In the beginning it was De Chirico.
As if before and after there was nothing, or that nothing important, in the history of art, could pass without the mediation of its filter. As if the meaning of modern painting, and of painting more generally, had finally been identified, freeing post-nineteenth-century artists from the condemnation of having to resort to the precariousness of experimentalism. As if in the artistic, lyrical and intellectual dimension introduced by Metaphysics there is all the space available for what an artist may be able to express, yesterday as today, today as tomorrow. This is the premise, historical and meta-historical, which allows us to introduce ourselves into the art of Antonio Nunziante, of whom I find myself writing again.
De Chirico, therefore, before anything else. But it would be wrong, I think, to believe that Nunziante has established a rigorously academic relationship with De Chirico's work, like an infinite mechanical repeater of his models, or that his main objective is to make "Neo-metaphysics ”, even more than it was, often a little tired and self-congratulatory, that De Chirico undertook in the last two decades of his life.
For Nunziante, a "Neo-Metaphysics" cannot exist. There is a Metaphysics, always the same from the moment of its brilliant discovery. Because metaphysics is something more than a simple artistic and intellectual experience of the man of the twentieth century, however important it may be, one of the most remarkable and original stages of Italian culture of the last century, with its precise historicollocation, with its chronological extremes , like any other experience of the first Avant-garde.
No, Metaphysics cannot be only this, otherwise it would be a contradiction in terms. If it is metaphysics, literally, then it is something that goes beyond the limits of materiality, therefore also beyond the boundaries of history and time, meaning with the first the recording of the alternation of the second. And it is also something that goes beyond the limits of geography, given that the initial reference to Italy, so dear both to Nunziante and us, it is immediately universalized, becoming a heritage shared by all.
If it is metaphysics, if it is an overcoming of history and geography, if it is a patrimony shared by the human race, then it cannot be than a category of the spirit.
No one can establish a "before" and an "after" for a category of the spirit. It is an absolute, an eternal present, with De Chirico still living among us through the language he identified and taught us to use. Could we say the same of Futurism or Cubism, to mention two contemporary experiences, and certainly no less important from the historical point of view? I do not believe it. They have been forms of language, among the first to identify the forced outlet of modern art in experimentalism, but to which has not followed the discovery of a specific dimension of the spirit. And as such, they have remained tied to their history, their time, their geographies. It is the patrimony of the human race, but in a relative sense, as a memory of a past that has no direct impact on the present. First they remained Avant-garde, then a museum phenomenon, certainly very respectable, but closed under a reliquary. To say today to do Cubism or Futurism would mean doing something linked to traditionalism, recalling something that historically had a very specific beginning and ending. To say today to do Metaphysics, on the other hand, can very well mean doing actuality. Because Metaphysics, unlike Cubism or Futurism, is not just a language, not just a style. Most of the Futurists would have backed down, overwhelmed by the delirium of a Great War they had hoped for, no longer recognizing themselves in the formal and aesthetic revolution they had triggered. At the end of the years of Cubism, Picasso would have said that he did not seek, he found. De Chirico had already arrived there before him, and in a much more stable and convincing way than Picasso would have made us believe: he had found, almost at the first attempt, and had believed it was good not to move from that achieved goal.
If Picasso finds, and I am not always sure that this is the case, he does so within an extremely personal artistic discourse, albeit understandable and appreciated by everyone.
De Chirico acts in a different way from him: he opens the door to a new expressive universe, a new way of relating to oneself, one's imagination and the world, not rigidly linked to his personal sphere, but which can be adopted by anyone, as Nunziante himself demonstrates. This is the great difference. Picasso refers only to himself, there is no "Picassism" that we can all feel as something that is intimately ours. Whoever wants to understand Picasso must accept Picasso's centrality on the world.
De Chirico, on the other hand, becomes one of the possible references within the special dimension of the soul, Metaphysics, which he discovered.
It is like Savinio, like Breton's Surrealism, Magritte, Delvaux, like Italian Magical Realism and certain forms of the Neue Sachlichkeit, like the existentialist figuration of the post-war period, and all the artistic re-editions that these experiences have had over the following years, Nunziante included.
