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Daniela Gullotta: Views of Rome: A Personal Tribute to Piranesi

2011-07-07 - 2011-07-30

Exhibition details

Inspired by the famous engravings of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Gullotta has worked with oil and mixed media on wood, damask, canvas and slate, resulting in some spectacular architectural paintings.  Vittoria Coen writes in her admirable introduction to the catalogue entitled Paintings that Breathe : “The artist works conceptually, according to her very personal sensibility, playing with a double viewpoint, the historical one that emphasizes the past glories evoked by “the eloquent Roman ruins” with all their physical and dramatic power, and the contemporary one that translates the spaces, both empty and full, the light and colour, as well as the whites, black and greys of the scenographic eighteenth century engravings, into new forms.

The subject of “ruins”, so frequently explored by artists in the past, has been softened in an atmosphere which tends to play down the drama and make it almost a natural way of being. Instead, in these extraordinary works, the spaces and locations which have become imaginary as Piranesi’s “prisons” had been imaginary, induce a sense of expectation rather than of dereliction, as though it were possible to envisage a future which would see those structures created many centuries  ago for a specific purpose rise up again.”

A fully illustrated catalogue is available.  She talked at the gallery with Dr. David Watkin, Emeritus Professor of History of Architecture, Cambridge, at 12 noon on Friday 8th July. 

For further information about the exhibition, the talk with Dr.Watkin, photographs, or to arrange an interview with the artist please contact Mary Miller or Mark Hamment on 0207 629 5161 or  mmiller@marlboroughfineart.com; mhamment@marlboroughfineart.com

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Daniela Gullotta – Paintings that Breathe

 

In this rich and diverse homage to Piranesi and his Roman monuments,  Daniela Gullotta chooses from the artist's many engravings those which represent sites that can still be found today. Observing these sites from the same perspective and portraying photographically what the city conserves, she traces a journey back in time, reinventing, modifying, and altering the visual and spatial perception of architectural forms which, already by the XVIII century, had become symbols of what the Eternal City had represented and continued to communicate to expert observers  and to the early tourists on the Grand Tour.

 

The artist works conceptually, according to her very personal sensibility, playing with a double viewpoint, the historical one that emphasizes the past glories evoked by “the eloquent Roman ruins” with all their physical and dramatic power, and the contemporary one that translates the spaces, both empty and full, the light and colour, as well as the whites, black and greys of the scenographic eighteenth century engravings, into new forms.  

 

That “antiquity” of Piranesi's, altogether different to that of Winckelmann, is not the reassuring backdrop of a classicism which is almost fossilized through an excess of idealism.  It is not a model to be emulated and, rather than an object of worship it is a document to be studied, to be made known, with all the effects that time has subsequently produced, intervening, as nature invariably does, and adding flavour and meaning to the original.

 

The subject of “ruins”, so frequently explored by artists in the past, has been softened in an atmosphere which tends to play down the drama and make it almost a natural way of being.

Instead, in these extraordinary works, the spaces and locations which have become imaginary as Piranesi’s “prisons” had been imaginary, induce a sense of expectation rather than of dereliction, as though it were possible to envisage a future which would see those structures created many centuries  ago for a specific purpose rise up again.

 

             

 

The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, specific locations in the city and in the works of Piranesi, can be identified, and it is precisely this interweaving of reality and imagination, of faithfulness to what really exists and freedom of interpretation, that makes them so seductive.

The “ruins”, the industrial archeaological structures that Gullotta had already chosen in the 2006 exhibition, were the precursors of these latest works.  Left to the neglect of time, these forgotten places, photographed by her with the curiosity of a present day explorer, came back to life in the  “Interior Works” through the decomposition and subsequent recomposition of arcades, ceilings, windows in deliberately altered perspective, as lonely and disquieting places.  The stairways, like those of Piranesi, invited one to climb them even without knowing where they led.

            

There is a strong sense of continuity and persistence in the artist’s attitude, a sense of history which is not banal, not straight out of a textbook, but which instead leads to constructive reflection and comparison, albeit within a very balanced, free re-interpretation.

 

A perfect correspondence with the painting is found in the various materials that accompany and support this path.  There is a dialogue between the canvas and the wood, the damask and the slate, the soft and the hard.  The preciosity of the damask confuses and blends lines and colours, while on the slate the small modules compose a large work in which the architectural forms alternate and interact to unexpected and almost abstract effect.  The light is in the work, the whites and greys  pierce the visual perspective providing flashes here and there, and transform the Roman monuments into something we have never seen before.

 

Architecture has a very special place.  Made to be useful to man, to serve his basic needs, over time it has acquired its own qualities and values, initially perhaps with timid and modest ornamental details, and later with increasing freedom it assumed its own authority and autonomous rights.

The architectural object puts its roots down in nature, it wisely shares its unique aspects, it becomes so much part of the landscape that we would no longer be able to think of a place entirely devoid of it.  Only woodlands have their own natural architecture laying claim to all the space, like the irrepressible vegetation that inextricably enshrouds magnificent temples of the past. So we could perhaps speak in terms of a challenge by the author of this work: to soar ever higher, to create forests of stone on top of gothic cathedrals.   Or else to follow nature?

