PRINT December 1978

Lucio Pozzi: From the Particular to the General

In all these respects art is, and remains for us, on the side of its highest destiny a thing of the past. Herein it has further lost for us its genuine truth and life, and is transferred into our ideas more than it asserts its former necessity, or assumes its former place, in reality. What is now aroused in us by works of art is our immediate enjoyment, and together with it, our judgment; in that we subject the content and the means of representation of the work of art and the suitability or unsuitability of the two to our intellectual consideration. Therefore, the science of art is a much more pressing need in our day than it was in times in which art, simply as art, was enough to furnish a full satisfaction. Art invites us to consideration of it by means of thought, not to the end of stimulating art production, but in order to ascertain scientifically what art is.

ACCORDING TO LUCIO POZZI, this passage from the last lectures of G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) has been very important to him.1 Pozzi’s ideas, as evidenced in his work and his writing, seem to stem from similar beliefs that art as it has traditionally been conceived—as an ultimate representation of reality and an embodiment of truth—is no longer valid or acceptable, and that now art must engage the attention of the intellect in the attempt to define itself. Speaking of art, and, specifically, of painting, Pozzi has said: “For the first men it was their foot and hand-prints; for us it is the material imprint of our thoughts and sensibilities.”2 Indeed, Pozzi’s work is the materialization of his ideas about art, with the focus being on painting.3 His intention appears to be to define the medium in terms of material, convention and purpose and, at the same time, to question those very same definitions in a way that is particular to him.

Recently Pozzi had a major show which presented several various forms that his ideas have taken. The work basically fell into three different groups, each shown at a separate gallery. “Turnovers” is a group of paintings displayed in a space that had been stripped for renovation. Each was made by painting two sides of a sheet of plywood, one primed in white, the other in black primer, different colors, then cutting the painted board in two, turning the second piece over, and attaching it to the first. Castles in the Air, four oil paintings, were exhibited in a spacious room with very high ceilings and dim lighting, which provided a dramatic setting for these large paintings (123 by 1071/4 inches), each either red, yellow, blue or green with a simple variation of a single geometric motif in the middle. In a more typical gallery space, Pozzi built Feast of the Gods, which consists of a Wall (he capitalizes the word to distinguish his Wall from the given wall of the gallery) one side of which is yellow, and the other blue, dividing the gallery. A portion from the blue side has been removed and relocated on the yellow side, and, in another room, there is pinned to the wall an enlarged photograph of people in trees presumably observing a demonstration. A small square containing the head of one of the observers in the photograph has been cut out, tinted red, and stapled next to a painted green square at the bottom.

Pozzi’s work does not have a consistent form. He has stated: “I consider my work to be an endless sequence of situations, connected not by materials, sizes, specialty, etc., but by how they are dealt with.”4 Pozzi’s method of presentation has evolved out of an attempt to clarify the instruments of the medium by investigating them from within—making paintings—as well as from without—by bringing attention to certain characteristics of painting more easily in another medium. Pozzi also does video work and performance art, where he again translates dualisms and mechanisms found in painting into what he believes is a more appropriate medium.

The fact that Pozzi’s work does not take a consistent form is significant in itself. His art appears in self-conscious opposition to any kind of association with notions of accepted beauty or style. It cannot be categorized on the basis of its objectness as either this or that, for “this” and “that” constantly change in Pozzi’s work. This is not to say, however, that there is no consistency. There is a unity in the idea that each piece constitutes a response by this particular artist to various conditions surrounding it and its development. Furthermore, there is consistency in that Pozzi confronts the “conditions” with a similar approach and method of presentation.

It appears that Pozzi starts a piece by mentally dissecting the conditions surrounding the work into what he describes as informational data. An attempt is made to consider every characteristic such as place, time, materials, technique, convention and perception. Several of these elements are then combined and balanced against each other in a nonhierarchical fashion within a piece. A kind of recreation that demonstrated this method is Pozzi’s “Inventory Game.” On a grid of unequal sections, Pozzi places informational items such as paper, symbol, surface, substitution and recognizability. The game is then to combine between two and seven of these items in such a way as to make them compatible through proper dosage. Pozzi’s work in 1975 was based on The Inventory Game.

