Photographer of dreams,1 visionary architect, standard-bearer of painted cinema,2 impertinent visionary,3 since his debut,4 Luca Pignatelli has been defined as an artist capable of crossing linguistic confines with an uncommon poetic liberty. A master, in particular, of allowing himself to be captivated by thought-provoking anonymous photographs, he increasingly orients his artistic research towards the development of pre-existing images, which he collects in an almost scientific way in his very beautiful “iconographic library”. A “photographic archive” would seem to be the most appropriate term for a collection of images, but in reality Pignatelli’s is a library proper in which the volumes are arranged according to a criterion linked with thematic and iconographic associations that are all the artist’s own, on tall shelves on the walls of his charming little studio, inside a huge laboratory-studio-work- shop in Milan. Inserted among these volumes are other black and white images that the “kleptomaniac” Pignatelli continues to seek out during his trips, to then collect and box up in this inventory of his. The reference to the Bilderatlas Mnemosyne of the great Aby Warburg (1866-1929) is almost obligatory, but I would like to highlight here, in addition to the value of the memory attributed to the image, above all the desire to collect the icons of Western civilisation/incivility, as the basic principle of his work. Visual memory, therefore, evoked and transmitted by the power of the images, collected and selected for their strong emotional attraction, or for their unusual formal similitudes, captured with acumen by the artist, to narrate stories poised between reality and vision.
Pignatelli has never been a photographer, but he works constantly with and on photography. Cinema posters, advertising photographs, reproductions of works of antique art: after a long and meticulous selection process, he “appropriates” images, irrespective of their technique, format, medium, and reworks them, softening the temporal elements that are too evident, and chooses them as photographs that “he would have liked to take”.
THE DIMENSION OF THE PAST He has a preference for reproductions of mountain landscapes, of metropolises and their peripheries, but is particularly attracted by landscapes with archaeological remains, Renaissance architectures, Classical sculptures or works of modern art. We could consider them as genuine citations, which, without nostalgia, demonstrate his “historical awareness of the past and its inevitable relationship with the present”5 and the desire for a “conceptual recovery [...] of a world [...] full of teachings for the present”;6 “an art made of fragments and memories, of gestures and meanings, understood as full-blown notes of an imaginary journey”,7 “revelations of the transience implicit in life”,8 to use words by art historians who have analysed the persistence of the past in subsequent artistic forms. This issue constantly also prompts cues for research through new media. Maurizio Calvesi, for example, affirmed that Carlo Maria Mariani9 “assumed [...] a painting and an aesthetic theory already ‘ready’, seeking his own ready-made in the history of art and human thought [...]: «I do not paint reality, but the already ‘painted’»”.10 In Pignatelli’s case, we must talk of the “already photographed”: «I choose an image as though it had existed irrespective of its author, as though I were choosing a branch of a tree or a flower, as though it had already existed in nature as a raw material, in a world made of images». And like him, for example, the Dutch artist Rob Johannesma, whose research is sometimes presented through lenses and video projections. Both have the analysis of the iconographic codes acquired by the Western imagination11 as their aim and, fundamentally, the awareness of the loss of historical fidelity attributed to the photographic medium, which is also incapable of guaranteeing impartiality of vision. But in his comparison of historical-artistic images with those of the media universe, Pignatelli uses black and white and intervenes with painting in rusted, smoky colours, obtained from materials found at the hardware store or in workshops, rather than from a fine arts supplier. This places his iconographic choices in an almost timeless dimension, yet this does not prevent him from being determined in denouncing the horrors of the wars of all ages.
THE THIRD DIMENSION With his stories poised between the autobiography and the dream, between reality and nightmare, already in the late 1980s he became involved in the artistic research under way in Milan, almost in antithesis to that of the Transavanguardia of the Roman environment. But, in common with the exponents of this movement, he had the desire to overcome “the dematerialisation of the work and the executive impersonality of the conceptual in favour of a return to the manuality of painting”.12 For Pignatelli the revival of figuration, which had in fact never completely disappeared, arose from the need to overcome the essentiality of materials typical of the Arte Povera, the symbolic value13 of which he does not underestimate, however, to the extent that he even places them - such as woollen yarns, flanges, iron, paper and more besides - on the painted surfaces, in an attempt to reinforce the three-dimensionality of the photographic representation. The same surface, on which he first prints the photographic reproduction and then intervenes with the painting, is “a weathered, contaminated surface, deeply marked by its own history [...] The physicality of the support, its age and memory, represent the magical territory that Luca Pignatelli traverses with his painting”.14 Painting made of materials, objects and unusual insertions that elegantly challenge the perceptive capacities. Its structured sedimentations and overlaps deceive on the visual plane but involve on the emotional one.
