Giacinto Di Pietrantonio
Let’s begin by giving some cues to the reader, who might feel somewhat at a loss when faced with the blank page of a “tightrope act between commerce and poetry”, by noting, as Lorenzo Marini himself says of the color white, that there is a “strange contradiction in the color white; it is the sum of all colors yet the perception is infused with absence.
It is because it is elegant, like silence, because it is waiting for ink to fall on a sheet of paper, or waiting for color on a painter’s canvas. Herman Melville in Moby Dick called it ‘a colorless, all-color atheism’. Yet to choose white is strong, radical, and uncompromising.”. In that book, Marini also says that silence was invented by angels with the creation of snow, which covers everything with white and hushes noise. This is echoed in the song Emozioni by Lucio Battisti and Mogol, in which the legendary Italian songwriting duo wonder “why, when sadness falls to the bottom of the heart, like snow it makes no noise”. Soundless, colorless, at first sight Marini’s paintings would appear to be empty, even though we are aware that in this world we do not all look at things in the same way, and indeed one man’s empty is another man’s full. In the Zen culture of the East, empty has a value and white is associated with death, while for us in the West it is the other way round. In different parts of the world, white and black, like empty and full, have opposite meanings.
We in the West are bent on filling up with everything, and on filling the empty. Easterners by contrast seek primarily to empty out, and to empty the full. Empty is a positive attribute, because it is not the nothing of nihilism, but the whole of the potential for creation. The white chosen by Marini conveys this to us and tells us that what torments a painter is to define himself through a color. To give a name to a color, even when this is a “non-color”, is the challenge of painting. Titian did it with red (there is a shade of red called Titian); Veronese did it with green (there is a variation of viridian green called Paolo Veronese green); and it is no coincidence that Titian and Veronese were both from Veneto, as indeed is Lorenzo Marini. Unsurprising, indeed, that here we have two Veneto painters (three, including Marini), because traditionally, Veneto’s is the art that seeks the most to express itself through color (probably because of the influence of Venice) while the forte of the Florentine school is drawing, and the forms of Leonardo and Michelangelo.
“Empty is a positive attribute, because it is not the nothing of nihilism, but the whole of the potential for creation.”
We do not think of these Renaissance titans in terms of color; there is no color that brings them to mind, and instead there is a sign, a drawing. Raphael, who was from Urbino in central Italy, is also identified with drawing even though he is remembered for color in movement, in the complexions of the faces of his paintings of the Madonna. And Picasso of the blue and rose periods, when defining himself spoke not of painting but drawing, saying that as a child he could draw like Raphael but that it had taken him a lifetime to forget that and draw like Picasso. This kind of statement might actually be a legend, as in Vasari’s Lives, but it shows that these are stories put about which tell us the quality of the art created by acknowledging its tradition. This is probably another reason why the Veneto artist Lorenzo Marini seeks to affirm his painting by working principally on color, utilizing “the colorless, all-color atheism”. The color white also has a tradition in art, although it is most associated with modern art and abstraction, most prominently with Malevich in the Suprematism movement, with his White on White, 1915, then Lucio Fontana with his Manifesto Blanco, 1946, and his cuts, 1958, Manzoni with his Achromes, 1958, and Twombly with Olympia, 1957, for the sign, to cite just a few.
While for Malevich white is a tautology, when we consider Fontana and his cuts, made on canvases of different colors, the cut that comes to our mind is the one on the white canvas; it is a space in the color of the absolute. Thus, white starts to take form and content. And then, since it is the sum of all colors, we can say that it also potentially contains all the world’s meanings. We might even say that there are fifty shades of white. Marini, again in the book cited above, writes about the well-known fear of the blank page, which has to be contaminated first with its exact opposite, black, and then gradually with the other colors. But there is no such thing as white, just as there is no such thing as red, blue, yellow, and all the others; there are reds, blues, yellows, and so on. There are also many whites: milk white, snow white, ice white, zinc white, lily white, anti-flash white,
Navajo white, and many others. It is a color that is only apparently empty, because there are many common expressions that use white or refer to white: a little white lie, to whiten, as white as a ghost, as white as a sheet. And in the tales of Giulio Cesare Croce, when the King asks Bertoldo what is the whitest thing of all, the shrewd peasant wisely answers: “Light.” Indeed, when we break down light by passing it through a prism, what we see is all the colors of the rainbow. Now let us examine how Lorenzo Marini uses his white, or more correctly his whites: tempera, acrylic, putty, salt, chalk, motherof- pearl, paper, and so on. Finding diversity in unity seems to be another of his traits, not only in the various different types of material and of white color that he uses, but also because, like the angels that make the snow fall, he spreads the white on the canvas not, as most
artists do, in order to create the background on which to paint, but as a surface to cover the underground river of meanings. From his white paintings emerge signs, traces of color, schemes, grids and more besides, all of which relate to his art, or arts. It is well known that Marini is also a creative director in advertising, and therefore a creator of images which also emerge discreetly in his paintings. It is not the first time that an artist has come from the world of advertising. Many pop artists have done advertising: Rosenquist and Warhol are the examples that speak for all. But Rosenquist and Warhol adhered very closely to the strictures of advertising, employing techniques, practices and theories gleaned in that profession to exalt their subjects in terms of form and surface.
