In the early sixties Emilio Isgrò (Barcelona Pozzo di Gotto, 1937) emerged with an artistic practice that, over the decades, has explored the boundaries between writing and the visual arts, expanding the limits and possibilities of both fields.
The vitality of the development of Visual Poetry in Italy in the sixties can be seen as encouraging Isgrò’s artistic formation. In 1964, he produced his first “Erasures,” a series of works that stirred a heated debate that was both artistic and literary. Yet, despite his closeness to the debate between experimental writing and visual poetry (think in particular of Gruppo 70), Emilio Isgrò maintained an independent position that led him to develop one of the most original contributions to Conceptual Art.
The texts chosen by the artist for erasure were initially excerpts from newspapers, in which he intervened by deleting the words of the text and leaving only a few select words legible. In this way the semantic fabric of the original text was changed and radically re-interpreted, bringing out meanings foreign to the text. In those years Isgrò focused his work on syntax and meaning, freeing the text of its primary function and operating in accordance with a process that was constructive and not at all destructive, as might appear at first glance.
Soon the artist passed on to the erasure of whole texts and books, including the choice of the publication as an integral part of the conceptual aspect of the entire operation, as with his celebrated series of encyclopedias: working on the Treccani, Larousse, Britannica and the Soviet Encyclopedia, Isgrò enriched his work with a political valence, transforming erasure into an instrument for investigating the relationship between knowledge and authority.
Over the years, the act of erasure has entered into dialogue not only with contemporary artistic research attributable to the international field of Conceptual Art, but even more profoundly with the languages and history of painting.
A similar procedure, opening up meanings by an act of apparent reduction, is also applied to images, largely taken from the media. In the work exhibited at the Madre titled Jacqueline from 1965 (formerly presented in the solo exhibition the artist created in 1974 at Lia Rumma’s gallery in Naples), the text completely replaces the image and itself becomes a visual datum through an interplay of correspondences between typographical symbols and journalistic language, between visual communication and its suppression. The image of Jacqueline Kennedy bending over her husband after he was shot (an image that went around the world and has gone down to history) is restored to a form of more intimate understanding by being eliminated. The work on both text and image are to be understood in their mutual interdependence, in the relation established between both verbal communication and visual communication. In all Isgrò’s work we can therefore recognize a critical attitude to these systems, ranging from information sources to material educational aids, within which the transmission of knowledge is closely bound up with the creation and maintenance of power.