Carlo Alfano

Carlo Alfano, Figura n. 9, 1984. Collezione privata. In comodato a Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. | Carlo Alfano, Figura n. 9 / Figure n. 9, 1984. Private collection. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Without ever taking part in a specific movement, after experimenting with Abstract Expressionism and European Art Informel in the 50s, and drawing on Optical-Kinetic experiments in the late 70s, Carlo Alfano (Naples, 1932) engaged in research into the temporal dimension of representation, which became the expressive matrix of his work. His whole output is constantly driven to ask questions, to inquire into the meaning of representation, painting and, in a philosophical sense, human existence. Carlo Alfano understood painting as a private experience, a theatre of intelligence, memory and narrative, where the literary and the visual, writing and the image, voice and the formal structure create continual derangements between the different levels of these systems.

Alfano understands “temporality” as self-reflection on life, as the search for a open space-time of being, in which the self is distinguished from the other; an issue addressed in particular in the early cycles of the 80s, Eco-Narcissus and Eco-Descent, and later in the cycle Figures, in which the artist explored the figure of the double, specifically Narcissus, experimenting with the concept of duality, understood as an ambiguous condition in which reality and its reflection are at work. Everything oscillates between these two dimensions. The black space recurrent in these works gives visible form to the concept of depth, and the human figure appears on the unfathomable threshold of color. The canvases, often slit, seem to indicate the fracture of the individual, subsequently reassembled through a dense tracery of threads. Splitting and the loss of centrality characterize the works of the cycle Figures, in which the bodies are doubled to form mirror images, divided, or represented by from behind in the act of crossing a metaphorical threshold, and finally dematerialized into chromatically dense, gray, black and saturated blue spaces, which envelop them. In these works, like the one in the collection, the artist pauses to precisely capture the exact moment when the figure, in being mirrored, splits to become something other than itself, losing its spatiotemporal boundaries.

The series of his “anonymous self-portraits,” begun in 1969 and continued by the artist without a break until his death, placed at the heart of his investigation the temporal component of perception and took an extreme his research aimed at investigating the inner reasons for the representation, drawing on a continuous phenomenological and cognitive research inspired by his literary and philosophical-anthropological interests, ranging from Shakespeare to Cervantes, Proust, Joyce and above all Michel Foucault. The self-portraits, consisting of fragments of sounds, pauses and time scans transferred to canvas in the form a score, are constructed by representing in writing the passing of time as the artist experienced it in person, the sounds and phrases heard or read, and the thoughts that appeared in his mind. Each paragraph marks a new moment at which the artist returned to the work. This way of conceiving portraiture as an “inner portrait” enables the viewers to identify with the work and experience in their turn (by reading it on the canvas) the portion of time lived by the artist. “The archive, naming, the distance of representation, the portrait, the fragmented and anonymous self-portrait,” emphasized Angelo Trimarco, “thus become the places of his work, the stage on which he tests the sovereign notions of the subject, of resemblance, of temporality. The self-portrait is, then, the crucial figure of this space to reflect on the practice of painting, on its own possibility, beyond the subject – the author – who endows it with fullness of meaning.” The reality of the painting thus offers an open reading of space and time, while the contemporary synchronic event stands as specular to our present space/time. Alfano invites one to take note of the spaces of silence, to enter the mechanism of refraction and the implicit reflective qualities of the work.

In Fragments of an Anonymous Self-Portrait No. 31 (1972) the black monochrome dictates the conditions of an anonymous speculative space, not tied down to specific physical contingencies, where identical temporal fragments with brief annotations are repeated over the whole surface, without any relation existing between the sequences. “I use a conventional way of writing the time with a progressive numerical horizontal line, in accordance with a linearity from 1 to 2. These linear series are interrupted, in keeping with the general structure of the direction that I want to give to the picture, by brief phrases, by voids and silences. The meaning of each fragment – as of the big fragment that is the painting – is not to communicate a series of completed concepts or a linearity of time; I am interested in grasping the circularity of time, its stops and its velocities. Among the units of seconds (the sign that I have chosen to indicate time) I am interested in the slow emergence of the word, the tensions of its rules, the conflicts and exclusions of its subjective movements, before the word reaches that fullness that will fill silence.” (C. Alfano).