Critic Text by VALERIA ARNALDI for the INSIDE MONDRIAAN Project
Once more, before I wander on
And turn my glance forward,
I lift up my hands to you in loneliness —
You, to whom I flee,
To whom in the deepest depths of my heart
I have solemnly consecrated altars
Your voice might summon me again.
On them glows, deeply inscribed, the words:
I want to know you, Unknown One,
You who have reached deep into my soul,
Into my life like the gust of a storm,
You incomprehensible yet related one!
I want to know you, even serve you
(F. W. Nietzsche)
The colours splashed over the walls seem the jottings of a philosophy in the making, composed every day in different ways, creating alternations and a play in contrasts. New food for thought. Slashes of light stolen, enhanced and multiplied to clash with surfaces, creating suspension and interference, natural pointers to an unperceived reality. Silence. It is in this environment of light and warmth, even before colour in its ordinary sense, that Mondrian moved when he created. This was the reason for building his own studio, a refuge from the indefinitely large, where inspiration and the feelings to nourish it could have free rein. And it was also the reason for building his work-museum, where people come for pleasure, to relax, or because it is fashionable to do so, without being aware that they are part of a sensory experiment. And to muse.
It was the movement which seduced the artist. To observe, rethink, build, but never to decide. Movement as a result of intelligence or instinct, of the cosmos or the community. Never an end in itself but as evidence of an underlying harmony, which is the foundation of life, not otherwise perceptible. On the other hand, Mondrian had a musical soul, one that unfolded in the first beats in the passages which he did not succeed in bringing to his jazz notes and his “agitated” nights, where the absolute, rebuilt or theorised, gave way to the irruptions – and frenzy – of life. Between differing instincts, the rigors of the day and the excitement of the evening, the ambitions of the creative “cell” and moving from night entertainment to and dancers, Mondrian attempted to stop existence, not to contemplate it, let alone to play it, but to dissect and discover its mechanisms and rules. The inspiration is therefore in a mobile vision because tension is eternally immobile. It is not aesthetic rigor which guided his pictorial abstractions, but the will, of power as well, as a tool to capture the absolute, univocal concept of truth that admits opinion only as a phase of its own evolution. For Mondrian, chaos was not an absolute, quite the opposite it was harmony, the denominator of philosophical and artistic existence. And perfect harmony, able to create life in its various forms.
Harmony of nature and harmony of naivety, harmony of a chaos that needs no further description, that is pure creation, a lucid, intellectual harmony which, instead, is pure construction. His challenge was not in the market, his audience was not the observer. The goal was the absolute, the stage was life, the curtain frames an inward gaze, able to go beyond the known in a confusion of time and space that is the only eternity humanly conceivable. Constructible. This is what Mondrian wanted: to construct a perfect harmony, absolute, eternal. Line for line. It was his mission, his manifesto. Even, his obsession, from 1911 when he saw his works exhibited in Amsterdam alongside those of Picasso, Cezanne, Braque, and perceived, in the act, a transformation and transfiguration of the cosmos. That flash of lightening converted Mondrian to the abstract, he denied his roots and, above all, the reputation acquired. The desire, the only possible one, was to reach the truth of art and in art, to search out the form and overcome it to reach its essence and the very roots of life, reduced to simplicity, and perhaps even to the detriment, but in all its magic, of lines and colours.
The canvas is not a surface but an alphabet, the form is not the subject but the metaphor, the order is not the compulsion but the breathe. It then follows that the straight lines which meet to become the protagonists of his works are not “lines” but conflicting feelings which on the one hand fall heavily into the soul, and on the other hand, an energy which quickly climbs peaks of excitement and delirium, forcing Icarus to look in the mirror to discover himself to be Prometheus. And, unfortunately, vice versa. So the elliptical but obvious three-dimensionality is not a simple thickness but a depth of intellectual inquiry, a thought which sinks the blade of the blade of lucidity into the meat of intuition to arrive at the root of experience. Perceived, understood and overcome. In this way, colour is not only feeling and invention, but sometimes also a pause to which we abandon ourselves, a stasis in the bustle of creative beating which imposes a washing of the conscience on the imagination, and sometimes the carrier and director of eternity and rhythm.
It is the urgency of Being that is portrayed, the same urgency that is also drives the search. The self does not seduce him with the trap of self-assertion but leads into the lattice of a broad consciousness that is the life-blood of the cosmos, without other distinction of identity from the vision. Mondrian was a visionary and was not afraid to be so. Just as he was not afraid to deny himself, if he needed to expand the horizons of consciousness and conquest.
The aim is to celebrate the capacity to think. The mondrian man thinks and rethinks his horizons in the illusion of being able to determine or even invent the classic concept and modern ambitions in a battle between Genius and Nature for the conquest of Beauty, that manifests itself in the work of the artist as an architecture of the spirit, as a monument of volatile matter.
