Agnes Kohlmeyer


Serena Nono – Portraits Agnes Kohlmeyer September 2002
From the catalogue Ritratti di Serena Nono, galleria Traghetto, Venice

Since the beginning of the 90’s, Serena Nono has experimented in various areas of painting, from architectural subjects and landscapes, to chromatic compositions, which are almost definitively abstract, to find, at the end of a thoughtful path, the crucial subject matter of her current artistic research: portraits.
It has been a coherent process and has from the very beginning been in some way aware of its outcome.
A process focused on painting with an almost obsessive interest in manipulating paint and colour.
Along this path, the artist has managed a virtuosic ability in using a chromatic palette of harmoniously combined dark and subtle hues.
We could even interpret as a strategy, the fact that Serena Nono has preferred directing her attention to less a complex subject matter, than human figure, until she could master the technique completely.
In all her paintings, the meticulous attention to thoroughly exploiting the sequence of layers, the nuances and the expressive potential of colour is still evident today.
We can recognize the fine sensitivity that guides the paintbrush through the minute varieties of her gesture, spreading the chromatic wash over the surface, handling texture, colour and light, reaching expressive results, which transform themselves continuously.
The landscapes and the architectural subjects seem to have been chosen initially for the possibility which they offer to be contemplated and fixed in images, through a patient and serene process, less precariously immediate than the one involved with portraits; she could reveal their “truths” more easily. Up to most recent years, when the artist decided it was finally the right moment to confront portraiture. A portrait is something incredibly private, a courageous and complex gesture, when it looks at a third person, and not less audacious when it is a self-portrait. It is necessary to know the subject that is portrayed to the inmost recesses of its intimacy, or at least, to observe it intensely to the point at which the artist dares to reproduce what she/he has learnt to recognize . It is necessary to learn to look at and to comprehend things about the subjects that are sometimes unknown even to them.
It is necessary to perceive the “truth” in a face, in an attitude, in a gesture.
Along this journey, Serena Nono’s paintings, have gradually become “portraits”.

After having initially laid her gaze on the delicate features of a female torso, of a woman’s back, after having discovered the transient glances of a face, first of all: her own face, Serena Nono’s interest for the complexity of the human figure has grown so genuinely and exclusively to enable her to create real human figures.
These portraits feature mostly young people, bending over or kneeling, raising their hands expressively or using them to cover parts of their bodies; women proudly looking up, their heads taking on an elegant pose or else bowed.
Harmonious and slender women with dark hair and smooth elongated necks, who remind us of Modigliani’s portraits, but mostly similar to the girls with bodies like gazelles and thin faces, painted by Otto Mueller, whose severe expressions emerge from dark backgrounds, whose bodies lie abandoned, relaxing on their own arms.

The attention that at first was concentrated on body traits today belongs to the faces of the figures, where we find the most essential and intimate features of their identity. Sometimes the portrayed subjects even retain their names.
The background, which in time has been enriched with darker shades and tones, surrounds and embraces the body, and the perimeter of the head.
The paint, which has become more fluid and lighter, suggests in some paintings, that the very background pours its soft and dark secret on the figure that lies, searching for rest; or that its flowing dark hair blends in with the elements of nature in the background.

The expressive results are mutable and their variations are open to different interpretations.
The titles of the paintings still remain bare and elusive: simply “Figure”, or else “Portrait”, “Boy”, “Figure with book”…
Only in some cases, as we have said, the name of the portrayed person appears.
Faces and figures are exposed to the viewer for what they are. Nothing must distract from what can be seen and felt in them. Often it is just a hint of an exclusive gesture, of a particular profile of a neck or of a shoulder, or the studied evocation of a particular expression: dreamy or startled, aware or proud.
The path of Serena Nono’s painting unfolds, continuously finding particular themes and motives. This is true of the painting entitled “Figure with book”, where the book is so fervently and tightly pressed to the breast, as if this gesture were a response to a vital necessity: that it become an inseparable element of the body itself, revealing thus the most intimate aspects and secrets of the person.
Painting of remembrance and of memory, produced by tirelessly repeating the gesture of looking at and thinking about the image of something (of somebody) which otherwise risks to be lost, a gesture that discovers and recognizes the original sense, that transforms this experience in a “figure” finally able to resist in time.

Agnes Kohlmeyer

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