Nicola de Maria

It is not easy, today, to paint flowering meadow, with bright green grass and brilliant flowers, as only pure color and material can render. And yet Nicola de Maria continues to do so. A double exhibition in Milan featuring the artist’s most recent series of paintings, as ever showing flowers, seascapes, and starry skies. What is the meaning behind this choice of imagery? It’s not enough to appreciate the elegance and grace revealed in the work by a figure who was considered the only “abstract” artist in the Transavanguardia, nor can we consider de Maria a naive painter, so the question concerns an ethical issue as much as an aesthetic one. Is it a worthwhile pursuit to paint this way? If the artist does so, his answer must be, Yes, it is. But we must ask why he does so and why we should be interested. De Maria is thinking about a prophetic role for the artist, about an existential condition that turns the artist into a “pure fool” (to use the definition given Parsifal), capable of “safeguarding” and sometimes revealing the intimate essence of things. And so when he paints green canvases as meadows, or blue ones as starry skies, he is obeying the flow of feelings that pass through him and which, after more than twenty years, have not lost their intensity. In fact, de Maria shows he neither needs nor wants his art to change, evolve, or transform: His painting “is,” and does not “become.” Thus he always paints the same paintings, and he cannot do otherwise, since painting, for him, is not the result of a choice but rather a response to a higher order. The artist is truly—as Paul Klee said—a means, a tool, that does not interfere with what it “must” paint. There is something religious, mystical about this attitude, a certainty about working for the truth and in truth, and it is this disarming conviction that makes de Maria’s paintings not only beautiful but also somehow “true.”

Art today is the offspring of doubt, not certainty, and this makes de Maria’s canvases simultaneously strange and alluring. We think we know something, but it doesn’t correspond precisely to what we already thought we knew. De Maria’s work speaks to a sort of nostalgia, a desire for beauty and abandon that most art today does not provide, or even contemplate as a possibility. It might be objected that our interest is therefore the consequence of something that lies behind a de Maria painting, where we respond to something merely superficial. But no, it isn’t a question of superficiality, but rather of simplicity, obtained by a state of ecstatic receptivity, where any form of personal will is banished from the work’s execution. And after all, why shouldn’t the freedom of today’s art allow the painting of green meadows and blue skies?

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.