"There are «Two sorts of truth: profound truths recognised,
by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth
in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd."
If we consider contemporary art in its current tendency towards hypertrophy and gigantism, we realise that one of the most abused and underrated aspects is the use of craft techniques, that wealth of instrumental knowledge that, over the centuries, has guided the hands of artists in creating their great masterpieces.We find, for example, that among these craft techniques, the engraving art, practised by several great masters of the past - such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige - now suffers a new state of subordination, not to say inferiority, compared to more persuasive and showy media like video, sculpture, installation or environment.
Obviously, this does not mean that the engraving arts are no longer practised, anything but. Rather, those who choose to practise engraving today in one or more of its numerous variants, from etching to aquatint and woodcut to screen print, do so with the precise aim of recovering an expressive instrument that requires particular technical skills. The “know-how”, or craft component, is a fundamental aspect of the work of any engraver, who must necessarily show that she can dominate not only the, fairly uncertain, sphere of inventiveness and creativity, but also the more specific one of the various printing procedures.
That which unites contemporary engravers is the knowledge of perpetuating an ancient art, impervious to the flatteries of fashion, and the need to renew its technical and formal premisses, adapting it to the sensitivity of our time.This complex task of refinement is found equally in the works of the Italian Domenica Regazzoni and those of the Chinese Lu Zhiping. Two artists of radically different technique and style, and furthermore with antithetical cultural traditions, they nevertheless share the same passion for seeking a unique, personal language, suspended between past and present, and capa- ble of reflecting the experimental urgencies of modernity, without rejecting the formal values of tradition.
Employing a famous expression in the Italian language, borrowed from the political lexicon, it could be said that between the art of Domenica Regazzoni and Lu Zhiping there are possible “converging parallels”, precisely in the search for a new kind of beauty - although conducted from two different points of view. A beauty based no longer, or not only, on the clas- sical values of harmony and balance, and less so on an acceptance of those which Jean Clair defined as the disjecta membra of a chaotic and disjointed reality. Indeed, both artists - one through the renewal of traditional figurative subjects, the other by abstraction of the sign - develop a personal aesthetic conception that restores dignity and integrity to the forms of the object fragment and the emotional shard. Starting from antithetical premisses, Regazzoni and Zhiping come to the same idea, which consists in finding harmony and perfection in the revealing epiphanies of everyday experience. The differences in their manner of conducting their research could not be more substantial.
The expression “converging parallels” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, that shows up, at the same time, the pos- sibility of sharing in the sphere of apparently irreconcilable experiences. This is, thus, possibility in impossibility, a utopian conjunction of opposites that is already, in its premisses, an expression of a desire that transcends the evident aesthetic and formal differences and even the cultural and conceptual peculiarities of two antinomic interpretive models.
This exhibition sets the premisses, through a hundred-odd works, for a new dialogue between the engraving arts of western 9 culture and oriental tradition, and provides an opportunity to gauge the health of a centuries-old discipline that has never ceased making its contribution to the redefinition of contemporary artistic languages.
Domenica Regazzoni’s art matured in the workshop of Giorgio Upiglio, the historic Milanese engraver and printer, famous also for having produced the graphic works of important Italian and international artists, including Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana, Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miró and Valerio Adami. Under Upiglio’s benevolent eye, the artist tried out the various techniques of engraving and printing, but her first training took place within her family. Indeed, her passion for manual work derives from her father, Dante, considered one of the leading twentieth-century Italian exponents of the art of making stringed in- struments. It may thus be said that the art of engraving is, in some ways, part of Domenica Regazzoni’s genetic heritage, though her studies also extend into the fields of painting and sculpture, along a line of enquiry profoundly influenced by musical ideas. Indeed, music and art are two elements that cannot be separated from her creative path, aimed at the construction of a highly personal visual imagination, rich in timbrous and tonal scores, scattered with melodious chromatic juxtapositions and bold harmonic combinations. Domenica Regazzoni’s aniconic language actually takes form as the resumption of a discourse left interrupted by the avant-gardes of the twentieth century. A discourse centred not only on the breaking of traditional repre- sentative schemas and the consequent process of deconstructing the image, but also on the search for a grammar able to vis- ually translate concepts and intuitions that belong to the ineffable dimension of consciousness. There are many elements, for example, that associate Regazzoni’s work with that of the main exponents of European abstraction, Paul Klee in particular, starting from a profound interest in the pictorial transfer of musical ideas and impressions, through to the formulation of a vocabulary of signs, forms and colours that reveal the lyrical and spiritual nature of her studies.
And yet, despite the inevitable references to the main tradition of the avant-gardes, Domenica Regazzoni’s pictorial lexicon matured in absolute formal freedom, outside any academic convention or codified teaching system. It is, rather, certainly the product of her singular, even eccentric experience, that has managed to take in influences and promptings from various sources, not necessarily artistic, then to make them converge in a stylistically varied and technically versatile modus operandi. So much so that the abstract language is, for this artist, the arrival point of a gradual formal evolution, which coincided with a progressive abandoning of figurative stylistic elements.
