A CONVERSATION WITH MARCO ALMAVIVA
CARMELO STRANO What influences did you have received from Liguria, Tuscany, Milan, regarding your vision of art?
MARCO ALMAVIVA - In Milan there was a total openness about everything: from the library in via Console Marcello to Brera. At first, I attended the galleries as an "outside observer" to the field of art and obtained first-hand information, sometimes even confidences - from the "Millione" to Grossetti's Annunciata, from Vismara to Cortina. It was the latter who accompanied me without hesitation to Francesco Messina, once I told him about his friendship with my father. I could get to know the more «conservative» contexts, such as the avant-garde groups. There may have been a certain closure in these circles, but a "factual", dynamic conception of art prevailed. Even when it wasn't openly admitted, there was an interest, or at least curiosity, about what others artists were doing – and, after all, the fear that someone might find something… It was the spirit of research; and the confrontation took place publicly.
Compared to Milan, however, the situation in Genoa was much less dynamic. In the early 1970s, it appeared as stratified into different areas that communicated little or nothing with each other. There were first the older people, and among them those who had joined the Genoese season of Second Futurism – very humble, reserved. They increasingly felt the weight of their marginalization, which also tended to increase in relation to the dynamism of the neo-avant-gardes. In general, mistrust prevailed, especially in collecting circles, and they felt all the effects of Celant's "guerrillaism", which had made many proselytes among the younger generation. I repeatedly asked the university to be the promoter of a methodological clarification on art isuues, starting precisely from the situation in Genoa. Corrado Maltese, who had collaborated with the Amaltea Gallery I had founded, understood my reasons, but the scholar's caution prevailed in him. The difficulties met and the need to confront the neo-avant-gardes, only emphasized the critical approach that has always characterized my work.
I moved to Tuscany in 1979, mainly for «logistical» reasons – need for space and the costs that were unsustainable in Genoa. At first, the context seemed as open to confrontation as ever - these were the years of «Critica 0» and «Critica 1», organized by Egidio Mucci and Pier Luigi Tazzi (whom I became friends with). In the following decades, however, the conception of an institutionalized art, the expression of a cultural policy that was at times celebratory and little inclined to grasp differences, imposed itself. It was in this context that I developed the paradigm of the "fortress", a long action of defending the reasons of Filoplastica that certainly did not mean closure, but rather involved a confrontation with what was happening in the art world.
CS - You speak often and passionately about Lucio Fontana. What distances or proximities, certainly indirect, do you feel from the Argentine artist's revolutionary work?
MA - I happened to be in Finale Ligure in front of a shop window where some Fontana's ceramics were on display. I could not know who it was, I was 14 years old, and I thought, at the time, that they were the works of someone who had been a soldier in Africa and, on his return, wanted to remember his experience with those works. At the time I had begun to go to galleries, among the Rotta's in Genoa. I was beginning to be fascinated by sculpture, especially after discovering some of my father's works in Staglieno. Still occasionally, a few years later, in the mid-1950s, a canvas with some holes in it was on display in Turin, and next to it a sheet of newspaper with a picture of Fontana. In front of a small group of people who commented, negatively. The "shopkeeper" then came out defending the painter and maintaining his lucidity, perfectly polished like a plate rubbed with sidol. I was beginning to understand that understanding the twentieth century involved a long journey of reflection, of accepting something that had to be protected and loved. In the early 1960s, after my moving to Milan, I met an artist of Neapolitan origins, who told me about his long project as a painter, made up of a long activity that from disorder would culminate in unity. However, he told me that the path of painting towards the absolute had now been blocked by Fontana. And in fact, he stopped painting. It was only a few months later that I had the chance to meet Lucio Fontana in person. He was with some young people, to whom he recommended that they remember him only as the one who had made the "hole". Nothing else mattered. "But the spatialist movement?" - someone asked. «It's a matter of circumstances... the hole as a protest and as an absence... The important thing is to arrive at absolute values.» These are the words I remember. And the closeness remained in the peremptory, irreversible character of innovation, to which all the artist's activity had to be consecrated. But, at the same time, I feel distant, first and foremost emotionally, to the one who had put painting, in which I was pinning almost all my hopes, out of play. And, more generally, I could not identify with the exaltation and optimism that characterized the Spatialists. Instead, the vision I had of art referred back to a condition irremediably marked by the difficulty, which involved the artist's work, as well as any attempt to cope with the drama of existence.
