“My way has indeed been the simplest one: Piero della Francesca, Bellini, Vermeer, Canaletto, Hiroshige, Hokusai, Utamaro – the cornerstone of drawing, quite more than color – is life, the visible aspect of the world, filtered by the mind not in order to steep it in reminiscence, but to mollify the obscure and contradictory forces in the abstract steadfastness of contemplation.”
Silence, the suspended mystery of figures, the secret harmony of the composition. Light, able of investigating places, the mind, which filters the vision, the rigorous discipline of contemplation, which has long been exercised in order to control feelings. And, to outline the whole, the sign that better than the color, transcribes life distilling its shapes: in brief, here is the tale of long story of an artist who deserves to be remembered.
For a sensitive storyteller like him, talking about himself should not be proved difficult, however it is with the lucid simplicity of these few words by Renzo Biasion the guidelines of his poetic journey are traced, which appear as sincere as they are meditated, which recall the style of his drawings, in which, when you look at a subject that has already been studied a myriad of times, the clear and secure outline captures the final synthesis of the truth, with a fresh and lapidary lightness.
Real life, for Biasion, proved to be an indispensable source of inspiration to draw from, a universe of figures in front of which the seductions of abstraction – with which he, like many of his peers, turned for a short time – lost their interest almost immediately. When painting the abstract seems too easy and repetitive, as it seemed to him, it means that the deep chords of the ego are only played with another wind instrument and that, not understanding or not wanting to indulge the sense of aniconic art, it is more rewarding to seek out fragrant visions of roads and homes, as well as potted flowers or rough seas or sleepy outskirts brought to pallid life.
Biasion loved to spin tales, with those moods, chock full of color, atmosphere, breaths, dust and distance, almost without events, tales that only in appearance belong to the world.
He was a talented weaver of tales, from a very young age, as proved by his novel Sagapò, but before and after he was above all else a painter, both by training as well as by vocation, and within the painting also an engraver, translating his great aptitude for drawing into the etched sign, the storyteller’s other instrument.
Biasion drew, painted and wrote, easily passing from the essentiality of black and white narrative to the descriptive transport of color.
He practiced writing and the visual arts with a breadth of reciprocity that only a few have mastered, and when someone has such a skill, it is a gift that is often kept almost secret, in order to let separate destinies pass: on the one hand, the writing, which, when the right publishing outlets are found, more easily reaches a wide audience, bequeathing one with renown; on the other hand art, which always moves in a narrower context, between study and exhibitions, between interiors and exteriors, in a more intimate and guarded dimension. Consider, among the intellectuals of his time, Carlo Levi or Cesare Zavattini, whose literary reputation partly kept their deeper inspiration of painters in the shadows.
A truly ambidextrous storyteller, as Domenico Porzio properly defined him underscoring the complementarity of languages in the artist’s expressive pathway, Biasion instead openly chose and loved painting as his first language, perhaps seduced by those silences, those long interlude of inaction, by that getting lost in the contemplation that writing, which forced him instead to build up action, could not grant him for too long.
So his was primarily a painting of scenes, of possible horizons of events that possibly or probably have already or have not yet occurred in an unceasing dialectic between interior and exterior, enclosed spaces and open spaces, which is his most recognizable signature style. A dialectic, in some ways, that was emblematic of his generation – already active between the 1930s and the 1950s, and therefore tense and arched like a bridge over the abyss of the regime and the war – he lived the conflict between private life and public life with an inevitably ideological sensitivity. For many intellectuals, in fact, the representation of interiors was the metaphor of a choice of secluded and self-secluded life, lived in polemical impossibility of belonging to the present; while addressing the vision of public places, especially in cities and their outskirts, revealed a greater propensity to active commitment, declaring a desire to take a stand as concerns contemporary society.
This is why, although there is nothing of classical painting missing from the genres dealt with by Biasion, there are the city outskirts and the interiors of the studio are the emblematic sites of his journey. Here, no doubt, breathlessness is expressed in all his silence, a rarefication of the feeling that also lingers even on imperturbable portraits, on untouchable nudes, on the composed still lives and landscapes sweetened by distances, but with less mystery.
A mystery of uncanniness, which, however, makes the city outskirts touching and indecipherable, with that banal architecture of traditional popular housing built around a central courtyard, that absence of people, who are perhaps there, in rooms that swallow the shadow behind the balconies, in the dull, gray periwinkle facades in Turin, or in the sweetly dialectical reds of Bologna, in the slender jar of herbs for flavoring in cooking, in the tent stretched over the railing to shade the table, where someone we do not see is standing and likely sharing a meal, with the window open, telling about his day. Seen from the street, the windows of the houses are open enigmas on others’ lives.
Or the mystery of the glance, which repeats several times like a shot of footage that focuses on the interiors, crosses the threshold, into the studio in order to look for clues, flowing walls neatly punctuated by small pictures to read them as the diaries of an elusive existence, nearly grazes past brushes, the open book, the Chinese hat, the faded jar, looking for a sentimental inflection, an emotionally revealing breakdown.
These interiors are very striking, lit up by bright strokes of colors reminiscent of Fauve, composed like movie sets, sometimes played on the geometrical synthesis almost to verge on abstraction, but without ever slipping into it. They are the void spaces of existence, where an empty sofa is a protagonist, a strong presence cloaked in his velvet secret, to accurately portray, perhaps with a jar of wildflowers on his lap. They are the artist’s small rooms, in whose solitude you can even pose a painting, in order to gaze at it, to represent it again, and after some time, find a plausible reason for it. There is an etching of the 1970s which represents the painting of a house in the city outskirts: an average format painting, that leans upon a cane chair, as if it were a mirror, in which the artist wanted to reflect himself in, not in order to see his likeness again, but rather his own gaze, that which he once at a certain time he chose to peer at. In the unmoving composure of this combination between interiors and exteriors, a self-portrait would have been less explicit.
These are the interiors where, at a certain time of the day or life, you shut the doors of the night, the hour when the windows frame the dark and it is senseless to lean out of them when blackness calls only whiteness, in a game of reflections. Seen from the inside, the windows are the boundary between the self and the world, and at times these may be very murky.
Biasion once wrote, telling about his Notti (Nights), “The first painting was a window open on the night, the exact opposite of Matisse”.
1 Renzo Biasion, Scritti, 1972.
2 Domenico Porzio, Introduction to Sagapò, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan 1975.