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Simona Stivaletta: Mediating the future  |  (italian version)
Anthony Molino
A year or so ago, when I’d first encountered the work of Simona Stivaletta, I made a rather hasty comment in referring to her production as “deceptively naif”. I now realize that I was on to something, more perhaps than I could have imagined. For her deceptiveness, upon deeper and more systematic investigation, is far-reaching. And the apparently naif quality of her painting ultimately betrays a pervasive element of a kind of “familiar disquiet”, an intriguing capacity to blend disparate pictorial traditions, from across times and spaces, to yield a most contemporary expression of what psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls the unthought known. Indeed, Stivaletta, I’d dare say, is an expression of our unthought known: a slow bubbling of elements of a near-timeless iconographic unconscious in which we all share, whose outcome – precisely in its dimension of a familiar disquiet – makes for the discreet but unmistakable signature of a distinctly contemporary creative force.

«Nobody ever creates anything new. Nothing ever gets created from scratch». Simona uttered these words to me during a visit last year to London’s Tate Britain, where together we chanced upon the work of C.S. Lowry, an artist neither of us knew. She spoke them with a hint of disappointment, mildly disconsolate but still with a smile, when together we couldn’t help but acknowledge the similarities in palette and style between her work and Lowry’s, especially where some of her landscapes are concerned. True, nothing ever does get created ex novo. But the miracle of creation, at least where Stivaletta is concerned, in my opinion lies in the infusions, influxes and evocations of worlds she’s never personally known but somehow manages, unwittingly, to bring to life. Again, with discretion, unknowingly. In a peculiar process of discovery and self-revelation – revelation both of herself and unto herself – fuelled, I might say, by otherworldly “presences” who, like hovering spirits or daemons, mysteriously infiltrate her mind and process. Look, for instance, at the two paintings both entitled La festa (The party). Van Eyck is there, his Arnolfinis eerily embodied by the couples before us. See Stivaletta’s Figura di ragazzo, or Lo sbarco, and sense a world, that of 15th century Holland, become somehow contemporary. Fast forward. Enter the world of La madre della sposa (The bride’s mother), and are we not – without the sparkles – in the tamed throes, reanimated, living and not cheaply duplicated, of Gustav Klimt’s sensibility? The musicality and airiness of Paul Klee, the vibrant motion of his colorful squares, triangles and rectangles, all inform Simona’s work, in the same way that her landscapes, at least for this viewer, evoke visions of the geometric precision of Mondrian, whose relentless, obsessive quest for the absolute is tempered and reconfigured by Stivaletta, in geometries which prove somehow “happy”, fallible. Human. And at the same time those very landscapes, often devoid of the human figure, can also prove troublesome: Simona herself vigorously refutes this association of mine, but De Chirico comes to mind when I scour some of her denser, uninhabited spaces. Spaces, worlds, held together by airborne wires, where balloons can be confused with pop-up periscopes, and a kind of paranoia seeps in. In other, more recent works (Carillon, Dialogo, Casa Mobile, the two landscapes Paesaggio in grigio and Paesaggio in rosso), a degree of mechanized alienation takes center stage (albeit not without a quirky transcendent urge), that renews and updates the distinctly Italian Futurist tradition while calling, perhaps ironically, or nostalgically, on Chaplin and his Modern Times. But then again, these red and grey landscapes of Stivaletta’s are a counterpoint to others where the winding playfulness of a Lowry, or of his British contemporary Alfred Wallis (I’m thinking of his Houses at St. Ives, Cornwall), are reincarnated, in a subtle but nonetheless jubilant celebration of color and form. And, ultimately, of life.

Familiar disquiet. Unthought known. Fallible happiness. If nothing ever gets created anew, then one might rightly ask: where is the originality of Stivaletta? In his book The Mystery of Things Bollas writes: «When the painter paints, or the musician composes, or the writer writes, they transfer psychic reality to another realm. They transubstantiate that reality, the object no longer simply expressing itself, but re-forming it… The term ‘transubstantial object’ allows me to think of the intrinsic integrity of the form into which one moves one’s sensibility in order to create: into musical thinking, prose thinking, painting thinking». Stivaletta’s “painting thinking”, the process whereby her peculiar sensibility is transposed into distinctly idiomatic and integral forms, reminds me of a comment by Igor Stravinsky (quoted by Bollas), who writes of how a “foretaste of the creative act accompanies the intuitive grasp of an unknown entity already possessed but not yet intelligible, an entity that will not take definite shape except by the action of a constantly vigilant technique». For all of the “presences” this critic sees or imagines inhabiting Stivaletta’s work, the paintings – or intelligible entities – in this exhibition are unshakably and unequivocally hers, borne of the very possession, and specific technical vigilance, of which Stravinsky speaks. A “medium” of sorts for the myriad of influences internalized and metabolized over the course of decades, Simona Stivaletta can own traditions past in the very process of honoring them, unconsciously. But such ownership of the past – in accord with the possibility of its essential dispossession – is what allows her, paradoxically, to mediate the future. In a creative idiom all her own. And she mediates, and indeed remakes that future, as every true artist does, trekking territory that is by necessity familiar but gets always trodden again. Re-envisioned. Recast. Or, as Bollas would have it, forever, yet originally, transubstantiated.