The reasons for painting. Universal considerations...

The reasons for painting. Universal considerations starting from particular realities in Rome

“The entity that looks is someone who is in the medium through which he looks and cannot extract himself from it”, [1] wrote the philosopher Emilio Garroni about the condition of the observer towards the work of art. The phrase evokes the state of impossibility, almost impotence, which mixed with the sense of inadequacy characterizes the incomprehensible intellectual daze generated by the sight of the work, yet so incredibly pleasant. The human condition is the internal condition of looking: unprepared we question ourselves to feel “the entities that we are in the world in which we are” [1]. The crossing of the medium through the gaze evoked by Garroni is intended as a form of mutual absorption between the being-spectator and the being-work and is one of the greatest potential of a particular language: painting.

Currently in Rome in a series of ten authoritative galleries among those representing the new generations, there are two exhibiting painters; in as many we find a hybrid of paint and other materials, in the rest quite the opposite. It is an image that, despite not considering the multitude of independent spaces – ‘artist run-space’ – born in recent years, demonstrates a clear institutional stance. In acknowledging this there is no nostalgic intent, rather the need to reflect on the pictorial medium in the light of its scarce Roman attendance. It is necessary to do it from a different point of view than that based on the unanimous tyranny of the digital or on the natural technical and therefore implicitly creative course. We also agree in noting that the social-economic system in which we live produces inevitable and multiple effects, including the flattening of artistic taste on the standard of market demand or the encouragement of a trend – the ‘trend’ – to the detriment of he others. The attempt to make is to try to go back to the roots of the aesthetic theory of the image.

There is a red thread that from Aristotle to Kant [2] leads to the understanding of the natural process of imagination taking place in the human being. For Aristotle, phantasìa records from time to time the perceptions we receive from the outside and through the work of the nous – ‘intellect – re-elaborates them in representations – phantasmata – that build memory, ghost images because of objects and sensations not present at the moment. It is in this sense that the canvas appears to be the best place where the ‘free play of imagination and intellect’ is revealed, as Kant would say much later, skillfully defining the ultimate and existential condition of the work of art. For both the artist and the viewer, the painting is an arena of possible experiences. The mnemonic, imaginative and sensorial mixing operation constantly makes it possible in a painting of any kind, an instinctive human and at the same time primordial exchange, like an olfactory recognition between similars, the artist and the observer.

In the catalog of the exhibition Mixing it up: Painting today (2021) at the Hayward Gallery in London, Ralph Rugoff highlights the capacity of painting as a «collaborative undertaking»; «Painting offers an invaluable forum for exploring intersections of individual and collective identities». [3] The pictorial experience enables us to interface with the nature of subjects we know precisely because of that sensory and direct exchange that occurs through images – whether abstract or figurative – through the exercise of the gaze. Painting makes us aware because looking at each other we re-know each other due to an evident enrichment mechanism: “painting through illuminating our restless wrestling with meaning and meaninglessness, can help us to become slightly more astute in our own role as ‘subjects'”. [3] The semantic stratification created by the pictorial sign is also the memory of an extremely human gesture. Even on Mondrian’s canvases or on the perimeter of Rothko’s Red [4], man reveals himself: painting does not allow for hiding. In this sense, the work of art can exemplify experience in general where the aesthetic one is in force, a concept valid for any work that can be called such by virtue of the type of experience it produces. And also for this reason painting proves the possibility of an encounter with the other permeable to our self: “every painting is composed from a collection of distinct moments, each of which might accommodate slight shifts in perspective or thinking”. [3]

The image and the sign convey possible connections, correspondences between apparently unrelated subjects and objects. This inevitably orients the discourse on making painting by feeding the already contemporary dialogue between figuration and abstraction, where the impasse to be overcome is not the apparent and now stale contrast between the two but the discovery of their mutual contact that is stimulating for the observer. This implies a painting consistent with the end of the painter’s emotional solipsism, a painting open to the world, a painting that generates unlimited types of diversified knowledge through the double criterion of the sign and its thematic content [5]. Venturing into considerations that confirm the impossibility of painting to run out as an artistic genre are only partially useful in interpreting the Roman climate of current distrust of it and the consequent prevarication of the conceptual, declined in multiple forms, techniques and languages.

