Bruno Ceccobelli

Galleria Sperone

In Bruno Ceccobelli’s painting I always find something new and something old, something banal and something smart. A skillful wider of allusions, who draws the viewer in with a bait of double meanings, he reveals himself through disclosure. I understand his sly intellectual game, and I usually fall for it, but not always. Ceccobelli has considerable technical skill, a spiritual depth, and high level of culture, but to often hi work is intellectual to the point where it seems closed off, coconut. It’s fluff meanings and countermeanings, messages and canceled messages, and even when the image;s symbolic associations are left for the viewer to interpret, a subtle veil, a barrier, always falls between them and us: Ceccobelli’s superego.

The artist’s predilection for collapse, his plunges into the abyss of inner meaning, create a sense of excess weight. My doubts are when, for example, he rests masonic symbols on the banalities of the everyday; when, in a work derived from Dürer’s Melencolia I, 1514, he deliberately mixes up the numbers in the magic square and explodes it out into the other figures. Or, on a formal level, when a cross-shaped composition hides the complex form of a baroque spiral or when intersecting diagonals generate a cylinder’s axis of movement.

The human figures in these recent painting resemble those in Oskar Schlemmer’s work, but their underlying geometry only superficially implies rationality. Painted in sulphurous colors, they are animated by an ectoplasmic, fantastic vitality, in a kind of alchemical mutation more hybrid than human. Ceccobelli’s borrowing of the restrained rigor of Schlemmer’s corporeal volumes is only a pretext. one of the many routes he travels in his astute manipulation of images. A homage to Robert Rauschenberg constitutes a similar ploy. Suggesting both a children’s story of Holland and fear of the dark, two ice skates hang from a child’s bed painted black; the recollections these objects evoke fail to arouse any deep association from one’s memory, however, for the work is too nakedly a homage to be genuine in itself.

Ceccobelli is limited in his search for a higher order, a central core, by his dependence on these art-historical fragments. Yet his process has an internal coherence. The general picture is clearer than the individual parts, and the artist’s investigations are more penetrating than any single product of them might suggest. Dark tones—browns, ochers, the literal presence of coal and tar—are constants in Ceccobelli’s palette. Black in particular is a point of departure, signifying the origin of painting, the undifferentiated void. As Kandinsky wrote in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910), “it is as though nothingness without possibility, like dead nothingness after the death of the sun, like an eternal silence, eventless, without even the hope of event, reverberates within black.” The only positive value Ceccobelli can introduce into black’s fatality is its conjunction with materials of the earth; these alone infuse the darkness with hope of rebirth. As elements mix with and catalyze each other in the alchemist’s crucible, so in Ceccobelli’s palette sulphur and silver reveal coal and tar. And tiles, wood, wax, and metal give structure to the forms, joining the symbolic realm with one marked by more ordinary signs.

When Ceccobelli’s paintings are overburdened by symbols, they forfeit clear articulation. His humanism and spirituality are rare in his generation, yet the too obvious signs of his art’s passage through the labyrinth of the mind result in nebulousness. It is in his intelligent conjugations of media that his work finds its intensity.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.