Critical Texts

Alessandra Frosini

Bellezza Vera

Beauty, a blue note story. (
In 1898, Gustav Klimt painted his first version of Nuda Veritas, a lithograph published in “Ver Sacrum”, the journal of the Vienna Secession: a female figure, standing completely naked before us, with no modesty, holding a mirror in one hand, turned towards the onlooker, exhorting the spectator to face up to the truth, undermined by the serpent which embodies lies. A non-idealised nude, it becomes an icon defined by a new firmness and apprehensions, which speaks to contemporary man using a new symbolism that corresponds to the cultural, political and social needs of the time, inevitably a manifesto of art as a free messenger of truth of its day. At the top of the etching, an inscription, quoting the German writer Leopold Schefer, introduces the theme: “Truth is fire, and to speak the truth means shining and burning”. Klimt, aware of the explosive strength of a non-idealised image which strikes and moves the souls of spectators, speaking of them and placing them before an ideal mirror, uses the title and an inscription to declare a concept, mediating the image created with words. To speak of naked truth, he embodies the image of a woman in the prime of her life, representing a real, tangible beauty. Does this equate beauty to truth?
Beauty is an asymmetric value, lacking in reciprocity, lacking answers, but accompanied by an inevitable and blinding charge of truth. Its plot must be followed and interpreted, and it disguises the secret of worldly things. The intrinsic value of beauty is hidden here, in its ability to feed the soul, to reawaken our thoughts from their slumber, to tell us the truth and, consequently, be the truth.
The pictures of the works by Riccardo Mannelli are characterised by such frankness as to prevent spectators from ignoring or misunderstanding what they are looking at. His is an image-truth, sustained by the rigour of an investigation which, while it feeds on and is enriched by the obsessive search for detail, is never reduced to a slavish annotation of reality. Mannelli reconstructs his world of things and people with the slow procedure of signs and colours: the constant search for the obvious and for its inner manifestation becomes a tool and method which allow him to penetrate the intimate essence of things.An essence which “shines and burns”, to quote Schefer, which teaches the eyes how to see again, to grasp, in the very same instant, the invisible within the visible.In the Hasta mañana series, beauty as truth pervades the couples stretched out, bodies embraced and captivated by love, nourished by their mutual presence, which cannot be defined as figures because their consistency is real and almost tangible. They are bodies etched by time and life, living bodies that are alive, old bodies, graceless or beautiful bodies, normal and extraordinary at the same time, which exist in that hic et nunc of which everything is part; every detail being substantial.
Interest is focused on the differences, which are emphasised, exasperated and underscored, to the point where they become the focal point of attention and the figures exist in consubstantiality with the reality around them, made up of clothes, fabrics, sofas, floors and curtains, characterised by endless expressive continuity.The individual figures of women who confirm their existence (Sono una donna; Blues) or who reveal themselves in the moment that precedes sex, offering the authenticity of their giving themselves, create a forest of apparitions and desires, in the alternation and explanation of repetitions and variations. They are figures prepared to sustain the gaze and to expect it, to seek it out and exchange it in a relaxed, contemplative and fleeting moment which is part of the time of dreams, of memories, of care and of the time of the image itself, with visions full of life and always aware of death.
The immediacy of these images stems also from the way in which they are formed: Mannelli works without a preparatory drawing or a sketch, starting with the reference parameters that he has consolidated over the years, drawing from reality. The drawing takes shape, absorbed by the watercolour cotton paper that he works with, using pastels, watercolours and oils to highlight, with an incisive mark, using a “heavy” hand which, in some cases, almost reaches the limit of the thickness of the paper.
Nothing is left to chance and so, in editing the compositions and building up the drawing of these figures, we find points of reference rooted in the artistic tradition of the past, starting from the Tuscan 15th century, progressing through symbolism and German expressionism and via authors like Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele, from whom he borrows a new synthesis between soul and senses, revealed in a more intimate dimension of reality. Among his contemporaries, he is close to the neo-expressionist realism of Lucian Freud, of which he underscores the marks left by life on human bodies. From Francis Bacon he takes and presents the style which invents the body and places it in the space, on the surface of the painting, according to a movement capable of conceiving a body, granting the eye unprecedented angles and surfaces.
What is created is a simultaneous story, which runs by at high speed when the word-sign slows down, concentrating and expanding space. To quote Roland Barthes, storytelling falls within a trans-historical category, detached from time, which can be embodied in countless tangible supports, from words to actions, writings and images. Mannelli is the author of stories in which most of the atmosphere remains suspended, to stretch the imagination, to create a balance which is always precarious, to grasp the here and now, cancelling one way of storytelling and forming another, different way, with a rhythm all of its own. The rhythm of telling stories using pictures, fed also by numerous literary suggestions, ranging from Baudelaire to Rilke, from Conrad to Mann, and through to Celine (Journey to the End of the Night and Trifles for a Massacre, to begin with). It is a Blues rhythm, as indicated in the title of a series of his works, which takes on contracted or syncopated, aleatory forms, a light rhythm which becomes musical, to freeze expressions in a delicate arc of their development.The rhythm is set by the marks of the drawing, which build up a sense of their own, capable of disturbing, seducing, astounding and convincing.His painting is this surprise, the surprise of a story dominated by striking and exquisite moments, animated by a tenacious mythology and an almost hypnotic suggestion. No cunning effects, but a narrative condition put together with the strong and opaque clumps of the image: a blue note story told for us.
Galleria Gagliardi-2016: solo exhibition by Riccardo Mannelli "Bellezza Vera" curated by Alessandra Frosini