Salvatore Emblema

Salvatore Emblema, “Senza titolo”, 1969. Donazione di Ernesto Esposito. Collezione Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. | Salvatore Emblema, “Untitled”, 1969. Gift of Ernesto Esposito, 2016. Collection Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

After attending the Scuola del Corallo di Torre at Greco and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Naples, and after traveling widely, in the early 50s Salvatore Emblema (Terzigno, 1929-2006) settled in Rome where he held his first exhibition at the Galleria San Marco, in 1954. He moved for some years to the United States, and there he met one of the most important American exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Mark Rothko, whose pictorial language, characterized by extreme chromatic and lyrical synthesis, exerted a profound influence on Emblema. He returned to Italy at the end of the decade and in the mid-sixties met the critic Giulio Carlo Argan, who contributed to the definition and analysis of the concept of “Transparency” which lies at the center of the artist’s research. The 70s were notable for numerous exhibitions, among them institutional one-man shows in various locations, including Villa Pignatelli in Naples and the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, curated by Palma Bucarelli. In 1980 and 1982 he took part in the Venice Biennale, and in 1985 had a solo exhibition presented at the Palazzo Reale in Naples. The hostility of Neapolitan academic circles and the polemical contemporary artistic debate forced the artist to withdraw to his villa at Terzigno, on the slopes of Vesuvius. In recent years, Emblema’s figure and artistic work, among the most singular achievements of pictorial research in the field of abstraction, have again become objects of critical reflection.

The work added as a donation to the Madre’s collection in 2016 (Untitled, 1969) has some possible alternative titles that indicate its structure, process of composition, and perceptual effect: Sfilato, Detessitura, Trasparente (“Frayed,” “Unweaving,” “Transparent”). It belongs to Emblema’s first series of works, in which he focused on the concept of “transparency”, evoked by the balanced relationship between the warp and weft of a coarse textile material, the absence of any pictorial intervention and a formal composition entrusted only to the effect of perception created between the jute surface, the wooden frame and the wall behind the work. The cross defined by the axes of the frame, as well as the tension keys on the frame, visible behind the perimetral fraying, became an integral part of the work’s structure, both objective and symbolic, tending to round its corners, blur its boundaries, and lighten its texture. The patient, slow, manual de-weaving (a term coined by Bucarelli) of the painted surface consisted for Emblema of a process, practical and at the same time cognitive, the selective subtraction of the threads of the weft and warp of the canvas, proceeding by creating geometric patterns (straight, orthogonal, and false diagonal lines), until the light passed through the surface of the painting and cast shadows on the wall behind, with variable effects of transparency that revealed the inner spatial quality of the raw material of painting itself for Emblema: the canvas, and whatever exists around it, light, space, and time.

The artist wrote: “What is transparency then, if not the attempt to eliminate any opaque body that gets between our eyes and the light? For centuries, the space behind the picture was dead. It was necessary to bring that space to life, because it is there that the truth is waiting to be discovered again and again. Reaching the Other Space, going to the Light, is a key issue for all painters, as for lovers. But painting has always been done on one thing (the picture) that concealed another thing (the wall). The bodies of lovers, on the other hand, those are never hidden, not even when they cover one another. Of what is Heaven made? Of nothing! What color is the sky? No color! Heaven is Empty and Transparent. And yet the Blue supports the Clouds.”

AV