My cousin, Alessandro Fantini, asked me to write an expanded version of my Foreword from his Art Book. With his permission the entire article is below along with images from the book.
What lies beneath the conscious self?
Good question, I’ve spent years trying to find out the answer to that one myself in my own writings and drawings. Each of us who has even a passing interest in mapping the interior of our psychic landscapes has attempted this impossible task in their own unique way. For some it’s with words, others theatrical gestures, and for some it’s images on a canvas.
The canvas: In some ways painting now has become decidedly old fashioned - it’s been done to death for thousands of years. Surely there can’t be anything else to say on the subject? Shouldn’t we as artists spend our time devising newer mediums and extending the boundaries of what we define as art in order to increase its relevance in this new millennium? Well, that's all very well and good, and certainly there are some magnificent contemporary artists out there doing just that. But don’t think for one moment that this classical brand of art can no longer challenge or offer anything new.
Alessandro Fantini in so many ways offers us a classical view of art and yet infuses it with a contemporary worldview. Perhaps it comes with the territory from where he is from. There is something uniquely inspirational about the Sangro Valley in the heartlands of the Italian Peninsula. Within a forty-minute drive you can go from the sandy coastline of the Adriatic to the spiny mountain chord of Italy’s backbone. Littered across this Mediterranean topography are hundreds, if not thousands of stories, either built from concrete and stone, or carved into ancient trees, hills, and mountains. Yet at the same time the industrialization of the area has lead to a transformation of the culture and geography of the valley, creating a didactic with its former identity. The noise of the modern with the whisper and the shadow of the past haunt these lands, providing a wellspring of inspiration for anyone with a keen observational mind.
Alessandro’s devotion to oil and canvas has rewarded us we with enough medianic meditations on the nature of the human mind to keep us transfixed for many years to come. His discipline and persistence from early childhood through his teens and now into his adulthood has taken the viewer on an incredible journey through an isolated landscape that invites dialogue, challenges preconceptions of existence, and teases us with sexual imagery that writhes through both foreground and background.
Alessandro is fascinated by the interior of the human mind, and more precisely his own. His art is defined by the eerie images of the transmogrification of the human body, its transience from youth to age, from life to death, from ethereal to grotesque animalism. The complexity of his images refuses to be defined precisely and they’re often unsettling in their depiction of our psychic core.
Alessandro shows heavy influence from Dali, especially in his early paintings. Employing many of the same techniques and compositions as that mad old Spaniard, Alessandro refined and evolved his painterly skills. His earlier works are a cacophony of colour, passion and violence that bursts from the canvas.
The young painter exploring his sexual desires is most clearly evident by the fantasy females and phantasmagorical muses that haunt the ruined walls of castles and churches. Indeed they’re a recurrent element throughout his works, as we’re faced, uncomfortably so at times, with the raw, burning Eros that knaws deeply at the hearts of men.
His painting Monorchi Dea’s composition is uncompromising in his depiction of this fantasy female form. It refuses to allow the viewer to ignore what's being focused on. Real or fantasy, obtainable or out of reach, the gap between the physical expectations of males and females; the dialogue descends on you with the force of his oil strokes. Their precision and verisimilitude taunt with dimensionality and craftsmanship as this siren tempts its audience deeper into the layers of the painting. Once caught in her web, the eye is helpless to draw away and looks to the periphery for aid. Yet here there is only the dark. Alien shapes and exotic hieroglyphics lurk amongst a foamy sea of hives and bubbles that give no answers and no comfort to the trap that has been sprung. Inside one of these eggs a discombobulated head bubbles away – the male as victim or as spawn of the siren?
Later paintings evolved into less busier compositions employing a confident simplicity that draws the eye to the kernel of the image. Take for example The Horizon of The Events. One of Alessandro’s most recent works is a totemic masterpiece of composition and exemplifies one of the continuing themes that runs through so many of his paintings. It encapsulates his fascination with the old material world with its fossilized aggregation of cells conglomerating on top of one enough, reaching out to the heavens for divine direction and regeneration so that life can once again course through this fantastical piece of architecture. The restrained palette of purple hues radiates through the image with both mystery and warmth, the rippled skyscraper membrane reveals a phallic concurrent theme of life gushing upwards, reaching towards new life from the old.
The recent painting Adamanduga is a beguiling treatise into the conflict of the animus and anima. What strikes the viewer immediately is the diagonal tearing of this dimensional brane across the two genders, giving birth to a seahorse, a creature curious for the reversal of the reproductive role – the male carries the female’s eggs to term. The head looking towards us shows no pain and appears to be the male. The other, in profile and female, is in pain from the schism. Beyond the tear there is a void where only bubbles percolate sporadically from the rift. In its entirety the selection and arrangement of concepts encroaches on some wonderfully esoteric themes. Perhaps at one time this world had been balanced between the animus and anima forms, however through the schism this equilibrium has been lost, and roles have become obfuscated leaving only a screaming emptiness where once there had been life. A cynical sign of the times?
These two recurrent themes in his work concerning the bodies of his muses and death are often entwined together in grotesque arrangements. They evoke the works of Zdzislaw Bekinski who’s Fantastic Period dwelt on the disturbing images of post apocalyptic environments with intricate depictions of death, decay and necro-landscapes of the dying. No doubt a reflection of Polish recent history and the then political status quo.
Why Alessandro’s fascination with such darkness? Why spend so much time meditating through the putrescence of the human body? It’s hardly a commercial pursuit nor reflective of the verdant lushness of central Italy, the source of so many of his paintings landscapes. As I had previously mentioned Alessandro medianic purpose has been to channel the past through the present and the future. I see his works often as a comment on the social malaise and decay of the political and cultural climate. Just as Climate Change is threatening the traditional Tuscan vineyards with extinction, the Italy’s continual lack of harmony in so many areas has seen regressive steps harkening back to the darker years of Italian Fascism, and the death of liberal expression. Could it not be that the decay and rot so prominent in Alessandro’s works is in fact a statement about the reality of this cultural bankruptcy?
The more realistic painting Mulungu could well be a comment on the sign of these darkening times. The composition forms a depiction of an old town street climbing towards a decaying house that has seen better times. Towards the right there is the one surrealist element, a honeycomb spawning dead bodies wrapped tightly in white shrouds. Does this symbolize the decay, the spiritual malaise of this once vibrant culture of high art and literature? Does it reflect the pessimism of a generation that feels something irreplaceable is being squandered without any thought about the future?
The artist is often sensitive and acutely aware of these changes. We can see Alessandro often depicted as a figure being disassembled and integrated unwillingly amongst Gigeresque machines, or seduced by misshapen muses. The suppression of the individual spirit and the creative soul is a universal fear and paranoia prevalent in so many forms of art. It’s no coincidence that Alessandro’s fascination with Phillip K. Dick, Kubrick and other modern Speculative Science Luminaries have been channeled so intensely through his paintings.
To step into Alessandro’s multimedianic world is not always a comfortable experience. His fabulously detailed and exquisitely rendered images will cause you to engage and debate their nature, and wonder at the mind that they were spawned from. There is still something very new to be said in the world of canvas and oils Alessandro Fantini has only just gotten started.