Variation on a theme


     (In the studio)
     Allegretto non troppo

    It was clear from the moment we walked in that several things had been happening to the painting during the interval. And the outcome that now greeted our eyes had established a welcome disequilibrium. It was as if we were encountering an altogether different picture, one now imbued with a highly curious tension.

     If on the first occasion we had been confronted by a vast, one could say almost neutral expanse of seaweed greens and jade-like blues mustered across vaguely cloudy skies, mountains jagged as a graph chart on the economic page of any newspaper, an indeterminate shoreline giving way to an apparently landlocked body of water, this was no longer the case. The distances without benefit of foreground, the anonymity, the primal cry of the wild, all this had been turned on its head.

     Before, the painting had seemed like the backdrop of a proscenium. Today it is as if the performers had appeared and taken their places on stage, geared to set themselves into motion at the moment the conductor lifts his baton. The overture had just concluded and the drama was about to begin. The curtain had gone up.

     What had taken place was the appearance of hand imprints in black pigment, but also in bright tones of secondary colors predominantly in orange and green, impacting across the entire surface of the canvas, although these hands appeared to gain a greater density in a crescendo, achieving a rich concentration towards the center of the composition like iron filings pulled by a magnet.

     The hands, one implicitly understood, were those of the artist himself. This new element, an "over-all" camouflage-like saturation, now dominated the entire field of vision like an organic trellis or grate through which, part opaque and part transparent, the viewer is still able to see  past the newly added barrier, as if peering through the tendrils of vines walling a bucolic veranda, out of which one may glimpse the world beyond. Something reminiscent of artists  such as Vuillard and Matisse, with more than a touch of japonisme for good measure.

     This effect had long ago been brought to its highest pitch in the uncharacteristically Gothic ceiling fresco of the "Sala delle Asse" by Leonardo da Vinci at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan: a work, Paul Valéry has written, in which Leonardo permitted his intellect to push the workings of his mind to their furthest boundaries in a joyously lush "abstract" depiction of the infinite arabesques of nature. For Valéry, it stands at the same time as an emblem of the workings of the artist's mind.

     One hundred years ago, in 1913, Igor Stravinsky unleashed his ballet Le Sacre du Printemps upon an unsuspecting Occidental culture slumbering in its perennial self-satisfaction still set in the ways of thinking of a civilization soon to be turned into the slaughterhouse of World War One.

     Le Sacre du Printemps opens notoriously with its single delicate melodic line, a theme as tenuous as it is tentative, like timid footsteps, as charged as a dawn awakening in springtime. But instead of hyper-aesthetic Symboliste nursery rimes, Stravinsky had masterminded a wake-up call in the form of a time-bomb. This prelude of suspended half-slumber is a calculated set-up, shattered without warning by the abrupt brutality of relentless percussion that persists without mercy. The violence is comparable to that of the long poem "Première Communion" of Arthur Rimbaud.

     The music of Igor Stravinsky occupies an important place in Sandro Zendralli's development as an artist.

     Standing before this latest stage in the painting, suspended half-way between conception and completion, the rare images of the original choreography of Nijinsky for the Première of the Sacre du Printemps at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris come irresistably to mind, as well as the interpretation of the choreographer Maurice Béjart four decades later, with its iconic image of upraised hands in ritualistic centrality centrifuged on the stage. It is as if Sandro Zendralli has conducted a choreography of his own by means of pigment on canvas. A dance of hands.

     Hands, the bare hands, were doubtless the first percussionist instruments of prehistoric man in consonance with his bare feet marking the time of the dance and propelling it forwards. From dance to music, from music to language. It can be assumed that in the process of the application of overlapping hand imprints, an audible rhythm was established and that a physical enactment, a variable performance, was also taking place in the studio throughout the course of "painting." This had now become the game which the viewer is invited to enter, to play out as he recreates the artist's process in his mind's eye.   

     The hand has even to this very day, always been used as a unit of a spatial measurement. A horse's height is still stated, at least in England or in America, by "hands." The imprint of a hand on the wall of a cave, or on the smooth face of a cliff, is among the earliest of pre-historic signs which mankind has left as the mark of one living being to leave a record of his passing presence to those who will come after him. The curtained window of a gypsy's den announces: Palms Read. These talismanic imprints of hands are never shown turning downward.

