Sanna or about Maieutics (M. Calvesi)

(In Sandro Sanna “Metallica” – Cam Editrice catalogue, Rome 2003)

Seduced by some of Sanna’s works, I ask him which is the origin and the meaning of “Lo specchio dei pianeti a uno a uno” (The mirror of the planets one by one) and “L’inno notturno della roccia” (The nocturnal hymn of the rock), or why Rock in English.

He does not look reluctant in front of these “invading” questions, to which other artist would have answered with acrobatics of evasive words.

The source of the titles is the poetry of faith, which, when authentic, needs to be exposed: Sanna believes in poetry as in the observation point of the world, removed from the clouds, it is the most accurate seismograph of its mystery.

The Rock is the title of a section of a book by Wallace Stevens, which contains the very lines quoted above, in a poem which starts with these disturbing lines:

“ The rock is the gray detail of a human’s life

The stone from which he raises, always upwards,

Step to the dark depths to which he descends.”

And he continues: “The rock is home to the whole, / Its force and measure…”

The paintings of the series of geodes and rocks, show in the same time the darkness of night and the need of light.  The series which climaxes in the explicit theme of the Cosmogony, as the painter called one of his gigantic painting made of parts aggregated like layers of rock, dangerously suspended in a rotation motion which reminds the principle of rotation, upon which the equilibrium of the whole Universe is based.  This is the theatre of our amazement, the boundless image of our being and becoming ourselves, the silent unfolding of a story about spaces where we can well be absent, in the midst of our occupations, but which always recalls us at the same point of the question with sudden startles, to nail us to the vanity of our proceeding.  That very question mark is continuously dormant in any uncertainty of our perceptions, especially when they meet, if only on a starry night, with a “boundless” vastness of the sky.  This is when our “measurement”, our meters and solid reference points vanish.

Sanna’s works call our attention to this disturbing uncertainty of measures attentively but symbolically altered, where inclined planes intersect one another to remind inexistent depth, with shimmering lights which violently tear the night apart but don’t dissipate the mistery.

The new series of works (Metallica, as the title of this exhibition), removes the most harsh angles of the rock, to articulate in a vertical game of ins and outs surfaces where a dimmer light is reflected.  The new delicacy, the elongated and elegant profiles do not trigger the alarm of the shapes, perceptively insidious, not anymore coherent in a pile, but each of them detached in its own fragile equilibrium, leaning in such a way as to transfer the movement into anguished thoughts.

The encounters of surfaces turn in some cases – in spite of the metal tension of the material – more similar to unreliable castles in playing card.  The refined theme of reflexes fringes the edges with accents of refined lightness but, in the same time, swallows the mysterious structure of the forms in an even more ambiguous fluid depth, which points out the effect of suspension and may transfer the lightness into heaviness.

Weather the reflexes are actually produced by shimmering slabs or mimicked by the paintbrush, this is part of the game of interchanges between reality and appearances which Sanna conducts with the skill of a master and the maieutics of a philosopher, which leads us to discover the gaps of our horizons.


Maurizio Calvesi

The pathway of the golden lamas (L. Canova)

(In Sandro Sanna “Metallica” – Cam Editrice catalogue, Rome 2003)

The works of Sandro Sanna delight the viewer with images where the theme of reflexion and the mirror effect are taken to the limits of their possibility to create illusions, where the light turns into a relentless “medium” of a repeated illusion to the expense of our view.

In the new series “Metallica”, Sanna has performed a total decomposition or the visual data, proposing a kind of parallel universe where the coordinates of the space look distorted and altered by the ineffable of new mathematic models which pervade the accomplishment of the painting.

It looks however certain how Sanna’s previous works (although founded on embryonic ideas of a tendency to extreme illusionism), where however conceived on a partly traditional structure, even if it is built as an open window towards the shapes of a different and unpredictable reality.

However, in these works, Sanna pushed himself even further, taking to the extreme consequences his long pictorial discourse and re-coding the same construction of the object-painting, in canvas built as installations where the traditional order looks broken and distorted by a new expression, by a syntax in which geometry seems subject to rigid rules of a mysterious poetic will, to rigid percepts of an unknown harmony.

The previous series of Sanna like Byzantium, Geodes, Drifting, Mirror of Planets and The Wind of Pollen, seem to have been so absorbed by an essential synthesis where everything seems moved by a new poetry, by a cruel and lyric sense of  constructing the images, that it looks like they are born following the nocturnal harmony of a barbaric and gloomy song, the rhythm of the lines drawn to accompany the ordered chaos of a remote cosmogony.

But the artist is not only willing to give life to unacceptable appearance of an alternative world, to create the foundation of new rules of perception: maybe Sanna tries to be the helmsman which drives his audience in the night through absurd and magnificent buildings, inside shimmering palaces erected in dangerous and unreal landscapes, but yet splendid and governed by cruel laws.

