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Serafino Maiorano: The image and its abscence


During the epoch of reconstruction

technology determines everything.



Inevitably, when we think of the work of Serafino Maiorano, there comes to mind the line of demarcation which separates the artificial world which constitutes the City, concept which springs forth from the mind of man and is painstakingly built up stone upon stone by his own hand, and, that surrounding universe of Nature, at once chaotic but also harmonious, which seems to keep watch, yet with no immanent menace but rather an indifference tinged with a remote and ambiguous benevolence, over the fragile accomplishments of man across the border between the mortal and the immortal.


There are those who claim that the school of thought which had chosen for themselves the ambitious banner of Post-Modernism as long ago as the late ’70s and held sway over theoretical discourse for more than e period of 20 years came to an abrupt halt on the propitious date of September 11 of 2001, when a prominent construct of advanced Western civitas was quite literally brought down to the ground. While many had already been talking about “the end of history” this wake-up call anounced loud and clear that the war of ideologies had not in fact ceased with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Bolshevic concept of the Urbs and the Capitalist mercantile formula for urban organisation seemed suddenly to be beside the point, a redundant afterthought in the dust of the birthpains of a new world order now without warning brought into disorder.


Serafino Maiorano strolls as a voluntary eye-witness to a new social construct, virtual in terms of the fragility of its communicative infrastructure and ephemeral in terms of the architectonic “hardware” of makeshift plastic, steel and glass which constitutes the civic and the extra- urban context of our new quotidianity. In this way Serafino Maiorano, as if taking a venerable garment from the ancestral armoire, goes forth with the audacious mantel of the flâneur draped boldly on his shoulders.


The flâneur, altough inspiring the immediate connotation of the Paris of Charles Baudelaire, Theophile Gautier, Gérard de Neval and Honoré de Balzac — that fraternity of would-be bad boys which had once assembled on the Isle Saint Louis under the name of the “club des hachichiens” — in fact can be identified two thousand years prior in the Rome of Caesar Agustus in the embodiment of Horace, Ovid and Propertius. Indeed, the satires of Horace give ample evidence that, as in the Paris of Baudelaire and company, an important component of the poetic process which had gathered around the figure of Maecenas was the mock-decadent ceremony of the flâneur, the dandy whose occupation of the daylight hours is (as Charles Algernon Swinburne was later to proclaim) nothing more than to stroll through the city with no apparent scope in the full exercise of his otium.


“The poet,” Swinburne expounded, “requires the best hours of the day.” In this sense the true dream of Marxist communism was realised most profoundly not in materialist Moskow but rather within the imperialist walls of ancient Rome.


The city of Rome today can be said to constitute the principle proscenium of Serafino Maiorano’s artistic investigations. Although persisting often with no more than a distant echo, the conviviality with which the school of the Piazza del Popolo –Mario Schifano, Tano Festa, Pino Pascali, Jannis Kounellis and so many many more–  whiled away their afternoons and evenings at the terrace of Bar Rosati under the spell of a new form of artistic otium reconstituted in the shambles following the downfall of the fascist aesthetic and the triumph of American consumerism, the urban scene which confronts often jarringly the sensitive gaze of Serafino Maiorano challenges him with an entirely new set of givens which compell him to respond through the improvisation of visual reinterpretations on the plane of pure aesthetics and the invention of solutions in terms of technical procedures which can not only resist against the competition of the secular, that is to say, the commercial consumerist visual saturation of his urban reality, a reality superimposed upon the fantasmagorical “screen” of the millennial accumulation which constitutes the middenheap of contemporary Rome.


Ambulation, that fundamental motion which elevated man from beast makes up the primary mechanism of epics from Gilgamesh and the Exodus to Dante’s guided tour of Inferno and the endless peregrinations of Samuel Beckett’s extended dramatis personae of vagabonds which evacuate the immediate circumstances of significance into, or at least toward, an ulterior dimension in the vague terrain which lies between the eternal and the actual.