This defines their Americanness, in which everything is a product and must be put on show, while for us Europeans, layering, history and time have enormous importance. There is contiguity between Marini’s advertising work and his painting, but it is reworked and transfigured. In pop art everything is up front, everything is a form of visual readymade, of images found and repainted in various ways. For Marini, painting hides rather than reveals. What concerns Marini is how much distance he can put between the white canvas and the purpose of the painting, or between the blank page and the purpose of the text. His appears to be a work in progress, an unfinished work; a concept that, although invented by Michelangelo, has only taken hold in modern art, becoming the retelling of an era. The modern has a Cartesian logic on which to build, to stand, but it ends up letting in its opposite which will disrupt it: the unfinished, which in the modern is formless. This does not only mean that it is something that has no form, or body, but also that it has no time. We see this in Marini’s own words when he says: “In my advertising work, as a creative director, precision is essential. Time has to be exact. 30 seconds is 30 seconds; it can’t be 30.3 seconds. So paradoxically, I have always cultivated its opposite as well, which is instinct.” It is an instinct that has always led him to cultivate his works, although he has never sought to exhibit his paintings. It is in recognition of this continuity that here we are showing 15 years of his painting. Painting and drawing, actually; Marini has always practiced both forms of expression and, as we will see below, in a painting by Marini there are always traces of drawing.
This is a trait that originated in his studies of architecture and the fine arts, which he studied in Venice with Emilio Vedova, just to keep things informal. What Marini learned in Venice seems to emerge recently in the works Spacevisual 2011, Spacevisual 13, 2013, or Brandvisual 1, 2014, in Los Angeles and New York. As we noted earlier, this shows the direct, or indirect, memory of Piero Manzoni’s Achromes, especially in the wrinkled white canvases. Marini’s paintings are neither abundant nor absolute in color, in that under the surface they contain a structure that is modular and serial in the modernist sense, and is therefore abstract. In this way the paintings end up constituting a form of catalog of possible ideal forms, structures and spaces. They are a search for totality and the absolute that clarifies the obsessive use of white, as in the advertising ads series, in which the surface of the canvas appears divided like a sheet of newspaper, or an advertisement, while being neither one nor the other. A careful reading reveals a four-part structure, whose elements are the placements of the photograph, the illustration, the text, and the logo. It is a semantic grid in which the progressive erasure conducted by the white is the search for truth, because it removes the patent partisan utterances of the figurativeness of advertising, which never tells the truth. It is a manner of structuring the page, of dividing the space, which comes from the fact that Marini started out by drawing and publishing comics, and which perhaps also owes something to the spatial structure of Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, which he saw as a teenager.
“In this way the paintings end up constituting a form of catalog of possible ideal forms, structures and spaces. They are a search for totality and the absolute that clarifies the obsessive use of white”
But here he is searching for a symbolization where nothing is stronger than everything, silence more communicative than noise, and empty fuller than full. So we see that Marini’s pictorial investigation does not only remove us from the cacophony of means of mass communication, but it also makes us think about global events and universal spaces. In his work other series stand out which deal with space, in particular architectural space, not in its plasticity and perspective figurativeness, not as a narrative event, but in the plan view solution that is the abstraction that in the modern age gives life to architecture. Every microarchitecture (house) or macro-architecture (city) is, in plan view, a regular and informal abstraction, which is not inhabiting and living but the idea of inhabiting and of living. Architectural plans are designed to be made a reality at a later time and therefore they have a precise utilitarian purpose, unlike those drawn as buried tracings by Marini who, uncoupling himself from the fact that he is an architect, or indeed because of it, makes paintings in which the plans are an end in themselves; they are drawings of space, they are grids of the painting and, therefore, a catalog of “invisible” and ideal “spaces”. A similar search for the ideal can be seen in the Constellations series, which is Marini’s attempt to give form and image to the universe, to that which is above us, again in space. This is celestial space, which humanity has always felt the need to understand and interpret, long before the modern era enabled us to penetrate it with Galileo’s telescope and everything that came after, delivering a series of low blows to the mythologies that held up the sky. The constellations are also star maps to which Marini seeks to restore symbolism. Indeed, we must not forget that in them
Marini still sees the angels who invented snow, the white silence that covers the world, the white color on his canvases, where we can see points of light, signs, paths, celestial roads of ideal connection. His is not a scientific description. The constellations painted by Marini are not a portrait, nor a copy of star maps made by astronomers (which are themselves abstractions), but the star maps of intuition that, precisely because of their lack of scientific precision, enable us to locate our free imagination in them. They are in fact “figures that you need to know how to read, this is why I never design the work. I paint as I go, and when I go wrong I like it to be seen.” Earlier we said that, in all this abstraction, Marini also deals with the central events of our global existence, naturally without describing them. This brings us to the work interpreting the events in Tienanmen Square in 1989, the same year the Wall came down in Berlin. A blood-red painting, here too covered by the white that acts to focalize, the white that covers and uncovers, because here and there it lets through red stains that become pink, creating an image that brings to mind old Chinese paintings of landscapes. Marini absorbs the pictorial tradition of the Far East, where there is no tradition of figuration, but in which man, when he is featured, is small and embedded in the greatness of the landscape. In the end, we see that the works of Lorenzo Marini are new terrestrial and celestial landscapes. And so, since we began in the West, we can only finish in the East, where the Zen proverb tells us that: “The eye that sees everything cannot see itself.” Marini’s paintings, which never show everything, are works that launch us on a search for ourselves.