Angela Madesani, “Memory and annulment in the recent works of Roberto Rizzo”

In the catalogue of the exhibition Painting the Present, Barbara Behan Contemporary Art, London / Grossetti Annunciata Arte Contemporanea, Milan, October 2005

One of the most fascinating sides of Roberto Rizzo’s oeuvre is the theoretical component. It is rare for young Italian artists these days to write, to explain, to offer such a range of reflections on their work.
Rizzo shuns easy categorisations and groupings, like the rest of his generation. Instead he endeavours to build bridges: with the past, which emerges very clearly in his work; with the present – which clearly consists of more than painting; and with the future. It was this aspect that made one of the two big shows of this year’s Venice Biennale so interesting. In L’esperienza dell’arte curator Maria de Corral put together Agnes Martin’s and Bernard Frize’s non figurative paintings and those of Francis Bacon alongside videos and photography in a harmonious way.
It is both complex and difficult to be original in painting today. One cannot continue along the same routes and paths that have already been established. Rizzo avoids the spasmodic anxiety of a new short-lived event, of a sudden brainwave. Instead, he searches for a dimension that goes beyond immanence and that succeeds in connecting with memory and over-writing it with a contemporary reflection. Mo2, one of the paintings on show, is a homage to Giorgio Morandi, a painter for whom objects which remain the same over the course of many years, in reality are transformed into privileged vehicles for a discourse on abstraction and the purity of painting.

Rizzo has said about his great work Deposizione¹: “The reflexive dimension in Deposizione is fundamental because this allows it to link up with what was thought and created in the past and what will be in the future. The representative dimension, contingent to a historic time, in this case completes the other, because it reconfirms the presence of the reflexive dimension through the iconographical element. In this way Deposizione can reveal itself as painting, without being reduced to an instrument of representation, and so sacrifice its independent and true nature. The image that evokes the tragic moment is reflected in the pictorial process which expresses it”.
Rizzo succeeds in overcoming the representational dimension, paradoxically through painting, which is considered as the representational form par excellence amongst the arts. This same process unfolds throughout the course of the history of art. It can be found in Titian’s late Pietà at the Accademia di Venezia, which Rizzo has loved and studied for many years. It has an artistic completeness, despite the crumbling and fading of its colours. These great paintings often acquire a monochromatic ground, which goes way beyond a purely mental process. Thus the monochrome is not simply a single-colour sketch or draft, but rather the result of a technical, manual and mental process. In Rizzo’s works there is theory, but also sentiment and a driving force.
Every painting is made up of an internal zone, visceral – dramatic, (in the Greek sense of the word), a place of representation, of phenomena – surrounded by a monochrome area, in turn more reflective, resulting at times in automatic mental journeys, made up of superimposed veils of different colours.
Every one of his paintings is regulated as if he wanted to create separation. The individual parts are painted separately. To do this the artist creates a sort of enclosure whose limits are marked by adhesive tape, as if to fix a limit in a sort of sacred ritual measured by his own actions. His is a painting of intimacy – it holds a positive understanding of depth and fulfilment.
Rizzo, as I have already said, sets himself rules. First and foremost he accepts the spatial limits of the paintings itself. He has the courage to take stances in different situations and to make choices. In this way the link with the past is not a passive acceptance, rather a continuous discovery, which engenders a dialectical confrontation beyond time.
He is engaged in a search for artistic liberty, which leads him to go well beyond the confines of a predictable artistic practice or an already explored path. These are paintings, but also painted televisions, where images appear which relate to other situations.
His is a very personal response to those who affirm that today painting is dead. Painting is not dead, but it must look around, holding in consideration other forms of expression, other languages. This is what happened during the great iconographic revolution brought about by photography early in the 19ₜₕ century.
A work of art begins its real journey once it leaves the studio, when it is seen and thought about by others, as Mark Rothko has said. All this takes place, not necessarily in an evolutionary way, but through the possible transformation of things in their forms, images, properties.


1. Deposizione is a work from 1998 inspired by the theme “Descent from the Cross”, in particular the altar-piece by Rosso Fiorentino from 1521 (Volterra Art Gallery) and the painting by Rembrandt from 1632 (Munich Art Gallery).