Introduction
Konrad Oberhuber

 

The Italian Cultural Institute in Vienna presents an exhibition of recent works by the Venetian painter Serena Nono. They are works, which, with a single exception, are dedicated to the human body: full nudes, half figures, body parts and portraits. These figures glow luminously and almost magically from a dark and mobile ground, and thus have a very special presence for the viewer. In the series shown here, one can notice a change from the pictures of 1995 and 1996 exhibited in Salzburg by Michaela Moeller in 1996. In the new paintings, the figure is much more integrated into space, whether it is represented fully or only half length. The contours now merge less with the ground and establish firmer borders. The bodies themselves are more strongly differentiated in the light thus obtaining greater plasticity. The forms no longer fill the picture plane to the same degree, but become more isolated within their surroundings. In this way, they withdraw more into themselves, and one feels them less as people who speak to the viewer with the feelings represented than as beings that rest in themselves and with whose essentially human isolation and loneliness one can empathize. They can also share the space with objects and animals that assume an equal presence with them. Even chairs and vessels can become sole objects of a painting and can inform the viewer about their function and importance through their individual forms. These pictures demand a more active and intuitive approach through which the inner content of these human beings or things is being revealed. Now the artist can go even a step further. In very recent works, like the two images of children, the figure obtains a new compact spatial form and presents itself to the viewer in a more powerful way. The forms become more simple and clear. The outlines begin to speak. Serena Nono now reaches a further stage in her already very interesting painterly development.

Light continues to be the carrier of expression, no longer spreading over the whole form, but applied in smaller patches to certain places, and so serving as highlight. In these recent works, Serena Nono has become a virtuoso master of those highlights, managing to obtain extraordinary plastic effects with very few free touches of the brush, in a manner reminding one of the late works of Michelangelo da Caravaggio.

Caravaggio has been for many modern masters (e.g. Manet) the father of an art where figures present themselves in inner isolation and distinguish themselves as powerful forms in front of a simple but alive ground. The question about the essence of the human being which the great Lombard artist began to pose around 1600, in the age of Galilei, continued to be asked into our own time and has now become a question for all of humanity. Serena Nono’s art, with its sculptural isolation of the figure, is in many ways essentially Italian. One can think of Modigliani for such an art of expressive bodies and gestures, continuing as a tradition throughout Italian painting of this century, and having in Venice some special configurations that may have been important for the artist. Serena Nono could also find more inspiration for such an art of the body in London, where she received her training as a painter, and where one can find another tradition of figurative art. The most important inspiration for her search for the human being came, however, from the School of Vienna around 1900, something, which she could not find in the Vienna of today.

Only in the last decades has the city of Vienna been acknowledged as one of the most important centers for the creation of modern painting. In music, the city of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, but also of Mahler and Zemlinsky, has always been recognized as such. Amongst the greatest of Viennese painters Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka and Gerstl, one would also count Arnold Schoenberg, if he had put all his strength into this medium. For a short time he even planned to do that. Then he put all his energy into music. As a painter he created, like the other Viennese, an art of figures and portraits with a strong psychological and spiritual dimension, exposing in an impressive way the problem of modern man and pushing at the borders towards the supernatural. Arnold Schoenberg was Serena Nono’s grandfather, and his works, like those of the other great Viennese artists, were impressions of her childhood. In fact, her art is profoundly akin to the spirit of Schoenberg’s work, as she deals, like he did, with the problems of love and loneliness, life and death and the relationship of man to the spiritual world. It is a search for the human being with a depth which one could call religious. The paintings of Serena Nono, which have developed in the last year to a new culmination point, are like the fulfillment of a dream: the dream of Arnold Schoenberg to become a painter. Now the expressive painterly work of the granddaughter leads us into a new century, just as the music of her grandfather had led us into the passing one.

 

-Konrad Oberhuber


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