Walking seems almost essential to the pictoral enterprise of Serafino Maiorano, and on the first level of interpretation this would place him in the company of photographic modernists from Steichen and Stieglitz to Henri Cartier-Bressons and even more recently such maestros as Ralph Gibson himself and yet the implementation of photographic means of reproduction is, in the case of Serafino Maiorano, no more than a mere point of departure, a voluntary leap or propulsive impetus toward his true goal, which can be said to be nothing less than a solution to the contradictions inherent in contemporary painterly praxis.


For Serafino Maiorano, along with the most conscientious of his generation a formidable obligation stood before them: the finding of a legitimate response not only to the daunting leaps and bounce of digital representational technique but also a way of not only standing up to but also going beyond and, indeed profering a valid contribution to the heavy burden of far more than fifty years of accumulative  avantgarde revolutions which have succeded one another with head spinning regularity, one advance frequently replacing another in nothing more than a five year span:


Pop Art in the persons of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, ushering in the neo-constructivist rigor of Minimalism with protagonists ranging from pioneer Elsworth Kelly, Donald Judd, Brice Marden –not without even mentioning the exigent hilarities of Blinky Palermo– rapidly overtaken by the overflow of photo-linguistic audacities of the ultra-cerebral Conceptual Art as proposed by Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner or On Kawara and many more, only in turn to collide head on with Land Art and Body Art brought forth by Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim, Vito Acconci, to leave momentarily to one side the impact of Fluxus in its multifold forms as well as the “engagement” of Guy Debord.


Hereafter there followed in quick succession the appearance of photo-based Narrative Art as launched by the all too often forgotten founding father Peter Hutchinson, and the loose-knit group of vastly influential artists such as Bill Beckley, Mac Adams, James Collins who gathered around the radical launching point for post-photographic photography, the John Gibson Gallery in the Soho quarter of New York. In the midst all of this grand hightide of  innovation there stood the unavoidable heroic figure of the medicine-man himself, whose art was linked to the pharmaceutical mission of healing and decontaminating the poisoned landscape, both spiritual as well as geographical: the shamanistic presence of Joseph Beuys.


According to Jean Cocteau, behind every work of art are the circumstances of daily life, cigarettes, a bowl of soup, tables and chairs. Those who enter the studio of Serafino Maiorano near Rome’s vibrant Piazza Vittorio neighbourhood enter from the curious courtyard into a vast utulitarian laboratory of creativity, greeted not only by the latest of his inventions but also by an array of collaborative art works which are the fruit of friendships with fellow artists Mario Schifano and Vettor Pisano. Like all artists, when Serafino Maiorano speaks of his childhood creative origins the point of departure is even for the artist himself difficult to determine.


Although having by his own confession little interest in drawing or art in general suddenly one afternoon at age 14 he said to a classmate after school, who’s father was the proprietor of a hardware enterprise, let’s do something. The result of this recreation was abstract painting in the form of enamel on metal which in the words of the artist himself was for a few months done without thinking, just for the fun of it.


This activity shortly therafter was transfered to large attic room of family house until his mother, concerned by the messiness of her son’s new found artistic impulse, exiled the activity to a small room outside the home. Drawing soon, finally, became an important outlet which perhaps is linked to the youthful Serafino Maiorano’s desire to study architecture at the university, although in the end he decided on agricultural sciences which followed in the footsteps of his familiy. Here perhaps can be idenitified the juncture, the split in the road, the jolt, from which went forth in two directions the biforcation of what the artist himself refers to as the formation of a double personality: the urban and architectonic yet also the profound connection with an agrarian world going back in time as far as the Georgics of Virgil.


On the one hand his urban impulse followed along the lines of futurism and the new avantgardes which had followed; on the other, was the connection to nature and a long traditional patrimony, which one can say runs closely in parallel to Joseph Beuys’s development as from the natural sciences to art, or the ongoing importance of the agrarian world as aesthetic in the work of Gianfranco Baruchello. In fact the rigorous climate that does not ignore the surrounding world in its socio-political context but rather breathes it in with that fine irony found in the work of Baruchello himself, comes to be constantly evoked by Serafino Maiorano in the urgency located in each of his visual undertakings.