CS - What were the spatio-temporal-cultural circumstances that determined your decisive interest in painting?
MA - My decision to become a painter matured in 1964. The Milanese environment was quite stimulating as far as, paradoxically, all the implications of the Spatialism that had decreed its end loomed over painting. But before that, painting was for me the only way to make sense of my existence in the face of the drama of life that, starting from the natural sphere, expressed itself in all its anguished ferocity. And it was in this context that formal and content issues are presented as structurally linked.
CS - What entanglements or sympathies have you developed with artists (or even literati) of the past (ancient or modern)?
MA - Starting from poetry, the thought immediately goes to those poets who spoke of the "toil of living": Montale and Quasimodo. And evidently, for fiction, Pavese and Fenoglio's La Malora, for the raw drama of existence consumed in that rural world where one must locate the genesis (which occurred in my childhood) of that sensibility that took shape in Tonaltimbrica. As for painting, I could easily respond by pointing to all those experiences that, because of their originality, constituted models that I certainly could not replicate -and the reference goes to the entire arc of the twentieth century avant-gardes. Returning to the peasant world, a particular relationship tied me to Pelizza da Volpedo for his attention to the «last ones» and, contextually, for a painting that becomes «technical», a procedure analyzed in its different constituent phases. Along this line, references go to the "naivety" of Morbelli and Segantini, all the way to Carlo Levi. In the germinal phase of the Tonaltimbrica, I paid attention to the gestuality of Hartung, Tàpies and Mathieu, but I needed a subtle and sharp sign, which analytically could structure, with its timbre, every part of the painting. In any case, I was able to understand the particular situation of many artists I knew or with whom I have, often indirectly, confronted, from Carrà to Guttuso, from Mucchi to Galliano Mazzon. I appreciated their particular formal solutions, even if they had no influence on my work.
CS -What aspects of your painting are a special source of satisfaction and pride?
MA - The aspects relate to the successful paintings of Filoplastica. When one doesn't feel the construction -the alien intervention of the tool- as if the whole had formed by itself, as happens in leavening, to the point of being able to almost say that it's not my work: I,"slightly", only thought of it.
CS - Who, in your opinion, are the Italian artists who brought about radical breakthroughs in the second part of the twentieth century?
MA - Lucio Fontana, also because the others (in a more or less conscious way) had to confront him.
CS - Among the broad trends of thought throughout the 20th century, to which ideas did you pay attention or turn your sympathies?
MA - The foundations of Tonaltimbrica and Filoplastica, precisely because they are centered on the enigma of existence and, primarily, on the violence that dominates in nature, led me to distrust any hypothesis which, more or less directly, would justify or relativize the drama of life. I never thought of going into the specifics of philosophical systems (it was not, nor does it want to be my task): it was a matter of a deep-rooted sensitivity, an instinctive awareness against any attempt to mystify reality. Originally, and in the path that led to Filoplastica, there was a certain consonance with the themes of existentialism (the anguish and gratuitousness of the existing, for example), but my condition was not one of undefined discomfort in the face of the mystery of being. I have never privileged the dimension of a subjectivity claiming its own centrality. My work is a response to a reality that tower over us, solid and organized, in the face of which the reasons of the self are truly little. The outcome of Filoplastica, consistent with the first assumptions of the Tonaltimbrica, necessarily falls within a materialistic horizon within which all our human aspirations must fall.