A Parallel World (A. Monferini)

On the crowded contemporary artistic scene, the latest generations appear ever-increasingly invested with a globalyzing  intention which  results in homology and  makes any expression conform  to fashionable stereotypes. Sandro Sanna  constitutes a rare and peculiar exception to this;  an artist, we could say, against the mainstream.

From Sardinia, his native land,  he arrives in Rome in 1964, when a  bright  sparkling  and innovative artistic season is in its heyday.  But Sanna, born in 1950, belongs to a generation already very remote from the playful and optimistic vitalism characterising the early sixties in Rome, led by figures like Schifano, Festa, Ceroli, Pascali.

His training is completed between 1968 and 1977, a decade marked by the angry explosion of youth movements, by their revolt both against the  notion of culture and the institutions  – school,  university – supposed to produce it.  In the same period Sanna, besides painting,  is teaching and is  therefore in  direct touch with all this.

His first  solo exhibition is held in 1979: the works on display  already reveal  signs  of that  autonomy of vision which is  his painting’s  distinctive character. The  malaise of those troubled years leads to a systematic revision of all received values and to a still unfulfilled search for new cultural and existential landmarks. In this climate Sanna  sets up his own project for an alternative “reality”, open also to the virtual and the cybernetic.

An amiable,   reserved  and yet sociable person, Sanna lives surrounded by the appraisal and affection of many friends, artists  and painters. As far as his research is concerned, though, he remains an unrivalled loner, defending his autonomy in a highly concentrated isolation.

Some have talked of his painting as of a “ sour, stark, austere” choice;  there is an undeniable truth in the definition, since his painting shuns all sorts of lure, it avoids  pursuing either the colour’s sensual appeal or  trimness as end in itself, and never yields  to the easy blinking of  the deliberately uncommitted and light-hearted current poetics.

On the contrary, according to Sanna, art still retains a cognitive and ethic purpose. In his view painting is  probably the only form of knowledge capable of stirring a deep meditation on reality.  The image’s allusive strength, combined with a formal equivalent  which widens and enhances its message,  points a way out  for the  present sense of loss. It is a disorientation paradoxically intensified by the pressing  developments of science, which  have shown  the limits of human knowledge  when it faces the mysterious nature of things. Old and recurrent questions are still unanswered and the world looks more impenetrable to us now  than to the naive  but then plausible explanations attempted by ancient philosophies.

Experience has anyhow taught us that the nature of things is  different from what  it appears and that in any  part or element there are different aspects and truths: this  makes up their richness and complexity of meaning.

The original imagination   brought  into play  by the artist takes, therefore, the shape of  single wide and organic project,  though divided in a series of iconographic themes  in which the distance between subjects is only apparent. These austere scenographies are actually the different faces of a single  recurring theme which is the ground of Sanna’s inspiration: the  world’s elusive and dark nature,  an inexhaustible  source of new and surprising sights.

The “Stones”, looming up against a dark backdrop and offering their chipped bodies to the light, are lithic instrument belonging to  prehistoric civilisation; but   close range  observation has magnified their structure, transforming them in impending presences which emerge  from time’s indistinct magma as  if reawakening from a long  sleep.

To the “Stones” series are connected the “Geodes”, concretions of bright crystals  whose golden blades emerge from the bosom of an unknown matrix  and interlock in unusual volumetries combining light and shadow, black and gold.  Fiery flashes  burst out in darting trajectories and slash the darkness of the visual field.

Both series refer to the central nucleus of Sanna’s poetics and concern the  enigma of life and of  its origin. While  the Stones’ monolithic volumetry  hints at a primordial and disquieting element, the Geodes call up the dynamic  form of becoming,  and evoke the mysterious energy  pervading the universe.

The violent juxtaposition of these splinters  of light, which rebound  with ever-increasing rhythms  off the inert  and  dark mass of the background, results in a further  step towards more complex  aggregations of forms. The figures acquire a more pronounced plasticity, producing  an original in the round effect. These are  the latest “ Plastic forms” and “Meteors”.

“Meshes and drifts, water walls”  is the title of a sequence based on another primary element of vital importance: water,   whose form is  indeterminate. These are large, almost monochrome compositions, balanced on a blue-grey rippled by imperceptible luminous frequencies which make the surface vibrate. On these huge screens a close grid of undulated filaments suggests the   liquid’s constant flow on a wall. The painting breaks the rules of traditional space; it is an unlimited and indeterminate field, no landmarks to define it. The image offers itself as a work in progress, an event just taking place.

But the most intense allusiveness and the highest indeterminacy of the subject are achieved in the work entitled “Byzanthium”: three large canvas paged  one next to the other to form a triptych.  Golden corpuscles like mosaic tesserae in relief are scattered on  backdrops discolouring  from the dark grey to the almost black. In the central panel these  small tesserae  are regularly spaced out,  composing a neat luminous punctuation. But in the two side panels the punctiform warp is subverted, as if a sudden gust of wind had swept the tesserae downwards, heaping them up in a  thick and heterogeneous mass.

Stillness, order and stability are thus transformed into their opposite: fields at the mercy of magnetic pulls  impossible to resist. Flashes of skimming light  unveil in the short  trails and shadows the traces of the corpuscles’ movement  while they run yieldingly towards a mysterious pole of attraction.

Pointed out by quick  flashes, like lightening  in a storm, tensions radiate from the surface, while at intervals the background darkness deepens in thicker shadows.

Useless, I believe,  the effort to identify in these fascinating and enigmatic  sets  any element  traceable back to a  definite experience, let alone iconography. They can indifferently  refer either to a universe map  and to the unknown forces determining its movement, or to enlarged photographs of experiments on corpuscular matter and its  force of attraction.

Not only has the artist deliberately dropped any observation of known reality, but he has also renounced any tried and tested style. He has coined a new glossary for imagination  by building up an alternative fantastic world, free from  the hierarchy of signs and conventional languages.

The need to make a clean sweep of the past can be perceived in Sanna’s solitary and radical research of a new style and perception. At the same time there is an attempt to reshape an  imaginary  “elsewhere”, more apt to record  the experiences, dreams and aims of a generation like his, which has grown up with television and has answered  its incessant picture bombing by developing a sharper perception;  a generation which lives the first computer revolution and at the same sees an uncertain, hopeless horizon  ahead..

Painting can then play, according to Sanna,  the role  of a parallel world, capable of expressing  the yet undetermined novelties which the future has in store.

“Contemporary man – writes Umberto Eco reporting Marshal McLuhan’s thought – caught in a net of visual and aural messages attacking him from all sides, relives the whole universe of news  surrounding him as if it were a sort of primitive village, and he becomes responsible for it all. The mass communication era would not  be, therefore, only an age of dissipation, but of concentration as well. Two are the consequent  types of behaviour: some are  incapable to decipher the world’s  theatre and shut their eyes  to the chaos, others manage to read it and  formulate their answer”.  The last one seems to be Sanna’s case.


                                                                                                 Augusta Monferini

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