Pietro Fortuna

Galleria Giuliana de Crescenzo

This exhibition of works in several media by Pietro Fortuna was not large, but it was carefully thought out and perfectly presented. A single large painting in the dazzling, white space of the gallery was aligned exactly with the entry door. On the wall to the left were three small-scale works on paper; on the wall to the right, ten drawings repeated certain themes with a musical cadence, like vibrations of an echo. Fortuna himself calculated everything—the distances, the proportions, the modulation of rhythm and tone from one work to the next—so that the overall effect would be that of a single, unified work.

The show, entitled “Paese” (Country), seemed to mark a new stage in Fortuna's work. In the single painting on canvas, also called Paese, 1987, his palette, which since the late '70s was distinguished by a choice of earth colors, browns, yellows, and blacks, has been reduced to clear gray tones and tenuous shades of ocher. And the paint, which in the earlier work was thickly applied and gestural, created more of a flat, still surface here. There is also a new sense of geometry in this painting, with its two large circles that look as if they are suspended in a liquid atmosphere. The action has slowed almost to a standstill, with only a hint of movement in a discontinuous line that slowly crosses the canvas horizontally and interrupts its path to echo, with the lightness of a breath, the roundness of the circles. This quiet geometry is also present in the works on paper, in which geometric forms have been painted with oil paint thinned out to the point of negating its own consistency, over a ground of limpid gray.

In arriving at this new synthesis, Fortuna seems to face a problem that many Italian artists of his generation have felt profoundly: the need to reconcile Conceptual art with the revival of painting. It's a problem that has no easy solution, resolved by some (like Bruno Ceccobelli) in the subjective sensibility pushed to the point of mysticism, and by others (like Pizzi Cannella) in a lyrical and evocative figuration. But Fortuna has chosen another route. He reproposes the eternal questions about space, about form, and about the power of the symbol, in search of a “realistic” painting that, as Kandinsky said, instead of depicting the “skin” of nature, investigates its cosmic laws.

The problem is not resolved in these terms, but it is posed. In method rather than in form, the show's arrangement declares the idea of “installation.” And the title depicts a clear homage to Edmond Jabés, the artist's favorite author, whose ideas he often quotes and refers to. “One cannot write except of the impossibility of writing,” Jabés has stated. “Every writer worthy of the name knows that to write is impossible, but that he must go beyond this impossibility. Without this awareness there is no longer any risk, there is no longer writing.” This show seemed to reiterate Jabés' idea in terms of painting. And so the title “Paese” is intimately tied to the works' grays, to the cracks of the paintings' surfaces, to the high abstraction of the symbols. It is not a literary translation but a concept that embraces many things: an ancient memory, the immutable repetition of everyday life, the color of stones, and, to quote Jabés again, “the tempo of the earth,” like the “tempo of a question for which we have tried out futile responses.”

Alessandra Mammi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.