The decipherable will of the “gaze” of Neri as an artist immediately seems to consist in an endemie incapability of deeply and totally complying with real world. In spite of his continuous and sincere effort of concreteness, his anxiety to penetrate, and to identify himself with, reality, his genuine need to experience forms and to understand the traces of history he involves in his constructions. The general line always seems to escape the world’s givenness. In fact Neri, in a writing accompanying the artist’s works in 99 , mentioned the following: “Fragility is pervading us at any time... fragility of conscience and the will to shirk such sensations...”. Naturally, that sign of “weekness”™ is linked with the last writing of 998, a declaration about the care of beauty which suggests to the most cunning observers of the world and of its nature that “it is impossible to speak of ali” the images.
This is an incapability identifying the artist - who is after ali stili joined in the experience of informai art, expressionism and other styles experienced on the skin rather than through the mind - with the shelter of dream, of imaginative constructions, in order to breathe together with the anxieties of an evoked and imaginative world where even reality - concrete and gravitating in its content, sometimes burning and sometimes banal - becomes a fabula, far from life, yet spread with earthly elements, sanc-tioned by the coercion of our daily “being here”, but transferred into a kind of little transparent world, far from the certainties of logie, wet by sweat and by the pleasure of game and childhood. Hence, in Neri’s work one can find a fundamental dualism marking, in an unmistakably way, the sense of imagination and that of reality. In the gaze collecting the data which make up the work as well as in the work itself, in its actualness, an irreducible antinomy between reality and dream conceals itself. This duality does not reduce itself, in a post-modern sense, to a weekness, but strengthens itself through performing, in a less bony way, an oscillation between history and myth, concrete datum and world of memory, realism and magic of the gaze (towards a past that must be conserved), to sum up between the fable of nature (of biological life) and the life of art.
Now, it is just about these two points that I found that Neri’s work recently transformed itself, if compared with the stage of the beginning of the Nineties. First of ali, it seems to me that the artist matured a sense of “care”which is to be interpreted almost to the letter. That means that Neri, while dialecticizing the idea of care of beauty, which must not be confused with the practice of beauty farms, does not exclude a relationship with objects and remainders of consumption processes. One could say that this cycle of works, which started with the involvement of chemical formulas, of the setting-up of an image where sulphur oxides meet the icons of butterflies, snakes and birds, is projecting towards a greater complexity of image.
There is perhaps a deeply human need in the interpretation of real world, an unveiled and persistei anxiety of going in depth, of understanding the secret of the represented image of nature and that which is hidden behind an effect painted in encaustic, in a wall painting becoming a grey, white or colored wall through its concreteness. Neri comes from the absolutely cool temperature of a painting transformed into archaeology by himself. Fresco and wax paintings on veneered or piate wood, which show the same traces as Roman findings in his home country. Memories of an art made on plaster, with pigments dissolved in water without using distempers. A remembrance of surfaces constructed, starting from a scratch coat trace’2 ’ textures crossed by the sinopias’3’ of time, i.e. matters which today can be proposed only in their symbolic infirmity.
In practice; Andrea Neri does not work too hard to set up ali this work, to make this big mass of technical references appear, in order to make a display of classic pictorial knowledge, even though his working background consists of graphic and engraving techniques. Just recently, the formai impasto and the aesthetic resolution in Neri’s work stresses a lower interest in technical issues and a greater care of a discourse of social and politicai nature.
Within the communication strategy which presupposes the philosophy of “care of beauty”, recently what I define as “a kind of washing” is apparent. Neri, under the banner of the orientalizing “cure” prepared by the famous book by Hermann Hesse and in an almost contradictory way with respect to this kind of interior positivism, suggested by the writer from Calw (Wuerttemberg), introdu-ces his discourse by quoting The Stranger by Albert Camus’4’. Taking up the “problem of the absurd”, he indirectly tries to offer a justification of the meaning of art through Camus. But, as it happens to Camus’ man, he does not find it. In that famous book the protagonist Meursault becomes a stranger to himself because he, after having unaccountably killed a man, let himself condemn to death without trying to justify himself.
It is as if Neri, through the metaphor of Camus’ Stranger, wanted to say that the care of beauty also joins the comparison with the dìssolution, with the decay of nature. Let’s see why. Neri, by means of the fresco and encaustic technique, already well assimilated, by a matter he had been using for many years, plays first of ali with great color impastos, working on small and big sizes, and then adds to that build some illustrations found in antique shops. These are rare species of snakes, butterflies, formulas of sulphur oxides, evocations of naturai and artificial processes, denunciations of irreversible acid rains’5’. Neri not only points out the contrast between the body of contaminated nature and the difficulty of caring for beauty, but also wants to say through Camus that today, by making art, we are becoming ever more aware of the risk of missing the opportunity, never ascertained in reality, to follow beauty. Acid rains, the denunciation of chemical formulas are conceptual apprehensions of the loss of a color or odor.
