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A journey through the work and poetics of artists for whom the colour of night is their own personal queste. At times a symbol of spirituality and mysticism, and at other times, of sincerity and loyalty, blue unfolds as a recurring motif throughout the Twentieth Century.

Blue periods and horses

The Twentieth Century opens with the dramatic – almost monochromatic – atmosphere of the Picasso Blue Period between 1901 and 1904. Picasso focused on blue to express the «sincerity […] that cannot be found in pain», after his friend Carlos Casagemas took his own life. Blue was associated with the idea of ​​the night and of secret love, of mystery, the essence of the Picasso blue: «the colour that appears best in the world […] the colour of colours, the bluest of blues. »[1].

The German Blaue Reiter movement originated from the passion of Kandinsky for blue and the love of Franz Marc for horses in 1911. The blue knight fights evil, facing the most dangerous tests, symbol of the struggle between good and evil, of the battle of the spirit against materialism. Kandinsky attributes the ability to show depth, the darker, the more it awakens the human desire for infinity. It associates it with the circle, in its theory in which shapes and colours take on a kind of universal symbolism. Spirituality in art[2] becomes blue.

 

Lago umbro 1942 olio su tavola cm. 52.5×62.5 Foto www.futurahma.it

Dottori and Aeropainting

In those years, the avant-garde Futurism was born in Milan and with Gerardo Dottori[3] in Perugia too, the futurist of Aeropainting[4], of the blue views of Lake Trasimeno. Above a plane Dottori flew over the lake, fascinated by the landscape: «The first time I reached the Trasimeno […] I was deeply impressed. The large mirror of water was calm, and mirrored the sky clearly with the white clouds. But I felt that to enjoy it, I had to see it from some surrounding hill around […]. I was so taken by this splendid vision that I have never forgotten it, and it is always in most of my paintings […], my beautiful Trasimeno. »[5]

Every time we admire an aeropainting by Dottori, the feeling is that of a deep blue colour that calms the senses. The description of blue by the philosopher Max Lüscher comes immediately to mind: «Blue is loyalty and corresponds to the depth of feelings […]. Blue symbolically corresponds to calm water […]. It is the full satisfaction of blessings of the highest ideals of mankind, unity, a union with Gaea, mother-earth. It is the truth, trust, love, and dedication, rendition and devotion»[6]. The paintings by Dottori, where the shades of azure of the waters and sky prevail, are often mystical, thanks to these, a «new extra-terrestrial spirituality»[7] is «reached» as written in the Manifesto.

The lyric and spiritual landscape of Dottori is blue: «I wanted to aerate the earthly landscape by isolating it out of time-space, feeding it of sky so that it became heaven: by this, overturning the great Umbrian Renaissance painting that religiously dragged a lot of heaven down onto earth. If I overflow a gulf or an Umbrian lake it is because I can become a whole with its green-blue-white-grey liquid, reaching all my simultaneous forms of colour, including those mirroring into the water»[8].

Hundreds of works, where he portrays stretching lakes and rivers that spiral and wrap, the aircraft wraps up the landscape creating big eyes, lake mirrors. But in the past, the water of the seas, rivers, and lakes was green; as Pastoureau writes, and it became blue only at the end of the Fifteenth century: «it took a lot of time in the imagination and in the daily life […]for the water to become blue, a cold blue. Cold like our contemporary western societies, of which blue is the emblem, the symbol and the favourite colour at the same time»[9].

 

Nakedness, dreams and patents on colour

In the post-war period, the conception of art changes, but not poetry and the intensity of blue. Henri Matisse claimed that «a certain blue enters the soul»; his Blue Nudes of the Fourties are famous, cut figures of women become a shape using a bright blue, that moves them away from the natural description. For Miró, blue is the colour of dream and spirituality: it reaches its apex with the Bleu I, Bleu II, Bleu III series of 1961, the work is an extreme reduction to the essential, where elements float in a metaphysical universe. But certainly, the most striking example of the blue passion is by Yves Klein with his blue proclamation and his patent, the IKB, the International Klein blue, a bright colour that emerges from an abysmal depth. His blue, as Pierre Restany – founder of the Nouveau Réalisme at the beginning of the Sixties – wrote: «for it, it was the revelation; it is the backing of insights that are not enclosed in formulas, the vehicle of great emotions, an image captured by the vault of the sky and the intimacy of the world, the memory of this immaterial dimension of the universe»[10].  With his IKB he covered girls, canvases, sponges, «with the intent» as Vettese wrote, «of approaching art to heaven, but above all to recover a relationship between art and spirituality mediated, precisely, by colour»[11].

