Civic Gallery of Modern Art - 1979
Villa Serena - City of Valdagno
Text by Giuliano Menato
Giuseppe Santomaso could not escape Valdagno's invitation for an anthological exhibition of his graphic works: not only for the constancy of our commitment in the field of visual arts, but also for a kind of moral debt towards the Agno Valley, where the he Venetian artist has received many awards for his work and where he still receives certificates of esteem from an audience sensitive to his painting.
I remember the success obtained in 1958, when an international jury awarded him the Marzotto Prize and his paintings, observed with curiosity by the young generation of local artists, made the text for the evolution of many.
In the narrow valley, shaken by those cultural contributions of the highest level at a time when the message of modern art was socially too narrow, but not yet disheartened or frustrated, it was nevertheless possible to stimulate the intelligence in contact with a significant lesson for the richness of its innovative ideas.
Moral debt, I said, if you will allow me, because believing in Santomaso we entrusted him with something intimately ours by joining his work, and this is not due to the charm, also exercised by the character who came from the lagoon, then a melting pot of many artistic experiences, but with a common disposition to grasp the world of the surrounding reality.
It was right, therefore, that the secret thread that united us would lead, years later, to an exhibition like this one, given that that thread has never broken, having grasped, along the way, the opportunities derived from constant interest. for the artist.
The figure of Santomaso has played a notable role in the rejuvenation of taste and the figurative updating in the Vicentine environment, so much so that it was also a point of reference for those who, a young painter at the time, then departed from his way of painting or understanding the artistic message. And this Santomaso meant by virtue of a genius supported by indomitable renewing force.
In a stagnant climate like ours, characterized by the inertia of institutions which, by not giving the necessary support to cultural discourse, make it fruitless, it was a difficult task to maintain contact with a discipline as demanding as contemporary art: they served, in the province, some exhibitions born mainly on the initiative of private individuals, but the stimulating presence of Santomaso has also benefited, highlighted, years ago, by an exhibition of Vicenza collecting, set up in Palazzo Chiericati with the aim of offering a panorama of the works and a verification of the local mentality and taste. And Santomaso proved, more than any other, a testimony of continuity over a vast span of time.
It is still surprising today to note the fertile creative vein of the painter, who, despite the recurring crises of art, which made us think of his death, continues to follow his path straight, that of a painting that matures and evolves while maintaining faith in its principles and does not give up or lose in the face of the threats of intrusive technology and the insidious temptations of the troubled psyche.
At the age of seventy Santomaso paints with the same fervor of his youth, with the enthusiasm exercised in the battles when he advocated solidarity with his friends of the New Front "in the request for a trust to be accorded to work and in the will to oppose with an act of faith in pessimism and the spiritual bewilderment of time ".
And this without ever assuming flashy attitudes or adhering to programmed aesthetic theories.
The partnership with the signatories of the manifesto, drawn up in Venice in 1946, was close - as we read in Marchiori's presentation at the first post-war Biennale - under the banner of a relationship between men after the regained freedom, almost everyone began to live without a past, and "to find a reason for oneself and for one's work only in the context of a human solidarity denied or betrayed for too many years".
Santomaso was then in solidarity with artists of various ideological and stylistic positions and tendencies: Sirolli, Cassinari, Guttuso, Morlotti, Pizzinato, Vedova, Viani, Leoncillo, then also Corpora, Turcato, Fazzini and Franchina, who translated different aims into their works, making linguistic choices that adhere to one's personal temperament and ideas.
The evolutionary process of those artists was destined to mature later, either in the forms of evocative abstraction, or of the informal, or of a socialist realism with a social theme.
But neither abstract nor realist Santomaso voile appear with the «Eight» - Sirolli, Corpora, Santomaso, Morlotti, Turcato, Vedova, Afro, Moreni -, and the fact was clearly underlined by Lionello Venturi in the presentation of the group at the 1952 Biennale.
The taste for beautiful material, with the danger of mannerism, and the reference to the experience of reality, obedient to political orders, were subjected to the formal coherence governed by "that moral, total, disinterested commitment, which is necessary for the work of art ".
Thus he approached the pictorial tradition that began with the art revolution of the twentieth century and reflected the most vital experiences of the figurative avant-gardes, without neglecting the interpretation that the French of the most recent generation had given them.
He maintained, while attentive to the transformation of languages, the sensorial and emotional relationship with nature, and clarified, for the evidence of the procedure, a principle that would no longer be disavowed, that of knowledge through sensitivity and not rationality, a sensitivity that does not fade the awareness with the world.
In the works of the 50s, particularly in those executed within the first five years, the evocation of the natural datum is evident, and the lesson of Cubism was anything but neglected, if it constituted a vigorous support for figuring the objects of reality. But the refined culture of Venetian origin, filtered by a subtle taste, was able to link the schemes of new figurative contributions with unpredictable results, so that in the sober frames of the painting, punctuated by dynamic chiaroscuro elements and slender graphic interjections, airy events of color to make the illusion more alive and the space expanded.
Through a structure of signs, present in the paintings made up to the mid-60s, to which the conceptions of the Klee and Kandinsky line are not alien, Santomaso was able to propose a solution of a more psychologically complex but immediate space. And the sign intended as an annotation of reality, not as a means of objective description, was born from memory. Unlike Hartung, Soulages, Capogrossi, who used the sign as a pure fo'rma that cannot bear external contacts or references, Santomaso preserved the relationship with nature for a cognitive interest in phenomenal reality. And also in the following works, where the sign thins out to give way to more compact surfaces, vibrant due to a heated material tension, the relationship with the world did not cease and the optical experience remained at the foundation of the pictorial invention.