In this way, the lights of the works appear transformed by a evasive movements, by a metamorphosis which slips any definition.  This seems to have amplified their existence and enriched their structure with dark and elusive touches, with low acoustics which amplify their sounds and echoes in the obscure immensity of dark seas crossed by shimmering lights and sparks.

The viewer, like the foreigner in a lonely land, finds himself prisoner of flashing corridors and gleaming halls, condemned to wander in a labyrinth of perspective trapdoors, in a cruel meander built to the bewilderment of the uninitiated traveler and of the unaware observer, convinced to cross that unknown and risky borderline.

An icy premonitory gust, a cold breath of steel and stone, cross these primitive and contrived spaces, tempted to enchant with suggestions of visual splendor to seduce afterwards with the gentle and pointed arms of illusion.

Sanna constructed in this way a refined and rigorous installation, conceived as a perfect mechanism of an imminent trap, a forest of gold and fire crossed by a narrow path of sharp blades, at the end of which the viewer reaches his inevitable destiny of damnation or salvation.

Lorenzo Canova

Bisantium (L. Meneghelli)

(In Sandro Sanna “Bisanzio” – solo show catalog, Giulia Gallery, Rome 1994).

Beyond theoretical strictness: beyond tautological ostentation of elementary traits of painting (color, sign, surface): beyond painting in order to study painting.  And still minimal excitements of the glance, symptoms of the dawn of image, expressive understatement.  Surfaces and slender depths grasped by “golden nails”: without mundane winking (of chthonic crystal or sidereal rhythms), but simple localization of a spatial simultaneity, protrusions (or cavities) which point back and forth to a nocturnal matter, which retracts and expands in an infinity of heart beats (1).

Points, but not boundaries, which would be measure of horizons, of broken space.  Sanna’s painting, on the contrary, pretends to be that horizon and nothing else: opened, without boundaries: even if not to be completed like a map of the stars (Luciano Fabbro’s way: a man who calculates the distances between stars, looking for his own habitat in the universe: in front, backwards, to the right, to the left), reaching point to be followed in its ambiguous extension.  Ambiguous, not only as subject to the laws of dynamics (of dense, diffuse obscurity), but also as work of breathes of physiologic clarity which dare to impersonate themselves: and thus a proposition of a tale, and accent of formality.

But the problem is not about reality (of reference), but rather about the negation of truth: it is about materials which strike other materials, to the complete exhaustion, until they conceal one another: or a question of their perpetual defining and redefining, of their interaction which makes the surfaces a place of the things to be, a place of pure indetermination.  This is worth not for what it offers (affirms), but for what it leaves to be seen.  As Merleau-Ponty says: “any painting opens a visual field which then overtakes” (2).  In Sanna also, any surface leads beyond itself.  It is a physical factor which presents itself as metaphysical.  It is a presence which insinuates the hypothesis of absence.  Everything is there and in the same time everywhere else.  Art of the past and of the passer by.  Chain process revealed by successive actions, which leave trace in the traces. Multiple space (stratified) with their internal time, their continuous return (winding) on itself, without reaching the authentic ending (that of a real stand still).  Space of different hopes, which equal the ones of Cezanne, who sees the continuous loss of the theme to which he turns back again and again, even if, in the end, the only thing recorded is the loss of it.

It is like saying that, here, the will insist, to radicalize (constructing, filling in, canceling) does not lead to visual barriers, but to a sort of vastness, of unbounded space, of nowhere.  Because the signs do not multiply the meanings (the denotations): rather multiply the signs and move away the meanings.  And if in many of Sanna’s past works the surface was almost unveiling its own soul, by letting itself be crossed by beams of light, unveiling the very night of creation, now the sources of light are minimized, between the idea of knob (external point) and the idea of breach (intimate opening).  And if there, the chromatic elements were dragged out of the background to float like drifting icebergs, in this case the golden facets give way to a paradox: on one hand beats of continuous regeneration, on the other hand light depths, give the sense of pause, of material void. It is a kind of “static dynamism”, incredible still movement, movement on itself, resumed in a nucleus of luminous energy.  Bergsonian “vital leap” and “duration”, contracted in a unique signal, which touches, shakes, enchants in the way the “concise” testimony of a fall of Fontana do.  It is also true that the Italian-Argentinean artist  throws himself into “restless gesture, zeal, skill, illusion, love of life in the tight void” (3): but Sanna also gives a kind of hazarded attack, to grasp the astonishment of the moment, minimal traps which shaken the whole imaginative surface.