The engravings gathered here thus represent the more mature stage of her work, marked by the use of the monoprint, a tech- nique that calls for the creation of single examples in contrast to what is considered the typical characteristic of the graphic arts: the production of multiples in a limited edition. Domenica Regazzoni makes use of the procedures of engraving but, at the same time, eludes its original aim, which is precisely the spread and propagation of the image in multiple examples. In practice, she uses engraving like a kind of Trojan horse to penetrate the disciplinary confines of painting and to invent, in this way, a hybrid technique, ambiguously suspended between the act of painting a form and the act of printing it with a chalcographic press.
Nevertheless, the pictorial quality of her monoprints does not arise only from questions of a technical order. Indeed, Domenica Regazzoni’s way of working resembles a pathway of discovery, an erratic and joyful itinerary through the me- anderings of creativity. For this reason she never starts from an already constituted image, but prefers rather that the forms emerge spontaneously from an exploration of the shadows and lights of her own interior, there where the most profound and authentic essence of the individual resides. So, sign wefts and chromatic fields, fragments of fabrics and clots of matter are joined in a sequence of delicate abstract schemas, in a succession of elegiac aniconic diagrams that, together, make up an accomplished and shared transcription of moods.
Lu Zhiping is one of the most important Chinese artists in the field of engraving, a member of the Council of the Chinese Printmakers Association and the Standing Council of Shanghai Artists, and director of the Printmaker Committee of Shanghai Artists Association. He also teaches at the Shanghai Oil Painting Institute and directs the Peninsula Printmaking Studio, combining artistic production with an intense activity of propagating engraving techniques.
For some time Zhiping has been involved in a fertile re-reading of the iconographic themes of Chinese tradition, on which he draws to formulate a personal artistic language, dense with historic references and new formal solutions. His screen printing technique is, indeed, the result of an interesting merging of artistic forms, ranging from engraving to collage and the use of a computer, that allow him to achieve a new formal and compositional freedom.
His main source of inspiration is porcelain vases, one of the most long-lived artistic disciplines, which has become a real 10 symbol of Chinese art. Porcelain, with its precious decorative patterns that allow the artistic production of the different his- toric periods to be distinguished, represents the most complete expression of the ideals of beauty and harmony of the Chinese imperial tradition. Most Chinese museums have a collection of porcelain made up of perfectly conserved examples, restored pieces or simple fragments, just as most European archaeological museums hold a collection of Greek and Roman vases. Chinese porcelain, however, also embodies the ideals of stillness and serenity promoted by Taoist philosophy and Confucian thought. And it is mainly from these values that Zhiping draws inspiration for his delicate and elegant screen prints.
His modus operandi is in some ways similar to that used by archaeologists to restore ancient vases damaged by time. To the Shanghai artist, these examples are the fruit of an ideal collaboration between the great masters of the past and modern crafts- men, they thus represent a creative bridge that, through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction of the forms, connects the historical tradition to contemporary culture. Zhiping does the same, selecting old pictures of porcelain vases, which he cuts into many pieces and recomposes to create a new picture that then becomes the subject of one of his screen prints. Zhiping’s relationship with the artistic tradition is not restricted to this cutting up of classical forms, however, but extends to recovery of the colours typical of ink painting, which calls for the creation of an incredible tonal variety of blacks, greys and whites. Indeed, one evident characteristic of his work is the use of a mainly monochromatic palette, in the variants of grey, black and blue. They are colours of a moderate intensity that refer back to sensations of serenity and stillness. The purpose of these pictures, which at times also include landscape or architectural elements, is to encourage the concentration and con- templation of the observer, removing her from the anxieties of daily life. Zhiping’s pictures are thus aesthetic works that also assume an ethical and spiritual function. Indeed, they can be considered as devices for meditation that can open the doors to a different and more balanced perception of reality.
Observing his vases, full of an ineffable grace, like contemplating his silent landscapes, crystallised in an immovable stillness, means entering into contact with a dimension of interior stability, rediscovering that permanent centre of gravity that allows us to differently, and perhaps more wisely, confront the imbalances of contemporary society. On closer inspection, despite the obvious stylistic differences, the studies of Domenica Regazzoni and Lu Zhiping converge at least in this: the common consideration that art is not only the expression of a series of aesthetic principles and positive formal ideas, that it does not only concern the partial and restricted vision of a single individual, but, rather, that it can serve a higher aim. This is that which allows the artist, and all those who approach her work, to explore the mysterious spring of inventions and that inexhaustible source of wisdom that is the human spirit and recall, thus, that the enjoyment of pictures is an experience that begins in the eyes, but ends in the spirit.