Pozzi’s more recent work is based on a similar organizational structure. Each item of informational data is isolated and objectified into an element which must be dealt with in a way that allows it to be recognizable, yet not so recognizable as to detract from something else. The characteristics are dealt with in steps, with the solution of one becoming the basis with which to deal with the next element. Most often, it is countering the existence of one element by including its opposite that achieves a balance. The “Turnovers,” for example, start as single sheets of plywood. The two sides are given recognition by the fact that each is painted a different color; and in order, then, to make the viewer aware of the two, the back of the plywood has been exposed. As guidelines for balancing these pieces, Pozzi initially considers the expansiveness and recessiveness of his chosen colors in determining size. The directional alterations that are acknowledged in various features—the turning over of the wood, changes in the axial orientation of the brushstrokes in the fabrication of the piece, even the cut—also, in turn, partially determine the placement of the parts in relation to each other. The once obvious connection between the right and left sides and the front and back is broken by a diagonal cut through the wood. A new relationship is then built upon the angle of that cut and the desire to expose the underside of the wood, with Pozzi generally aligning the edge of the cut along a straight side of the left part, matching corners, making the angle apparent. The transformation that generates such a work is accentuated by the brushstrokes which, having once been horizontal on both sides, now are seen as horizontal and vertical.

Other pieces in the show are similarly structured according to contrasting relationships between the parts. Castles in the Air is a single piece involving four large canvases. The vast monochrome grounds were painted very quickly, with the drawing form either darker than the ground, if it appears on a painted area, or white, because it is an unpainted area. Pozzi’s approach shows a similar build-up of decisions, each being based on the last, but without negating it. The color in these works depends to some degree on the priming as well as the technique of finally applying the paint. The drawing is dependent on the paint to give it form. The categorical choices of colors—the three primary colors plus green—and of the drawn forms—triangle, rectangle, square and line—are partially determined and understood in relation to one another.

The two parts of Feast of the Gods, the Wall and the photograph, are connected by ideas that are most fully explained in their juxtaposition. Both parts deal with the relocation of a particular section, giving that element new significance because of the new context in which it appears. Yet the determination of the areas to be removed has been decided by different conditions: in the Wall, the cut-out piece represents choosing a certain proportionally determined area, which is partially dependent on the dimensions of the materials used to build the Wall proper, whereas, in the photograph the cut-out area was determined by the position of the head of one of the onlookers.

Each of Pozzi’s pieces suggests a slightly different use of paint, and, as Pozzi is involved with determining as completely as possible the characteristics of the medium, he constantly changes his choice of informational data. The work in Pozzi’s recent show, for instance, can be analyzed on one level in terms of the material characteristics of the paint in relation to its ground, since he uses paint on wood in one group of pieces, and paint on conventionally prepared canvas, on raw canvas, on a Wall and on paper in the others. Because he makes the paint decidedly thick and opaque in some instances, in others he applies it thinly and transparently. Sometimes the paint is applied in horizontal brushstrokes, at other times vertically; Pozzi’s work can be very large or very small; and so on. Just as, in his decision to use color, he chose simply the four basic colors (with much latitude regarding hue), he presents the extreme of each characteristic obviously.

On another level, Pozzi confronts the conventional use of paint to represent something other than itself in a similar, but more subtle, way. Most obviously, there is a comparison between an implied and a literal gesture. The “Turnovers” and Feast of the Gods, for example, include actual removals and relocations or transformations. The parts of Castles in the Air all have diagrammatic transformations and implied removals—in the sense that a drawing of a triangle, for example, is formed by an empty space on one part of the canvas and by the absorption of paint in another—which is appropriate to the idea that they are more traditionally executed paintings.

A more complex juxtaposition of the literal and illusionary takes place in Feast of the Gods. The photograph is a representation of a group of people, seen from behind, perched in trees in order to observe some kind of demonstration taking place on the other side of a wall. If Pozzi suggests representational painting by applying paint to the surface of the photograph, by removing the painted square and placing it next to a different colored square painted directly on the white border he brings attention to the material aspects of this other medium, almost negating its representational characteristics by abstracting them. And the gesture of removal also suggests a connection between the photograph and the Wall. In extending that connection, one realizes that as an observer looking at the Wall, one is not unlike the people photographed looking over a wall; yet as the viewer, one occupies a literal space, whereas theirs is removed and illusionary.

Pozzi’s method of approach to a work, in the breaking down and isolating of its parts, brings to mind Hegel’s call for the need for a “science” of art. Pozzi’s approach is based on a careful strategy of dissecting the medium with the intention of discovering its essential character. Thus he begins each piece with a preset notion of how to proceed. However, painting is for the most part an irrational and arbitrary act, because it basically has no use. In the making of a painting, from beginning to end, Pozzi is presented with choices which can hardly be determined rationally: where to start and where to end, alone, are obviously totally subjective. These decisions, then, are basically private and rooted completely within the character of a particular human being, the artist who made them. Thus, the development of the work as well as of the method itself are as personal as they are systematic, derived as they are from Lucio Pozzi’s own experience, knowledge and awareness. In the context of art, Pozzi’s ideas show an obvious consciousness of the work of Duchamp, who similarly appealed to the intellect in an attempt to shatter accepted notions of universal style and beauty. Yet Pozzi concentrates specifically on painting in his work, and on its breakdown into basic colors and structural elements to arrive at its essential means, bringing to mind the painting and artistic ideology of Mondrian. Meanwhile, of course, Pozzi is also responding to all contemporary art that deals with the issue of the objectness and the abstractness of the medium.

