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The new life

Which art, which art criticism can be produced in a historical period such as the one we are going through, marked by wars, migrations by decomposition of post-colonial states, violence of any kind?

Between the artist and the critic there is perhaps in common the object of reflecion, but their languages are different and the code of communication risks to go to pieces. The same tension is created between the artist and the observer: is this painting worth it or not?

 

Let's start by its ambiguity: the painting can be read according to two opposite lines of interpretation: on one hand, the line of the twentieth century that deals with the decline of a civilization and disrupts the forms, creating images of breakage, distruption and disharmony. On the other hand, the line that makes decadentism itself its content. The painting inspects the forms, it reverses them, it breaks down the cubist breakdowns and what does it create? The image of astonished, broken down and overlaid worlds with constant allusion to a starting point: the Trojan War, the strength (KRATOS) against the right and against the moral code (ETHOS) – the Athenians against Melii in Tucidite – is an equally constant allusion to the sacred (signified by domes and bell towers that fly high in the corners of the pictures). So death becomes prelude to the resurrection, to the new life.

Dante would say that life is renewed by love. Biagio would like to say so too, but he is afraid of passing off a desire as the reality, and he remains out of the Utopia: go to Heaven, I will try to follow you.

 

There is a reconciliation of everyone with the death and of nobody with theirselves. It is the reality. But  who looks this painting, crossed by a silent pain, feels that the artist shows this reality to the observer so that he could reject it: the giants must use their strength to reverse this reality: they are petrified – they should move then, restart to design, build the future city.

The point of view of the painter-philosopher is frontal, immediately in front of the ruins of civilization.

If we look at the upper corners of the paintings, there are strips of blue skies, as lost memories, sea waves with their innumerable smile, scraps of inhibited dreams confined to the margins and barely visible. But who would dare to draw and paint the utopia with the suspect of deceiving theirselves before all the others? If ever there is love, this is only like that destroyng illusion.

 

That is why in this painting the light often comes oblique as the light of the sunset, when shadows are longer than concrete things. The silent dominates on the images, but painting with an original technical treatment of colour creates volumes that contradict its immobility: the mummies of Ruysch, in the mathematician year, are allowed to speak for a quarter. So in Schembari's “Operette morali” the “not to be” becomes aware of  itself and it says that death is a condition of the living who are afraid of not being there and who lose the horizon of the ego, seeing all negative and inhibiting themselves from any way to salvation. So painting contradicts what it says. The collapsed towers, the broken men, that woman cut in half at the navel, are all invested by  flashes of the midday sun: (E più corusco e con più lenti passi/teneva il sole il cerchio di merigge – Dante, Purgatorio -, XXXIII, 103-104).

The western empire with all its sub imperialism, that revolve around it, brings with it what you see in all Biagio's paintings: the self-destruction of a civilization. How to obstruct this perverse mechanism? How to replace the man at the center of attention of man? Biagio Schembari's painting does not claim to be able to answer these questions. They are questions that politic must answer and painting can't. 

This can only throw a veil of pity upon the ruins.

Now let's come to the question: is this painting worth it or not? This is the problem of mutual adequacy of different communicative codes. The one of the spectator and the one of the painter. The painter wants the obsever to reciprocate the act of modesty, with which he tried to give shape and colour to certain emotions, explaining how the world evolved historically but without falling into clichés like “the world is always the same” or “there is nothing new under the sun”. The viewer then has to conform himself with modesty to painters code, to decode it and and to recognize himself in it. The painting tells about you.

 

The figures of Biagio's painting always represent cracks, open mouths, black rectangular eyes, holes. The hole should not be interpreded negatively, for instance, as the effect of a bullet shot in the middle of the forehead, but as a sign of opening, and of accessibility: so the mouths and the horse's nostrils, open in tension, are not tragic masks, as you may think at first sight, but,  in a dimension of heartfelt sociality, they express an indeterminable energy and exponentiation of the spirit that is pertinent to sacred. All the things are brought to life as willingness of existence: they aren't things that, in their being, reveal that they have been thrown into the world (Heidgger), but things that project themselves into the world under the pressure of their willingness of existence.

 

The scenery of Ibla presents itself to the observer in this way: the houses seem to be built one on the other, the bloks of Biagio's painting are juxtaposed, overlapped and fused. There are signs, clues, omens of the power of the sacred (Biagio reminds us of the church of St. Antony in Padova, where he waited for the healing of his mother), here the viewer of this painting is involved and lost in the immense nave, next to columns that make him very small, in front of the walls of the Cyclops, as if he had passed through the doors of Sleep, turning the step up from darkness to light. Thus, in this tonal painting, he has revisited the entire world as history and as geography through temporal spaces and spiritual times (which are not only those of the old city but also those of the medieval city and above all of the Renaissance city).

And going back over this historical spaces, with the memory that have become painting, we find ourselves in the same psychological-existential condition that we have in front of the death of our loved ones: (at dawn I saw my father, now free of the body weakened by illness: he sailed the ocean alone to the land without birds). This is the power of the sacred in the art - read again the books X and XI of Odyssey.

 

ALDO COTTONARO
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