 

Graziano Marini, Utopico

Eastern full moon

Is there anything more spiritual that light? Does refractive light create colours? In Umbria, the quasi-scientific, but amused, concretistic study of light and colours reaches its highest exposition with Piero Dorazio[12], the Roman artist who moved to Todi in 1974 and never left the town again. In his paintings «the fabrics or better membranes», of an almost monochrome uniform painting, as described by Ungaretti, «interwoven with different threads of colour, with rays of colour», the very often blue background, creates the effect of «fixation on a point of light resurfaced from abysses, iterated to infinity»[13]. His blues are able to capture the everchanging shades of the tides, the skies he encountered on his trips and holidays[14]. The writer and journalist Mario Fortunato recognised, at a London auction, after many years, a blue work of art he had seen at the artist’s home, his guest during the Spoleto Festival in 1984: «A small Dorazio canvas with a dominating blue that reminded of the sea at night: it was taken from me for a few pounds and I still regret not having relaunched my bid»[15]. The only student and heir of his art, Graziano Marini, in an absolute personal way, combines Dorazio’s compositional purity, the geometry of structures like postpictural abstraction, the emotional charge of the Informal. His surface is not clean, his painting is like an internal drive expressed through light-colour matter. His travels to Asia made him discover the light of the desert, recreate it: the colour absorbs all the strength and power of light. The darkness is represented by the blue of Utopico II: «I was immediately struck by the light of that unknown sky, I saw that deep darkness of the night, really dark, dark, distant, of an indefinite colour, maybe indigo blue to which a densely immovable sea blue is superimposed»[16]. Blue is born from the Eastern Nights, because, as Goethe writes, «very near to darkness arises what we designate with the word azure»[17].  This affinity between darkness and blue is described also by Kandinsky: «blue can become as deep as black. Besides the physical resemblance, there is also a moral resemblance».[18] At night, the darkness of the room, illuminated by a single blue light-sign by Carlo Dell’Amico[19], to immerge the visitor in a plenilune light, to whom it is required to open up to a vital relationship with the immanent. These works by the Umbrian artist, made from 2008 to 2016 with blue neon, recall the light of the deus, of the luminous being, of the radical dyu, of the God-sky, a colour that represents the elevation of the Spirit symbolically. Frédéric Portal writes in the Nineteenth Century, azure, along with black and white «are the colours of the initiator: that overcomes spiritual (black) death with the power of truth (azure) to obtain the complete regeneration (white) ».[20] So, Dell’Amico, through the emanations of his blue light, reveals to us what is hidden in the darkness, allowing us to understand the hidden message of the words to get closer to knowledge[21].

 


[1] P. Picasso cit. in AA.VV., Colore, ed. Idealibri, Milan, 1982, p. 215.

[2] V. Kandinskij, Lo Spirituale nell’arte,1909, published in 1912 in Munich by the editor Reinhard Piper: “From a musical point of view, azure resembles a flute, blue a cello or, when it becomes very dark, the wonderful sound of the double bass; in its darker and more solemn dimension, it has the deep sound of an organ”, quote from Lo spirituale nell’arte, ed. Milan, 1989. Kandinskij had also created a work of art called Der Blaue Reiter in 1903. This painting is the cover of the Blaue Reiter movement.

[3] Gerardo Dottori (Perugia 1884, died there in 1977), for a complete bio www.gerardodottori.net. Most of his works are kept at the Civic Music of Palazzo Penna in Perugia.

[4] Manifesto dell’Aeropittura futurista, published on the «Gazzetta del popolo», dated September 22, 1929 in the article called edited in 1929 by MarinettiBallaFortunato DeperoPrampolini, Gerardo Dottori, Benedetta Cappa, FilliaTato and Mino Somenzi, Roman journalist that flew over Lake Trasimeno with him starting in 1928.