     In every spoken language in the world the hand is lent a metaphorical significance beyond manuality: to give a hand, to bite the hand, high-handed, under-handed, back-handed, empty handed, hand to hand, hand in hand, hand to mouth, hand to foot, hand-out, hands down, hands up, hands off, hands folded, hands across the sea, hand-made, hand-written, hand-me-down, hand maiden... The extended hand can welcome or threaten, it can offer or admonish. The single raised hand evokes the justice of heaven; two hands raised upward praise and give thanks; the laying on of hands can give benediction but also forgiveness, they may have a healing and curative power.

     The hand, then, can be said to be both instrumental and linguistical in function.

     As Paul Klee once wrote: "My hand is an instrument being guided by a remote sphere; it is not my mind which is at work while I paint. The hand is something else..."
     The fingers of the hand are used for counting, and the word "digital" has acquired a new meaning in the cybernatic vocabulary of the computer age. Even today, Anglo Saxons still stubbornly refuse to surrender their beloved inches, feet and miles, "organic" units of measure which came down to us from the Romans and the Egyptians, as opposed to the arbitrary scientism of the Enlightenment, which severs man from the organic world around him. The hand as unit of measure is then not unlike Le Corbusier's "modular."

     Carl Jung observes that dance originally served to integrate mimicry of animals through gesticulation and appropriate movements, and had most likely been a supplementary characteristic with regard to rites of initiation. Its performance constituted a ritual performed by mock-demons in honor of imagined demons.

     Preserved prehistoric footprints in hardened mud were discovered at the cavern of Tuc d'Audubert, circular formations around the figures of animals, demonstrating the importance of dance in Ice Age ritual. It could be called the first known example of "written" dance choreography notation. The most recent perhaps is the painting of a "How to Dance" diagram by Andy Warhol.

     As we stand taking in the latest progressive phase of this freshly painted symphony of hands, Sandro Zendralli seems exhausted, showing all the symptoms of having stayed up all night. But at the same time he seems exhilarated, like a musician  who has just walked off the stage of a marathon performance of particularly demanding complexity. Ask any bassoonist about some of the tricky white-water rapids in the Sacre du Printemps. We linger a moment longer in front of the canvas. Then the artist breaks the silence:

          "I think it still needs something...

        "In my latest canvas there is an aspect of attractiveness that provides the conductive wire of the painting while the rest serves as a décor of this prioritary of the totality of the painting yet it also contains various types of manualities that have gone into the making of this particular canvas: These concern the lines which do not particularly follow the same thing as it is perceived in these centralized formulations. This can take place at the extremities, in order to place in evidence the other components, or lighter lines, or even stains...

     "I do what I do out of necessity, without taking any external factor or presence into consideration. I have no single person in mind when I paint. My way of thinking in painting or architecture is a completely spontaneous thing of that one particular given moment. Nonetheless, it is true that the initial putting down on paper of an architectural project remains something that I do very quickly, just as I do in painting with this exact same rapidity. The project, is then thought out in superimposed three dimensions. This is the way to see and to think.

     "My paintings take shape little by little, man' mano as I go onward, and there is a trace, or unifying thread, that for me is always the dream: what I paint is precisely this dream, it is not an intention already determined from the outset, a preconceived composition. The dream that little by little emerges at the moment of execution can undergo a whole series of modifications and phases, going off in directions that I have not anticipated before hand, that enter into play right then and there, as a way of seeing this dream realized in a certain way, maybe even in a way that had been the furthest thing from my mind.

     "Often I put down more color in one area to bring out the colors in the middle and the extremities of the canvas. This is a chromatic distribution that comes to me inconsciously, something that happens on the canvas, not in my mind. I seek an equilibrium of color not through a rational process, but through an intuitive one.

     "The process is this: as in architecture, I want to reach a result where I cannot add or remove one single thing. In this case, the challenge I confronted was that this latest painting left too many possibilities for adding or removing. For me, it is the first time that this has happened. In the initial phase I had already drawn first the mountains, two years ago, and then I had left it the way it was, then I went back to it and it did not work.

     "I knew the reason why: it is because I like to start a painting and bring it to a conclusion all in one single session. If on rare occasions I do set it aside, I know from the outstart that it is not going to work. The spell has been shaddered. But instead last evening after a quarter of an hour of working on it I stood back and saw that I had managed to modify everything: it had become a totally different painting. Later last night I ran out of the white pigment that I needed.

     "This morning I went to the paint store and bought the missing pigment. Now I know that all I'm going to need is two minutes alone with the canvas, and I will be done. I already know what I have to do. I'm very satisfied..."

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