“I think it is possible” – he writes – “that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by highly developed intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, assisted where necessary by other lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.” Here are his patterns of essence and existence, a geometry pulsing and without breath, the result of encounters and plots, more, perhaps, of balls of an unravelled religion, science, philosophy, ideology, consciousness of beauty and his feelings. Harmony is an ancient ambition and classical perspective, but also a desire of the modern which finds the foundations of that will which makes a man unique in the universe. Beauty is an invented concept, an even rhetorical figure, a self-imposed canon which makes man feel in control of something and any form of evolution, entirely controllable. It is an aspiration unchanged which has not changed over the centuries, but also a profoundly changeable concept. Mondrian knew this and did not care. Beauty is not in the canvas, which is instead the path which must lead to beauty, tracing a journey that for its very nature cannot have a destination if not death and the absolute certainty of not being able to see beyond it. The aesthetic of man is not merely an understood taste, but a modular architecture, composed of bricks of time and common sense, and the imperatives and rules, personal and collective. In order to be subjected to the evolution of which he is a witness, however, the architecture of beauty must understand the levity of which the possibility of constantly changing consists. He must allow himself to be handled and not act, metaphysics, never physics.
The excitement of the architecture of Mondrian is not in the stone but in the flesh and in its instincts. Day and night come together in the meeting of two lines, the perception warms the projection, the horizontal is woman and the vertical becomes man, because from the imperceptible nodes of their contact emerges disruptive dizziness. Form the colour as well. Harmony carries on the battle, lance in rest, it sees form and material face each other to discover that even philosophy and art, the “heights” of man, are lies that God presents to human beings to give them the courage to face life and death. This disassembled and reassembled “system” is Mondrian’s song, his invisible city made of sculptural illusions on paper. Profound truths resting on the surface.
From this imaginative universe, enthusiastic but also consciously dramatic that seems to pay homage to the death as the only real evidence of a life that is not a dream, Francesco Visalli’s search within the works of Mondrian begins. “Inside Mondriaan” is an almost psychoanalytical work of art which starts from an arrived at harmony to search for the chaos that has generated it. The biography calls him an artist, speaking little of the man, but rather of a person who has taken up his brushes to become a creator, a man who has entrusted his evolutionary track to the canvases . The traditional triangle of inspiration – muse, opera, author – here becomes a line and an element of a larger pattern, which guide the harmony or its engine, which in this case is Mondrian. Not the visionary, at least not yet, but the latent revolutionary, the unwitting witness of his own mutation, the protester – still – without a poster. It is the battle between Mondrian and Mondriaan which fascinates Visalli, who, in order to read man, has chosen the alphabet of the artist. The result is a meeting of affinity and dissonance. Perfect harmony becomes therefore an urgency for Visalli as well, who studies it in order to attempt to annul it, returning to its roots. The voyage within the canvas, by the artist’s own admission, is first a stimulus, then a ferment, and finally “cage” from which there is no escape except by rewinding the unwound ball, turned into a prison of the only line of fact without rhyme or reason. There is no way to escape that Inside which multiplies the faces of Mondrian in an infinite play of reflections and refractions.
The creative urge becomes in any case the driving force common to all artists, even those taking antithetical paths. Where Mondrian looked for the naked soul, Visalli overlaps baroquisms to cover it, without imposing gestures but only following the same hands that had stripped. It is the poetic reminder, the prediction made with the farsightedness of hindsight. The arduous judgment of posterity that is not judgment but exploration. Again, reflection. Mondrian conceived his works as two-dimensional architectures to remove any patina of concreteness from the purity of the concept, Visalli plunges into the depths of thought to return depth to the idea and turn it into that monument that Mondrian theorized. The journey itself is architecture. Harmony is made of measures, projections, expansions, transformations. And Visalli measures, projects, dilates, transfigures. They are dimensions which expand, while respecting the proportions of the look, colours reversed on their opposites, ideal pins which rotate lines to make them into vortices which give substance to the vibration that gave them order. The inquiry arrives at the point from where it was removed. It uses matter, paradoxically, to highlight the soul.
The process is that of a real study, which then becomes a work of the work, another through its own driving force. The first step is to distance the elements, using the colour planes to derive the “size” of the thickness. The “plant” thus becomes architecture, immediately showing its three-dimensionality. When the works are reversed to be mirror images of themselves, the game of diffraction and interference returns, the one that one of Mondrian’s muses plays with a mirror, interested in looking at the forms in her infinite faces and facets. Even misleading, where there is the sense, with the error inherent in its inherent imperfection – it is created, it is not the creator – leads to the “mistake” of a creative perception, original and unique. The next step can not only be that of colour, investigated for its vitality. It is not a stain, nor a background, but an instinct and heart, tension in fact, that determines the rhythms of the space. It was frequencies, understood as vibrations, which conquered first Mondrian and then, as a result of his analysis, Visalli. Colour became time, even in perception, but also in expression, and in this intimate path in the work and in the operation of Mondrian is dissected for its emotional essence. Mondrian’s colours are the primary ones, not for physical or calculated reasons, but because for the primary emotions and actions they represent; passion, calm and reflection. Visalli delete the three pillars of Mondrian’s conquest in order to identify the determinants. If each tone is nothing but an error of the senses, then the only truth ‘mondrianaly’ conceivable is actually the grey tint of the physical world, which Mondrian the hunter decided to cancel, rejecting the dominance of science over art in the name of an allegedly shared objectivity, to exalt instead the Genius as the only shared ambition.
