Fragments and surroundings

Lorenzo Gresleri, 1996 – “Fragments and surroundings”

The approach to the observation of and comment on Wanda Benatti’s work attempts to find here a proper method of reasoning that refuses a critical conclusion a priori in order to activate instead the beginning of a process totally in becoming. It attempts, that is, to offer itself as a system of open comment capable of receiving new contributions of criticism and reasoning at every point of its construction and in every phase of its becoming.
This criterion is not so much bound to the historical hypothesis that the pictorial process in evolution can give rise to other points of observation and other reasons of criticism, as in fact it should necessarily be, but because the elements that intervene in the spiritual density of her production have so much input of a different nature to allow a continuous aggression of study from the non-homogenous points of view of a different nature. This discourse refers to contents of source, of memory and of presence that are all together of emotional nature, of psychic inquiry, of literary derivation, of compositional nature, of the use and of the mastery of the material, of the interpreting every color as an end in itself, etc. It is inevitable that each of these channels of admission to the inside of the painting can be examined indifferently before or after the others, meaning that none of such points of observation is able to exhaust the critical analysis as none can serve as opening to the discourse and even less as the conclusion. That is to say, it is as if the only approach to observation and comment developed according to a chain system that describes a closed circle where no point is before or after the next and where none provides the beginning or the end of the movement. In this way the necessity arises, unique and possible, of working with fragments, organizing that is an anthology of critical interventions made of pieces of writing and put on the table from time to time in a free, open composition where anyone at any moment can add new annotations or gradually substitute some already present at the moment that the inquiry, at greater depth of intuition, could have progressed yet another step. The necessity of the open formula for any sedimentation of the critical inquiry is forced in this case precisely by the very rapid evolving of the painter’s production for which there isn’t any formula that allows the consolidating of a critical, static idea, but at every exhibition or show and in every successive painting one cannot face again the problem of how to read the work and the moment and of how to investigate the spiritual contents of it. The scientist that puts his/her eye to the microscope is thrown into an event of deep fascination in witnessing the live presence of forms that move slowly but with an unavoidable force, generating masses, abandoning voids, flowing and gliding about with continuous entrances and exits from the four sides of the field with an incredible variability of the visible image. If the click of a camera inserted in the same microscope interferes, a frozen and absolutely static image of it is the result. Observing this, however, the eye of the scientist, mindful of the lively tumult that it knows well, cannot but unconsciously reconstruct the relationship between the two moments and so he rereads in the static image the movements, the vitality, the tensions seen occurring at the time. Also in Wanda Benatti’s paintings there appears in this way a state of movement and of evolution of the forms that derives from the energetic relationships that coexist between them and that introduce in the static composition of the pictorial object situations in fieri and states of potential energy, agitators in the spirit of the one who observes of a meaning that can only be defined as inner vitality. The reference to the microscope has a precise meaning in assuming as its own rule a delimitation of field of four orthogonal sides, forming a square perimeter, that is the extrapolating from a continuity of movement and of a much larger presence, a limited particle in order to be able to witness trajectories that cross it and concentrate their attention on precise moments of the universe of movements that the general field presents, having chosen, exactly, a direction of observation so that this becomes an element of order able to allow the approach to a spherical field whose dimensional vastness and directions would be unbearable. In the science of the consciousness of the world (Gestaltung) touch and smell come before sight. Communication between the world and us passes through the sensitivity of touch as deep, primary emotion. First, I touch and I feel, then I see and I read. This imperative and this hierarchical succession becomes an unrestrainable key for the approach to the pictorial object of Wanda Benatti. The expressiveness that is at the base of her composing is law guided by material from tactile instinct and by the tactile criticism that from the contribution of inspection that can follow sight. But the gesture that we are trying to follow in its most real becoming is not only movement of a limb or impulse of common sense but it is the result of an interchange of the material used (tactile quality) and the material action of its being brought to the canvas. It is different the way with which color is replaced, or launched, or pressed, or brushed on the canvas according to of course the expressive instinct of the moment, but this is conditioned, guided by the material essence of the color itself. The cold viscosity of acrylic, manipulated directly by the hand before being molded on the background, or the mixtures with sand whose graininess imposes like a rolling of inert particles on the canvas, or the cold, bright Indian ink that glides making pearls of black light escape from the bristles of the brush, or the fingers of the hand proposing the course of the gestures and intervening to guide the use of gestures itself. This terrible exchange, such a substantial part of these paintings, is so very real and present as to become an essential element of the final representation, but that, even in the observer, makes itself so aggressive as to put forward again its process of becoming in the inverse sense.
