by Giovanni Faccenda
The steady cultural impoverishment of painting, its contentious role and, ever more frequently, even the controversial nature of its identity – due to all those who take vain delight in stirring up disputes that are at once spurious and specious, when not also foolish or at least sterile – could easily lead one to regard with extreme disenchantment an artistic scenario in which painters who emphasise the nature of their “craft” are increasingly rare. To such an extent, that in the uproarious artistic circus that has been exquisitely confectioned to confuse and mystify real values, painting, as practiced and passed down to us by the masters of the past, has become an act of the avant-garde.
Among the few who have chosen this steep and perilous path, Moreno Bondi is an artist who without doubt must be mentioned. There is the singular and complex character of his work, the emblematic aura which marks it out, the masterly employment of a mixture of resins, oils and pigments which is as mysterious and fertile as it is noble, and produces a perfectly controlled chromatic structure. All of these characteristics offer vivid and immediate proof of the autonomy and authority of a body of work that shows refined classical lineage and at the same time no trace whatsoever of slavish alignment to “schools or trends.
This last distinctive – and significant – characteristic is what marks his work out, especially when in the presence of so many poorly executed and anachronistic efforts offered by an army of camp followers of fashion.
By contrast, Bondi’s enigmatic iconography is embellished by that fine and rare “mélange” of mysterious chromatics which fortify the subjects and themes to produce an atmosphere at once visceral and evocative (“Arrangements of light”, “Whispers”), and where even the most apparently insignificant detail – transfigured through the crowning symbolic breadth – soars to a powerfully allusive imagery.
Bondi was born in the shadow of the Apuan Alps in Tuscany and has for now chosen to settle in Rome. Authoritative exegesis of his consistent and coherent artistic development (a native of Carrara, he is also a gifted sculptor) has suggested important analogies with the fascinating power of the marble sculptures of Michelangelo and the incomparable stylistic tension of Caravaggio. But if the question of an ideal artistic lineage is restricted to painting itself, there are other illustrious, and more recent, figures with whom comparison may fruitfully be made: Arnold Böcklin above all, and also the de Chirico brothers, especially Andrea Alberto, “in arte” Alberto Savinio.
Precisely the constant concern with technique, a quest which led these artists from different epochs to rediscover pictorial techniques and formulas from the past, is the most obvious link between these great masters and Bondi, who today must be considered the most direct descendant of that late Romantic Symbolism which already offered premonitory signs of de Chirico’s metaphysical school and Savinio’s surrealism.
A sense of transcendence, visionary metamorphoses: these are the distinctive features of a figurative technique which tends to lead to the enigmatic. Enigmas which take root in the shadow zones born of a feverish imaginative world dominated by elusive archetypes, ambiguous incarnations and camouflaged traces; all bringing to life the idea of an “elsewhere” that seethes with terrestrial features and lights which one might well call unearthly. Bondi’s unwavering hand lends itself to the representation of an idea that knows no time, that – on the contrary – persists and endures in the subterranean anxieties of those who, with the absence of certainties, must face their daily odyssey (“The Sirens of Ulysses”). Man, an insubstantial meteor, is then transformed into a monument (“Man obelisk”, “Woman obelisk”), while an erudite allegory darkens in tone, and recourse to mythology (“Centaur”) becomes indispensable in order to explicate an oneiric hinterland that otherwise would be
confined to the mysteries of the unconscious.
De Chirico asserted thus in 1942: «Painting is the art form which more than any other is able to express the visions of the human brain so that they become clear, concrete and obvious. Painting is that art form whereby man may translate abstract thought into concrete matter, the images of his spirit into tangible and visible works of art. Musicians and poets, when creating music and poetry, remain in the realm of thought. They cannot grasp, touch and look at their creations, while the painter, after he has completed his work, has created a work of art that is there in front of us: evident, constant and immutable. A beautiful painting is a work of art that offers itself to the eye and to the spirit exactly as it was created.»
For his part, Bondi adds: «Art may not be reduced to pure concept (that would be philosophy), nor to technical skill (that would be handicraft): it is not the thought of making but the making of thought, as an adequate expression of this. Technical ability leads to fulfillment of the concept and the mind does not pander to the limitations of our arm.»
Once again “craft” is at the heart of a debate which once again becomes drastically relevant. Among the few artists not to have
been seduced by the illusory futuristic charms of means of expression which when not bizarre are more frequently simply banal, Bondi continues to stand out for his rigorous adherence to a noble imperative that for every true artist should be both inescapable and binding. After all, one could not imagine a different form of artistic commitment after having seen his paintings, where above all one divines the artist’s challenge with himself, the eagerness to explore those hidden places of the psyche where the “truth” is an unreachable secret, the sensitivity permeated with the kind of obscure clairvoyance necessary to distinguish the “phenomenon” from the ordinary.
The exquisitely intellectual sense of depth which Bondi has managed to confer on his work persists in a fascinating and fertile crescendo of concealed reminiscences in which the narrative foundation seems to be stirred by unexpected and nostalgic neglect. Each metaphor rises resolutely to a hermetic dimension that pervades the very painting itself, suddenly shot through with new and startling lucubrations that have been caught as if by magic in a larval evanescence. This prerogative, a recurring feature in the artist’s more recent work, where one may also discern an intriguing process of development that concerns not only poetry (“Words of stone”), seems to nourish a kind of virtual simultaneity, where that which is represented is captured always in a state – at once obscure and abstruse – of becoming; it is almost as if the intention were to recount a story that is destined to surprise with every turn of the page.
Here it is, then, that aura of refined sacredness which means that mythical events may come true, in a theorem of unpredictable and voluble trepidation where one may hear the distant echo of atavistic anxieties, unmentionable anguish, a sense of fearful confusion that leads back to man or, rather, to the idea of man to which we hold.
Perhaps we have forgotten Schopenhauer’s proposition : «The course of our individual life and the events in it, as far as their true meaning and connection is concerned, may be compared to a piece of rough mosaic. So long as you stand close in front of it, you cannot get a right view of the objects presented, nor perceive their significance or beauty. Both come in sight only when you stand a little way off.»
It would be tempting to use the word “Stimmung”, a concept dear to inspired artists like Bondi: within it, it contains the kaleidoscope of hidden undertones and memories which hark back to the classical world, and which reemerge in the writings of Nietzsche, Kafka and the (alas neglected) Italian authors Papini and Landolfi; noble intellects with the ability to explore to the very heart of astonishing internal visions. And so, in a work like “Fallen angel”, one may also sense, in addition to the ancestral myth of Icarus, a contemporary metaphor which assails our very own intimacy itself. The words of Savinio spring to mind: «One does not fly to shorten distances. Flying is a metaphysical desire of man, a dream, the memory of a life monstrous and remote.»
If, for Bondi, the same is true today, we do not know. But faced with his work, we continue to feel like Böcklin’s dazed travellers onboard the rowboat drifting slowly towards the “Isle of the Dead”, covered over – and overcome – by “something” at once obscure and immutable that belongs to a world of silent magic.
(from “ARTE IN”, no. 105, Oct-Nov 2006)