Mimmo Paladino's Creative Parable

When he emerged onto the art scene in the second half of the 1970s, Mimmo Paladino found himself at the intersection of the already established and somewhat tired neo-Avant-garde and the feeling that he could and should move into a different direction. Examination of his “early works” leads to the conclusion that he sought to establish authenticity, whether in large refined surfaces of “high tension” or in elementary signs applied with temperamental gestures. It was evident in both cases that he was not comfortable with limitations of the frame so he found triptych solutions, went outside the orthogonal coordinates, even employed non-painterly elements ( like wires and crumpled paper ) in order to activate the space and break the “illusory” box.

When specific figurative attributes appeared in his world, they increased not only the associative combinatorial freedom, but also enabled a more morphologically rich expression. With regards to the already demonstrated affinity towards the elementary, Paladino moved in the direction of expressive rawness and vehemence, edging on the exotic and primitive, i.e. by casually emulating Picasso’s proto-Cubism (“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”) he discovered stylized masks and figures resembling African sculpture and even some prehistoric models. In any case, he used an almost archetypal stylization and symbolism and filled wide surfaces with very intense colour palette.

In the early 1980s, at the initiative of the art critic Achille Bonito Oliva he joined the founding group of the “Transavanguardia” movement, which then represented an actual tendency to overcome the crisis ( or caesura ) of the linear movement of the Avant-garde ( Darwinist “progression” ) by uninhibited looking back at the morphologically already surpassed stages, i.e. by creatively assimilating several achievements of Modernism ( naturally, already in the spirit of post-Modernism ).

The concept of the Transavanguardia meant that the Avant-garde had already played its trump cards, but it also meant that some of its experiences could productively be built upon. Therefore, instead of the lethargic revisionism and mere traditionalism, the Transavanguardia advocated nomadic and eclectic sailing ( zigzagging ) through previously radically extreme spaces, the edges of which were by now already blunted. Rationalism and programmatic coherence ( and especially conceptual strictness ) were again replaced by pronounced emotion and a ludic ( sometimes almost infantile ) relaxation.

We mention Paladino’s formative phase and his adherence to the concept of Transavanguardia as a historical fact, but also as the period that provided him with importance and status as an artist with international reverberations and cosmopolitan reach. His painting “Il visitatore della sera” ( 1985 ) represents the synthesis of his work, whereby he paraphrased ( not parodied ), to some extent, Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” by introducing into the painting the images of typified face-masks and his characteristic trademark of ornamental ( totemic ) linearism.

Creative freedom and individual profile he achieved almost from the onset will make possible his further development in different directions, different techniques and creative disciplines.

It is therefore not an accident that this exhibition shows Mimmo Paladino concurrently as a painter, sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker because all these manners of expression add to his creative character. In three fields, he is able to show his wide range of imagination and different aspects of his performative skills, however the totality bears witness to the dynamic homogeneity of his artistic universe, i.e. a simultaneously ironic and sensual view of the world in its various manifestations. We already said that his work is characterized by a non-mimetic understanding of figuration ( unorthodox symbols ) and a casual perception of matter ( foregoing the dictate of Art Informel ), and we can add that in his development he went beyond the initial premise and adopted new problematic areas, while at the same time he embraced certain achievements of great predecessors, i.e. a deep-rooted tradition to which he consciously refers ( but not necessarily depends on ).

It seems indicative to me that on this occasion Paladino is separately showing his equestrian sculpture “Etrusco” (Etruscan) described in brackets as: “Dedication, in honour of Marino Marini.” Therefore, the contemporary artist is expressly referring to the artist from the past generation who openly invoked the influence of archaic sculpture from the ancient, pre-Roman period. This deliberate stratification points to multiple morphological “debts,” i.e. the fact that part of the artistic creation was, in the style of mannerism, born out of other artistic creations and, that forms create a relay of influence from one cultural layer to the other.

The said artistic “citation” was by no means an obstacle to originality, but only provided proof of erudition and immersion into layers of civilisation. With references to the Etruscan and to Marini, Paladino confirmed his Mediterranean roots and his intention to continue where his predecessors stopped. Having said that, iconography of most of the works presented at this exhibition is also significantly Mediterranean and its specific aspect unmistakeably Italian. Namely, “Iliad” and “Odyssey” provided scenes of primordial force which were universal in origin, and Pinocchio’s adventures are a scornful version of the human destiny: a wooden puppet is the true image of a human being unable to come to terms with life’s temptations and challenges.

However, perhaps the best introduction to Paladino’s poetics is his “Untitled” cycle of works, composed of the larger rectangular central panel surrounded by smaller squares like a polyptych. This somewhat comic book-like partitioning and somewhat montage combinations speak to the integration of iconic signs (hand, shoe, head) and dense facture ( prints, stains, relief’s projected and undercut areas ), which were supposed to synthesise and saturate the extremes, including expansion into space and leaving the rigid frame ( despite firm and strict metal frames ). Perhaps we could compare relationships between these parts with the play of echoes, variations on the subject.

However, let us go back to motifs of the large series of drawings and iconography of the map of prints because their selection is by no means arbitrary. With the selection of “Iliad” and “Odyssey” the artist found a theme that challenged him with vigour and brutality, cruelty and roughness, all affective categories whose energy first needed to be personally absorbed, then transformed and aesthetically “tamed.” Besides, the choice of Ulysses seems suited to the painter’s morphological nomadism, his adaptability in various places and in changing circumstances. And the Pinocchio motif and literal depiction of his “long nose” to every exaggerated pretentiousness and the idea of conventional harmony. It is as if the artist himself, with his modern sensibility, is polarized between the need to witness the difficulty and drama of nomadism, on the one hand, but also to show in his work that he is not deadly serious and didactically moralising, on the other.

“Classical” motifs and the included formative irony are a welcome poetic mix, completely appropriate for reception in a Mediterranean ambient such as the city of Split. And Split is provided with an opportunity to see the work which possesses a particular historical patina and which became, in its own way – even if malgré lui – a contemporary classic.

Tonko Maroević