Also in Rome it often happens that artists act pictorial expression through one or more support materials, almost as if they want to strengthen or guarantee an enhancement of the pictorial gesture. On the contrary, however, there are artists who place their own identity in it in an absolute way. This is the case of Pietro Moretti, a Roman-born but English-trained artist who recently moved his studio to Rome. Pietro is a three hundred and sixty-degree painter. He mainly uses oil and watercolor, the latter sometimes open to the possibility of moving onto the canvas. His research investigates the relationship with the other individually and in group dynamics; moods and private atmospheres are sensorially amplified by color to become symbols of collective emotional archetypes and resonant of expressiveness. The material presence is alive in Pietro’s paintings, the deliberately visible gesture gives the narration a fluid and bodily imaginative development thanks to the alternation of figures in shapeless areas dense with layers of color, where the figurative contours of the scene are lost and found continuously. For the observer it is a reappropriation of intimate ghosts; countless representations of reality are revealed: the canvas is a window on the sensitive experience of the concrete, physical, tactile world.

We talked to Pietro Moretti about painting today in the light of some of the themes addressed here to enrich their outcome, in the hope that they will stimulate, as far as possible, reflection on an incredibly lively artistic language.

Giulia Giambrone: If we had to define a ‘state of painting’, what would it be in your opinion today? What potential does it have as a medium that others do not have?
Pietro Moretti: I think there is a lot of painting at the moment. In my case it helps me both to question myself about how the visible has been and can be imagined with this specific language, and because I believe it has limits, peculiar characteristics that I find particularly stimulating. It intrigues me and I like that painting almost inevitably binds itself to the body, that it is a direct reaction to its gestures, focusing attention on the tactility of things, on the physicality of life. I also think it has different times than other languages: unlike a film or a piece of music, painting does not end; you can look at a painting for as long as you like, for seconds or hours. This presupposes a very different way of looking at things. Finally, I like the apparent simplicity of painting: basically it is nothing more than matter applied to a support; but this is also its complexity, I think. For me it is a daily exercise of attention one aimed at knowing how to think through doing.

Is there a ‘pure’ painting?
When I started my studies in London I had the perception that ‘pure’ painting could not be narrative, an idea developed especially in the second half of the twentieth century from the search for a pictorial language that was different from that of cinema, photography or illustration. I remember a teacher to whom I showed the first figurative paintings who told me to try making videos. And indeed at the beginning of my studies I mostly made videos and wrote short stories, but one day while painting a watercolor storyboard, I realized how important and full of possibilities painting was to me – and how I came out much better than the videos -. Over time I have understood that not only I find narrow a definition of closed painting that is not in dialogue with the other arts – after all I think its strength is also its declination in a multiplicity of different forms – but I also realized that I am really interested in contamination of this with other forms: comics, cinema and literature. I don’t think painting is narrative in the sense in which these expressive means are; rather it can express the possibility of narration where it triggers the observer’s fantasy of a scene, of an interaction. Also for this reason I think that painting today is interesting: one has the possibility of using an enormous historical background together with the visual one of the current media to ask oneself with which imaginary to see the present.

