Mimmo Paladino

Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone

Some shows mark a significant point in the life and the work of an artist. For the viewer, these rare events communicate an immediate sensation that transforms him or her into a witness to a fragment of history, important not only for the understanding of the work of that painter or sculptor, but above all for the formation of a collective sensibility. Mimmo Paladino’s recent exhibition, entitled “Oro” (Gold), was of this type. It shared a desire for rigor that characterizes the investigations of many European artists, yet it did not take this to an extreme. With Paladino’s capacity for synthesis, the show embodied all the mysticism and the disruptive language of his entire oeuvre, and continued his semiological approach of individuating symbols, syntax, and techniques. Here, the latter categories corresponded to three grammatic elements: sculpture, color, and figuration.

Paladino expressed these three elements as three distinct works (all 1987), different from one another yet part of the same whole, like the elements of the Trinity. The perfection of three is a constant element in this show, a theme with variations that he presents on several levels in each work. The first image of the Trinity could be seen in the sculpture, a work consisting of three vertical elements that stood at the center of the room. These are iron posts as tall as a person, on which Paladino had welded a sequence of primitive and archaic symbols: the letters O, R, and O in iron, and above them three, one, and two iron cross-bars, respectively. Despite the size and weight of the three totems they convey a certain lightness in space, like Japanese calligraphy, but also a sense of permanence, as if they were carved in rock. And even though the symbols are easily readable as such (the word oro; the cross at the center), they immediately draw back into themselves, offering instead their pure form—nothing more than beautiful images drawn in the air.

This austere mise-en-scène was followed by the second of the three elements: that of figuration. An oil drawing on raw canvas of a three-headed figure on horseback is imprisoned in an iron frame that juts out 4 inches from the wall. A heart, along with the principal veins and arteries, is painted in white over the figure, and extending in several directions beyond its outlines. This is the place of allegory, a mythic narration in contrast to the hermeticism and immediacy of the symbol, expressed here as Allegory in its most indecipherable sense. It is not important to establish if the three-headed knight is an image of the Trinity itself or a representation of the Three Ages of Man, or if it relates the myth of a centaur or a phantom knight. Perhaps it is even a pagan representation, a symbol of black magic or primitive ritualism.

The third work, representing the realm of color, consists of a large horizontal canvas painted in symmetrical triangular sections of red, yellow, orange, and green, with configurations of narrow iron bars on either side and a small tondo of a face balanced on its top edge. The configurations of iron recapitulate the Trinity motif (on the left, three long bars that fan out from the top; and on the right, a single long bar with three short extensions, like the letter E) and enclose and contain the centrifugal thrusts of the colored segments. They represent the realm of rationality and order. The small circular painting, in precarious equilibrium at the top of the canvas, represents the irrational counterpart of the human psyche—the realm of chance occurrence, emotion, and the failure of clear logic. Together, these three works encapsulate the history of representation and thus the history of the development of human thought.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.