and his Crossover exhibition
at Studio Guastalla, Milano, February 2017
My country is considered the cradle of the arts. It was not common sense that such a rich humus had been softened and nourished by vagrants stumbling on a long boot lapped by the waves, coming from Mediterranean countries and others far away. Most of the artifacts, from the coast to the mountains, are hidden jewels chopped and washed out by lack of care. Too modest, nameless and without date. Nobody knows how they reached their almost invisible place. Waves of time. In my northern Italian village, a dark wooden figure no taller than a vertical hand has a permanent residence in a small niche of the church, next to the tabernacle, hidden by a little door. Fake marble, painted by artists who are not in the books, covers the inside surfaces of the church and the columns. I know one of the artists: my grandfather Oreste at age 12. The ancient sculpture still emanates the aura of Queen Theodolinda who – so goes the story – gave it as a present to the village. She died in the year 628 of our era. Local children of my generation dreamed about her.
Strangely, in western culture, no authors’ names imply that motherless art doesn’t count, only good for anthropology. Thanks for classifying. As if images needed words to complete them and give them meaning. The printed, verbal universe grew separate from real things, and authority made it into flying balloon. Luckily for us, Roland Barthes walks on our cultural ruins like Jesus dragging the cross: he brings a big panel showing what we have done by binding history with the ropes of time: a modern divinity, prisoner of words. All the mystery, gone. “History is repressive, History forbids us to be out of time. Of the past we tolerate only the ruin, the monument, kitsch, what is amusing: we reduce this past to no more than its signature.” We have a forest of severed heads on pikes in our idealistic, post medieval history, and fingers writing in punta di penna (the pen’s point) ‘truths’ as sharp as razors. But a new world has already started.
We are still the boot in the water that does not kick away refugees risking their lives by crossing il mare nostro, our sea, everybody’s water. Once more, we (most of us) are people of a hospitable land: not a written rule on historical papers, it’s a sacred corner of our soul sheltered by modern and ancient stories. Se we welcome
ALI HASSOUN from Lebanon, PAINTER
I want him in this blog because his art is not Italian, not western at all. He dipped his soul into the best springs of Arabic Muslim literature and philosophy. Al-Jahiz, one of the few practicing the art of prose between the eight and the ninth century in Iran, and one of the pearls of Sufi wisdom, sits on a special chair in Ali Hassoun’s mind, opening a space of independent thinking inside a very ancient and refined tradition. Al-Jahiz was born in Basra in 774, only 146 years after queen Theodolinda’s death. Younger or older? Pascal couldn’t tell.
“Irony was born from symbiosis between doubt and certainty,” wrote al-Jahiz,
which made Hassoun’s paintings a garden of questions, in a smiling style.
“I’m trying to bring back a vision from the lower to the higher space: in a metaphysical rather than religious way. Maybe the Westerners lost such vision, as all of us, drunk as we were with all the achievements of this civilization. Yet civilization needs to be fed, and not only by technology and consumerism (that’s why I refer so often to Andy Warhol). Thinking must become complex again, we need philosophers, thinkers able to go beyond the immediate instant, looking afar. We need a collective thinking wondering about this civilization.” (ALI HASSOUN in an interview with Silvia Guastalla)
Each painting is a story, entirely contained in the surface, or can we call it a page?
David and Goliath have the faces of Basquiat holding Andy Warhol’s head; they repeat the fiction already created by Caravaggio putting his own head, severed, in one of his assistants’ hands. In Hassoun’s watercolor the two artists belong to the painted landscape around them, Andy’s eternal flowers fading, after so much reproduction. Exhausted. Their faces, their names, their images extend into each other like Thelonious Monk’s melodic twists. The oddest thing is a sense of equal participation of sounds, and images, in the same distortion.
The beauty of these paintings is the visual journey they offer, by Vespa! to liberate the art images’ landscape from re-production. The scenes are made in front of us, as if in real time, mostly by African women mixing colors, stirring food, refilling their Vespa with gas, so much to do! Happy when the baby is asleep. Hassoun stops their fingers on the painting they are making for him with him, who cares? He is them we are him and viewers at the same time, he is a viewer as well, taken by the feminine splendor of bodies and dresses reflecting all the mysteries that art preserves for us. There is no why. The internet icons as good as Pollock, Schifano or Capogrossi. Signs are everywhere, objects showing themselves, through their appearance making us sure we are not seeing the whole story, mystery is still there, at the bottom of us, and we don’t know where. That’s not History. It’s living art giving us more life to share, and a hidden treasure.
I don’t know much about Sufism, but I am a reader. This fragment from The Black Book by Orham Pamuk took my western mind away from pikes and razors. The Hurufism’s art of reading us, in the world.
“God’s essential attribute was a “hidden treasure” (a kenz-i mahfi), a mystery. The question was to find a way to get to it. The question was to realize that the mystery was reflected in everything, every object, every person. The world was an ocean of clues, every one of its drops had the salt taste that led to the mystery behind it.”