent works which had never been in a public exhibition before.
The canvases in the first room enter territory in which identity and affirmation – uncertain and unstable – are still unknown. This territory plays with our soul and deceives us by offering us infinite false expectations which will not be realizable and an irresistible aspiration to immortality. The fear of death and, as a reaction, the search for immortality – for both one’s soul and thought – invade the painted surface almost obsessively and this fragments into outcrops from the past and splinters of the present according to a lay animist creative process. All the new works take their inspiration from the theories of quantum physics, the double role (active and passive) of the observer in front of a work of art and philosophic reflections on the concept of vacuum understood as the possibility of being. According to the philosopher Henri Bergman the sharp outlines that we attribute to things are nothing except the scheme of an influence that we could exert on them. Because we live only once, each of us is constantly forced to make choices and, equally constantly, to leave behind many other alternatives. So this is the explanation of the spreading of the white space that becomes dominant, a horror vacui that has unforeseen generative powers, an existential refuge for the artist’s disturbed soul transferred to the canvas. The palette of colours suddenly loses vigour: the warm tonalities cool and the hues fade the overlappings become barely perceivable though they increase dramatically in number; similarly the few details full of colour that do emerge from the understated compositions are undeniable indicators of the perturbations that disquiet Anna Caruso’s soul in this crucial phase of her life, both private and artistic. Insecurity in her choices and the uncertainty of future outcomes are concealed behind the “liquid” backgrounds and halftones, disorienting observers and keeping them off balance.
The canvases in the second room, instead, investigate the function of intense memories understood as the characterising element of what a person is, or rather the result of the stratification of their experiences and moments lived of which they have a memory. In the same moment in which the memory takes shape in the person’s mind, it inevitably becomes an opinion (so a choice) with which the person interprets the world’s events – and their own reaction to them – to transform it into a visual representation and thus experience. Anna Caruso has made her choices and has fixed them in her pictures so that the observer can discover and share them. So memory is not only a personal experience, but it becomes also a cold esthetic, detached and “significant” experience, suggesting reflexions, modes and behaviours in time. This is why it is a serious mistake to forget one’s past and deny previous tradition, as Postmodern philosophy postulates; on the contrary, memory is fundamental to building a civil human consensus that learns from both personal and collective experiences (as an apt example, the portraits of the unknown people who are portrayed in the artist’s paintings): “The figures – explains Anna Caruso – are taken either from family albums or from photographs that I find in hotels, especially those which are family-run, where often there are old enigmatic portraits hung on the walls. I only choose the images that say something to me: solitude, memory, fear. Usually I find a part of myself in each of them: it is my way of transferring my personal experiences to a higher, universal level. Sometimes I even use the same subject in several paintings, because in this way the subjects become a sort of matrix, a ‘stamp’ that is repeated losing the specific connotations of the person portrayed”. Memory has the function of “resignification”, or rather redefines its object (the memory) within the coordinates of an atemporal transitional space. In fact each of us remembers things as “external agents”, almost free of its immanence by the passage of time and thus possible to “redefine”. Moving over such dangerous terrain, the colours cannot not be strong and the forms more definite because every element attempts to predominate over the others and take on a new meaning, a new existence in the extra-temporal dimension of art. The simultaneity of each of the painted pictures contains within itself the infiniteness of its own existence because the image can reach its finiteness only in the mind of those who look at it in time, present or future. Every form, every colour, every empty space contributes to telling the artist’s life, to reconstructing her memories and to revealing her weaknesses. Through the physical mediation of the observer the painter shows her personal point of view on history and on contemporaneity.
It is a new vision of the world that is taking shape in Anna Caruso’s mind, a future of uncertain outlines, but precisely because of this it is potentially loaded with a creative energy which was up to now unknown to her. The double dialectic, past-present and present-future, has not mired the artist in the morass of immobilism of a conflictual “crisis ridden” present; on the contrary, the confrontation with herself and with her memory has favoured the opening of new linguistic perspectives and has helped her make the best choices for her career pushing her further beyond her compulsivity for research. Sei se ricordi (Remember to be), precisely.