Painting of the Day

4 Jun

Entry into Port of a Ship with a Red Rose Aboard. by Enzo Cucchi (born 1949). Fresco, 1985-1986. According to 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die it belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I could not locate it personally in an online search of the collection.

Biographical notes from

A native of Morro d’Alba, province of Ancona, Cucchi was a key member of the Italian Transavanguardia movement, along with fellow countrymen Francesco Clemente, Mimmo Paladino, Nicola De Maria, and Sandro Chia. The movement was at its peak during the 1980s and was part of a wider movement of Neo-Expressionists painters around the world.

The official proclamation of the Transavanguardia took place at the Venice Biennial of 1980. The term was an idiom for the art of this young generation following the Avant-garde art of the sixties. These artists no longer sought to evoke discomfort in the spectator by all means and to force him to go beyond the work to grasp it fully.

The members of the Transavanguardia-group have diverse working methods. Their identity as a group is not dependent on rules or any binding language of expression, but they share a preference for motifs gathered from imaginable reality and the free use of past and present. Cucchi uses forms suggestive of the landscape, legends and traditions of his home-region. He shows nature, history and culture in a playful relationship with our technical world, using symbols like a train or an ocean-liner and employing colour in terms of idea, expansion and motion rather than for pictorial sensation. His artwork is often accompanied by poetic texts some of which have been published. In the late 1970s, Cucchi’s highly original work conspicuously stood out in a scene dominated by conceptual art.

Notes from 1001 Painting You Must See Before You Die:

This is expressive of Enzo Cucchi’s more subdued works–somber colors and stark themes, redolent of death and sadness. In this work, the crosses ostensibly mark the moorings of other boats in the port, which the ship must navigate its way beyond. Yet they are sinister, suggestive of cemeteries, or perhaps slave ships. The deliberately smeared black leeching from some of the crosses evokes not only water in the port, but also tears and misery. This ship is heading directly into the most impassable area of the port, into a crevice through which it cannot possibly pass. Cucchi’s fondness for mixing media means that his works often include reclaimed objects, such as neon lighting tubes or pieces of wood. He experiments with the use of natural and artificial lights, exploring the painterly properties of both. After the mid-1990s, Cucchi’s works began to get smaller in size, but as a result they are often much richer in detail. In recent years, Cucchi has become most renowned for his sculpture, which has been in high demand in Europe and the United States. Just as many of his paintings feature elongated figures, Cucchi’s sculptures, like Fontana d’Italia (1993), often  feature elongated columns or shapes. When asked about his work in 2001, Cucchi said: “I strive to give to others a sense of sacredness, because an art event is not just a formal fact, but also a moment where you put a mark on your dedication. You must have a feeling of joining a tribe where there is the chain of command, because you are in a sacred place with its rules.”

My comments:

This fresco, from a purely aesthetic, formal perspective, is absolutely gorgeous to me. Thinking about it in the way that Albert Barnes would think about painting, there is a harmonious balance achieved in this painting in terms of its composition (the arrangment of the crosses), the colurs, the texture, the distribution of light and spatial relationships. One of my favorite aspects of the painting besides the rusty white background and the coal-black of the crosses is the way the black seems to drip in a fading pattern below the crosses, as if we are watching the crosses lose their essence or their spirits. It’s interesting that the object for which the painting is made, a ship with a red rose, is almost obscured by being placed at a very small size in the upper left corner of the painting, where one misses it upon first glance of the painting. Even though one would expect that the red that is used for the red rose (unfortunately you can’t even see it in this digitized image) to stand out prominently since it brings such a high contrast to the blacks and greys. But because of its location in the painting and the very small amount of it used, its potential power is diminished. It’s also interesting how the description of the painting  from the book that I included above does not mentioned the religious connotations of the crosses included in the painting. But they are too clearly Christian crosses to be a mere coincidence. So what additional meaning was Cucchi invoking by adding so many in this painting? If the crosses were merely meant to represent the moorings of other boats, Cucchi could have easily used another shape to denote them. So I think the use of the cross symbol is deliberate, although I don’t know enough about Cucchi to hazard a guess as to what they could mean.

Reading about the Transavanguardia movement reminds me of a conversation I had with my studio art professor, Randall Exon, about the shortcomings of contemporary, specifically conceptual, art. We both agreed that one of art’s most important qualities in terms of what it contributes to culture and to humanity is its ability to be intensely expressive, to engage human feelings and sentiments and wake us up to incredibly strong emotions and feelings. Conceptual art sometimes seems to be hostile to human nature, and even condescending to the public; to me it sometimes feels as if the artist who made a conceptual art piece that I’m viewing in a museum thinks I’m an idiot simply for being a part of the general public. I agree with the spirit of the Transavanguardia artists, then, in that contemporary art would gain so much–including more viewers that exist outside of the high art world–if it aimed more at meeting humans on a human level. This certainly does not mean that contemporary art that shifts in this way loses its intellectualism and “dumbs down.” As we can see with Cucchi’s painting above, expressive art that isn’t primarily conceptual can be immensely thought-provoking. To become more expressive would only add to the depth of contemporary art, making it multi-faceted and possessive of more layers of meaning to explore.



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