Solitude and the “Somewhere else”
Fabrizio D’Amico


Serena Nono is an artist of ramified visual culture, whose complex genealogy (which she has not repressed or masked in any way, openly defying the obligations of “topicality” at its most banal) has been delineated on another occasion by Victoria Martino. Three fundamental sources, from as many periods in the past, have fed this (still young) painter’s art from the outset. First, Austrian culture in transit between Jugendstil and expressionism, assimilated, at the pitch of its quality and radical modernist vocation, through her family. Then, some investigations into Venetian (and Triestine) painting, stretching at least from Marussig to Music. Finally, English painting “beside” and after Bacon, met with in the course of her art studies in London in the Eighties.
But to these terms, these sources, others can certainly be added. The artists nestled on the borderline between symbolism and proto-expressionism that marked, throughout northern Europe, the beginning of the century we are now leaving, from Munch to the silent poet of Laethem-Saint-Martin, Albert Servaes. Or, closer to us in time, those artists prevalently of the German sphere who all share a sort of obsession for the theme of the face, although they differ greatly regarding questions of form: from Rosemarie Trockel to the young painter Chantal Wicki, whose work, moreover, was shown at Jean Clair’s Venice Biennale, in an exhibition (“Identity and Alterity: Figures of the Body 1895-1995”) that in all likelihood provided Serena Nono with an important verification of her own stylistic determinations, which definitively matured from that moment on.
Konrad Oberhuber, presenting Nono’s exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Vienna just a few months ago, noted an evolution in the Venetian painter’s most recent work, in which the figure is now “much more integrated into space. The contours merge less with the ground and establish firmer borders. The bodies themselves are more strongly differentiated in the light, thus obtaining greater plasticity”; while the forms “become more isolated within their surroundings. They withdraw more into themselves.” Strangely enough, the step Nono has taken, apparently no break with the past, in fact draws her towards a decisive stripping of her painting of the materical turgidity – still veined with late-romantic throbs – of a very young Richard Gerstl, until it reflects that economy of expressive accentuations, that linguistic contraction which was intuited, around 1920, by Schönberg the painter. Thus Nono, in a tight fistful of years, not only goes back over an essential nucleus of her family history, but goes through the same stages of that which, probably in an equally tight span of time, had been the intellectual adventure that brought together two men who, moreoever, were so different. In his extraordinary definition of the Viennese composer’s brief pictorial career, Kandinsky, in 1912, described Schönberg’s painting as “a painting of just” [nur Malerei]. And, indeed, a tension profoundly kindred to this “just,” which induced Schönberg progressively to divest his images of everything not essential to what he called his “vision” (what Kandinsky called the “emotions that have no musical form”), seems to be the driving force of Nono’s work today. Work that, from a formal hypothesis where a dense accumulation of symbolic significations rested upon a tumultuous materiality (dense and furrowed, anxiously crossed and caressed by both ends of the brush), essentially less defined, now attains a more contracted and representational definition of the image, devoid not only of narration (a temptation always substantially extraneous to this artist) but also of that overload of feeling, at times hidden, at times barely confessed, which had previously distinguished her figures.
The “figure” (and, indeed, the vast majority of her paintings are figures and portraits, this theme being the true and deep obsession of Nono’s work) now avails itself of a light that appears to be ampler and less tense, and so has less trouble extracting the forms from the dark, unknown and mysterious magma of the ground. The few gestures the figures perform seem calmed in an everydayness that is free forever from alarm. So that, of the troubles which, like a basso continuo, occupy the mind, now almost nothing remains, except for the abrupt photographic cut that shakes the banal obviousness of a direct take on the real, while constantly designating a bewilderment and alterity with respect to the normal flow of existence, and a sense of the “somewhere else” that unfailingly, and implacably, marks Serena Nono’s images.
Enveloped, as if struck by solitude, these images traverse the world, their only comfort a pose that enfolds them, a brief embrace, a gesture of prayer: without Casorati’s astonished metaphysical suspension, without Juti Ravenna or Cagnaccio’s cruel objectivity, without Semeghini’s sadness already made serene – just to mention a few of the “Venetian” experiences that may have been close to Nono in her formative years. Without, for that matter, Schiele’s gothic harshness, or Kokoschka’s serpentine virtuosity. Without Bacon’s atrocious deformations, or Lucian Freud’s histrionics. With none of this; but what Serena Nono paints, mindful and incautious – aware that everything she once chose to ground her painting comes back to her today as an impracticable measure – is perhaps, above all, her impossibility of being different: her just.

Fabrizio D’Amico, Solitude and the “Somewhere else”, from the catalogue Figure, Lineadombra libri, 2000

Serena Nono