It is worthwhile emphasizing that the main default discovered by Neri in the progress of art search is the flight from the reality of beauty and life. Painting hid itself by necessity behind abstract pat-terns, which are extraneous to the living biological world, because it suffered a loss of transparency, it is no longer recognizable, it is vague and uncertain and navigates among a great ignorance, if it is not sustained by a support which is completely outside of its tradition. At this point chemical formulas are introduced as well as that kind of Lucretian Epicureanism(6) which bursts on the surface like a gaseous state and represents, as Neri himself says, “among Joy, pleasure and fright” a help “to make a good use of it and to control its destructive potential”.
Therefore we may be helped by Meursault in saying: that this world transformed in such a way into an open-air sewer disappear! That it die condemned by itself and by the destiny that it gave itself, without any limitations nor any kind of austerity! That it disappear, joifully falling into the most total impoverishment! This is the new absurdity, but this is also the new stubbornness to overcome the smoke-screen which leads from nihilism to a peace that might follow the final judgement, face to face with the definitive condemnation of death. Once this apparently annihilated but living landscape is rea-ched, one feels to be dose to a new outburst of freedom, an absurd freedom which can be reached only by seeing death with one’s own eyes, only by almost touching it and staying next to it. At this point, the art which wells up from it does not lose itself after a fable, it does not completely forget life but, remaining faithful to man’s pains and the real world, which rises above him and leads him badly towards his future, it can give us that apparent ethereal state of the essence of image, which is suspended in the empty space of sulphur colors, amethyst folds and black or violaceous outlines.
Neri sketches a catalogue of losses and potential conquests on venèered wood. Species beco-ming extinguished are irremediably gone, and we can only keep their image, the beautiful image worked out by an illustrator belonging to another time, who was able to grasp the animal’s detail, to the point that it lives again in our memory. Here some tragedy comes out, when we discover that an insect which already disappeared, drawn again by Andrea Neri, had been at the head of a holisjtic pro-cess that is suffering a very serious and invisible damage. This is the disaster, this is the incurable wound, this is the cut in the body which can no more be healed. Here the sense of memory is very vivid and the substratum of safeguard, of the mysterious sense of things is mixed with the urgence of what is threatened to disappear. It is as if nature were no more itself, and the colors mirroring on the venèered wood ransacked an absence. Illustration, used without any kind of transfiguration, is a concrete datum even though it speaks about something which is already far from ourselves.
The danger of death appears like a boomerang within an apparently vital space. This means that the farthest and most invisible and negligible actions, suffered by the sickle of disappearance, rebound back after some time with their consequences, and that nothing remains without effect.
Therefore, in the field of nature, the past is also a reserve of spiritual energy to which the painter has recourse when everything seems to be over, in order to weave new signs and new attempts on the weft of this Lucretian book of earth. In this way the gesture proposed here is not inten-ded to convene the past in order to make an inquiry report or a mere statistics of understandings, but to use its symbolic character as a conceptual gap and difference with respect to the present. From now on we are ready for questioning, the painful substance, the continuous trace of lacks, it is not a confession but a laboratory which is turned into an unrepeatable history, a history which needs other dialogue politicies “between ecology and art” of “other alliances”(7).
(1) “Week” is straightly used here with the meaning it assumed in the Italian philosophical thought: “no more global systems, centrai reason, apprehension of a fact, of a structure which is truer, plural of “reality”. Cfr. Gianni vattimo, Tecnica ed esistenza, Paravia, Turin 998, p. 83; see also: G. Vattimo, P.A. Rovatti, Pensiero debole, Feltrinelli, Milan 983.
(2) A scratch coat is that part of a fresco painting, which is obtained by mixing siliceous sand or marble powder and slaked lime among others.
(3) Sinopia is a red earth coming from Sinope and used to sketch the drawing of a fresco painting.
(4) L’étranger by Camus carne, after L’envers et l’endroit (1937) and Noces (1939), in 1942, the same year in which Albert Camus published the cues of the great pain that Sisyphus must suffer by carrying his huge stone.
It must be recalled that Camus’ existentialism is a nihilistic one and develops a moralism of contempt of any kind of ideology. In Camus’ opinion we should follow any thread of logie to think that our acting and our acting and our destiny are held together by something certain. The Stranger shoots one of the two Arabs who are Raymond’s bloodhounds dead, he is then condemned to the guillotine. He receives the visit of the chaplain, after having refused it several times. Meursault, as he has little time to live, does not want to spend it taking shelter in God, thus confirming his atheism, but at the same time fìlling his search of the absurd with a peace which comes to his mind as soon as he stays alone in front of his condition as a condemned man and his sealed destiny.
(5) They are represented by the artist through chemical formulas appearing on elevations on the work’s surface.
(6) Reference is obviously made here to Lucretius’De rerum natura and to the fact that his figure had been hidden because he was an Epicurean. One could say that withinWestern culture his vision is one of the few that lead towards a holistic conception of nature.
(7) Recently I organized a show entitled Other alliances. Policies of dialogue between ecology and art (Turin-lmperia, 1997), dedicated to Lucretius. For further investigation please refer to the catalogue of that show and to my book Per un’ecosferosofia,Where Communicatìon, Perugia 1994.