 

Just as Piranesi, a Venetian who moved to Rome, was daring in his “caprices”, in his only church (Santa Maria del Priorato) he created a monument which was not showy but was convincing in the respect of its memory.  Gullotta attentively registers the dialectical game of the artist of the eighteenth century, the so- called century of the enlightenment, who was able to reconcile imagination with history.   The stylistic eclecticism and ideological syncretism of the city that is Rome, throughout its long history, make up the distinctive feature that emerges from the artist’s discerning selection, while the centre of gravity moves along an impressive archaeological trail and the linguistic code remains constant.  There exists a complexity here which does not derive from systems but from the course of events.  The expressions that have ensued have therefore acquired quite naturally that air of familiarity that is proper to great historic cities.  This is a way of narrating without shadows, but in depth, a choral embrace of wonders.

 

The Roman Forum, the Temple of Concordia and Trajan’s Column, full of imperial pomp and glory.  The civic architecture, edifices made to be useful, possess the same solid certainty as an ancient temple, as the opulent and radiant sculpture of the Trevi Fountain,  as the Castel Sant’Angelo, a fortification which is the very symbol of Papal Rome, of the close-knit bond between religion and political power, and lastly a Tempio della Tosse of uncertain origin, on the Latian coast.   Rome appears to us like a single, huge monument, in which all the seasons of history and of the history of art coexist, in which the Baroque and the Classical are neighbours, just as Christianity is found close to the remains of the pre-Christian age.

 

Equally deserving of attention are the Temple of Canopo, built during one of the most splendid periods of the Empire, alongside the older temple dedicated to Minerva Medica, dating back to the Roman Republic, the more direct and significant Roman spirit, the more solid roots of a past which is already heavily laden with a future.  To each of these, with elegant impartiality, Gullotta makes a gift of the precious damask and slate supports.

 

Let us look at another world famous, symbolic monument, the Collosseum.  In Piranesi’s engraving the generally dark atmosphere is only interrupted by flashes of light which penetrate the centre in particular.  Small beings visit the place;  all around them is the “deafening” silence of history.

In Gullotta’s four versions, static moments alternate with formidable interwoven marks and brushstrokes, straight and curved veiling, drops which suddenly echo certain Giacometti paintings or Anselm Kiefer scenes, then the path becomes more linear once again and the structures become the protagonists.

 

In these last works too the dialectical relationship with space is striking.  Much has been said about Piranesi’s skies to describe their dramatic aspect, heavy with emphasis, of the various, increasingly dark, versions, but which always create a separation between heaven and earth. In Daniela Gullotta’s paintings of architectural structures this separation disappears, especially in the works in slate, where the spatial decomposition seems to put high and low on the same plane.  In this way the three-dimensional effect is merely hinted at and space really does become something purely mental.

 

Often scenes of daily life can be found depicted in Piranesi’s engravings, thus lending credence to the thesis of those who maintain that there is a strong scenographic impulse to these works.  Men and women rarely appear in Gullotta’s paintings, just as they are not present in her industrial archaeologies.  There is no trace of any human presence, which in Piranesi’s works has the popular flavour of everyday life, but there is almost a “humanisation” of the architecture, which today is even more heavily charged with profound symbology.  Suddenly, however, the form then seems to disappear, between the coloured painting of the background and reverberations of light and “the plastic elements of art are converted into mental plasma” as Barnett Newman said in his essay “The Sublime is Now”.

 

Georg Simmel writes that “the fascination of ruins is that in the end a work of man is perceived as a work of nature”.  In Daniela Gullotta’s work the internal view of the Pantheon particularly recalls precisely one of the internal views of the abandoned factories which she painted in 2005.  Both are examples of a past life,  even if they are separated by centuries of history and a different use from the beginning.  Time, dust, dereliction, have led them to assume a different appearance, just as happened with the highly coloured Greek temples which have been presented to us in our time in a monochrome version which has then influenced our taste.

 

Already in the eighteenth century many of the places chosen by Piranesi were abandoned monuments or were used for a different purpose to their original one.  What would we think of St Mark’s Square in Venice if, instead of seeing it crowded with tourists armed with cameras, we were to see it full of animals and market stalls animated with the shouts of the traders engaged in their normal everyday “labours”?

 

In Daniela Gullotta’s works, what allows for a traditional interpretation of the perspective view of an architectural form within a space - the space itself in relation to what the observer can see, the artist’s declared intention - all this seems to lead us to new relationships, to original counterpoints.  The artist eliminates all distances, appropriates the spaces, allows energy into her works like a fresh breeze. It is a form of painting that “breathes” and surprises us by its infinite abundance of ideas and of variants.  Every work is a story, a sensitive memory fixed by the absolute mastery of technique but never abused by it.

 

The fresh breeze therefore, to be such, must be able to look back at history and the history of aesthetics, with an awareness that walls, ruins, chapels and pagan temples may never perhaps be able to reveal themselves completely... and that therein perhaps also lies their fascination.

 

Vittoria Coen, April 2011

(translated into English by Consuelo Bixio)

 

The part to be translated in red would read as follows in English "In his only church (Santa Maria del Priorato) he created a monument which was not showy but was convincing in the respect of its memory."  However, I would point out that the punctuation of this section needs some attention as the previous sentence is incomplete. "Just as Piranesi, a Venetian who moved to Rome, was daring in his caprices" cannot end with a full stop as in Daniela's version.  She has inverted the order of this section so perhaps the current version would work if you put a comma after caprices instead of the full stop and possibly even another another comma after "respect of its memory" so that this runs on to the next  sentence "Gullotta attentively registers...."  However I leave this up to you to decide.