The nexus between the actuality which daily hammers us personally and globally and the persistent dream of old utopian formulas which stubbornly refuse to leave the public scene as much as from the mind of the artist. Evidence of this is visible in each of Serafino Maiorano’s work. Photography possesses a strong link with architecture, and from the beginning of his career it has been precisely his early aspiration to study architecture that returns with instistence to inform his visual practice. In this way the desire to dedicate himself to aspects not uniquely aesthetic but also socio-urbanistic through architecture seem to come to fruition in an unexpected and novel form. Yet the bipolarity between earth and city, between the indelible memory of his origins close to nature and his confrontation with open eyes of the real circumstances of life today, brings the artist toward an uncompromising equilibrium.


The architectonic aspect also reveals itself once more in the recent introduction of autonomous sculptural forms which accompany the painterly work in an altogether Duchampian manner that forces the eye of the beholder to make the leap from the  picture plane to the tridemensional. This itinerary had long before been traced out in the youthful ambitions of Serafino Maiorano. Well grounded now in the agrarian sciences he devided his time between supervising the family estates and attending the academy of fine arts of Catanzaro, painting nocturnal mythologies of a visionary Jungian character perhaps inspired by his solitary nighttime wild bore hunting excursions.


These outlandish experiences seem to mesh perfectly with his almost pagan vocabulary of themes of metamorphosis with the figures not only of animals but of women accompanied by the ever-present figure of the hero in a context reminiscent of  a pose of Mythras himself, the bull-slaining divinity of late antiquity who seems to prefigure the early Roman Christian faith.


Midway in the decade of the 80s the artist settled in the St. Lorenzo district of Rome at the now famous Pastificio Cerere making friends with his counterparts in this hothouse of new painting such as Bruno Ceccobelli. Stepping back from the direction that his mythological painting was taking and yet again from a new materiality which included working with wax he employed a glass factory downstairs from his studio he made vitreous spheres which he filled with grain in direct reference of his agrarian background and, perhaps now finding himself in an intense urban setting, a longing for nature.


Even now however the artist continued to consider himself always a painter. At the base of his work was force, movement, energy as represented in the time capsules of grain. The ecological shifts in the work of Serafino Maiorano have always taken place, as the artist himself conferms, during his summer residences emersed in the natural surroundings of his Calabrian homeland.


One outcome of this ecological impulse, besides the glass seed containers took the form of photographing farm life and farm animals. Was this new direction the result of the man of the country feeling a nostalgia for his origins while undergoing contemporary urban life? If so, it would mesh perfectly with the circularity of the ancient Roman poet Horace, always at home in the city while always yearning for the Arcadia of his country retreat.


It must be by now undeniable to anyone who has followed the year by year evolution of post- avantgarde praxis that the intermingling of photo on canvas of the cinematic readymade and the manual subjectivity of painterly gesture, are now part and parcel of the global post post modern academy.


For Serafino Maiorano this signified a concentrating of his repertoire into one single theater of energies, just as the great Volta had done with his fundamental break through in the invention of the electrical battery, and in the case of the Calabrian painter, the result was a ballet without storyline, a continual roundtrip between city and countryside, between photographic reproduction and painterly gesturality. At home in his house of mirrors, the order of the day is the externalisation of the artist’s gaze. The landscape does not see itself, nor does the moon “look down” upon the labours of mankind but instead remains sightless to the planet which it orbits.


The painter’s eye of Serafino Maiorano works in harmony of the optic lens which first captures the primary material of his research through the labyrinth of the consumerist reality, long after the “passages” of Walter Benjamin have fallen into the realm of mere folklore. What stands out most of all, however, is the capacity for visual abstraction that demonstrates a velocity of synthesis of complex often inscrutable signs which the artist potentializes technologically into a discrete infinity. Serafino Maiorano would seem to take nothing for granted, nor except on first sight the phenomena which greet his eye at every turn. It is to be remembered that Andy Warhol was more than half-serious when he said, “I want to live at an airport.” On the equipoise between the image and its absence, the flâneur Serafino Maiorano follows his vision of the seasonal cycles of nature as well as the banality of the urban scene in constant flux, at all times sharing the hallucinatory otherness of Arthur Rimbaud’s gaze, and the unquenchable quest of Noam Chomsky:  to come face to face with “the stupor of the world”.



Alan Jones

Milano 2010


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