The Inner Landscape
Victoria Martino


– Egon Schiele, 1912

Serena Nono is international. She feels equally at home in her native Venice, her adopted place of study, London, or family residences in Los Angeles , Vienna and in Alghero. She communicates with ease in different languages, and intuitively knows how to penetrate into the very core of a culture without compromising her own complex identity. Her name echoes that of her birthplace, and, like its unruffled waters and timeless, implacable architecture, her presence radiates a quiet self-assurance, at times belying the turmoil and constant movements under the surface or behind the facades, which reach to the very foundations. Like Venice, she has a rich heritage – Jewish and Christian, secular and sacred, traditional and revolutionary, superstitious and enlightened – carrying within it the predilection towards greatness. Like Venice, she must bear the heavy mantle of an illustrious history upon her shoulders, but, not content to rest upon the laurels won by others, she is undaunted in her independence and in the establishment of a firm foothold in the present, while already embracing the future. Like Venice, she can assimilate the essential elements of diverse sources and streams both geographical and cultural, nevertheless maintaining unity and uniqueness.

In her preference for depicting the human figure, Serena Nono manifests her affinity with three different artistic currents – early 20th century Austrian art (Klimt, Schönberg, Kokoschka, Schiele, Gerstl, Faistauer, Kolig) – the School of London (Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Auerbach, Kitaj) and the figurative tradition in Venice (Music, Barbarigo). While her emphasis on the expressive self-portrait links her to Schönberg, Kokoschka, Schiele and Gerstl, the tendency to go beyond the personal to the universal by presenting a luminous figure emerging from the darkness connects her more to the iconic representations of Music and Barbarigo, and her deep psychological penetration into the human condition resonates more closely with Bacon and Freud. Her work is informed by a century of European figurative art, and yet it retains a powerful immediacy and urgency, born of the uncompromising will to paint from the inside out, withholding nothing and risking everything. Hers is a human drama untempered by theatricality and staging – it is verity, not verisimilitude.

The same courage that has enabled her to acknowledge the artistic legacy of her forebears while yet pursuing her own path, has also empowered her to reveal herself fully in her works, in the knowledge that she can represent all by representing herself, as long as it is truth. She must bare her soul in order to find it – at the frontier where art and the spirit meet. In this, she embodies the vision of the artist expressed in Schiele’s poetic manifesto of 1910, KÜNSTLER (Artists): THE MOST NOBLE SENTIMENT IS RELIGION AND ART. NATURE IS PURPOSE, – BUT GOD IS THERE, AND I SENSE HIM, POWERFULLY, VERY POWERFULLY, THE MOST POWERFULLY. Like Schiele, Serena Nono recognizes that in re-creating nature, one intimates the divine. Just as Schiele, while in prison, turned from the human figure to representations of chairs, articles of clothing, and a jug, so too Serena Nono portrays chairs, boots and a jug with the same sense of the organic found in her figures. It is not by chance that these common objects glow with life and purpose: the use of luminous, loosely applied, and, to some degree, unmixed colors renders them animate.

In the late works of Schiele, living flesh is evoked through highlights of pure primary colors – the figures are illumined from within. Serena Nono achieves the same effect with a rich and complex palette of primary and secondary colors applied in multiple layers until the figures seem to be molded – the legacy of her early period as a sculptor. Emerging from a dark background, the forms radiate as beacons of light, calling to mind an orange portrayed by Schiele during his stay in prison: THE SINGLE ORANGE WAS THE ONLY LIGHT! For Schiele in prison, deprived as he was of experiencing nature, hence, God, to the utmost, the orange became a symbol of the fullness of life, embodying all of its potential. Here Schiele was compelled to confront the essential object of his search, and all of the risks it entailed. He noted on his watercolor of three oranges: MY PATH LEADS OVER ABYSSES. Serena Nono’s path traverses the inner landscape of the soul, leading her also over abysses, for she too, like Schiele, aspires to the highest purpose, risking everything in the quest for truth.

-Victoria Martino

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