Pizzi Cannella

Contemporary artists have been drawn to Rome by the thread of an ancient tradition that began at the end of the cinquecento with Caravaggio, a Lombard, and continues into our own times with Cy Twombly, a Virginian, and Jannis Kounellis, a Greek from Piraeus, and many others, each working in his own stylistic vein. What has attracted them if not the city's tolerance of decay, and the glimpse of the future, of the ultimate order of things, that that decay affords?

Pizzi Cannella, however, is a native, and he therefore expresses himself directly, without recourse to simulacra of that dense, shadowy substance that lies at the bottom of the cultivated terrain of the idea of Rome. His art draws directly from this substratum, which over a period of centuries has resulted in a local pictorial tradition, stubborn and recurring, endowed with a sort of heretical and irreverent plebeianism. He expresses this irreverence even in his name: when his last name was once accidentally divided in two, he didn't even bother to correct it and has used the “wrong” name ever since. Pizzi Cannella brings to the surface an idea of image as apparition (and wasn't this what Caravaggio inaugurated at the end of the cinquecento?), only without a subject. Although his work resembles arte povera because of this absence, it does not become either programmatic or symbolic, as in the art of Kounellis, where the “poverty” induced by the absence of subject is converted into a program and, consequently, into a symbol (ideology, myth, revolutionary conscience). In Pizzi Cannella's work, this poverty appears to have the same sort of gloomy, visceral localism as van Gogh's early work, but it is enriched by lyricism, by a visual sensuality that draws from the realm of the fantastic, as in Interno (Interior, 1987).

While this efflorescence of material brings to mind the Roman painters of the 1930s, it is more closely related to the full-bodied surfaces of Georges Braque. There are even remnants of Braque's motifs in certain works such as the mixed-media-on-cardboard Nero ferro battuto (Black wrought iron, 1986), and sometimes a direct element of his style, as in the intrinsic chalkiness of the delightful and erudite Nero ferro battuto of 1986–87, a large canvas. There is also a distant echo of Anselm Kiefer's grande manière. But where in Kiefer's work it is the Germanic “darkness” that gets the painterly display under way, here it is a cloudy Romanness, close to the surface, that avoids all mythical substance. Although some of Pizzi Cannella's titles evoke the Mediterranean—for example, Notte di Spagna (Spanish nights, 1987) and Tunisi (Tunis), both 1987—his work has a weight that changes it from decoration anti symbol into the unredeemed substance of stains of dampness and speckles of shadow. And now, in the latest work, they are only windows, openings onto the penumbra of an interior courtyard, often closed off by gates, where the apparent clarity of light is only a refraction of dirty and dull panes of glass.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.