It is as so many facts yet to come could new explorations behind the door that De Chirico opened almost a century ago, discovering something enormously greater than himself. Metaphysics is above this past, this present, this future, like a great cloud, like a great container of the spirit always ready to move and change shape. And today that we are the constant beneficiaries of Metaphysics, we wonder how it was possible that art took so long to open that door. Actually it was De Chirico who had the great awareness of something that already existed in the painting before him, as
Nunziante knows very well, in Piero della Francesca as in Chardin, in Paolo Uccello and in Vermeer, in Baschenis as in the Symbolists, and so ad infinitum. Whenever an artist has proposed to relate to the world not to faithfully reproduce its appearances, but to interpret and reinvent it, exceeding rationality to the point of touching its exact opposite, he has always assumed a metaphysical attitude. De Chirico was the first to understand it fully.
Nunziante, therefore, a metaphysician, but not necessarily “dechirichiano”. One of the most important aspects of the link between Nunziante and Metaphysics is that he comes to conceive it as an "a priori" not through the passive adoption of a creed but through the empiricism of his own pictorial path. A first moment of this path is based on the acquisition of the awareness that in art the craft is always a necessary thing. It is such also when in contemporary artists the craft becomes something very unconventional, as in the case, for example, of Pollock and Burri. For Nunziante, the son of a craftsman, the task was simpler. He never believed, as many of his colleagues do, that modern art is a means capable of emancipating artists from the obligation to possess manual skills. Nunziante must have always been convinced that technique is style. For him, recent radiographic discoveries as those that have led to a clarification of what Caravaggio's true technique was, not "to the first", as had been believed until yesterday, but sketching the figures with white lead which, covered with successive chromatic glazes, enhanced the chiaroscuro contrasts, must have been only partial surprises. Caravaggio is not an irrelevant name in Nunziante's choices. If Nunziante is a painter of objects and environments that can do without the human presence, while deeply testifying to it, there is no doubt that the first to do so was not De Chirico, but Caravaggio. With Caravaggio, the object becomes for the first time a subject, no less capable of expressing the pictorial values of a mythological or religious story.
But for the object to become a subject, for the still life to become an autonomous genre, a specific technique is required. The artist can not than be a technician of expression, everything he can express is proportional to the technique he adopts. Caravaggio is first of all a technique, on which any other consideration depends. The fact that it took us four hundred years to clearly understand how Caravaggio painted, three of which after the discovery of x-rays, makes us understand how in reality we preferred to interpret him according to something different from technique. Caravaggio was and is first of all the white lead sketch, and we are only realizing it now, when we thought we had understood everything about him.
Never Nunziante believed that manual skills could be acquired without referring to the technical and expressive lessons of the masters of the past. Hence the second moment of Nunziante's path, which consists in the study of the history of art. Nunziante was trained between Turin and Florence, he was fascinated by the Renaissance, respecting the critical line of Vasari who recognizes Tuscany as a historical primacy of Italian art, but does not fail to be passionate about Flemish and Nordic art, equal and contrary to the Italian one.
Nunziante does not fail to wander through the seventeenth century, the century of still life as an autonomous genre and of Vermeer, of Chardin's eighteenth century, reaching more recent masters such as without Böcklin, Dalì, Picasso and obviously De Chirico. And here we come to the third moment, the projection into our present of art as a profession and as a history. The craft, when it refers to tradition, leads to history and history needs to be brought back to the present if it does not want to remain a dead heritage. Language then becomes an equation with which to relate these elements: it is necessary to speak in a current way, but also in a way that does not cut ties with the past, in the sign of an expressive continuity that addresses the interiority of man and that has by no means finished saying all the things it can tell us. A language that is therefore based on the profession, because it is the technique that determines the way in which we express ourselves.
The circle closes, we approach the goal: the solution of the equation is Metaphysics as "a priori". Only a dimension outside space and time can allow our spirit to communicate with other spirits, those of recent times, but also those of the past and those of the probable future. Metaphysics is a step above language, it is the “cum figuris” expression of the spirit that attributes "other" value to the spaces and objects with which it manifests itself, outside the limits of their physicality. It is a lyrical and enigmatic expression, ready to surprise and enchant us, because lyrical and enigmatic is the creative and cognitive activity of our unconscious. And few artists could make us understand it better than Nunziante, who always leaves the word "end" in suspense.