“People forget that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone…” “On you maybe…” (from the Big Lebowski, 1997, Joel Coen)
In the Allegory of September at the Schifanoia Palace in Ferrara, Ercole de’ Roberti painted the Vulcan’s Forge with a group of Cyclops engrossed in their work. They single-mindedly hammer their works of hot metal while in the centre of the fresco, their god and master rides triumphantly by on a carriage pulled by Barbary apes. On the far right side of the fresco his wife, Venus, commits adultery with Mars under the complacent gaze of little angels. That is how I imagine Marco Bravura’s mind at work:
A constantly active forge of ideas, the next incredible idea better than the last, and at the moment of execution every one, coherently beautiful. Yes, I know, to define the works of an artist “beautiful” might seem pleonastic if not simply in bad taste for “ les purs esprits de la critique.” However, with Bravura, beauty is not a superficial accessory. It is the recycling of the original concept of art, a battle already won (if it were even necessary) against the logic of subtraction that is conceptual art, which has become in effect, an avant-guard academism and mannerism unto itself. So, who is afraid of beauty today?
Bravura’s works can take different visual shape in the final execution, but they are all intimately connected, exquisite accumulations of millefiori, tesserae, glass and myriad other materials he uses. Attention please: they are there to trick our eyes. Never trust your first glance. Never trust his Cheshire Cat smile, for you may risk getting stuck on this side of Alice’s Looking Glass. Let me explain: once you are past the first level of perception, that of astounding tricks (try to be indifferent, for example, while standing in front of one of his fountains, a tapestry, circular, helicoidal, invoking a continuum, you cannot — they completely envelop you). Beyond that first step, the mosaic-sculpture or painting works of this artist refines and overwhelm our defenceless eyes. Take for example, the sculpture “RotoB,” a golden beauty — is it simply a bale of straw rolled to its natural size? No, it’s a work of art, golden and vitreous, genius in its simple semi-cylindrical synthesis, to the point that it can sit on the little sea-lawn behind the mausoleum of Galla Placidia as if it had always been there or someday float as an apparition on the Canal Grande in Venice, the city where Bravura studied. Water is the element of life, the primordial force, another constant of his work. The shapes of these fountains are the true point, like his designs for easel or wall mosaics, they are waves, as in the “Mandala,” where once again, distracted by the beauty of the piece itself, you don’t realize that what you think you see, is actually something else. The artist began this piece with real Tibetan mandalas, but the aim was to give the sensation of them, not the exact transposition. On closer inspection, the myriad of details reiterated in the work, such as the little men with a thousand arms, (to us they are decoration and to the faithful they are prayers) are deliberately indistinguishable (yet it doesn’t seem so at first blush), camouflaged in the whole of Bravura’s mosaic. We become lost in the labyrinth of our visual stupor and in the superficial bond to another spirituality, one that we really don’t understand but that here is given to us to seduce our eyes. Also because the repetition of details enlarged in the overall design and in the shape itself of the final work itself, this piece makes us think of Fibonacci, the Mandelbrot fractals, of cauliflowers, of the anatomy of the brain, of the cells of a fern, of the rock on the beach which mirrors the mountain behind it. We are prisoners, as physicist Fritjof Capra said, happy to be so, to be part of an organic whole, of fierce and indistinct beauty.
Finally, we see Bravura’s earlier mosaic, a composition of hundreds maybe thousands of signatures (in succession, in a spiral, one on top of the other) of Bravura himself or better again of different people, to which the artist eventually intervenes with colour as a final touch. The paradox is that the act of “hypersignatory” nullifies the identity of the work. Who really made it? As with antique, Byzantine mosaics, who is the author? A designer, a theologian, a customer, the culture of an entire epoch? Everyone, nobody.
No, relativism is not the conclusion. There is always an intention behind it all, a series of poetic causes, historical or biographical. We just need to keep in mind that the beauty that no one can do without, is a fickle and deceptive goddess, as revealed in de’Roberti’s painting. Thus, let the matter be reversed: trust Bravura, not your eyes.
Ravenna, 24th October 2009