What dialectic is there today between figuration and abstraction?
I think it is a trend and a theme of the moment that many artists are working on, perhaps also due to the relationship with the virtual. In my case I am interested in thinking of images as something in continuous dialogue through the disintegration, the undoing of them and their taking shape in a recognizable form. I am fascinated by their inconsistencies, the areas in which there is a loss of figuration: like when you try to remember an image and you realize that there are parts of it that remain unknowable gray areas. I believe that in these discrepancies, in these limits of the visible, there is the potential to manifest the strangeness of the everyday, its changing reflection through which it is possible to question how each object is conditioned by a preconstituted imaginary of representations. I like that in a painting you can see the regrets, the layers that have accumulated over time. In this sense, I think of the human body and the face as a set of surfaces, shapes poised and in a continuous process of formation. And the use of abstract languages ​​seems to me to capture people’s internal motions better than figurative since it comes more directly to the corporeality, to the physicality of things. For me it is becoming more and more important to emphasize and try to show the fragility, embarrassment and inconsistencies of the body, especially in a period in which it seems to me there is a growing alienation from the body, also born from the claim to be able to control it, to be able to escape its precariousness and from this, it seems to me, also springs a lot of shame for it and about it.

In your works the episodic theme often recurs and we see group scenes. What role does narrative play here?
My research often begins by thinking about how narration in painting can work by imagining the scenes I paint as a sort of grouped sequence: a set of elements that in a single image can suggest psychology, emotion, the relationship between the different ones figures / objects on the canvas. For example, in one of the most recent paintings, The bonfire of inflatables, the image was born from a story in which, during a night on the beach, a group of bored and lost boys find the cart of a peddler of inflatables hidden behind a booth. If initially they would like to steal the inflatables, they then decide, pushed by their leader, to burn them cynically in a bonfire. In this work and in the series of watercolors that followed, I wanted to reflect through the goliardic violence of a gesture, on the dynamics of a male group of adolescents: friendship, complicity, the desire to belong, inadequacy, the alienation from oneself, the ferocity in the unawareness of the other. I like how painting, precisely because it is not similar to a text, a comic or a film, teaches us to review what we think we see. I think this ambivalence of meaning brings it closer to life.

You trained artistically in London and just came back to Rome. What impression do you have of the current painting trends? And what about the ones you see in the city?
There is a lot of figurative painting. I think it is a fertile time for painting because there is a different accessibility to it and a greater variety that I do not think so evident before now, due to a distortion of modernism. On the one hand, this is confusing. It is difficult for a painter to feel belonging to a current rather than another. I think there is a great Mannerist and still post-modernist remixing – but without cynical irony -. If I had to indicate some trends, I would say that I see a lot of neo-surrealist painting, a lot of geometric and abstract painting often in dialogue with new technologies, a lot of comics, and recently in London, it seems to me also a lot of semi-abstract painting, more material and sensorial but no less politically aware (Rachel Jones, Jadé Fadojutimi, Oscar Murillo…). In Italy, especially in Rome, I still can’t say, I hope to understand it in the next period. However, it seems to me there is a lot of it here too and I have various painter friends in Rome, so I think the problem is rather that it is not considered as in other cities in Europe, but this perhaps applies to contemporary art in general.

[1] E. Garroni (1992), Estetica , Uno sguardo attraverso, Castelvecchi ed., Roma 2020, p.32.
[2] De Anima e Analitici Secondi di Aristotele; Critica della facoltà di giudizio di Kant.
[3] R. Rugoff (2021), Refiguring, in Mixing it up: Painting today, Hayward Gallery Publishing, Londra 2021. In ordine di citazione pp. 11, 16, 8, 6-7.
[5] H. Lim (2021),

Pietro Moretti, Attimi di mezzo, 2021. Watercolour on paper, 32 x 24 cm

Pietro Moretti, I galleggianti, 2021. Watercolour on paper, 32 x 24 cm

Pietro Moretti, I riflessi del gioco (The Reflections of the Game), 2021. Watercolour and oil on board, 60 x 50 cm

Pietro Moretti, Il falò dei gonfiabili (The Bonfire of Inf latables), 2021. Oil on canvas, 140 x 150 cm

Pietro Moretti, Il patto, 2021. Watercolour on paper, 32 x 24 cm

Pietro Moretti, La voce dell’asino (The Voice of the Donkey), 2021. Watercolour and oil on canvas, 40 x 60 cm

Pietro Moretti, La cuccagna, 2021, mixed media on canvas, 110 x 100 cm

For all the images: courtesy the artist


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