Paolo Cotani

The 51 works in this retrospective exhibition bear witness to Paolo Cotani’s perseverance in his ambitious undertaking. For while each work has its own specific significance, they are also each part of a series or phase of his development. The support (canvas, lead, aluminum, paper, or wood) has a value of its own, just as the medium, the color, and the sign have other values. Lo chiameró Giulietto (I will call him Giulietto, 1987), a painting from the series entitled “Della tigre” (Of the tiger, 1985–87) is emblematic in this regard. In a large square format, blue and pink play off one another as background and surface; it is difficult to tell if the blue emerges from the pink or vice versa. This is the same ambiguity one can retrace through all of Cotani’s work, from “A lenta percezione” (By slow perception, 1972), to “Architetture” (Architecture pieces, 1979–80), to the “Spazi virtuali e mondani” (Virtual and worldly spaces, 1981–82). Stratification versus cancellation, the broad gesture versus the minimal, almost calligraphic mark—these dialogues indicate the trace, the map, (both the possession and the loss) of a territory.

Cotani works mainly through subtraction; he hides, recovers, and erases. In a universe of signs, by a process of division, the artist reveals the “virtual” nature of painting. Cotani’s approach to color is one of mental perception; he annuls the emphasis on the retinal effects of color to investigate the physical quality of paint. The colors are almost sickly and perverse: some are reminiscent of Arshile Gorky, others of Lucio Fontana, still others have the resonance of Giulio Turcato and Morris Louis’. Cotani’s painting is remote from the immediacy of vision and distant from any seduction of the purely visible. Nevertheless, his is an art that hides and contains emotional depths.

Senza titolo (Untitled, 1990), from the “L’arpa celtica” (The celtic harp, 1990) series, advances his investigation of the color/ material relationship further and prefigures the works in the “Frontalità e policromia” (Frontality and polychromy, 1990) cycle. In the untitled piece the color almost emerges from the surface of the canvas, falling, as if dragged down by its own weight, then stopping unexpectedly without penetrating the background tone. The golds, blacks, grays, and pinks don’t mix with each other; each color remains itself and represents itself. In this series, Cotani once again uses gold to evoke both Baroque backdrops and a static Byzantine frontality accentuated by the square format.

In the works on paper from the “L’arpa celtica” series, a disruptive, informel element emerges, along with a yearning for Abstract Expressionism. The paper is solid, thick, and extremely rigid. The surface opens up and reveals wounds and lacerations, which the cadences of the golds and the blacks render even more painful. In “Frontalità e policromia” Cotani uses wax, gold, metal, and wood. The wax is very soft and it absorbs and reduces light. Yet, it cannot easily tolerate the insertion of chemically dissimilar materials. Indeed, the other added materials appear as unexpected obstacles. The path is fraught with difficulty, marked by the real three-dimensionality of the material, by the powdery fascination of the gold, by the weight of the lead, and by the apparent lightness of the falling curls of material. The paintings are rectangular and all of the same dimensions. The thickness of the paint is reduced to nothing: the wax film, polished to the point of transparency, is distributed and again erased. The metal insertions, protruding from the waxed surface, also allude to possible new directions for Cotani’s work—combines and sculptures may once again incorporate metals and other materials to express metaphorical values.

Giovanna Bonasegale

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.

#image 1#

#image 2#