Critical Texts

Alberto Agazzani


The invention of modernity. 
There’s no work of art without ideology, without an orderly system of ideas that support its creation. Any artistic representation is the manifestation of a point of view, a vision, an interpretation of what is visible which is both the product of an idea and an orderly thought.Consequently, the concept is the soul of the work of art, of which the shapes and the colours imprinted on the canvas are just one of the many possible expressions.This represents the two poles through which art, and therefore the underlying ideology which has accompanied it since its origins at the dawn of our civilisation, has oscillated: instinct and reason. The instinctive Palaeolithic Venuses that our still errant ancestors sculpted into ivory or stone 40,000 years before the birth of Christ were far removed from any imitation of reality and therefore from any analytical observation of what is visible. In the same way sculpture was conceived in Ancient Greece, like the fruit of a highly acute observation of reality, taken to the extreme consequence of an idealness so absolute as to be impossible in Nature (see the supreme example of the improbable anatomies of the Bronzes of Riace), at a moment when, all instinct having been forgotten, it was ideology that established the order and shape of Creation - with growing power. Invention and mimesis, as opposing but not counter-posing poles of the history of western art.Every artistic phenomenon, from ancient times to the present day, can be set in this curious web of imitations of reality, and in its inventive sublimation, even the most basic. And even with different temperatures and shapes, the history of the artistic ideologies of our post avant-garde contemporaneity appear to be pale reflections of a déjà vu just waiting to be revealed. In this way we can see that Surrealism, a fruit of a totally mental concept of the world, had its epigones, if not earlier, as early as the mid-15th century, when, for example, Ercole De’ Roberti invented, for Borso d’Este, the flying cities of Schifanoia (not to mention the equally surreal literary inventions, dating back to the same period, of Ariosto. And how can one fail to see, in the in-series production of pictures, with the intention of achieving global communication and its claim to popularity, an epigone of Pop Art way back in Ancient Rome, with the effigies of the emperor, the pop-star par excellence of his day, re-proposed in every way and size, from the monumental statues spread all over the Empire, to the tiniest coins (Andy Warhol never hid his concept of the work of art as a “money-making machine”)? Then the photographic realism of a certain American style of painting at the end of the 1960s, known as Photorealism, found conceptually not dissimilar ancestors in early-15th century Flanders, without having to wait for Leonardo da Vinci a century later1. But what differentiates Surrealism, Pop Art or Photorealism from their distant epigones is not the expressive form, which is substantially identical, but the ideological charge, organised thought and cultural layout. At this point, the frequently quoted words of Arturo Martini appear clear: “Modernity is not the discovery of something, but the rediscovery of the soul of things, with the intensity that circulates in the air of their time; it is the translation of the on-going reality of the world in a poetic language that belongs to our time”2. Michele Taricco is outside of any foreseeable setting, but he’s an example of a painter who succeeded for over fifty years in translating the “on-going reality of the world” into an ever-current language, and no label easily befits him other than painter tout-court.
On the subject of his painting, a first example is often, maybe too often, given as being “Photorealism” or “Hyperrealism”. A definition that is similar to a discover, getting back to Martini, which only partially grasps an aspect of Taricco’s complex and mobile expressivity; an expressivity and a poetic form of reality, otherwise rich in shades and references, never and not only similar to such a well-established concept. That Michele Taricco was among the very first artists in Italy (and therefore in Europe) to adopt a US-style photorealist ideology in his painting, is a long-since clarified and evident fact. In the same way that his original fascination with Surrealism is a precedent that cannot be overlooked: two opposing elements which were to remain in constant contact throughout his long career, defining its style and characterising its poetic and expressive development.  This isn’t the place in which to make a detailed analysis of Taricco’s whole pictorial excursus, but what seems evident in his over fifty-year career, is an absolute loyalty to himself; an intellectual, poetic faith and independence which have achieved him growing and global recognition (from his debut at Art Basel to the walls of collectors all over the world), as well as a completely surprising arrival point, at the age of 80-plus, considering that he is full of energy, retinoic and intellectual lucidity, as well as a physical strength, which are truly phenomenal. Taricco’s most recent works can be traced back to a series of “tears”, subjects that the painter had already happily tackled in the first half of the 1970s and which he now reinvents, further defining his poetics and his relationship, never interrupted but always reinterpreted, with American Photorealism.
