PRINT November 1989


FOR FOUR DECADES NOW, in his long-term series of paintings—such as “Spazio totale” (Total space, 1952–65) and “Tempo totale” (Total time, 1965–75)—Mario Nigro has explored the relation of space, time, and perception. Music and science, always Nigro’s primary interests, have been consistently translated into the meticulously rendered patterns and permutations of his visual spaces.

Rationalism and Constructivism were Nigro’s constant pictorial and intellectual points of reference—until 1980. That year, with the series called “Terremoto” (Earthquake), he brought into his work a whole new element: passion. Inspired by the lightning striking in the background of Giorgione’s masterpiece The Tempest, a single broken line, dark and angular, cuts abruptly across Nigro’s white canvases. That lightning, for Nigro, separates two antithetical concepts: history—the serene locus of nostalgic memories of our past; and tempest—the imminent catastrophes, like earthquakes, war, and nuclear holocaust, that threaten our present.

“I analyzed Constructivism to its end, and there I was left with a void. Now I need to focus on feelings,“ declares Nigro. His most recent group of works, “Dipinti Satanici” (Satanic paintings, 1989; the watercolors appearing here as a project for Artforum form part of the series), are, unexpectedly,inspired by Impressionism. An autumnal invocation of dark colors is lightened with yellowish greens and rusty reds (the colors of foliage and fading sun). Their ”satanic“ aspect can be read in the sudden, almost violent revelation of their image, as Nigro grasps voluptuously at the natural universe glimpsed momentarily through the open ”window“ of his canvas. Fast brushstrokes ”pile" the colors from top to bottom, and science and the senses, precision and passion, meet in the image.

In his posthumous Six Memos for the Next Millennium, 1988, Italo Calvino articulates the task of the writer (but, I would suggest, of the artist as well): “to take account of many rhythms: Vulcan’s and Mercury’s, a message of urgency obtained by dint of patient and meticulous adjustments and an intuition so instantaneous that, when formulated, it acquires the finality of something that could never have been otherwise. . . . the rhythm of time that passes with no other aim than to let feelings and thoughts settle down, mature, and shed all impatience or ephemeral contingency.”

I believe one couldn’t find better words to capture Mario Nigro’s vision and expression of both time and our moment in time.