[5] Framment from Autobiografia of 1963, published by A. C. Ponti, M. Duranti, Intervista su Gerardo Dottori, Umbria Editrice, Perugia 1977, pp. 81-96. See also M. Duranti, A. C. Ponti, edited by, Aeropitture di acque e di colline: Gerardo Dottori e il lago Trasimeno, catalogue of the exhibition (Corciano, Tuoro sul Trasimeno, 4 August – 23 September 2001), ed. Effe, Perugia 2001.

[6] M. Lüscher, Il test dei colori, Astrolabio, Roma 1976, quote. from Il significato dei colori: nelle civiltà antiche, edited by Lia Luzzatto and Renata Pompas, Rusconi Milan 1988, p. 150.

[7] Manifesto dell’Aeropittura futurista, 1929, cit. in www.gerardodottori.net.

[8] G. Dottori in Manifesto futurista umbro dell’aeropittura, 1941. In full world war he wrote the manifesto where he clarified that the real essence of his futurism lied in the representation of mystic-like ambiences and landscapes. Quote in www.gerardodottori.net. For the futurist manifestos see also www.futur-ism.it.

[9] Pastoureau, Blu: storia di un colore, ed. Ponte alle Grazie, Milan 2008, p. 217.

[10] P. Restany, cit. in L. Vinca Masini, L’Arte del Novecento, Giunti, Florence 1989, vol. 5, p. 790.

[11] A. Vettese, Arte e colore alcune linee di sviluppo nel dopoguerra, in Il colore nell’arte, Ivan Bargna … [et al.],  Jaca book, Milan 2006 p. 216. Recent volume Blu K.: storia di un artista e del suo colore di Teodoro Gilabert, Skira, Milan 2014.

[12] Piero Dorazio (Roma 1927 – Perugia 2005). In 1947 he was among the undersigners of the manifesto of Gruppo Forma 1. In 1951 it merged with the group “Origine” by Mario Ballocco, Alberto Burri, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Ettore Colla, giving life to “Fondazione Origine”, within which Colla and Dorazio published the magazine “Arti Visive”. In 1974 he moved definitely to Todi where he purchased an ancient Camaldolese hermitage and here he continued to create until his death. In 1978 he founded the Centro Internazionale della Ceramica of Montesanto, hosting international artists in Todi since the Seventies.

[13] G. Ungaretti, Un intenso splendore, cat. Im Erker Galerie, San Gallo, 1966.

[14] For further study on the colour of Dorazio, see the recent Piero Dorazio “Il colore della pittura”, exhibition catalogue (Milan, Galleria Lorenzelli, October 2015 – January 2016) Milan 2015.

[15] M. Fortunato, Quelli che ami non muoiono, Bompiani, Milan 2008, cap. 6.

[16] G. Marini, Luce Orientale, in Graziano Marini: l’ arte che sa veder morire gli imperi, text by Enrico Mascelloni, exhibition catalogue (Frankfurt, Orvieto and Zurich 2004), ed.  Industria grafica editoriale, Todi 2004.

[17] J. W. von Goethe, La Teoria, op. cit., § 502.

[18] V. Kandinskij, Lo Spirituale nell’arte, 1912 ed. Feltrinelli, Milan 1974, p. 61.

[19]  Carlo Dell’Amico was born in Perugia in 1954, for the latest updated bio see Carlo dell’Amico L’anima che perse la memoria, exhibition catalogue (Norcia, 16 April-5 June 2016) texts by Claudia Bottini, Antonella Pesola, ed. Add Art, Spoleto, 2016. Bio and works also published in the recent catalogue Light Art in Italy, by Gisella Gellini, ed. Maggioli, Milan 2016, pp. 156-159.

[20] F. Portal, Des coleurs symboliques, Paris 1839, trad. it. Sui colori simbolici nell’antichità, nel Medioevo e nell’età moderna, ed. Luni, Milan 2003, p. 71 e 75. See also G. D’Aloe, I colori simbolici: origini di un linguaggio universale, S. Pietro in Cariano (Verona) 2004, p. 85.

[21] C. Bottini, La luce vera nell’esperienza della notte della vita, in Carlo dell’Amico, op. cit. p. 60.