Santomaso's art therefore is not the extreme consequence of a romantic position, for which all the data of the experience, and therefore every sensation of a nature other than the visual one, converge beyond any formal equivalence, and not even an identification with the life without distinction between good and evil, excluding the acceptance of any preconceived judgment.
The artist, for the sensorial, tactile aspect of his pictorial work loves to recognize himself in the wake of a tradition that goes back to Veronese and Tiepolo. Rightly Nello Ponente affirmed that Santomaso «in today's and free consideration, has never been an abstract painter, in the sense that he is now historically attributed to this term, but has always worked in the concreteness not only of the sensations, but also of more attentive and critical perceptions ". And Herbert Read understood well that - even before the unfolding of the expressive language that led the artist to new work results -, speaking of the painter's direct experience in contact with the Venetian environment, he said: "Santomaso captures every vibration and he transfers it directly to his canvases, avoiding the artificial constructions of intellectual perception. He remains in the ambiguous realm of sensation, where shapes and colors create the balance and configuration of themselves, their own values ».
Towards the end of the sixth decade, after the sign had gradually thinned out, making the composition more airy, the artist arrived at a synthesis in which the fundamental element was a colored pigment distributed on the surface crossed by only a few sharp lines, who had the task of dividing the space.
Thus the sign no longer created any dramatic events, but was an opportunity to point out the tensions, reverberations, transparencies and intensity of the material along a more studied path. The painting, in essence, became an increasingly objective document of an artistic operation where the structural elements recovered to a process freer from emotional conditioning stood out in a refined play of fantasy. Sensitivity then was no longer exercised so much in contact with the natural truth, but on the expressive medium, of which the artist went on to obtain absolute possession.
Now, especially with reference to more recent works, it is appropriate to clarify a misunderstanding, namely that Santomaso would be "committed" to lyrically evoking a reality surrounded by the poetry of light and color. For him, emotion is a spontaneous and natural fact: it arises from an everyday reality - albeit as singular as that of Venice - which is a constant occasion for visual-sensorial stimulation, not a particular object of self-exalting suggestions of a psychological nature. But a will to design immediately intervenes which, according to a procedure typical of contemporary art, is concerned with defining the reality of the work and its formal structure through the use of immediately perceptible and captivating materials. And therefore the artistic operation, the pictorial practice, rather than the conditioning of reality to conquer the sensitivity, the taste of the viewer.
The painter on his own reduces any ambiguity to a minimum, avoids investing the material with symbolic meanings, dominates all its uncontrolled expansion, so that the picture lives free from any allusion, which, if it unintentionally exists, counts little in the concrete space of a painting. which relies on the pure non-naturalistic poetic moment.
It is understandable how, by operating in this way, Santomaso preserves to his work that poetry, in which he believes as an indispensable element of the artistic product, but at the same time develops a linguistic research characterized by a high technique and the knowledge of the most diverse materials of ' use. The control of an extra-artistic emotionality in an operation of great intelligence allows him to exhibit an exemplary modernity, the result not of a fashion, therefore sterile, but of a gradual, therefore credible, maturation of the artistic process, which he finds in history of art and in the progression of personality the most serious confirmation.
At this point it is necessary to recall Santomaso's very recent work, the one he completed in 1977 and 78, and which bears the name of «Letters to Palladio».
It is a series of large canvases entitled to the architect from Vicenza following a critical review of his work, made in the light of the reality - even artistic - of our days, in which this work acquires a sense of disconcerting relevance.
Santomaso turns to Palladio not only ideally to pay homage to a Venetian artist of the 500th century, to whom he feels bound by elective affinities, but also critically for having deepened, with happy intuition, a singular coincidence in the development of an artistic problem in the relationship with history. Palladio, in a memento of crisis of his time, represented the desire to weld the world of his contemporary, thirsty for freedom and rich in imagination, with the classical world, marked by rationality and aimed at order as a primary need of the spirit. Out of an inexhaustible desire for harmony, Palladio recomposed the terms, for other irreconcilable artists, of civilization and nature, so that the geometric shapes recovered with historical awareness were lowered into a natural space that is always varied in color and light, always different for the experience of those who lives it.
The "Letters to Palladio" document a relationship between the two Venetian artists, as if to signify in historical situations similar due to a crisis of values, but rich in innovative ferments, the need for a force of culture that determines the way of acting in an impulse creative vital and useful.
Between Santomaso's artistic research, so free in its immediate perception of forms invested with high luminous accents, and the art of the twentieth century, in its constructivist matrix so rigorous for a morphology that does not admit arbitrators, there is the same relationship that there was. between Palladio's new architectural concept, open to the variety of landscape and nature, and the rigorous geometric and volumetric construction of classical architecture. With the purpose, in both cases, of reaching a unity where the universal constants of human experience triumph.
The formal solutions of Palladio, original and daring in the order that governs them, and the anxious articulations of his architectural complexes - especially the villas, whose compositional scheme varies according to the needs of the imagination and the nature that welcomes them -, struck by a clear light that imposes itself in the contrast of a palpitating chiaroscuro event, are reflected in the pictorial surfaces of Santomaso, where the figurative elements, wisely distributed, allow themselves to be absorbed, for the sake of quiet, by a brightness that, letting the forms live, it leads them back to a reasonableness which is the prerogative of art made for man.