The personal responses that this artist had during the making of each piece are related directly to it. Choices of color, for example, although following a predetermined guideline, are basically arbitrary. To some extent, in order even to follow the guideline, Pozzi had to depend on memory or imagination. In the Feast of the Gods, for instance, although the colors of the Wall were eventually to be seen next to each other, Pozzi had to paint them and relocate the cut-out without a clear sense of how it would look. Such private, particular responses seem to remain outside of the object itself.

The viewer himself then becomes the complement to the private aspect of the work, and thus representative of a public, general response to what is presented. It is evident that Pozzi considers this response throughout the making of each piece. In Feast of the Gods the viewer actually becomes an element completing the piece in that he or she becomes involved in the space, not only because it is necessary to move around in order to see the entire work, but because he or she is the literal juxtaposed to the illusionary. More generally, the pieces appear as unities consisting of contrasting elements. Pozzi has put together his individual elements, those elements first mentally dissected, into an unconventional whole. The viewer then must reverse the process: presented with the finished piece, he or she has the task of working back to figure out the particular conditions Pozzi was working with.

Just as Pozzi confronts the making of each piece with his own particular experience, the viewer, in approaching a work, comes to it with his or her individual experience, knowledge and degree of awareness. It is difficult sometimes to comprehend the conditions Pozzi is working with, when presented with a single object. Although the works were constructed as individual pieces, which are to be seen and understood alone, being confronted with one is like meeting a person for the first time. Just as one gets to know someone through further acquaintance, one gains an ever more thorough understanding of Pozzi’s work by seeing more of it, even if the viewer is still forced to rely on his or her own view of a few fragments from Pozzi’s oeuvre in making an effort to understand its meaning.

Of the three groups of work presented in Pozzi’s recent show, the “Turnovers” are, to my mind, the most accessible and perhaps the best. They have a logic of organization that appears simple: a series of opposites, front and back, left and right, horizontal and vertical, are presented in a form contained within a procedure; the logic of this makes sense, for the system was arrived at in an attempt to make the characteristics of the work apparent to the audience. The piece has a wholeness that allows it to imply its position by just being. As such, it asserts itself in the gallery despite the torn-apart condition of the gallery space, and it has a beautiful presence as well.

Castles in the Air, by comparison, appears less contained and less readily understandable. The paintings are interesting seen together. Choices of color, drawing elements, size and medium seem to make some sense seen in relation to the four paintings, as well as other work Pozzi has done. Yet the breakdown of the elements—the choice of the thinness of paint and of its uneven application, for example, do not fall into place with the build-up of the elements into a whole. It seems as though the piece is open-ended and, hence, less resolved, for that.

Feast of the Gods is, similarly, without the comprehensible unity of the “Turnovers.” Nevertheless, it is an interesting piece, even if, despite the idea implied by having the title encompass both parts (which are not only in different rooms but which have such obviously different media characteristics) the parts do not hold together visually. A disturbing incongruity forces the viewer to make a jump from the visual presentation to the subject matter. What is interesting in the piece is not immediately perceived, and, when it is, the material parts become slightly removed from the comment or idea about painting which the piece otherwise appears to illustrate.

These comments are made with the understanding that perhaps I am falling prey to the very notions which Pozzi is attempting to challenge. Feast of the Gods, for example, may be about forcing the viewer to confront his or her conception of unity in a work of art. The artist seems to be motivated with the intent of discovering what art is by questioning preconceived ideas about it and, as such, disrupting one’s sense of it. It is as though Pozzi were addressing the future, which, perhaps, is why, right now, I find Castles in the Air and Feast of the Gods without a complete presence. At this point I prefer the works that make their presences more immediately accessible to me.

Tiffany Bell



1. See Lucio Pozzi, “A Discussion Continued,” Central Artists Newsletter/6 (1975). The quotation from Hegel is from On Art, Religion, Philosophy, ed. Glenn-Gray, New York, 1970.

2. Pozzi, “A Discussion Continued.”

3. “Materialization: therefore worth doing. Different from those who talk of the death of art as a negative, conclusive point. The king is dead, long live the king. For me Hegel’s death of art statement has the effect of regenerating art, while de-classifying it” (notes by Pozzi).

4. Lucio Pozzi, notes to the author, 1978.