Alberto Savinio

Galleria II Segno

These 42 drawings by Alberto Savinio, for the most part unpublished, date from the years 1925–32, when the artist and his brother, Giorgio de Chirico, lived in Paris. Savinio’s graphic production from these years has been poorly documented up to now, and the discovery of 25 drawings and two collages in a private collection in Paris helps to reconstruct his development during the period in which he grew accomplished in the field of painting, as he had already become in music, literature, and theater.

The iconographic themes in these drawings vary little from those of Savinio’s paintings of the same period. Many works explicitly show the influence of both de Chirico and Arnold Böcklin, In Senza titolo (Untitled, 1925–26), for example, the profile of the central figure, a negative form, can be clearly tied to de Chirico’s portrait of Apollinaire, from 1914; a 1925–26 collage, La Naissance de Venus (The birth of Venus), takes its motif from Böcklin’s painting of Ruggiero freeing Angelica (in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso), but Savinio superimposes the painted female figure on a photograph of the ruins at Eleusis. This technique of ironic juxtaposition was often used by the Surrealists,and testifies to the Surrealist influence on Savinio, but his goal is more polemical than theirs. Through images from history and from his own inner world, he exorcises the phantoms of his unconscious; yet his rigorously thoughtful methodology is quite unlike Surrealist automatism.

Both Savinio’s paintings and his drawings are informed by a broad iconography ranging from classical sculpture to 17th-century engravings, from academic nudes to children’s-book illustrations. A single thread—irony—ties them all together. The vast repertory of images published in the catalogue for this show demonstrates the extent to which Savinio was nourished by classical mythology and typology, and the fantastic faces of his multiform figures suggest a many-sided view of history. Savinio’s taste for manipulating his forms and spaces is evident in his superimposition of animal heads on human bodies, in the spatial ambiguities between inner and outer in these drawings, in the outsized dimensions of the objects depicted, and in the openly theatrical settings. Again, the work may seem to categorize itself as Surrealist here, but Savinio’s irreverent approach differs from the Surrealist imagination in that it directs the signs and metaphors of the unconscious toward a cathartic end. Savinio is receptive to his inner voices, but he works toward the reconquest of a sense of reality.

In this complex iconography the duality—or, better, the contrast—between artificial and natural is expressed through recourse to the labyrinth of memory—historical, autobiographical, and visual. These coexisting values, all of which are explored in depth, are made manifest through a magma of cross-references to literary and visual sources, each nourishing the other in a continuous enrichment of meaning. The monstrous metamorphoses undergone by Savinio's figures and objects suggest not so much the fantasies of the unconscious as the evolution of the marvelous out of the real. The vast territory of free association in these works holds no certainties. Its shifting linguistic codes push toward the absurd. Irony is a means to break the rules,and Savinio seems to feel that rules exist only to be broken. His negation of clear content parallels his lack of humility toward ancient art; his rummages through the classical repertory are not an admiring homage to the ancient world, but an open-ended game within the immense field of ancient iconography, a field from which he draws rich inspiration, like a child in a playroom.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.