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Serafino Maiorano – by Danilo Eccher

When a photograph evaporates into painting, when fading confounds and overlaps the borderlines of disciplines, when the languages of art abandon their identity in favour of new, multicoloured masks, all becomes that much harder. All is confused, intermingled, entwined and lost. The territory of narrative thus becomes more uncertain, murky, and treacherous, and the progress of interpretation requires new instruments and new skills. A general feeling of uncertainty and dismay comes about, and it may culminate in anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and a fragility that may quite easily change into subtle curiosity, dark attraction, and exciting research. Ever since the second half of the nineteenth century, when Parisian painters started going to Nadar’s photographic studio, the relationship between painting and photography has never ceased to intensify, not uncommonly overlapping and intermingling. This contamination originally came about on a purely technical and grammatical level, but very soon it turned into an increasingly enveloping embrace, and often, as in the case of Dada and Futurism, it became an inextricable entanglement of visions and emotions, flashes and engendering abysses. It is mainly in the past three decades, however, that a more complex and elaborate relationship between photography and painting has come about. It has swept through both the linguistic and narrative planes, inverting formal conventions, upsetting grammatical structures, and confusing images and tales, emotions and studies, techniques and materials. There is no doubt that Gerard Richter, one of the greatest exponents of this complex artistic period, has played a fundamental role in terms not only of his works but also of some of his lines of critical reflection, which are hard to ignore today. First of all, the German artist is, and has always remained, a painter, in the sense that the general approach of his language is still closely tied to the world of painting. He has certainly opened up its horizons, and has possibly deformed its instruments, but his work is nevertheless within the realm of painting. What Richter did, possibly before others, was to bring about a perspective change in the entire field of narrative. This means he has structured the visual tale by linguistically inverting given roles, attributing deconstruction to painting and emotion to photography. Even when it is reduced to no more than the absence of light, the material emphasis on colour appears suspended in a void, with the task of excavating and overlapping, and thus constantly deforming and annulling the image, creating a fragmentary and evanescent plot. In the same way, the outward appearance of memory sheds its own representativeness and, in the light of a candle or the silhouette of a person, plunges into the evocative vortex of an emotional tremor, into the memory of an inapprehensible narration. The work of Serafino Maiorano adopts the same horizon of study, in a complex process that is attentive to and conscious of all the nuances of this linguistic intermingling but, more than anything, making sure that it does not become ensnared in compositional virtuosity, in order to assist and protect the most delicate of conceptual spheres. And indeed, in Serafino Maiorano, the formal outcome – to which he devotes extraordinary attention, and which in this type of study always plays a decisive role – never gets the upper hand over the conceptual fact, in other words, over the intellectual element that can be perceived beneath the veils of a representation that is only hinted at. He creates a narrative climate that not infrequently borders on the esotericism of symbol and on the depth of enigma, in an atmosphere that encompasses the entire creative process, abandoning fragments and details of a silently elicited thought. Just as language fires the thrill of a journey on the edges of disciplines, so too does the narrative fluctuating in the drifting of polyphagus conceptuality. This already appeared in the works he made in the mid-1990s, in which a natural or animal subject is inserted into a hushed architectural structure. This not only distributes the perspective planes, but also arranges the recital of the figure and alludes to an impalpable geometrical outline. What inevitably strikes one in these works is the appeal of the subjects in relation to the narrative scheme: on the one hand there is the suggestion of an archaic, coarse, primitive nature and, on the other, the geometrical layout in which the austerity of the stroke suggests the complexity of thought. Boccioni brings out an exasperated contrast in his La città che sale (The City Rises), where the peasant legacy painted in the horse in the foreground is entrusted to the building of the future, which is indicated in the city in the distance. So too, in these works, does Serafino Maiorano trigger a short-circuit between an apparent insistence on naturalism and a more subtle mathematical attraction, between emotional image and conceptual perception, between instinct and intellect. These dynamics are sustained and confirmed by a linguistic procedure that not only dances on the brink of uncertain identity, but also accentuates its disquiet through an acid and corrosive chromatism. The tale unravels in fragments, excerpts of vision, and in the glinting of figures who chase each other and disperse. At the same time, the scenic space is arranged according to pre-established grids and compositional planes which, as in Mondrian’s partitions, distribute weights and roles, apportioning voids and concentrations. And yet, already in these works, and even more clearly in the ones that followed, not even the same architecture – which is a constant in Serafino Maiorano’s works – manages to ensure a certain order, a reliable and safe horizon within which the narrative takes place. As these structures gradually unfold in space, their discipline appears increasingly fragile. Their mathematical order slowly fades, only to reveal