THE “REAL” DIMENSION OF PIRANESI AND GRAPHICS The “architect” Pignatelli revisits the particular perspective points of architect Piranesi (1720-1778), sharing a “visceral attachment to History”.15 From the views of Villa Albani over Via Salaria, from Piazza Monte Cavallo to the Quirinale or of the Trajan Column between the two Renaissance churches,16 the Milanese artist reworks interesting iconographic inspirations from the Venetian artist, a photographer ante litteram, who only apparently depicted objective reality in his etchings. The monuments represented by Piranesi are in fact not exactly located in their urban context and are often cut vertically to magnify their proportions. Piranesi’s last views show the intellectual torment of the artist, who, abandoning every attempt at objective representation, highlighted the inexorable decay for which even the venerable architectures of the past were destined.17 Such as the view of the Colonnade of Piazza San Pietro or that of Piazza Navona with a crowd of indistinct humanity in the foreground, captured in its everyday activities by the arrival of war aircraft, communicate a more accentuated and dramatic disorientation. The Rome of “the magician and prophet of the past”,18 the precocious interpreter of the Romantic spirit, now belongs to our collective iconographic heritage and is proposed by Pignatelli with a strong expressionistic accentuation, in large formats, as though they were antique daguerreotypes. The attractive views are more corroded by time because the masonite panels on which they have been printed have absorbed the bad weather and salty air to which they have been exposed for years. The Piranesian views, now more vertical to accommodate aircraft from past times, are enriched by chromatic “impressions” and lacerations of the history of their media, which have altered the coordinates of their vision, dilating the temporal dimension represented. Pignatelli has always been attracted by the alphabet of engraving, which is notoriously based above all on the values of black and white, of which he is very fond. He in fact exploits the contrast between light and shadow, acting on those aspects of the vision that, more than colour, stimulate the human eye. He has also taken on the etched plate and, in particular, the sugar technique, which is very painterly and fast,19 in the art printworks of Corrado Albicocco in Udine.20 Through contrasts of signs and images, Luca has told surreal stories printed on sheets of old magazines or Latin codices21 or has interpreted the poems of Alda Merini22 in the collection Senza Titolo from 2002, also entering into relations with the graphic elements of writing.
THE FOURTH DIMENSION / SEQUENCES AND CORROSIONS Pignatelli adds another dimension, that of “non-time”. He alludes to it with particular dusky chromatic ranges, in the style of the Sironi of the 1920s. Especially in his early works, he proposes views of urban peripheries, capturing their monumentality and also the tragic nature of some details or foreshortened views.23 Like Mario Sironi, he rediscovers the plastic power and essentiality of the Italian tradition and the strong impact of mural painting, translated into the constant search to develop sculptural groups from Classical antiquity, proposed in imposing reproductions. But the greatest debt Pignatelli acknowledges to maestro Sironi is the use of non-painting materials, introduced for the first time onto the canvas, for painting far removed from academic orthodoxy.24 Recurrent in Pignatelli is the presentation of small format works, composed in succession on a wall.25 The structured combination of images, almost an architecture of images (on the basis of which we find the same conceptual dynamics of the Analogie), is expressed in a very significant way in Atlantis, an evocative reflection on Western iconography, conducted through 643 canvas-backed papers, exhibited for the first time at the MAMAC in Nice in 2009.26 This interplay of sequences was also adopted in the exhibition at the MANN in Naples in 2007 to present reproductions of archaeological vases, the painting of which has been replaced with ir- regular “projections”, as if the “bellies” of the vases were Screens.27
These sequences can be considered a prelude to the research in film by filmmaker Daniele Pignatelli,28 the artist’s brother, who with HOPE2 chooses, for the third time, to film a short with the works of Luca as set elements, thus rendering explicit an aspiration that is hindered by the two-dimensionality of painting: the narration by images, temporal sequence, in short, the fourth dimension.
In Daniele’s short films, as in Luca’s paintings, there are no human protagonists, but there do appear, almost unexpectedly, animal presences, between fable and dream, to complete the attempt at metaphysical alienation.29 “One of the most evocative dimensions of these works is precisely their silence, their expressively supervised nature. Nothing is said above the lines, because nothing is said, rather it is alluded to and implied”.