Aligi Sassu - Archivio Aligi Sassu - Via Foscolo 15, Carate Brianza (Milano)

   My "Divine Comedy" 
   Aligi Sassu

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The Divine Comedy! It has been a burning flame, a reading, an engrossing experience which I have treasured for many seasons, reflecting the essence of many years of work. This has been a completely new adventure, incomparable to my former series on Lazaril16 de Tormes or The Rooms by Politian, the Gospel according to Saint Mark or the Apocalypse.
This has been completely different. This text has represented an interpretation, a conquest, a continuous strife for the light of the painting, of the form, of the discovery of the mystery of the words of Dante, associated with the universal examples of the human condition. Fantasy, a firm belief in painting, not an opportunity to illustrate a number of events.
An artist cannot limit himself to a graphic reproduction of expressions, attitudes, symbolic compositions of figures and objects; such a pure representation cannot reflect the fascination of the blood and spirit, of the interpretation of the poem.
It has been a discovery, seen through eyes spanning centuries, of an imperishable world whose images are as concrete as rock. Where feelings and passions are sculpted in an absolute form, which we nevertheless read and interpret with present-day eyes. Faith, love, hate, passions which, like sizzling magma, profoundly move and jolt the feelings of Man as the Comedy does, cannot be rendered by mere graphic illustrations.
Another aspect has been fundamental for me. When reading the Comedy one is not only engrossed in the poetry, in the life and history of the poet who, like all heroes of thought, embodies all the passions of humanity and of his tirne. The history of the representation of forms has not passed in vain. The text of the Comedy has not only represented an illustrative test of pure representation to me, but a dramatic, determined action. Sinking the scalpel into the very heart of my painting.
Dore's illustrations of the Comedy is a case apart. The Neogothic, Romantic atmosphere of the period is reflected by the sentimental romanticism conveyed by the images, congenial to an interpretative keynote: the public, the reader easily identified with these illustrations, and still does.
My approach has been very different. I have focused on the Divine Comedy in order to depict the forms and figures of Dante's most intimate voice, in symbiosis with my painting, with the reality and with the dream; to render my interpretation of Dante in images. In a completely individual manner. To render them tangible, concrete, reflecting all my experience, focusing on the image imprinted in my fantasy, rather than the representations handed down by history.
I have dedicated several years to this research, to this itinerary which has coincided with moments of life, with a vivid poetic reality, and with decisions" which have not always been didactic. Hell, Purgatory and Paradise have represented elements balancing one another, unravelling, image by image, the ways, the inventions, the aggregate and red thread of the poetry.
Thus the bodies interpenetrate, merging like infernal, heavenly or purgatorial larvae in a concoction formed by the intertwining and blend- ing of the souls, who are borne and die in the body of colour. The beastly violence is reflected by the purity of the slight deformations of the bodies, the subtle colour of sin, the abyss of the skies and the white light of Hell. The supernatural forces are magnified and unravelled in the forms; fire, a concrete flame, becomes a body. The poem is legend, but also a direct relationship with the stone and the sordid chaos. Cain, in the second canto of the Paradise ? I have sought, delving in the depths of the reality, of the vivid myth of the poem. I have identified, in each painting, with the diverse reasons for the attitude of the spirit, with the deformation of every figure, every face, every expression.
The dynamic colours, imposed by the large variety of significances, by the emotional spell, by the contrasting ideas referring to different epoches, also of my life. This project has required an active participation, a day to day commitment, lasting six years.
The shapeless magma of the colour and the lines thus gradually assume a global conformation. It is invented and grows, forming always new combinations with the finished images and those to come, in a unity that is as vital and different as the life and poetry of Dante.
I have therefore worked in complete autonomy, unrestricted by an illustrative interpretation. The poetry of the Comedy cannot be limited to a period and its style. It remains alive as time goes by, in a spiritual sphere, becoming carnal or virtuous according to the destiny of men and events. I have thought that my vision, as a painter, of Dante's phrase "words are stones" had to guide my fantasy and invention, as a way to integrate the forms and colour evoked with the tissue of our everyday life. Not a translation, but a continuous invention of the image, a reflection of the continuity of life and death.
A monstrous and divine mirror, reflecting our every day existence. The frightful genocide of the sufferings of the lager, in an interpenetra- tion of dire monsters. The light, however difficult, of an illusory and dramatically fantastic Paradise , of concepts that defy representation. The penitences of the Purgatory, as frightful as those of Hell, a gradualness of sufferings illuminated solely by hope, without limits in time, but at least a light. The figure may be deformed and monstrous in a continuous metamorphosis of torments and sufferings, or by the bliss and happiness of attained faith.
But the painter can, with colour, only render and convey a clear message by identifying with the words of the poet. By living the passion, which has given rise to love and hate, revenge and the soft mutter of the contemplation of the unspeakable.
The only resort of the artist is to enter in a medium, in a communication which goes beyond the reality and significance of the verses, of the words, identifying with the splendor of what Dante created and turned into poetry.
Each time I started a painting it was like venturing into a vortex, a torrent which I had to negotiate upstream. But with the patience of in- vention, in a lucid dream, the hand and the brush almost automatically reflected, as if in a burning-glass, the sun of Dante, its true colour, the incessantly pursued and perhaps never captured image. To make the coIour rise, with the light that breaks and frays the form, the red mingIed with green, blue with yellow and crimson, is creating fire, a tissue, an intertwining of the different coIours in a suIphureous magma in which they are intensified by one another. Asimmering of simiIar and contrasting coIours, reminiscent of a vital fermentation, is created.
I have constantly felt the need for a pictorial morality. The formal motivations have never limited my creativity. The continuity has also been given by the breaks and leaps of the composition, by the aggregate of certain continuous motives, by the constant tie between poetry and the creations of the spirit.
Inspired by the everyday relationship between Iife and dream, in a unity transcending both death and life.
I have sought to depict my ideals of struggle against the mad bestiality latent in Man. The expression of poetry. which painting can give, or have given, to my interpretation of Dante.
These have been moments, months, years of feverish elaboration, pauses of reflection and reading, of fixated contemplation as I elaborated the painting as a live material in continuous growth.
It has been an exquisite Inferno, sometimes made of pink and light bIue, and sometimes a Paradise in which the futility of everything that Man has created, with words mirroring light, is pure reflection, negation of life.
In fact, Dante mar also be an expression of the nullity of Man's effort to exist. But faith, the divine illumination which has become colour and form, the mass of pulsating, live meat, cannot be an object made of nothing. It is life that suffers, pulsates, is destroyed by sin. But does sin exist?
It is a sin not to live love. In Dante the grandiosity of the concepts, immense, continuously convey the perfect form, the sense and the fear of the infinite.
This does not mean that the painter must deny form, colour, drawing or beauty. He must not, therefore, limit his means of expression. Painting is not a symbol: it is extremely concrete. It is accomplished within itself, in a continuous battle with existence. A dialectic with the figure of Man which gives immense space for Painting;