As a matter of fact, one of Sanna’s objectives was to create a feeling of restlessness and perceptive instability: an ever-changing painting according to the impact of light and the angles of observation.  If in his previous works there was the inside matter of the work of art to perform this task, through the material which opened its depth to the viewer allowing the light not only to emerge but even to become the gap between things, in his last works, the minute facets shiver the outer layer of the painting, without touching and dismantling it.  However these traces of slight clutter limit the space until it can no longer be stationary: but without tearing it apart, without gigantic gestures, without signs in immersion/surfacing, simply by declaring themselves: gold and darkness, lights, nothing else but lights, shimmering dust which glows in the dark, nothing else but darkness.  A constraint, gathering, submersion and germination (origin, Orient): infinitely small incidents, for a maximum alteration of perception.


Luigi Meneghelli


COSMOGONY 2001 (A. Monferini)

(In Sandro Sanna “Cosmogonia”– solo show catalog, d’AC, Ciampino 2001).

Cosmogony 2001 is the title given by the author to the imposing installation which dominates the exhibition and which is accompanied by a group of previous works, linked to this work by figures and shapes in closer poetic and imaginative connection.  A series of designs recreate the process of maturity of the work in its essential stages.

The powerful structure extends on the wall for over 5 meters and reaches the height of over four and a half meters.  It is built as a mosaic, containing seventy canvases 50×60 cm each, distributed on seven rows by ten.  Each row is slightly pushed forward compared to the one underneath and, on each row, the ten paintings arranged gradually in a staircase shape.  It turns out an arrangement in false steps, which creates a small rectangular inner-space, at the confluence of any painting with the one above it, as well as the one beneath; the translation of the alignments develops a complex rhombic shape with two sliding sides.

While the horizontal rows tend to slide downwards to suggest a slow but almost relentless fall, the vertical sequences register, in their profiles, a lateral movement.  This double motion confers to the whole a slight rotation on itself.  Suspended in equilibrium in the air, the structure winds up in its own self a continuously refreshing rhythm of time and movements.  The dimension space – time, as the artist observes, resolves itself “in a unique vortex, simultaneous expression of past and present”.

The clear, rectangular surface of the wall on which the work is exposed, serves as neutral and stable level, which allows to perceive the entity of confusion and at times, the sliding towards an indefinite space.

Other virtuosities enter the game of perceptive incitement used by Sanna to enrich the sense of animation which pervades the structure.  The plot of the square shapes, ordered geometrically, decomposes by effect of a changing light.

On the upper side and along the sides, a soft and warm light wraps up the surfaces which retreat in deep shadows; at times the surfaces seem to stretch out, exposing dazzling sharp blades. At times, shiny trajectories cut the spaces in half orienting them in opposite directions.

The structure is a lively, pulsating tissue.  The light is the primary element of an artist’s the formal code, which assumes the direction and measures up its intensity: it allows pauses of silence, interrupted by the acceleration of the rhythm with  trajectories turned into electric impulses which discharge in instant explosions; it speeds up the strong tension which crosses the structure and changes the tectonics with a hectic and ever-changing rhythm, or it continuously modifies the trajectories.  Tangent luminosities coming from above or from inside the pleas of the canvas, destroy the shadow which darkens the plot, and liberate its breath.

An area of peculiar dynamic excitement crosses in an instant the lower side: it is a sequence of “geodes” in rapid succession which move downwards in a frenetic race. The splinted bodies point their crests to irradiate beams of light; their edges oriented in any direction vary the rhythmic cadences.

In Sanna’s visual glossary the “geodes” are figures which the artist proposes, in an infinity of varieties.  These are constitutive elements of his figurative alphabet depending on a formal and particularly intense system of signs.  In this case, the stripe of “geodes” in the bejeweled bodies confirms the sense of fall already announced by the oblique shape of the diamond.

Specifically, the “geode” is the active interpret of a concept of painting which tends to the embodiment of the sculpture, to the space in which the fortunate combination of the two arts confers them the original force of expression.

Sanna’s paradoxical challenge is to reach this result (to give body to the picture) not by using bodies of matter, but rather that apparently immaterial element which is light.  If we observe the artist’s way, we discover the obstinate work he dedicated to elaborate shapes which suggest the weight, the profile and the plastic quality of the matter, starting with the totemic Rocks.

Giving light to a personal minimalist tendency, Sanna operates an extreme reduction of color.  Not only has he banned the colors which mime nature, but he pushed himself to preserve the only two original elements of the color: shade and light, drastically purging the varieties of the tone.  With a multiplicity of combinations of shade and light, Sanna builds its own universe.  From dark depths to the gold which becomes mobile beam of light.

The painting reveals a philosophy of light, as immaterial object which confers shape and color to anything it touches, matter – antimatter which pervades the whole, light as the essence which bares life, warmth and movement: finally a divine essence.

