(In the studio)

     largo maestoso

     There are few experiences that can compare to the ascent of anonymous staircases toward the mysterious precincts in which artists conduct their inspired craft. You never know what to expect. You are the visitor, the innocent bystander, the witness, and as some may mistakenly wish to believe, either the judge or the accused. But in reality you are little more than the intruder, the often unwanted interloper to be humored, treated as a welcome guest, since for the artist these visits are simply to be endured. You are, after all, entering into the realm of someone whose time is more precious than ours.

     It can not be more obvious that Giorgio de Chirico, with characteristic clairvoyance, had in mind occasions such as these when he first penned the opening chapter of the greatest Surrealist novel of all time, Hebdomeros. Hebdomeros, the hero who serves as central figure of this novel, knows where he is going but he has had the foresight to be sure to be accompanied by two sturdy companions as he climbs the stairway into a disquieting zone of the Unknown.

     In the case of Giorgio de Chirico's novel we are being taken on a visit, without knowing quite why, to the practice room where freshly recruited gladiators are being instructed by a heavily scarred retired practitioner of this most enigmatic of spectacles. Watching the bellicose exercises of the gladiators are a group of onlookers wearing suit and necktie. We are standing in the wings backstage at the simulation of the combat of the cosmos.

     The struggle to which we are about to bear witness, however, is not a question of swords and spears, lions and tigers maddened by hunger, but rather a struggle of a far different sort. We are after all in the studio of a painter, not in a pugilistic training camp.

     Here the challenger is not a writer searching for the precise word, or a boxer slugging away for the next world championship won blow by blow in carnal competition; in the artist's studio the violence of the world is replaced or concentrated, sublimated, into its most intense elixir of lethal potions applied by brush on a flat surface.

     Even in painting, certain practitioners have pushed their quest to the most violent of physical extremes. The test by which every artist measures himself is that of equilibrium: a basic fact of the profession that any gladiator would have immediately understood.

     Thus we found ourselves at last in the studio of Sandro Zendralli. Outside the windows, those glazed dimensions through which Pierre Bonnard so often escaped, especially when visiting museums, we were aware of the passage of freight trains and of frothy clouds. The trains faintly rumorous, the clouds silent.

     But none of these distractions mattered because we knew we had entered into the artist's field of action, in which he has chosen to challenge himself day after day to vindicate his own transcendental vision of how best to order the inchoate universe into some semblance of rationality, or even irrationality. The manner in which he spends his mornings and afternoons is up to the artist.

     The scientist, in step with the artist, doesn't care whether his experiment is a triumph or a failure: his restless and dissatisfied mind strives only to contribute to the advancement of knowledge, not to arrive at a right or a wrong, nor to a confirmation of some preconceived notion. Instead they seek to isolate some heretofore unknown truth. A roll of the dice will never abolish hazzard.

     The wide horizontal canvas nailed to the wall was not what one could call the life of the party: it emitted no small talk, no palaver. It depicted the skyline profile of jagged mountains -Sandro Zendralli is known to have employed exactly such geographies by means of a pair of scissors- recounting no more than the simple fact of sky, mountain, lake. It was one prolonged epigram of reticence, a single muted gestalt. The laconic tones of green and blue seemed to gather in the center to coagulate into an irridescent intensity.  

     Here the painter did not help the unsuspecting spectator to enter any deeper into the landscape by providing him with even even with the slightest indication of man's presence, to provide any helpful signpost, some aid to the viator, the lonesome wayfarer gazing at this simulation of raw nature, a pilgrim perhaps, or else some eager student venturing from nothern climes toward the storehouse of sapience beyond the Alps. It could just as well have been a pool of green algae at low tide lapping some embarcadero of the Hanseatic League. Air earth water: these were the elements. Fire was absent. We were given nothing else to go by.

     Poussin or Claude would have been more merciful, at least providing some small sign of man, anything at all, even a shepherd or a weatherbeaten mountain hut, to offer a measurement or punctum for the eye to hold onto in this  uncharted wilderness. Instead we were faced with that vast stasis of the world in all the infinite variety of its monotony, its indifference, its monstruosity.

     Seeing a painting for the first time is like making the acquaintance of a man or a woman whom we have never encountered before in our life. We depend, for better or for worse, on our first impressions. Yet in successive meetings we still do not know to what point the new acquaintance will evolve, or in which sense, either to disapprobation or affection: all this due to the great mystery of moods, of the unending elaboration and unfolding of individual character.

     The mountains of Sandro Zendralli were not those vertical precipices of alpine landscape to which all the world has grown accustomed for the last three hundred years, brought to its culmination by such Romanticists as Turner and Ruskin who crossed the English Channel in search of the sublime in Switzerland. Instead, the blunt impact was altogether matter-of-fact. Evening, maybe; low clouds over high mountains; lakeshore  and lake. That was all.

     And yet in the middle of the canvas this concentrated radiation of color seemed to evoke some echo of the spiritual glow recollected from the canvases of Giovanni Segantini or Gustav Klimt, jammed unexpectedly against the violence of early Paul Signac or Maurice Vlaminck: sinister Symboliste with friendly Fauve. One tried to look across the lake, to locate some glimmering lamp from a friendly vine-covered tavern sheltered by a lakeside fishermen's haven. There was none to be seen.

     Nor was the shore populated by the melancoly maidens in their bright summer dresses who haunt the canvases of Edvard Munch. No moonlight. No menace of damnation, no promise of redemption. It didn't much matter that we were in the Canton Ticino of Switzerland, hard by the border of Lombard Italy, or in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. One had the feeling of standing on the deck of a steamship beside Joseph Conrad, peering into the jungle.
     We awoke from our reveries to find Sandro Zendralli standing next to us. For a moment no words were exchanged. Then, stopping at the door, he said:

     "I don't think it's finished yet."

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