Critical Texts

L'incanto dell'Essere. Materia e/e' Luce, STEFANIA ORRU'
Alessandra Frosini

L'incanto dell'Essere. Materia e/e' Luce

The theme of Being, which has always been at the centre of Stefania Orrù’s research, is investigated through a hermetic painting that encloses distinct sentimental urgencies. This is not a merely eye-catching surface lyricism, but rather a sort of reflection that knows how to linger in the passing between light and shade, returning to the realm of the senses with a serene spirit. It is a meditative immersion into light, colour and form through a powerful painting imbued with energy. Stefania Orrù is an artist who interprets the contemporary world through her authentic, existential and poetic world, without losing her true nature: with her, concept becomes material and the works withhold and send out the light of the idea. In her works there is a deep echo of experienced aesthetics that even undo and therefore suspend the idea of time, overlapping past and present. When observing these works, we realise that we are inside a story that talks about Stefania Orrù and simultaneously links us to a universe of references brought to mind by an image. At first glance it may seem that these images of women (which are almost always self-portraits) are, above all, the carriers of a mystical beauty based on the balance of the composition and the delicate dosage of the coloristic element. Recalling the Greek tradition, we could speak of a beauty which is not symmetría alone, but also chróma, colour. Therefore, a qualitative and punctual beauty, which may become manifest even in a simple chromatic sensation or a flash of light: “The simple beauty of a colour is given by a form that dominates the darkness of material, by the presence of an incorporeal light, which is nothing but reason and idea,” according to Plotinus’ way of thinking, and which becomes, within the frame of Neoplatonic philosophy, the light that shines on the material as a reflection of the One from whom it emanates. But here we are not within a last expression of the mysticism of light, but rather within an aesthetics of light that makes Beauty (and evocative capacity) a cognitive tool. And Beauty, in order to be a cognitive tool, needs to be filtered by literature that, despite the large variety of accents, dwells on the aesthetics of light: literary echoes thus intertwine and succeed one another, from Dante, to Blake and Rimbaud, from Leopardi, to Neruda and Pasolini. Her poetic universe is expressed, incisively, by bringing ancestral icons to mind: suspended, straight on female figures, placed within a space which is annulled, a dispersing vacuum, in which all that remains visible is the figure, the only real space that can be probed. The limpid classicism of the subjects, figures, rarefied faces and profiles, the attention to the body that underlies respect and consideration for the individual that stands out in an immaterial space made palpable by transparencies and textural depths : the faces that, at first glance, recalled the fixity of Byzantine icons, dissolve to show the ephemeral depth of the sensations, emotions, feelings and consciences manifested through painting. The measured and precise balance of the compositions also relies on the shade that blends with and opposes a light created from the diaphanous, which rises from the depth of things and expresses their infinite power. Phenomenal reality is always partly obscure and undecipherable, and thus destined to inevitably blend shade and light, interior light, the internal and invisible core of things, eidos – the essence through which the Being manifests itself. Hence the need to investigate, to dig with the aim of directing reflection, lingering and understanding. What we are participating in is an aesthetic research that returns to symbolism and figuration, to explore the invisible and eternal. And the notion of time in these works also passes through a clever technique that breathes the scent of the past: old and new at once, blending tradition and innovation, springing from experience acquired over the years, practice with Master Elvio Marchionni, and reflections on gestures and material. Artistic language becomes concrete by anchoring to individual experience, and it is not surprising to find in Orrù an evident love for memory and history (the lesson of the painters of the Umbrian Quattrocento mediated by the Master), and for the processing of the material, learned also through the use of the strappo technique, and the work on masonry surfaces, in addition to the comparison with the natural colours and atmospheres of her homeland, the Marches, and with Umbria, experienced during the years of training as an artist. The same colours found in the velvety graduation of the shades, from pale pink to blue, light ochre yellow and pearl white, which characterise her palette and take on unexpected hues due to the strong surge of the soul that enlivens them. Effects made possible by an elaborate experimentation matured through the choice of a mixed technique that unites fresco, tempera grassa and hot wax to create otherwise impossible overlays and veilings. Shading off softens the passage from light to shade, and the lack of sharpness of the contours becomes imperceptible dispersion but, for Stefania Orrù, it is also the awareness to be handling a material that is alive and vital, and that undergoes changes owing to the way she handles it. The shadings off are not only soft and delicate, but create a contrast that no longer speaks of the sweetness of remembering and of memories, but of a different place where thoughts gather and consolidate in a closely elaborate material, according to a precise and meditated expressive ductus, which changes depending on the pursued results, making the surface at times dense and scratched, and at times glossy and smooth.
