Undressed men

written by Marcello Carlino

(translated by Gianni Blasi)


It happens at least three times: once in an oil painting in which the figure is seated with its legs pulled together, the left hand stretched onto the ankle, the right slightly contracted around the angle of the knee; the next time is in one of the more recent works, being the scene and posture practically the same, in which drawing and composition uses asphalt substance, obtaining successful light and shade effects and heightened dynamic development of the bodies; the third time, in these latest works on thin card, is in a black and white bust with a curly haired head which appears slightly reclined with eyes closed and chin pressed on the chest with no strain or apparent tension. It happens at least three times that in the background, as if on a cinema screen, behind the male nude and  definitely enlarged, gigantic if measured in relation to the figure in the foreground, an eye wide open stands out firm with its regular form and contours.
Who does this eye belong to? And where and what is it looking at? And at a distance, not wanting to be on its own and refusing to be a mere ornament, what does it tell us through its very size and symbolic value which our iconographic tradition has loaded it with?
It isn’t the eye of the character, as if it were an isolated fragment surgically enucleated from the body; this is rather the eye of the painting, is our response with a slight degree of certainty. Having seen the other “face” of the character, the invisible one hidden from us who observe the work from outside – having seen what “does not appear to us” of the young man with drawn up knees, or of the one with the reclined head, which only shows “its back” to “it” –, this eye looks at the spectator as if it were warning him that the character is also “something else” besides what is beheld. And in so doing it says that a plurality of  looks and dimensions, a great number of characters and meanings are here aroused, expanded, interwoven, put at stake. And it says that we must look and look again, searching also for something different from what we thought  we had seen at first glance.
So let’s try to list, debating their nature and relationships, aspects and dimensions, characteristics and meanings which seem to densely and intriguingly fill Olga De Gasperis’ cards and canvasses.
Male nudes, especially if chosen as a unitary and monographic theme, in a woman’s paintings – one might easily suppose – would lead to declare that Eros, according to a conventional female fancy, is the decisive impulse in portraying and is its dominant element; moreover the bodies  everywhere in these paintings are athletic, monumental, tending to beauty, plastically embossed from a precise representation, anatomically aware of proportions and details.  Yet the themes and the objects of imprisonment, constriction and confinement are reiterated and are the leitmotiv: bonds, ropes, strings which contain and bind the characters as victims in hostage of executioners, like dogs on a chain. One could infer, so far as we refer to the literature on the status of women and its history, that a desire for revenge is here expressed with peaks of sadism and subsequent actions and it ironically recalls a long and tiring journey of emancipation: a victorious journey in the end if man is reduced to captivity and, by metonymical extension, is really the most bound one, the most compressed and conditioned, the most subjected to bonds of the social contract and of the principle of reality. Such an interpretation is justified by the “blatant” manner of the constriction treatment on the nude bodies (set on the boards of a stage and handcuffed by a thin rope and by the tufts of drapes or of a drop-curtain) and by the obvious emergence of mythical traces which could easily be lent to the realistic tale of a rapture of almightiness defeated and punished: the myths of  narcissus or of the fallen angel. But the eye of the painting there in the background, inviting us to bear in mind even the slightest details, informs us that the reason for the constriction not always excludes the reason for mercy and that the man in chains is merely a man, a Christ who suffers the human pains of living. Man as the symbol of humanity, sexless man, and therefore man and woman as one, is in these works by Olga De Gasperis. It is no coincidence that she dwells on myth which is a form of metahistorical tale dealing with the ways and characteristics of the human being. And, quoting and repeating them lightly,  she lingers on some masterpiece-figures  of Western art (particularly taken from the creativity of Michelangelo or Caravaggio), which have become part of the collective fancy as refrains, standards, myths: such are the Prigionis, or the Prometheuses, or the saint Sabastians, or the annunciation angels landed after flight. On the other hand the nudes, in a barren space, quite often tread the boards of a sort of  stage, are near a drop-curtain and are in an interior which hints at an atelier; they bear a theatrical substance which allows us to suppose that Olga De Gasperis’ works are painting times two, a painting of painting.
Are they the recovering, in different contexts, of exempla of an art of great style of our tradition, in accordance with a mannerist poetic theatrically solved through  rereading and quotation? Or are these the sites of the evoking of myth? Or are they the representatives of a condition humaine which makes no differences nor discounts? Or are they ancient lords dethroned and ridiculed, and kings by now desolately nude, now that women’s emancipation is about to be fulfilled? Or are they objects of desire of glossy and sensual beauty, in accordance with a feminine  Eros ironically recovered? What is the meaning of the male nudes by Olga De Gasperis?
The matter of the works exhibited convinces us that these nudes articulate all the above described meanings and have several shades of meaning, interweaving several perspectives, uniting the particularity of experience with the generality of the symbolic representation, superimposing literal meaning with its metaphor. On the other hand art’s eye fosters wandering humour, ironic and intelligent variety, the pleasure of free research, the grace of painting without constrictive unilateral ideological determinations.
As a matter of fact art’s eye is more curious than that of a voyeur and it never stops looking at three hundred and sixty degrees, in front and behind, up and down. It’s a greedy eye, never satisfied, never shut.

 
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