Art critic Giulio Montenero expresses his opinion on the puzzle of photos and oil canvases by young Florentine artist Riccardo Paci

Logo Riccardo Paci

The colours of the Big Bang

by Giulio Montenero

Occhio 9”, by Florentine Riccardo Paci, was awarded as the best picture at the first edition of the international competition “The Brain Project”. His work was a puzzle consisting of different fragments of a flowery meadow vaguely reminiscent of Botticelli’s “La Primavera”. This evocation may originate from the atmosphere in the artist’s hometown or to an archetype in his DNA.
Or, perhaps, it may stem from an earlier screening aimed at creating a connection with the parameters of rational clearness, which experienced their highest epiphany in the 15th century and are now a constant element in Tuscany’s artistic culture. The latter interpretation will be followed throughout this paper.
Reference to Botticelli was probably necessary to Paci's cognitive research: transparency of the matter – in order to get to its very heart – and harmony between each fragment and the image as a whole – both a precondition for and an effect of parcelling out – were needed to find, deep inside nature, the logos animating events and shaping reality.
Neo-Platonism in Florence is permeated by such principles. However, only Botticelli could perfectly transfer them into painting. That this statement was made by a Japanese art historian, Yukio Yashiro, is of particular importance: the immanent nature of religions in his homeland made it possible to understand Botticelli. Hence, his 1925 essay was the starting point for a reappraisal of Botticelli’s works. According to Yashiro, Botticelli's inability in using light and shade effects and nuances – two elements endowing works of art with sculptural qualities – was a lucky event. He thus “gave European art a rare gift: he was the only artist to carry out a "free" and ethereal “presentation”, different from the “usual” realistic representation.
The semantic significance thus acquired by Paci is a precondition allowing him to move from allegory – which is a common element in digital works, the most popular of which is Bush’s face consisting of different pictures of soldiers who died in Iraq – to synecdoche, whereby there is overall harmony between fragments and the work of art as a whole. An additional passage is possible from synecdoche to metaphor which expresses equivalence between two dynamic actions. A first process, represented by the stimulation of photoreceptors and the consequent perception by the brain – a physiological phenomenon alluded to by his eye-shaped picture – goes hand in hand with a second process, i.e. the alternating roles of artist and computer, a real partnership aimed at creating electronic images.
In the analysis of perceptions, the distinction between retinal persistence and eidetic formation can be overcome at once, in that the symbolic value of colours is the identifying feature of each fragment, while other constituents can barely be defined due to their small size. The real and poetic meanings thus coincide and mirror the multiple correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm.
“Occhio 9” stemmed from the idea of an imposing radio telescope picking up signs from different spaces and guiding artists to decode them by means of their visual memory and to translate them into a language that can be understood in the light of sensory, emotional and poetic perceptions. The complexity of this idea of cosmos is certainly admirable. However, artists risk being trapped in it and future works of art being hampered. At this stage, they can regain their freedom.
Artists are often stimulated by bipolar dialectic drives. In the case analysed in this paper, we range from highest universality to lowest openness to multiplicity; from the ingeniousness of intersecting mathematical functions to the simplicity of feelings aiming at the infinite, which – in Kant’s words – is a conversation between the stars and our selves. Riccardo Paci’s stars and water are the purest voices of his existence. Stars and water remind of the cycle that came before the eyes cycle. In philosophic terms they draw on existentialism, which – after the Second World War – rejected the deception of the false beliefs that had been the cause of such horror.
The only truth was the immediate perception of one's own existence. Only God knows how necessary a new existentialism is which can debunk the deceits of an illiberal and totalitarian imperialism, which is somehow worse than past totalitarian regimes and, undoubtedly, more deceitful!
In the 1940s and 1950s the form of art which best interpreted existentialism was informal painting, in that it rejected any kind of external representation to give voice to the loneliness of one’s own conscience, expressed with lavish colours on canvases. Albers’s yellow sands thus came to life, as did Rothko's red deserts, Vedova's waves and splashes, Noland's targets, Wols's eyes. Paci’s thematic cycles, preceding and following the work dedicated to Botticelli, are the experimental verification of that truth, which was carried out through technological and scientific devices that no one had applied to the complex realms of extreme subjectivity before.
Paci’s idea originated from a simple, yet clever comparison: camera pixels are similar to retinal receptors, i.e. they are sensitive to specific signals and are both a model for and a symbol of the isolation of conscience in Leibniz’s monad. The thousands, or even millions, of sensory, organic or electronic units do not communicate, unless they want to disturb and blind each other with an excess of light. Therefore, both retina and photovoltaic layers are deserts. When Paci penetrates this anodyne, yet highly significant cosmos, replacing objects with symbols appears an obvious process. He thus made a leap backward to draw on biblical cosmology: the sea is the place for evil; stars are the evidence of the great number of the Children of Israel, the organ of sight recalls the eyes of God. A particularly interesting aspect is that Paci promptly abandons these symbolic systems. He quickly analyses the functions of quantum physics and rejects any type of quantitative determination to assert the exclusive and total sovereignty of quality, i.e. feelings and colours.
A qualitative element can be turned into a quantitative one and vice versa. However, only the miracles of typing and binary digits make it possible to seize even the subtlest nuances of sounds and colours, and only a computer engineer like Riccardo Paci allows to draw on countless tools to identify the very moment and stimulus an artist experiences within.
Riccardo Paci’s technique will probably be further perfected. Then, the rectangular pieces would disappear and only the puzzle would remain. The edge of its tesserae would correspond to that of a picture at times, or it would cross it. The colour of each tessera would not be similar to that of near tesserae, but would reverberate their nuances, as it happened with impressionist and pointillist paintings.
At this stage, even limitations deriving from thematic cycles would cease existing and the consequent extreme subjectivism would give way to a new universality, bearing the fruit of previous experiences. The creation of digital images will then clearly allude to the Big-Bang of the universe and, deep inside one’s conscience, to that terrible night. According to Hegel: “The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity - an unending wealth of many representation, images, of which none belongs to him - or which are not present. This night, this interior of nature, that exists here--pure self--in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head--there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears”.

Giulio Montenero

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