The signs, that is, that while binding themselves together in the obliged composition and in the global interaction, appear like they are floating in different layers distancing themselves in time to reecho the phases of its becoming so that the acts, the actions, the gestures are readable one by one, each bringing to the content the global magma the spiritual load of the precise creative energy of every single constructive moment.
Wanda Benatti’s paintings are symbols of her proceeding to take possession of the reality and of the memory with which she codifies it. Going along again the path of the spiritual stimuli that were at the base of its construction, the process of decoding the pictorial object becomes impossible and inane to criticism, though it becomes interesting to understand the process of the landscape from the stimuli of the places and of the moments to the point of settling under the form of pictorial truth.
The process—that for other painters is above all an exercise in figurative, compositional abstraction in order to translate the stimulus undergone from a precise vision into truth more universal than the pictorial object—in Wanda Benatti undergoes a settling phase at the memory level. Place, forms, lights, colors, but also scents or the sense of cold or wind or even emotional solicitudes can become decontextualized baggage capable of defusing the painting’s aggression process for a decanting of the tested situations.
In this way a rereading process is started up, through the slow distorting of memory, of the emotional significance of the site and of the moment that can be put forward again in the interpretation of the phenomena that are not described but reproduced, the character and the importance of the sense and the genius of the place of reference and the soul with which it was seized.
The painting then recounts not things, objects of sight, but the relationship between these, the state of tension, and the sense with which the soul is related to these (joy, exaltation, sadness) and which memory reintroduces to the evocation and inspiration process of painting.
A singular fact, that assumes value of distinction with repetition, is the relationship of dichotomy with which the observer takes possession of the picture. The contrast between the sense of unassailable depth that reveals itself in the composition to the point of seeming to not only allow but to foster the process of entry and of sinking into its intimate space. The voids that appear between the masses, the light that flows from the open masses of color, the depth of the openings in relationship to the immediacy of the fleshy strips placed in the foreground, everything seems to grant and to suggest the violence of penetration.
But there is a breaking moment in this enchantment that reveals itself as an obstacle, as an insurmountable screen that—so slight as it is usually composed—appears almost at the last moment, that is to say, when the state of tension seems to have already made the foot rise in the act of stepping. It is precisely at that moment that there appears, in front of the painting, a glass screen that places itself as an obstacle between us and the painting. It is the coexisting, in the pictorial composition of masses and of colors, of a spider’s web and pure floating marks without prospective depth but only outstretched on the same plane, just like they were drawn on a sheet of glass like in the parallel works of the artist, forming an alternative screen. The phenomenon of the coexistence of this double pictorial presence, one in the background and one floating, activates a spatial relationship of particular interest with the observer.
The picture shows its energetic force at the proximate distance that is due. From that distance, the forms, the lights, the colors, and the masses play out their relationship of strength and of poetry tied to the unitary dimension. Moving gradually closer until my face is right in front of the painting, the presence of the superimposed floating grid assumes very strong value both for the minute description of its graphic and sign presence but above all as a barrier effect, to the point that the observer realizes that he/she is eavesdropping on this side of the grid in order to look deeply with curiosity within the “inaccessible” voids of the pictorial composition.
A common element in Wanda Benatti’s pictorial production is the absolute readability, when everything is done, of the way in which the making and the constructing of the surfaces of the picture happened. The gesture of the hand in the impetus of generating a form that is rotary or directed is actually translated in the orientation of the painting itself. The work carries then in itself so much of the artistic ability that it becomes the actual figuration of the anthropomorphic mechanism (bust, shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, fingers), unique of its kind. The picture therefore has the same orientation of the human figure that produced it and the critical game of abstract art, where perfection is sometimes indifferent to the position of the picture, cannot be applied.
Every mark, every color, and every form become, as soon as they are thrown on the canvas, real beings which the painter herself must continually take into account.
Paper. Canvas. Fingers. Brushes. India ink. Acrylic. Sand. Cellophane. Golden pastels. Pencils. Crayons. Gel. Scotch tape. Aluminum foil. Gold paper. Wire. Rocks…
The presence of such different material elements is due to the law that regulates the appearance in the work of a stratification of forms and marks each endowed with its own autonomy. The diversity of the nature of the materials is generated at the same time as the form of the sign with which one makes the structure maintaining, thanks to the punctuality of its own form and of its own material an autonomous structure inside the composition.
That is to say, it happens that every successive gesture of aggression to the picture becomes energetic impulse, recognizable and closed in itself, to allow at the end, through a magical transparency, real and imaginative, the reading within the final unit of autonomous components finished in themselves. Gradually the picture is completed down to the last contribution (a manipulated piece of paper or a strip of silver) in order to finish with the conclusion of gestural trauma. The gloss is the last shiver. The sign of the cross or of the yony closes the drama and prepares the ecstasy.