a more mysterious “cabbalistic order”, a sort of mysterious geometrical figure like the one we see in Dürer’s Melancholia, which is now taken up by Kiefer. Here we also see the theme of the magic square, which disorients the work and makes the eye uneasy. In this study, the presence of the enigma is thus defined. It is a congestion of thought that absorbs the flow of vision, bringing images to a halt, and imposing a slow, meticulous rhythm of interpretation. It almost seems that a subtle metaphysical transparency is deposited on the canvas, forcing the eyes away from the spectacular compliance of the plot, in order to pick out the secrets of a more intimate and secluded image. Perhaps it is precisely this weakening of architectural grammar in favour of a more poetic geometry that, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, convinced Serafino Maiorano to toughen his composition and concentrate on urban subjects: on huge advertising hoardings, scaffolding, and parts of buildings. Here too, despite an apparently prodigious solidity, these are not sure subjects, reliable works of architecture, or safe geometries, but rather provisional, unstable, transitory elements whose construction is showy and artificial, and whose body is soft. And yet they are perfect as supports for the flow of images, like gigantic television screens, and theatre backdrops for an urban vision that becomes frenzied, voracious, and obsessive. The more the artist concentrates on rendering a well-organised plot and on formulating a given grammar in the definition of a solid formal system, the more the secret of his poetic spirit emerges, and the more the esotericism of his disquietude emerges, as does the silence of his intimate emotion. It is certainly the awareness of this profound dialectic that has induced Serafino Maiorano to exasperate the linguistic element, loading the weak pictorial elements with meaning and dampening the spectacular nature of the image. The end result, which started becoming increasingly consolidated in the early years of this century, is that of an insistent, persevering form of painting that enters the wounds of the figure, highlighting a shadow, setting off a movement, or suggesting an expression. This elegant painting is supported by a sophisticated emphasis on colour which is capable of flaring up into a thousand flashes or calming down into a succession of nuances. Thanks to these minute pictorial protagonists and their chromatic vitality and discretion, Maiorano can liberate the enchantment, moving away from the austerity of conceptualism and seeking refuge from the dangers of esotericism. This means he can acquire greater agility, and can thus unfold his story with new delight, with a new fantastical curiosity, and with a new air of surprise. All this has been assisted by an increasing technical skill in processing digital images, with which Maiorano takes his risks, and embarks on his adventures, rising up in a stunning form of visionariness. There is no exhibition of technical virtuosity, nor any morbid search for harrowing or provocative pictures – in other words, there is none of the recurrent alphabet of too much contemporary digital art but simply the desire to manipulate a real and ephemeral reality, bending it to his own vision and freeing it from its own superficiality. This creates pictures with a strong personality and great visual impact. There are majestic buildings, heroic urban landscapes, and unforeseen perspectives that are deformed and that evaporate in an uncontrollable liquidity. Vaults and columns dilate, interiors are folded in on themselves, naves and domes become impossible cathedrals, monumental staircases and windows are mixed together timelessly, without order, memory or certainty. This greater confidence of expression, which has led to a more elaborate and complex flourishing of narrative, now authorises the inclusion of the human figure in scenic space, alongside the more usual geometrical architecture. These are necessarily ethereal, inconsistent presences, blurred in their existential fading. They are human forms with undefined outlines, wavering spirituality, and the spectres of a contemporary daily life that populate the settings and visions of our age. Suspended figures, silently metaphysical, emaciated apparitions of a visionary Giacometti – the poetic “Amalasunte” of a contemporary Licini. The dances that these characters perform, their elegance and their delicate fading, all generate a complicit compliance that guides the eye along the edges of the tale, into the no man’s land on the fringes of the figure, to where superfluous details are normally banished, and yet where astonishing details thrive. Possibly it is this obsessive attention to detail, this stubborn insistence on bringing to life every smallest part of the scene, this search for visual balance and symmetry that lead to the baroque achievement of his latest works devoted to the palace in Caserta. These are stately, heroic creations, where a relationship that has always been part of Serafino Maiorano’s works explodes, now finding its own complete definition: between architecture and movement, figure and line. A contradictory relationship that has inspired the artist’s studies ever since his early years, but which in these latest works accelerates and strengthens the contrast, abandoning the formal pretext of a need to confuse the image, in order to set free the swaying chandeliers and let the reflections slip across the mirrors. All this is framed in architectural settings that have abandoned their original geometrical aridity and that show the exuberance of forms and interiors with incredible liveliness and vitality. With these latest works, which we see in the halls of one of the most fascinating palaces in the world, Serafino Maiorano reaps the fruits of a concealed but certainly intense artistic career, and he approaches a new point of departure with a more solid consciousness of the emotional power, poetic intensity, and intellectual discipline of his works.

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