I believe in technique, in the capacity to structure emotions on the painterly surface…
Roberto Coda Zabetta
For Roberto Coda Zabetta, painting is a state of mind and, at the same time, a physical necessity, a personal method to give form to the magmatic chaos of matter. Usually large-scaled, his works show how to seize and ‘force’ pigments into a a transparent, doughy impasto that violates the two-dimensionality of the canvas. Following the teachings of Emilio Vedova (1919-2006), the Italian master of abstraction who used to define his own works as ‘quakes’ and ‘whiffs’, Roberto Coda Zabetta’s research is structured in thematic clusters while hypnotic emotions explode from his layers of painterly substance.
In developing his practice, Roberto Coda Zabetta has never abided by the strict rules of the contemporary art world, reclaiming the freedom to choose his own style with the same eclecticism of his mentor and teacher Aldo Mondino (1938-2005). Indeed, after a years-long period of figurative post-expressionist monochromes, in 2014 he dived headlong in pure abstraction. Once again, Mondino set example opening Coda Zabetta’s eyes on the importance of the materials, of the knowledge of one’s own creative tools and, furthermore, onto the importance to establish a truthful relation between one’s work and the world.
Yet, the diffusion of abstract experiments in the international art scene proves that the return to abstraction as a space of freedom and emotion can be understood as the artists’ muted answer to the exaggerated consumption of the image brought about by global capitalism and the virtualization of the real. The work of great contemporary painters such as Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Amy Sillman, and Liz Deschenes shows that the shift from abstraction to figuration is not conceptually definitive. Indeed, contemporary abstract painting is nothing but dogmatic: it results from the balance between total freedom and the compositional restrictions the artist imposes upon himself.
Titling an exhibition of two-dimensional works FILM# 00-56 entails a semantic shift and elicits a smooth reading of the works that appear connected to one another through a ‘narrative’ structure. In addition, this title turns the artist from demiurge to director since he seizes and captures on film actions performed by others than himself. The choice to paint ‘as a director’ developed after a two-years long pause during which the artist underwent a crises about his capacity to represent the world through images. This crises resulted into a open work, autonomous and independent from the artist himself, to a certain extent, FILM# 00-56 is a sequence of fifty-six frames that tell about a linguistic change in which the expressionist gesture is replaced by the desire to freeze the energy of pigments on the canvas.
However, there is nothing casual about Coda Zabetta’s new artistic practice, his paintings are made of thin layers, impalpable ‘films’ of color and air. No longer thick nor brightened by heavy brushstrokes of white, the painterly substance becomes fluid and transparent thanks to the use of air as a painterly tool. The serial structure of this project derives from the idea to create a sequence of film-stills in which mechanical execution and the energy of compressed air are combined with manual precision, the rhythm of the brush, and the force of color. These canvases of different sizes seem to play with the limits of contemporary abstraction by establishing a tactile and visceral relation with the classic materials of painting which are ‘forcefully’ turned into transparent wefts through the use of spatulas and compressed air.
FILM# features a material metamorphosis where the gestural energy crystallizes a mind state influenced by oriental art. The narrative structure recedes in favor of matter. Technique and manual skill are decisive in governing the flow of pigments, while the formal accuracy of the gesture is quite lyrical and distanced from any form of psychic automatism. The works on view can be divided in subgroups, like the episodes of a film, where the energy of the pigments crystallizes several structures. The material, almost sculptural, weight of certain canvases, where numbers of layers are blended to darken the image, nearly turns them into transparent screen-prints that seem to be painted in watercolor.
Thus, cut across by a vector of color, some paintings appear to be lit by falling stars exploded millions light years away while others seem to capture the reflections of wave motion through the water. Their transparencies as well as their extended temporality recall the thousand-year-old tradition of Japanese ink wash painting and watercolor on paper. Similarly, the concentric force of some works seem to figure forth the slow death of a star and its implosion in a space different from the Cartesian three-dimensionality we are used to inhabit. At last, the small-size square paintings look like microscopic scans of colorful coral fragments. These fifty-six works are about the energy of the world, they turn painting into a film about waves, reflections, particle movements, centripetal and centrifugal forces. It is a moving, stunning film.
Arranged in groups like medieval polyptychs, these paintings remind of nanotechnology digital images as well as sidereal spaces millions light years away from us. They show how the contemporary gaze can now move from microcosm to macrocosm, from the core of a cell to the explosion of a galaxy. In FILM#, then, abstraction probes the heart of matter, contemporary physics is turned into purified painting, suspended in between the continuous flow of time and the urgency of the moment, to grasp the essence of things. This series descends from the urge to represent that which we have never seen nor, possibly, even imagined.
FILM# is informed by Coda Zabetta’s dismissal of the compositional tenets accrued in his figurative works. Here, constitutional and technical features are radicalized and painting becomes an existential exercise. The force of these works resides in their power to condense information and seize the gaze of viewer to lead it, through wave motions and light reflection, in a journey made of emptiness and substance, light and shade, thoughts and contemplation.
It is worthless wondering about the origin of these paintings, they stand as a collection of matter, of its movement and energy. It can take just an hour to make a painting but, for an artist, it can take many years before that hour comes.
Ilaria Bonacossa 2015