Third episode of the program “Pralines. Deliciousness from the world of art” by Sergio Mandelli.
Umberto Mariani is born in 1936 in Milan, where he lives and works.
As Achille Funi’s favorite student, Mariani collaborates with his professor to realize Saint Charles Borromeo Chapel in Sant’ Angelo Church in Milan and the altar piece of St.
Joseph in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican.
After dedicating himself, for a period of time, to exploring Expressionism inspired by Permeke, Mariani finally confronts himself with Pop Art, the hallmark of the mainstream culture of the sixties.
But he soon understands that things don’t work properly.In fact, his early paintings prominently feature objects associated to erotic allusions, such as long gloves or shiny boots, which make us think of an Allen Jones’ work.
This argument nonetheless makes no sense.The titles themselves, such as “the Chaste Susanna”, “La promenade de Fantomas”, instead of telling us the meaning, seem to deliberately take us off the road.We thus find ourselves immersed in the atmosphere more of Surrealism than of Pop Art.But in the end what stands out is Mariani’s deep interest in the folds of textiles.
Why is he so interested in the folds of fabric? Let’s reflect on this question: the folds certainly recall draperies. Mariani confesses that he’s got a kind of illumination when he discovered that the drapery is the main subject of the art history from Greek times to the present day.
Equally important is the fact that the drapery often conceals something, a body, a stage, a piece of furniture to protect it from dust, and so on. The drapery therefore serves the purpose of concealing a mysterious subject beneath, while also evoking its presence. But then, we know nothing of the hidden object in Mariani’s paintings.
Sometimes the allusion is clearer, as in the case of an elliptical form that recalls a concealed painting or even a wrapped up letter. But a single letter, in principle, conveys no meaning at all.
And because paintings are mostly appreciated for their contents, let’s focus on draperies. We notice that the material adopted in his paintings is not fabric but is lead. And lead, in alchemy, is the metal governed by Saturn, that represents night and is the opposite of gold. During the Renaissance, people under the influence of Saturn were thought to be reflexive, melancholic, pensive,
While those under Jupiter, also called Jove, were thought to be open-minded, expansive, jovial.
Lead nurtures unexpressed thoughts , and the fact that lead acts as a veil has confirmed this idea: aren’t sacred things veiled, as the Monstrance before and after the Exhibition?
And so what is celebrated in this unusual, somehow alchemic, ceremony, which is Mariani’s art?
Mariani himself tries to answer this question by quoting Marcel Duchamp’s words stated in 1960.
“I believe that today, more than ever before, the artist has this para-religious mission, to keep lit the flame of an inner vision of which the work of art seems to be the closest translation for the layman.”
The artist is considered a kind of priest that, through the creation of an art work, doesn’t reveal any truth at all, but evokes a profound inner state which deals with emotions more than with ideas expressed rationally.
Over the course of years, Mariani has also employed transparent and light plastic materials with which he covers some printed words on canvas; but this process is illusory, too.Umberto Mariani seems to tell us that we can’t get to the truth through the use of language, but through experience; and the artistic experience is what that is most precious to him.