STARTING FROM ZERO



     A day arrives, and a single moment in that day, when everything changes, and after which nothing will ever be the same again. Argonauts lift anchor, and the ewige wiederkehr is once more under full sail.
   
     It could come one morning when a law student looks up from his books to the snow falling beyond the tall windows and decides to become a composer instead of a barrister-at-law; or when a stockbroker in Paris visits the International Exposition during lunch hour and then and there decides to abandon la Borse and go to Tahiti to paint; or when a well-read sea captain determines that the time has come at last to leave the ship's wheel on the Mekong for the pen and inkpot in London, and write stories of his own that no one else could tell.

     Erik Satie was a "composer without history," wrote Ornella Volta, in her study of the most genial of composers, "possessing the memory of an amnesiac. He situated himself in an uninterrupted present, at each step departing from zero. He was as indifferent to the future as he was to the past. Deaf to the military metaphors of bourgeois faith in progress, he even ignored the concept of the avant-garde. The tortoise of Zeno, he covered more terrain than the fast-footed Futurists..."   
 
     Sandro Zendralli: "A wonderful thing for me was the day I finished my restauration project and brought all the receipts of my expenses. My client, without even looking at them, put them aside in a glass box. Two days later I had my money.

     "He was a psychiatrist and a friend of that Picard from Geneva-Lausanne, the one who went deep sea diving. His friends were all habitués at the Magadino, that famous Palazzo... I was only thirty years old, and during the project my first son was born.

     "I did it all on my own, including taking measurements, the projection and realization. I remember that in that period the new Golf automobile was launched on the market, and that I had bought it brand new in sparkling bright green, which attracted great attention.

     "Among the children of this psychiatrist was Luca Bonzanigo, who became a very talented geologist. He gave me a copy of La poétique de l'Espace, by Gaston Bachelard. There were Lia, architect, and Maria who was an artist, a ballerina, pianist who got married to Finzi, the one who was in charge of the coreographies for the Olimpics in Turin.

     "For that building Dr. Bonzanigo wished to have a chimney in every apartment, and he became, like me, a specialist in every kind of chimney. We would discuss the dimension, the smoke-stack, the height... late into night. He was a person who also gave me a lot of faith and friendship.

     "Meanwhile, while constructing the Casa Bonzanigo, Magadino, I restored the Casa Tatti in Giubiasco, a major building from the Fifteen Hundreds, full of frescoes. Very difficult because there was not one square centimeter that had not been studied closely. At a certain moment the Palazzo was owned by Simonetti, the representative for the Ticino of Electa, an editor known for their documentaries on architects. He gave me a surprise by dedicating a documentary on me in relation to the Casa Tatti. If it had been up to me, I would never have cared about that sort of publicity.

     "That Palazzo is very beautiful, full of frescoes from the same period, and very similar to the ones in the Castle of Bellinzona, that were originally situated in the Hotel Cervia in the historical center of Bellinzona. The families who used to own them probably took them from the ceiling to sell them to the municipality. I was able to recuperate the ceilings in the Casa Tatti that were incomplete. I fixed the remains, added lateral frames to emphasize the restored and numbered frescoes in the center. It was a major job.

     "In Ravecchia, where I built those three Palazzi, there is a small old house where I camped out five years ago when I started painting --I used to paint as a kid until I was sixteen or eighteen. After that I stopped, except for the architectural drawings. In that house I started painting again, because for some time I was dreaming every night that I was making paintings. When I woke up in the morning, the dream seemed so real that I actually got up to look for that painting that I had done in my dream.

    "So finally, when I really started painting again, my first work was exactly the same as I had seen in my dream.

     "I stayed for two years in that house where I started painting, and then moved into my office in Piazza Governo at Bellinzona for six months, continuing to paint.

     "I could have turned that little house in Ravecchia into another apartment building, but I did not. I earned very little money. I ended up selling that house. It was full of scorpions. I led a very spartan life there, but I liked it.

     "I would draw in the evening or at night and the first thought in the morning when I got up was not the construction site, but the painting. I had very big and important architecture projects to take care of, which came with large responsabilities, but that never bothered me. I never suffered insomnia due to some problem at work, I was always relaxed about it because I knew exactly what I was doing. So every morning I would go and see how the new paintings had dried over night, how the colors had turned out. I only had to be careful walking barefoot in order to not step on one of the scorpions that popped up from one moment to the next.

     "The paintings that appeared in my dreams weren't really landscapes, but rather figures, even figures of persons. I remember the colors: orange, sky blue.  Strangely, once I began painting, these dreams about painting stopped altogether. That first painting was like a liberation... The period in the house by the river was very productive.

     "One thing I love doing is to write with an ink pen. I even try to write in a personal way with a special calligraphy, enjoyable to look at. I still keep that bunch of pencils that I never throw away since every one of them represents a specific period in my life.

     "I apply the language of painting to my architectural constructions to emphasize the lines to be organized geometrically. I also have done several symmetrical constructions: two equal apartments on both sides. In the drawings, I like to use colors to show certain lines on one side and the other to emphasize the mirror effect and then color the rest to make it look like a drawing. One might not even notice that it is a project, it could easily be something else.

     "But in the course of painting I completely abandon myself to more free forms, I let go of the rigidity of simple lines and follow only my imagination. The paintings are far more free than my work as architect which I try to humanize through drawings that always were my private entertainment, escapades for my love for painting that I had given up as a teenager. In my whole life not one day has passed without me doing some sort of drawing consuming I don't know how many roles of sketching paper."

     The great pioneer of painterly gesturality Jackson Pollock once wrote, "When I paint, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a period of a sort of cohabitation with my painting that I realize what I've done. I am not afraid of modifications or of destroying the painting, since it has a life of its own. I merely try to let it be born. Only when I lose contact with the painting does it come out as a disaster. Otherwise, there is pure harmony, and my activity is one of giving and taking, and this is what guarantees a successful outcome."

    Sandro Zendralli: "Light. The architect has to consider where the sun rises and sets. I always put a little drawing on my architecture sketches to illustrate the course of the sun during a day. It looks like a little half circle. After that I highlight in the drawings with yellow and blue those areas of the construction that are illuminated by the sun. The blue serves to indicate windows, the yellow for where the sun hits the interiors. I threw away a lot of drawings, I ran out of space."

     No painter marks North on a painting. An architect does.

     "I always like to mark the North in a very specific way on my architectural drawings: a pictogram run through by a little arrow."

© 2014 SANDRO ZENDRALLI