If colour is then acquired by will and selected for ambition, what determines the intimate palette of the artist? If the well-known blues, yellows and reds of abstraction are cancelled and even the grey scale is rejected, so real that it seems lie, Visalli returns to the mirrors of the classic inquiry and to those of the artist’s studio, search for the primitive pantone. The inversion brings new emotions, and not just colours then, to the artworks: orange, green and purple are the secondary colours, the spectrum of opposition, the constructions of man. Mondrian shunned these to seek perfection, because they are the accessory inventions of accessory lives. Visalli returns to them in his voyage in reverse, to search for the prison from which the artist was trying to break free.
At this point, it is the cage which transforms. The straight lines are out, room for chaos returns, the shapes twist, turning on themselves in a vortex. The distortion multiplies the gaze and the gazers. The same object becomes a mask of itself, but in the series of wheels and turns, shows its peacock tail to the point of disorientation. Before perfect harmony, therefore, man is not subject to evolution but is imprisoned in the involution, closed in and twisted on himself. It is the spiritual and creative agony of whoever has not yet become aware of the weight that the will has on their horizons. If it were not like this, if one were to accept the determinism of the life plan, then the accuracy and clarification of the human gaze would lose its centrality in a alternation of empty and full, understood as the simple randomness of matter. If the will is a given as a category, then the penetration becomes the categorical imperative and requirement of understanding, being the first and unquestionable requirement of participation.
Perfect harmony exists only if it includes man as part of the whole. The outside observer is the artist who accepts the sacrifice of exclusion in order to have the privilege of consciousness. It is the exaltation of the creative role as a transcendent power, but with the possibility of choice, in this case as an immanent duty. The opposites are bound, therefore, as extremes of a common parabola, impossible to separate, pendants of a binary system, but also of a chain of mirrors, in which the viewer is no longer given knowledge. Here perfection and harmony are viewed from different fronts, including fusion and confusion. Stripped to the bone, the universe is revealed as vibration, energy of an illusory form.
Art is combined with philosophy, creating a machine which, being ‘technical’, becomes instead a monument of a soul’s depths, that core of the spirit that is pure reaction and pure passion. From the architecture of the tract ones passes now finally to the construction of the act. If tension is the only dimension, then the propensity can only be to sensory multiplication. The architecture of the two-dimensional canvases from Mondrian becomes three-dimensional in Visalli’s paintings, in a common recognition of the thickness as a concept, before being distance. The human is so human that is almost touches the divine. The rest is chess game of certain will between eras, perceptions and habits. The victory is the urgency that is manifested in all its pressure at the in the moment that it attracts attention by leaving the body breathless to breathe new life to thoughts. Light, heat and silence returns to “quell” the tired body of man weakened by the deafening awareness of the gift of art. And his imaginative thinking.
In the survey of Visalli, therefore, research on Mondrian becomes an even autobiographical revelation of its dual path of expression, as well as a learning experience for the architect and artist, in a “solution” or sublimation of the psychoanalytic debate between Freud and Lacan. If psychoanalysis analyses art as a manifestation of the intimate unconscious thought or art pre-empts psychoanalysis thus favouring its development, this problem is overcome. Just as with the conflict between Freud and Jung on the object of the inquiry, whether the analysis is of the man in the work or the work itself. Here art examines art and is a subject which observes, an object that is looked at, an instrument of inquiry and reflection, “verb” and silence, therefore, conscious and unconscious, in the same study plan which is actually most of all and above all, a vital need, and even a physical, muscular tension, which refers directly to the ancient inspiration, like the breath of the supernatural, sacred first, then of secular conception.
For here beyond Nature there seems to be only the Idea. So, in a reversal of parts played, man becomes more than the god because he was able to think of him and the artist more than the man because he knew, perhaps only to admit to having invented it. The poetic vision is more the monument than its fruit. The mondriano lattice describes the architecture of the soul as a landscape of thought and the architecture of the soul is the subject and stage of Visalli’s inquiry, well before this investigation. The real “deity” is in not perceiving the limits of the material, whatever the source, which are in any case the aware and proud owners of the immortality of the invention. The observer contemplates, understands the true image and accepts it if it is recognised, and in so doing he comforts the beliefs of the artist. Art sublimates and art incites, art talks and art puts to rest. Art tends to harmony, to attain it or to negate it, to consecrate to the absolute or to desecrate it. The Inside by Visalli goes beyond recalling how the uniqueness of a gaze can be a driving force for an entire era and even centuries to come. There is a harmonious undercurrent that guides the world to a discovery of itself, passing through the “dream” of the artist.