Enzo Cucchi

Some of Enzo Cucchi’s texts can best be styled poetic mysteries. “Yes, I am the Marches. See, I am a district,” he says in one of his poems; “Here it was, in Aritrezza, that the Cyclops hurled the rocks into the sea, and it is true, I can see the place where they fell.”

I recalled these lines when seeing a series of huge drawings made by Cucchi over the past few years. Everywhere there are boulders, hanging in the air, lying on the ground; they are apparently inspired by Cucchi’s experience at Aritrezza. These images seem a reference to the wanderings of Odysseus and his troubles with the Cyclops Polyphemus, who imprisoned him and his companions in his cave. Odysseus, of course, escaped, and as he and his friends sailed away the blinded Cyclops hurled stones after them in his rage.

The drawings, in charcoal, are direct and down to earth. Cucchi’s poetic metaphors are almost heavy-handed, exactly in line with his sober vision. He derives his inspiration from his own immediate surroundings, inflecting a local dialect with strong pagan accents. The everyday is conjured into a magic landscape. The stones of the Cyclops are subjected to a series of metamorphoses: in one drawing a giant boulder blocks the way, a black colossus; in another the rock is a blackened sun, suspended in midair. This black image serves to lend all the drawings a continually changing tension. There are apocalyptic symbols: watchdogs on the alert, human apparitions wringing their hands in fear or shrugging their shoulders in obvious insecurity. Here viewers can identify with the images; they too feel ill at ease with the dark forces and the giant, omnipresent forms whose scale suggests Polyphemus.

Cucchi’s huge, dark world in charcoal, a personal battle in pictures, is a variation on the 12 stations of the cross. An admirer of Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross, Cucchi has made a new version of it, but one on the nether side of the Parthenon, where Christ has become Odysseus and the cross has become a stone. In a catalogue essay Cucchi imagines himself in Africa, “where a painter struggles against the European foreigners using his paintings as weapons. All the drawings are spread out over the battlefield; what people can see is only the devastation.”

In that darkness Cucchi sees the heathen spirits and his charcoal as his only companions. For him charcoal is a material “that enlightens from within, that has eyes. . . . You can see well if you draw in charcoal. It is just as when you walk in the dark: your eyes become accustomed to it.” In these black landscapes, with mountains that are legends but which “exist, they are truly real,” stigmatized hands stick out of the rocks, a head rests, giant feet tread their way forward. Cucchi leads his public into the darkness, past the night of Friedrich Hölderlin, to the mystery of heroes who are witnesses to the wonder of the stone in this magic landscape.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Michael Latcham.