SIGN that expresses
and that contains.
SIGN that delimits
and that gives rise to other SIGNS.
SIGN outside
of every mould.
SIGN that breaks
the square,
and that unties
other established moulds
it derides them
it flatters them,
and it draws away, fast,
in order to create farther on

(W.B. ’91)

Wanda Benatti’s pictorial modus seems to have absorbed and transformed significant states of great discipline in a process of construction of tensions inside the painting. Going over several artists again, after the experience of getting to know her painting, recognizable moments appear with analogous finality of pictorial tension. The painting “Laocoonte” by El Greco for example, reread alongside Wanda Benatti’s paintings, seems to present to us a series of references whose strategic overlapping (the space full of clouds, the city, the rocks, the human presences), color used for masses endowed with their own autonomy (the connective black), the presence of light as though flowering from the background (the clouds but also the human bodies) and above all the grid in the foreground that is superimposed as if drawn on a diaphanie in front of it (the sign of the snake) stop the observer at the right distance and push him/her to look beyond, toward the far background.
It is also worth it to verify the possible reference to a generation of abstractionists for some resonance with figures such as Kandinsky, de Kooning, Capogrossi. But a clear distinction has to be made immediately that not only refers to the modalities of construction of the painting but that also, at the end, generates the diversity of results. In the paintings of the artists cited, the compositional ensemble of forms, colors, spaces, and signs, moving freely, follow a compositional law of order that makes their paintings a planned, rigorous, logical ensemble. In light of such a rule of equilibrium, Wanda Benatti’s painting shows its own principal quality in the value of the sign as primary, gestural event. If the end result reaches a balance, this is because of an algebraic saturation of tensions and of energies, not because of a calculation of a balance of the forms.
Pollock, on the other hand, can be cited as a reference to gestural tension in the drafting of colored masses and in the direct gestural contribution with which the phases of construction of the picture seem to be confirmed.
If we attempt to determine the lowest common denominator in Wanda Benatti’s pictorial work the strong presence of a vital form, we should verify in what space it develops and by what energy it is animated. It happens then that one attempts to catalogue the type and character of the quality of such energy in order to understand how much of it is permanent and how much is continuously evolving. In this way, one notices the sense of a continuous diversity in the energetic tensions that from time to time assume different, always alternative specificities. It is useless to search for adjectives, but it is inevitable that for every picture one can recognize how the energetic events that animate the space are from time to time recognizable and distinguishable according to their own absolute meanings.
As explicative trace of such a point it’s enough to cite the evident difference between the paintings “Adieu,” “Furnace 3,” “Sunset at the Lagoon,” and “Rouge et Noir 3.” The search for space, present in all four works, is charged with energetic substance in completely different ways. While in “Adieu” the energy is aeolian (all the elements are unsettled by the wind), in “Furnace 3” the energy is mechanical (the material bodies are subject to an accumulating tension that seems to attempt to cause a mechanical click of every component like in a gear), in “Sunset at the Lagoon” the energetic tension is like it were shifted to the background, while in “Rouge et Noir” the energy appears like in a liquid state.
Contributing to the continuous pictorial evolution in Wanda Benatti’s works are the parallel activities of glass door and window making, sculpture, and poetry. It is impossible to reconstruct the relationships of exchange that act in the different disciplinary experiences but it is certain how the lack of energetic searching is noticeable in these last ones. While her painting is tumultuous, to the point of charging itself with life from the very energies that animate it, her sculpture and glass doors and windows are absolutely static to the point of becoming iconic. While the search for the energetic field takes place in her painting, sign and knowledge of the materials takes place in the other areas. The glass piece becomes that scratched or marked surface that is placed on the painting only to float without flowing back in, while the sculptures are the cognitive instrument of natural and artificial materials (such as rocks, iron, glass). And the poems are not a literary instrument as an end in itself but they are phonetic preface to remind the painter of the spiritual and intellectual charge that she is going to give to her painting. Only one example of this is “Sunset at the Lagoon (Venice 3).” The intensity of the word “Venice” written on the top, and above all, the type of font used identifies not only the place, but also the state of mind that memory preserves, and the hand translates in the painting the content of stillness and of piercing wound with which the work is closed. Like flowering algae,
it emerges now
from the sheet of paper,
the last composition…
like a sudden attack
of an organ concert
in a deserted church.
like a child
just delivered.
like death.
(w.b. ’92)