The figures of discretion
Mario Fortunato

 

The woman is crouching, naked. She is looking upward. Her entire body wants to project itself off the ground: the hands are lost beyond the painting’s surface, the hair is confused with the contour of the shoulders, the mouth is tightly shut before the outburst.
Next to the woman and her potential gesture already somewhat visible, there is another female figure. A figure which seems to belong, or at least aspires to belong, to a quiet, static world. Her only desire, her extreme volition, is to recline her head, abandoning her face, as if it were a heavy object in her cupped hands. In both cases, in both canvasses, a dark, earthly background begins to fade into something lighter, a type of aquatic hint.
The women who populate the work of Serena Nono are all contained in this passage: the passage between the desire for movement and a terrible yearning for permanence. On one hand they rest, still and motionless anchored by a distant, autumnal sleep. On the other hand, they open their eyes, spread their arms, bend towards a strange pool under a flow of hair, they writhe.
At a first glance, one wants to say that pain is their stigmata. But this is a superficial interpretation. A closer look reveals a certain bashfulness, a silent and discreet virtuosity, that joins their bodies. As if every gesture, every line reveals itself, becoming evident only in reference to this silent need for secrecy.
Somebody has written, quite recently, that the first idea of identity that we westerners cultivate is that one related to our bodies. The “I” in other terms, coincides for us, above all, with our physical being.
These paintings demonstrate the same idea. Therefore, they explore the making and unmaking of matter: showing a hand, outlining a breast, drawing a face as if enquiring into its meaning or measuring its significance. The bodies stand out peremptory and concrete. Nevertheless, together with decisive solidity, a fluid, disappearing quality characterizes the images. The vigorous use of colour, almost expressionistic, suddenly seems to melt, drip away. We don’t know precisely what this is concealing, nor do we know why, we are spectators. The spectators of incessant mutation. Perhaps the faces and the bodies of S.N. are in the end a constant attempt of a single self portrait, and perhaps that is why they are untitled. Or, maybe not; the most interesting element is the transitory character of the human features, almost a meteorology of the body. Anyway it’s their narrative vocation that makes them so familiar and so mysterious.
Their relationship with tradition seems to say this. The canvasses of S.N. undoubtably possess a classical quality. They are immediately recognizable. They claim ancestry; one recalls a Viennese atmosphere at the beginning of the century, one recalls Schiele, and then Kupka. But of that tradition these paintings imitate only the subject not the manner of observation. The gaze which rests on these female bodies is radically contemporary- these are today’s women that have a totally natural, yet, totally negated relationship with their nudity. They are women who live at the end of the century not at its beginning. Even if, of that beginning, they don’t want to lose the memory.
Earlier, I said that in these canvasses the background is always compact, solid and earthly, but that here and there it fades into watery allusions. Obviously, I know that it is banal to associate the derivation of water from earth to the fact that S.N. was born and lives in Venice. I know. Nevertheless, isn’t it interesting that an artist finds the way to tell us about her space, her origins, through signs that are simple and discreet? Perhaps , in the end, it ir this simplicity, this discretion that I like the most in the paintings by Serena Nono.
Mario Fortunato


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