Like an image in a mirror


by Antonio Paolucci

Moreno Bondi’s painting brings to mind a mirror reflecting the icons of classical art. Only, the mirror is broken. It reflects the works of Michelangelo, Caravaggio and the seventeenth century Naturalists in disjointed fragments that are superimposed and spread one over another anamorphically. Like when you throw a stone into perfectly still water that mirrors trees, clouds, sky, and the visual unity shatters. The concentric waves created by the stone agitate the trees, clouds and sky; the waves disturb, diffuse, superimpose.

Moreno Bondi has devoted years of study to the techniques of traditional painting. He more than anyone is acquainted with the skills of the masters of art’s golden centuries, and he is capable of reproducing those skills with absolute competence and accuracy. But the old “order” (that is the values underlying a Caravaggio painting or a Michelangelo sculpture) cannot be transferred to his paintings because it is an ‘order’ that is no longer part of his and our time.

Were he to construct his paintings according to the old order, he would cease to be a painter; he would be a copier, or a ‘citazionista’. If he chose to study and investigate the old order as a phenomenon that can be mastered scientifically, he would be an art historian. Either way he would not be a painter.

So there is no way round it. A copier or a historian. The dilemma inexorably crushes anyone who dares to confront the old art. But if that person is an artist, a true artist like Moreno Bondi and has the talent, the disquiet, the obstinacy and the discontent of an artist, then what happens? What happens when, as an artist, he probes the masterpieces of the past so he can voice the present, knowing full well that he might be lost in those works as if in Narcissus’s mirror? Knowing that they could turn him to stone like Medusa’s face? The risks are great; finding a way through them is difficult. The collection of paintings these words serve to introduce goes to show that the risks can be taken successfully, that a way through them is possible. To escape the spell the artist has to break the mirror, he has to throw a stone into Narcissus’s fountain.

If you think about it, that is what every visitor does when he sets foot in the Louvre or the Uffizi. The world of the past lives on inside us because we are our history. The art of the past that has come down to us and is preserved in museums is simply history that has assumed a physical form. All this is true. But the history of the present, that we are called upon to live, is profoundly different from the history that generated those masterpieces. It, and we, are governed by different symbols and systems. So works of art of the past, once detached from the system that gave them meaning, can only be seen as fragments, as assemblages, as enigmas. The tourist who, as he leaves the museum, buys a postcard showing a detail from a famous painting is making a choice; he recognises himself in a fragment of the shattered mirror. He is not aware that he is taking an enigma away with him.

But Moreno Bondi knows. He knows that in great works of art a mystery resides, that unfathomable enigmas accompany Artemisia and the Centaur, a Caravaggio face or the wing of a Gentileschi or Cagnacci goose. He knows too that it is the privilege (and consolation) of art to transfigure the enigma as dream or myth. “There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds”. The painter does well to remind us of this, by inscribing Oscar Wilde’s aphorism on his “Ultima Beatrice”. There are no omens, nor is it possible to decipher the symbols with any certainty. Nevertheless the symbols do exist. They are the standards of a buried order. They offer cryptic answers that direct you towards other answers. This exhibition make us see that.

We are very fortunate in that it is possible to evoke myth and dreams, thanks to art. Professor Bondi’s paintings are evocative because what we unknowingly are emerges through them (we are old paintings and old churches… and in our time nobody has understood that as well as Pierpaolo Pasolini). They are oneiric in that they afford us the opportunity (the infinite opportunity) to dream. And dreaming is an anamorphic assemblage of figures that we know, taken out of context and free floating within the framework of space and time. For an art historian like myself, Moreno Bondi’s painting is a new and fascinating way of approaching the ‘Old’. It takes passion, a calm head and a far reaching gaze to bring the sirens of the Past face to face with the disquiet of Modernity, to find a way through the narrow gate. The works on display here offer us clear proof that the passage can be accomplished successfully and the confrontation triumphant.

Antonio Paolucci