Antonio Carlo Ponti
ANTONIO CARLO PONTI
A Journey painted from Silence.
Introduction by Antonio Carlo Ponti to the catalogues (Effe, Fabrizio Fabbri Editions) of the individual exhibitions held at the Ipso Art Gallery, in Perugia, on May 2001, and at Le Logge Gallery, in Assisi, on May 2002.
“Silence is my own word”, this artist seems to tell us, together with Bloy. Or better still, painted silence. Anna Maria seems to weigh up carefully her canvases with an assay balance (maybe it comes from her university degree in pharmacology), and to build homoeopathically – that is to say in small doses – all the stopovers of the heavenly journey she initiated (an initiatory journey?) through the rites (and myths) of the major spiritual traditions of the world – still present and active, with millions of believers. This is an irrepressible and irredeemable journey of a lifetime. A journey made of painted episodes, suras, prayers and hermitic meditations in the heart of true silence, for the lack of noise is not real silence. The first is only noiselessness, whereas the latter, silence, is “the great revelation”
Therefore, the daring and admirable pathway of this Umbrian artist from Perugia winds through the major spiritual traditions of the world, until it finally arrives – like a ship that has sailed hazardous seas – in the happy island of immateriality. There, as soon as it reaches the foreshore, it plunges into the forest of symbols and rituals that support the temple (the sacred places) of Tradition, where asceticism, silent prayer, divination and ecstasy blend. In this crucible of daze and absoluteness, “Why speak? The amphora resonates only when it is empty. When it is full, it is silent"
If I could define Anna Maria Artegiani’s painting with one single word, so to speak, with an “authentic word” (echtes Wort), I would use one adjective: sapiential. Her art is anachronistically wise, it is elegantly adorned with insight, oblivious of patterns, (divinely) impervious to fashions, and yet not so far – in substance – from Vassilij Kandiskij’s “spiritual in art” (the inventor of abstract art, in 1910)
Meanwhile, the quest (both pictorial and ascetic) of this artist leads us, so to speak, by the hand, into the innermost recesses of the soul. Therefore, the gnosis – not the rational knowledge, but the awareness of the heart, of the whole being, or the experience of the divine –, the perfect and salvific knowledge (as quoted by a good dictionary) is the height of her investigation, which extends from an irrepressible attention to the immaterial universe to the whole map of transcendent creeds, striving after the materialization, or the “bodily translation” of the invisible into the visible on/inside the blank canvas of a painting-to-be. Her art therefore gets to the core of the refusal of a mechanized civilization, which “imposed upon our lives the presence of a constant condition of non-silence, of non-pause, on all levels and at every opportunity”; and it claims the recovering of that state of grace that is in the meditative interval, that is to say the only time span that is able to reconcile our constant flight from contemplation with the world which surrounds us (il tempo è denaro)
Anna Maria Artegiani brings the sound of silence, and thus the interval, back into her art. The supreme idle moment of Zen, the anchoretic inner meditation, are interrupted only by the monks’ prayer in the choir, or by the pure white whirling dance of the Dervishes, or by the “psychedelic”, swaying movements of Taiji Quan practitioners, or by the intonation of Gregorian chants beneath the archways and the pendentives of basilicas freely decorated with figures inspired from Giotto.
There is a saying according to which monks should be swift to listen and unhurried to speak, as silence (especially monastic silence) is “the most perfect herald of joy15”, to say it with William Shakespeare’s wise words. In her technically skilled painting (whose accuracy reveals her fruitful frequentation of Franco Venanti’s studio), Anna Maria Artegiani unravels many secret moments of religiosity in a few episodes that turn out to be an organic tale: a praise to contemplation.
Her paintings do not highlight any particular religion, nor the distinctive rituals of any cathartic discipline, but rather the individual ascesis and rapture, or else the collective rejoicing, as we see in her work The Dance of the Dervishes, where the patio of the mosque seems to vibrate with the unrelenting and exhausting whirls that the followers of Rumi, the mystic poet, are making beneath the Moresque arches; these white-dressed Sufi dancers, whose hats have the shape of a truncated cone, whirl around the patio and around the axis of rotation of their own body to reach a state of total communion with God, with Allah, whose name is invoked 2,696 times in the Quran. Some kneeling monks are concentrating before dashing into the swirl that will take them near to the Truth (or right after having danced).
The reed flute and the tambourine that back the dances stop for a blink of an eye, as when the dance reaches its climax it has its own particular sounds and rhythms, made only by the rustling of gowns whirling around an immaterial, ecstatic body.
Anna Maria Artegiani’s “picture gallery” also consists of some other trepid “spaces” that recall the most intimate and lyrical Catholicism: the Gregorian chant and the monastic silence, in the arched, archetypical womb of a basilica, among the fullness and the hollowness of the ogival arches and the sinuosity of the tortile and bilobated columns. A mystical world – and yet hard-working, according to the Rule of the Umbrian saint Benedict – that the artist offers to our eyes, to our mind and spirit to enjoy. Along this “suite” of paintings – whose presence is indeed intense – we can glimpse a sort of – maybe unaware – predilection for the orthodox monastic status, for the prayers said in front – and even inside – golden sacred images, almost petrified in their Byzantine motionlessness and with a two-dimensional, flat and “unrolled” feature. With her monks in Hesychasm, a sort of anti-gravitational levitation, or reading in front of the iconostasis, a painted and static wall which praises the divine by means of “strips” of illuminated stills, i.e. sacred icons, this artist celebrates the everyday practice of a cosy iconoduly.
The third facet of the “theological”, or “teleological” painting of this young artist from Umbria is the leap into the hieratic time and space of the complex, and sometimes unexplainable, Eastern philosophies: she speaks us about this universe of great non-monotheist religions and ramified syncretism with a technical skill that is also a cultural awareness, relying on a thorough chromatic exploration and on an accurate reconstruction of the environment to convey her artistic messages and her initiatory steps.
This exhibition is indeed a great-small event – not only for the originality of the subjects and the fine workmanship – but also for the presence of ideal or imaginary portraits in which the happiness of faith blends with the sheer abandon of contemplation. In these portraits, the eyes (of women, of monks and mystics) have the enigmatic and other-worldly stare of wise people and believers who sail on blissful seas. These are limpid and bright eyes: amethyst, malachite-green, amber and sapphire-blue. It is a catalogue of eyes that watch you with solemnity and love, of mirrors in which you see the reflection of your saved self.
The main effect of this beautiful gallery of paintings is the knowledge it produces: a strong aesthetic and strictly exegetical knowledge, as well as an overwhelming ethical awareness. We get out of this exhibition knowing, in some mysterious way, that spiritualism in the art has a salvific power and – especially in this new century, and despite some excesses – that those who fight against globalization, homologation, against the poisoning of this poor planet called Earth, whose resources are far from being endless and all renewable and where we still find social enormities such as slavery, famine, epidemics, plagues, wars, injustices, are unquestionably right.
Anna Maria Artegiani’s painting thus seems to have the power to regenerate us and to make us aware that tolerance (and respect) is a weapon, and that it turns “I” into “you18”, as St Francis of Assisi and Aldo Capitini, from Perugia, used to say. No more religious wars, then, but ecumenism, a total embrace. Remembering that not only the institutional religions, but also the mystics and the non-fanatic missionaries are true peacemakers. The exhibition entitled On contemplation is a lay, modern painted theophany that seemingly wishes to lay out a path, to eradicate prejudices and integralism, to give directions. Through art’s own means. Ut pictura poesis.