Luciano Bartolini

The recent exhibition of Luciano Bartolini’s work consisted of two installations—Septen triones (Seven oxen), also the title of the exhibition, and La scrittura degli dei (The writing of the gods), accompanied by a series of additional minor pieces on other walls of the gallery.

In the first installation 14 circular pieces of paper occupied two walls, outlining a shining path that seemed to move toward the corner of the room. The sheets of paper were arranged so as to evoke the constellation Ursa Major (the stars of which are also referred to as “The Seven Oxen”), the guide for navigators and travelers. Bartolini placed small objects on the sheets and sketched various signs which have already appeared in his earlier work, signs that were meant to conduct and guide the observer along an artistic journey.

The piece seemed almost like a summarizing map, or a stratographic section of successive sedimentary layers. Bartolini touched upon all the main points from his past work, employing the same iconographic themes and the same materials he has used since 1974. He has always used paper as his principal medium, the medium through which he unfolds his language, the support upon which his images float. One should note that Bartolini’s work has developed in continuous, often linked, cycles, manifested not only through his shows, but also through series of books. Just as printed paper acts as the echo of painted paper, so writing becomes contrapuntal to the icon. The close connection between the two methods of communication is by no means irrelevant: the images proposed by Bartolini are, in fact, in large part derived from literary examples (Jorge Luis Borges, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust) who are often explicitly cited in the titles of his works, in the form of actual quotes. And one cannot separate image from source, since the relationship Bartolini is concerned with is one of osmosis—the word floating upon the sign, the icon buried in the handwriting. His confrontations with literary archetypes are well thought out and intentional, and they have given rise to a series of installations spaced out over time but tied to the same subject.

Bartolini uses literature to unleash creative activity and as a matrix of symbols through which he brings together personal and subjective memory and historic memory. Using language—other people’s language—as a support, Bartolini takes possession of a rich harvest of signs and archetypes which he distills into a personal iconography. His territory is vast, extending from Greek/Minoan culture to turn-of-the-century writings. His favored themes are the labyrinth (from the classical myth of the Minotaur, but also from Borges), and the symbolic figures of the shadow, the dream, and the voyage (which must be seen in Jungian terms).

In Septen triones Bartolini used most of the iconographic elements he has developed over the years, building up a geography of signs, an archipelago of figures. The unifying formal element was the use of gold leaf, which Bartolini skillfully applied to the paper, playing with its decorative possibilities as well as its rich, fascinating Klimtian associations and the sense of a color alchemically transformed into something precious.

In similar fashion, in Scrittura degli dei the symbolic writing was richly colored. Three large panels were each made up of ten sheets of grass cloth, into which signs executed in gold leaf and pastel—sometimes sharp, sometimes tentative—were embedded. These signs composed an elementary alphabet, completely invented, which seemed to converge toward the circle/labyrinth figure at the center of the middle panel. That central symbol seemed almost like the aleph, the source or focal point from which all the other graphemes had sprung.

Without doubt this installation was more convincing and innovative than the former, which was permeated by excessive personal references. When Bartolini retraces his own steps he runs the risk of repetitiveness, one of his limitations. The resonant adjectival quality of Scrittura degli dei represented an iconic advance lacking in Septen triones, which induced a sense of déjà-vu in the observer.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.