Obscurity, darkness, the emergence of figures reduced to occasionally indistin- guishable outlines, the awareness of a story that takes place at a deeper level beyond the images, of which we can only grasp traces, seemingly unambiguous but always poised between arbitrariness, absurdity and the improbable....in a complex, expressive way, the entire poetic heritage of Luca Pignatelli refers to a dream-like experience not linked directly to the dream world but to his beloved paraphrase of it: the imaginary world of cinema. I cannot see where else the series of overlapping images, so powerfully determined by popularity or their expres- sive power, manages to lose its allusive character and gain the status of language, forcefully rooted to the collective imaginary world of things, faces and gestures. This language continuously reinvents the boundaries of its own expressive do- main to lead the game even further, moving on each occasion beyond pre-deter- mined limits.
The tarpaulin is hardly a spotless backdrop but in some ways resembles a screen on which the artist can act undisturbed, creating a small snapshot of the world, memory and the future. The use of this ‘canvas’ brings us back to the topos of cinema, unleashing all its potential when it is “projected” outside itself and when it assails the world of concrete things with its dematerialising language. A trace of this dematerialisation remains in Pignatelli’s works, neither dross nor waste but rather a preconscious state of reasoning that also refers to a predecessor of cinema as we know it today; it is something that was known as a ‘magic lantern’ due to its capacity during this period of fables and fairy tales to overlap or intertwine figures that slipped silently - motionless and yet in movement - along the wall to tell a story.
Perhaps the antithesis between cinema and the works of Luca Pignatelli lies in the Milanese artist’s conscious and consciously pursued anti-narrative approach. He does not grant any time to these disquieting forms on a dark background which seems about to swallow them up again. They are frozen in an eternal present from which they cannot escape to tell any story. However, it should not be underesti- mated how Pignatelli, by ‘editing’ various images, aims to create, if not a fabula, at least a psychological framework that takes the place of an historical sequence. As an unlimited repository of figurative experiences, the story takes place on huge screens prepared by the artist using impressions - almost clues- that make it possible to go back over the centuries to the origins of creativity. Only at this point can Pignatelli take possession of these images and adapt them to the needs of painting. For example, the Biga (two-horse chariot), whose rearing horses alludes to the Apollonian “sun-chariot”, can take flight not just due to its own figurative power but also, and above all, to the context in which it is placed. It is destined to break down the door of the “quiet seat of the gods” (Lucretius) opening up new territories waiting to be explored.
History is not the only repository of ideas for Pignatelli’s imagination. Other topoi are ready to add their fascinating potential to the artist’s paintings: moun- tains, aeroplanes and forests ... the ‘snow’ that covers and conceals everything, like a film that suddenly catches fire and destroys all the images it contains in a blinding white flash ... white is a destructive force, the light that consumes an
image until it disappears. It is true that the murky waters of history seem to have encrusted the tarpaulins as if they were the skin of an incredibly old whale– I refer to a fascinating comparison made by Pignatelli himself – that clearly refers to Moby Dick. To the eyes of the young, terrified Ishmael, it looks like a snow- white Leviathan, the biblical monster designed to destroy everything it meets on its path, a creature whose skin bears all the scars of a dramatic, unfinished story. However, it is also true that these flagellated, tormented surfaces speak a language that we understand very clearly because it is familiar and contemporary; its ‘wounds’ do not appear to be the result of fights in the dark depths of the sea but of more ordinary, though not necessarily less dramatic, everyday events.
In the same way, there is a relevance to our world in his suburban landscapes, the threatening outlines of aeroplanes that stand out against the pale mountaintops, the figures that sink into the snow, the blind presence of herms defending a town that is still inaccessible - the past. These images move us because, through their preremptory self-declaration, they are similar to so many others that trouble our urban dreams, our nights spent as inhabitants of the present, the ambitious adven- tures that are glimpsed and then immediately vanish. We may wonder whether Pompei still represents an alarming part of our imaginary world. But if we do not want to believe in the constantly renewed myth, we can still appeal to the continuous, almost hysterical attention that the mass media devotes to what has become a hyper-place containing all the frustrations of a present that offers little more than endless peripheries that lack the atmosphere of evocative names such as Delphi, Corinth, Epidaurus, Paestum and, of course, Pompeii. Pignatelli does not offer us a placid link with the archaeological site but a painstakingly prepared palimpsest where time leaves its marks – auspicious, inauspicious but nonetheless indelible traces – which itself becomes an autonomous language in which time becomes a creative work.
The images of the emperors lack the allusion to the protective imaginary world of cinema, but the ambiguity of the work of art is an essential part of its commu- nicative efficacy and Pignatelli uses concrete to immortalise them in this ‘modern’ material; in the same way that they were once portrayed on gold coins or on sardonyx cameos, heroes, emperors, priests and soldiers appear in the paintings ready to take part in a ‘triumphal’ procession that transports them into a contem- porary empyrean from where they can no longer be cast out.
The constancy with which Pignatelli gives space to many images from antiquity not only reflects his desire to preserve the memory of the ancient world as a foundation of humanity. It also shows his profound belief in the artistic and cognitive importance of this heritage. It is a heritage that might be considered a repository of figurative material if there were not so many clues that suggest that it is a place for working through experience. The nymph, the face and the hors- es are laden with symbolic and emotional significance that testify to a deeper, fascinating tension. Their relations, like their repetition, appeal to deeper urges than simple aesthetic pleasure. It is an act of withdrawal and reflection on the basis of which experience becomes lived experience, becoming a complete part of our humanity.