It is not, in the end, only a formal choice, even if dictated by a transcendental and metaphysical vision.  It is the artist himself who mimes the very act of the creator, while the art becomes the instrument which reveals the very essence of the world.  Sanna’s painting, even in its abstract arrangement, is not one which would not want to “mean”: but in highly poetic images looks for objective answers to important questions.  The same title, Cosmogony 2001 confers its meditative orientation, meant to the (mystical?) pursuit of the origins.

Confronted by these fundamentals, the same science is forced to admit its own failure, and however it could not boast to be more reliable than the artistic intuition.  As Nicola Abbagnano wrote, concerning the modern theories on the origin of the world, it’s about “non verifiable or falsifiable postulates” which “cannot be translated into verified statements”.   Their visions are based on ideas “not less metaphysical than the incorruptibility of the skies of Aristotelian memory”.

The darkness in which we are immerged, lights the fantasy of those who, like Sanna, put themselves in front of such important themes.  He tries to exorcize the dismay of the unknown by impersonating a parallel world of shapes and surreal images which in their precision and formal truthfulness become concrete as a model.


Augusta Monferini

In the beginning (A. Monferini)

(In Sandro Sanna – Roberto Almagno “La luce oscura della materia” – Primamusa, exhibition catalogue, Carlo Bilotti Museum, Rome 2012).

On the slopes of the Janiculum in that part of Rome which rests against the right bank of the Tiber, among gardens, seventeenth-century villas, old monasteries and working-class houses, that part of the city which lies behind the Farnesina and Palazzo Corsini and is home to the families of prison warders and prisoners, grown fond of a landscape glimpsed over the years through the bars and which is now a part of them, in this magical corner of the city reminiscent of De Chirico’s famous views of a Rome at once invented and very real, within a garden concealed by a wall rising towards the hill, Sanna’s studio lies hidden. An out-of-the-way place, silent and understated, where the artist cultivates his imagination and regains the power to set flight towards his universe.


I had not been to the place where Sanna works and thinks for some time, and as soon as I set foot in the workshop I was deeply struck by an immense square surface with blacks of different intensity and silvery traces darting rapidly like sudden flashes of light. The huge canvas occupies the whole of the wall facing you as you enter, looming over the viewer and overwhelming them. I was dumbstruck and only regained my ability to speak little by little. It is an elegant and complex structure which appears to rotate slowly around itself. It suggests the idea of a flow, a slow passing marked by a cadenced rhythm like a noise in the background, like a rustling of forms dragged along by a magnetic current which moves them inexorably. It is a space confined within a network of squares, archetypical forms which adopt different positions, intertwining with a mesh of luminous signs. The forms cluster together in a continuous motion and in their rotation fall into different positions; the furthest away are an intense black but become opaque and mellow when closer by; when they turn over they show a side or perhaps only a lighted corner, facing the light.

As time passes and his work takes on increasingly precise and specific connotations, Sanna’s poetics continues to stress ethical and cognitive aspects. From the outset, as we can see in his earliest works, the artist has posed deep existential questions on the obscure nature of things. His constant concern is the search, not for scientific truth, but for a language of forms able to communicate this universal animation. His austere paintings recreate this slow, inexorable movement of planes which attract each other, cluster together, break down in universal space. The essence of movement remains the leitmotiv of his methodical research. Over the years, all his works present a stringent coherence. His quest is to give life to a glossary of forms which better fits this idea of the cosmos, this mysterious movement in space and light which as they alternate create a “pulsating space” (Calvesi) in which the planes move back and forth, shattering in their rush towards the light.

As we have already observed on other occasions, Sanna’s is a universe of magnetic forces, traversed by currents which create a trail and vibrations which shift matter, attracting it and combining it into various forms.

In the history of humanity magnetism has represented one of the most fascinating and frequently investigated mysteries. The Greeks were intrigued by it as were the Romans when they discovered that some materials had the property of attracting others. Until the advent of modern science these phenomena were constantly observed and studied by physicists and scientists.

This enigmatic reality triggered Sanna’s imagination, engendering formulations of enormous poetic and imaginative power. From the early Geodi (“Geodes”) of the 1970s to the Flussi d’Acqua (“Flows of Water”) and the pollen blown by a cosmic wind in Bisanzio (“Byzantium”) in which the corpuscles, struck by the light inundating the universe, communicate a colourful animation, always alight like the life of the universe, the artist has sought, step by step, formal responses which give shape to his existential questions.

Sanna’s obstinate insistence on tackling, albeit in different ways, themes which in the ever new and abundant variety of individual formulations aim at the same central issue seems to us to have achieved fullness and stylistic maturity in these latest works. An inimitable elegance, a lightness and a formal coherence which are truly remarkable.


Augusta Monferini