At this point it seems important to briefly remember the ideological arrangement that was at the origin of this United States movement, born as the natural derivation of the bigger phenomenon of Pop Art. The cultural climate of the United States in the early 1960s, when Pop Art arrived from the United Kingdom, was characterised by a supremacy of the so-called “Abstract Expressionism”, excessive conceptualism and intellectuality, of which they were intended to oppose with an immediate art form referred to the recognisable reality of everyday objects. The extreme formal severity of a painting so detailed as to become confused with photography, opposed the gestural freedom of the Abstractists and references to situations, icons, images while the status symbols of the “American dream” escaped every excessively intellectualist temptation. In Italy, and throughout Europe in general, the historical, political and emotional situation into which American Photorealism was slotted was completely different; if for no other reason than that of the weight of a history which was much more pressing, as well as the necessary relationship that our west has entertained, and did entertain, with the great European painting tradition. When, in 1972, American Photorealism officially arrived in Europe, in the widely discussed “Dokumenta 5” exhibition in Kassel, curated by Harald Szeemann, it immediately found in Michele Taricco, happily sustained by the intelligent farsightedness and sensitivity of Georges Kasper, an enthusiastic disciple. The Pop dimension of the subjects dear to the American avant-gardists (metropolitan views, gleaming cars and motorbikes, consumer society logos and icons, stars and screen celebrities), however, failed to adapt to a Europe which had already emerged (also emotionally) from the difficulties of the period immediately after the Second World War and was more geared towards a form of intimacy and lyricism which contrasted completely with American “Cool realism”. Taricco, who came, as mentioned earlier, from a Surrealist background, was among the very first artists to interpret the unprecedented instances of this new art, adding (and here is the difference that makes our Taricco an authentic protagonist of that season) a poetic and therefore inventive afflatus of outstanding originality and expressive strength. The painter was to tackle numerous images of his “pop” visual universe (cars, trains, urban landscapes, still life) but without ever sacrificing his sentiment and, especially, the evocative power of painting. This produced paintings characterised by extreme realism, photographic in the precision of their details and virtuosistic trickery of trompe l'oeil, but they were never “cool”, cold, ascetic and aphasic images, in the way that the Americans intended. Taricco dedicates, almost forty years later, a reflection on the “tears” of his 1970s, and on what that time, those values and those ideologies meant to him. If, in the turbine of those years, Mimmo Rotella saw the tear as being a mirror of a lacerated and fleeting society, Taricco saw tears as being more like real and metropolitan “pop” symbols; strange figures dictated by chance, alchemies of colours, shadows and lights of ordinary and everyday familiarity, transformed into icons of beauty, transfigured by the magic of painting. And this is where the American assumption of Photorealism, according to which the painter should have portrayed what is visible exactly as it was captured by the camera lens, is denied. In reaching this very convincing sublimation of reality, so much so to be confused with reality itself, Taricco, now more than ever before, manifests the oldest and most complex essence of painting: a mysterious, almost magical balance, as fleeting as it is perceptible between reality and invention. The otherwise impossible synthesis between two opposites. If we observe Taricco’s “tears” of today (on an equal footing with every subject portrayed by him), we no longer see the self-satisfied desire to amaze, the original and arrogantly fantastic mannerism of his youth, but that tendency towards optical illusion, which was triggered by an enthusiasm that dominated over an expressivity full of lyricism. Among all the paintings, those of yesterday and those of today, but particularly these retinoically memorable “tears”, there has been the growth, evolution and expressive maturity of an artist who has painted all his life, making his time coincide with that of his painting. The struggle to improve technically merged with sentiment, warmth and invention. From the impossible portrayal of surreal invention, Taricco was catapulted into the most visible reality, later (over a period of forty years) reconquering the wonder of invention and, primarily, coming to grips with that modernity that does not belong to a preformed ideology which, being unique and inimitable, originated from his sensitivity, his history and, above all, his life.
Galleria Gagliardi - 2011: solo exhibition "Memorie Strappate" by Michele Taricco curated by Alberto Agazzani.
1    For this and other questions relating to the discovery and use of optic instruments in the creation of paintings, see the essay by David Hockney entitled Secret Knowledge: rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters, Viking Studio, New York 2001
2    In De Micheli, Mario, La fuga degli Dei, Edizioni Vangelista, Milan 1989