In the works that result from the most recent phase of her research, we find large, elaborate surfaces where the suggestion of transparencies and the texture of the fresco technique are fully exploited against two painted backgrounds. Poses are no longer straight-on, eyes close to better concentrate reflection, contrasts become sharper. Light and darkness, intended as places within the mind, as worlds crossed and crossable by the very Being itself, are captured through plays of chiaroscuro taken to the extreme, where the profiles of the figures, the drapes, the hands, are both real and symbolic forms, and appear like keys to reading that testify to the Being, steeped in contradictions, and in obscure and luminous territories. An existential realism that recalls Ferroni or makes reference to some of Annigoni’s reminiscences, revealing the strong desire for knowledge of the depths of human nature.
A powerful contrast between light and shade, but at the same time, a dualism that manages to harmonise with a ductile, dense and sometimes translucent material. So many reflections make it shine, polished material that has filled and almost overflows; at times it is the black, intense and vibrant, that becomes bright owing to the clever use of wax. The figures are bathed in light but also enclosed in shade; and shade, which is both lack of light and proof of its presence, provides help for the symbolic or realistic understanding of spaces and objects represented, and therefore symbolically becomes expectation and desire of light, also on a spiritual level. The true knowledge of human affairs and the world is intimately understood and concentrated within the essential shade of solids, and is enclosed and denied within their borders.
The subject, immersed in a complex swirl of texture, is no longer the core of this latest production by Stefania Orrù but, having this material thickened into two big clots, one light, one dark, is now the key to understanding in these two opposites. Key for reading but also the protagonist, along with light and darkness, of a game of interlocking or of overwhelming depth and enchantment, capable of creating an extraordinary sense of Beauty and contemplative wonder. Material and light, apparently in contrast, indeed substantiate each other: material and light, but most of all material and spirit. And time appears to be suspended: a synchronic and eternal time that involves the onlooker in a  seduction that is not the mere seduction of the eye, but a deep and meditated involvement requiring a committed participation, to be discovered slowly. This effect, desired and created by the artist, recalls distant suggestions of half-light and nuances, a chromatic and plastic atmosphere that refers to the history of art, from Leonardo to Rubens, revised and updated in personal emotional contexts. The driving force of this journey, that exerts a strong centripetal attraction on us, is a rarefied atmosphere, an almost unreal solitude, which is the same that we carry within us. We face ourselves, the same as always and ever-changing, in front of a mirror which is also a bridge, a crossing point that serves as connection between the manifest and the hidden. Stefania Orrù’s paintings are not self-portraits/soliloquies that play on outward appearances, but images that bring their own essence into being. Eidos, indeed, as a means to reach the Truth, to look for herself (and ourselves), to gain awareness and know all that is happening inside and around us. It is an introspective journey that invites us to look beyond the appearance of things thanks to the readability of the figuration and symbolism. Following Husserl's distinction between Leib (understood as a primarily lived body, or «the body I am») and Körper (understood as body-object-container, mediated by self-reflection, or «the body I have»), the essence becomes tangible through figures that are not shadows, nor memories of life, but vital presences, presented as the protagonists of the paintings, figures evoked and present placed against undefined backgrounds, dispersing vacuums. We thus realise that what is manifested is not only the combination between light and shade, and figures and space, but also between expansion and concentration (of time, of material), past and present, distance and proximity, absence and presence, and that our eyes are but a container that can both hold and delete everything. Stefania Orrù’s painting recovers the sense of a reality that is not limited to a mere representation, but becomes the opportunity for a moment of thought to go further: before art, the elsewhere can always be found here.
Galleria Gagliardi - 2014: solo exhibition by "THE ENCHANTMENT OF BEING. MATERIAL AND/IS LIGHT." by Stefania Orrù curated by Alessandra Frosini