Alfredo Pirri

Studio Planita

Alfredo Pirri has behind him a long career as a set designer; he worked with the theater group Kripton and has also produced videos and video installations. Yet his work as a painter has had little documentation up to now. In this, his first one-person show, he presents a homogeneous group of works that already demonstrate a level of maturity in terms of both stylistic form and richness of content. His is a difficult kind of painting, without estheticizing concessions. His range of articulation begins at zero and varies through the addition of calibrated and firmly controlled minimal passages.

The eight works on view here, all 1986, are based on circular forms. The pictorial medium used is graphite, applied on wood in repeated layers and then polished until the surface is smooth and reflective like metal; Pirri then adds sporadic interventions of color. The general tone of the works is nocturnal. Yet despite the apparent coolness, the paintings are crossed by warm vibrations, especially when the material is not entirely flat on the wood surface but remains in a state of lumpy, tactile physicality. The varied material consistency allows for multiple visual effects: a flowering of colors or a sinking toward darkness, a reduction ormultiplication of perspectives, drawing the eye toward a warm nucleus or opening it up to planetary spaces. These do not occur swiftly; rather, they unfold within the movement of the concentric forms in a slow dynamic that follows an alternating pulsation, similar to the rhythm of breathing or of a heartbeat.

In II pensiero della notte (Thought of the night) he uses this fluctuating process for building the image. Here, a central nucleus emerges, almost in three dimensions, from the background and floats in suspension: a circle within a circle, a liquid bubble, seminal, organic. The harmony of the two concentric forms suggests an extraordinary, germinal equilibrium from which the One divides and multiplies. Only in Canto (Chant) is the structure of the circle complicated by four jutting forms, similar to blades, which seem almost to turn around the circumference. The composition is thus imprinted with a whirling movement, a dynamism that is both efficacious and cruel. The figure contains within itself the image of the central undivided circle and the potential violent dissolution of that unity. The breaks in the circumference create discontinuity in an otherwise complete and invariable structure.

Pirri also creates a strong sense of movement in two other works. In Senza titolo (Untitled), two acid yellow bars force their way out of the closure of the central form, as if by centrifugal force. They extend beyond the circumference but are held back by two electric-blue wood arches. In Ritmo (Rhythm), a grid breaks out of the circle, projecting the tension of orthogonal lines toward infinity, thus touching off a dialectic between the structure and the surrounding space.

Il piano del cielo (The plan of the sky) introduces the theme of the coexistence of opposite elements. Opaque and shiny areas emerge from the background, painted in graphite with varying degrees of polish. This surface is flecked with minimal blue marks, each one surrounded by a subtle white border, looking almost like microorganisms in suspension. These elements, similar to cells or spermatozoa, seem projected into the foreground by a forceful push from behind. But the total image also evokes cosmic depth, illuminated now and then by the flash of distant stars.

The introduction of the formal element of the circle into Pirri’s work shows the artist’s interest in a fundamental search for equilibrium, as well as a clear desire for a reduction to essentials. The circle is presented with “abstract” purity, but it also contains a constructive potential that doesn’t rule out the possibility of “figures.” It is an autonomous form, at the same time both closed and open, simple and incredibly complex. As such, it is a form that lends itself to extraordinary possibilities. An extended point, it embodies the principles of perfection and immutable totality, since, as a point, it has neither beginning nor end. But in opposition to these values, which imply the indivisible unity of being, the circle also symbolizes the place of unconscious depths, the indistinct and nocturnal void. It is a symbol of both the earth and the sky, the corporeal and the spiritual. Thus it allows a descent toward darkness as well as an ascent toward the light. In Pirri’s works the macrocosm and the microcosm coexist and assume similar configurations; the vibration of the germinal cells is interwoven with the pulsating breath of the galaxies.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.