Mimmo Paladino

Mimmo Paladino, Senza titolo, 1995. Donazione dell’artista. Collezione Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. | Mimmo Paladino, Senza titolo / Untitled, 1995. Gift of the artist. Collection Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

The research of Mimmo Paladino (Paduli, Benevento, 1948), initially focused on photography and, parallel with it, on the assiduous practice of design, has developed one of the most personal and influential artistic languages in recent decades, articulated around a complex and imaginary iconography, whose roots can be traced in Mediterranean culture. As one of the protagonists of the return to painting that characterized the late 70s, he was the author of the celebrated Silenzioso, mi ritiro a dipingere un quadro (“Silence, I am Withdrawing to Paint a Picture”, 1977), almost a mission statement for a work now regarded as exemplary of that transition which followed the long season of Conceptual Art.
The years between 1978 and 1980 were marked by the production of monochrome paintings in bold colors, overspread by geometric structures. These works testified to a period of transition towards a renewed focus on figurative painting, the retrieval of linguistic forms that emerged from tradition and history, recovering the subjective dimension of the creative act: a decided stand in favor of the “reasons of painting,” which created affinities with other artists – Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Sandro Chia and Nicola De Maria – who were the authors of the Transavanguardia. Paladino syncretically explored Christian culture and classical mythology, ancient Egypt and the Etruscan world, pre-Roman civilization and primitive art, down to the avant-gardes of the twentieth century, references to which he has added, since 1982, an animistic component assimilated during his numerous trips to Brazil.

A tireless experimenter, the artist creates a close dialogue between painting and sculpture, with the introduction into the surface of the painting of molded shapes and found objects that progressively become freed from the initial support to attain an independent existence in the third dimension, while his sculptures recall primordial ephebic mannequins with abstract and suspended expressions, absorbed in an estranging calm, the expression of an ancestral and almost shamanic, archaic and dreamlike metaphysic, nurtured by references to myth, archetypal imagery populated by shreds, fragments of figures, hands, heads, elements of a language that combines different places and times, defining an unmistakable alphabet of plastic signs without an unambiguous dimension. In 1990 he experimented for the first time with set design, creating Montagna di Sale (“Salt Mountain”), a memorable installation for J.C.F. Schiller’s Bride of Messina at Gibellina, later reprised in Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples (1995-96) and again in Piazza del Duomo in Milan (2011).
In 2000, he designed the scenography for Oedipus the King, directed by Mario Martone, an experiment in collaboration between theater and visual arts renewed with Oedipus at Colonus (2004), two works that won Paladino the Ubu award. A further offshoot of his work was his foray into cinema, as director of Quijote (2006), a feature film configured as a redefined path of hybridization between the different artistic and narrative languages. More recently he made Labyrinthus (2013), devoted to the life and works of Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. “Creating a film,” says the artist, “is akin to sculpture, but it’s like shaping light. Working with light that becomes materialized, image, movement, speech, sound.”

Senza titolo (“Untitled”, 1995), belongs to a phase of Paladino’s painting that, in the mid-nineties, discovered a renewed monumentality. A row of hands – bleeding or marked by stigmata – stands out on the canvas. Their gestural character evokes a universal language, an ancient proxemics, rooted in popular culture and the characteristic facial expression that belongs to the regions of southern Italy. Their fragmentariness as partial objects gives body to a painting made up of quotations drawn from tradition and personal recollections, suspended between abstraction and figuration, archaic rituals, alchemical practices and contemporary evocations.
The iconographic motif of the hand, isolated and repeated, references the tradition of ex-votos, images of gratitude for danger escaped, uncannily beautiful, also recalling the artist’s dexterity, his ability to render reality in a graphically organized form: all the elements, presented as fragments floating on the canvas, revolve around two discs in gold leaf, whose presence, concentrating around them the wealth of pictorial material, evokes the emotional and intellectual synthesis of Byzantine icons, a synthesis in which are fused different iconographic elements, the expressions of a powerful, primal and archetypal dimension of art.