Literality and painting. An actual solution

In the middle of the 60s, modernist discourse had taken painting to a situation without any apparent ways out. If the essence of painting was to be viewed as flatness, the consequence could only be that of the identification of painting itself with the two-dimensionality of the support. But it became equally clear that when the act of painting took place on the canvas, its “virtual flatness” was destroyed, because inevitably an illusionistic effect was created that called into question the correspondence between the painting and the literal character of the work. The need to definitively eliminate every form of illusionism took concrete form in Minimalism, consisting of wholly literal works, but on the condition of doing away with painted form for good. Painting and literality were to be considered entirely incompatible. But that was not all. Fontana’s Spatialism had in any case already called into question the possibility for painting to defend its own autonomy, given that the very two-dimensionality of the pictorial plane had been definitively compromised with the slashing of the support. One could certainly not think of re-presenting painting starting from the premise of the wholeness of the surface. Literality and painted form were therefore impossible to reconcile, it had to concluded. But prior even to that, the path of painting itself had proved to be impracticable, because it no longer had its necessary premise, the surface on which to apply colour. So how could one get out of a situation in which the zeroing of painting revealed itself to be above all a voiding of the possibilities, above all physical, of realizing a painting that had sense?

The answer had to be sought precisely in the paradox of painting that was autonomous with respect to its own flatness. It was a question of thinking of a radical inversion of terms and procedures. To forego the surface but keep painting intact. Hence, to realize a picture without the canvas on which to paint. But if one foregoes the surface, painting is also freed from the problem of illusionism – an inevitable consequence of the pictorial act arising from flatness. And the result was the realization of an artefact, a pictorial work that coincides wholly with the structure of its support. Literality and painting are not incompatible.