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A new page in painting

The faces robustly outlined by Arrigo, with powerful volumetry and tormented colour, succeed in expressing the beauty of that humanity that western man considers “different” and at the same time the risk to which that humanity is condemned, the looming or imminence of profound scars that the calamities of the world engrave on it like marks of fire. The persecutions, the devastations, the degradation to which these faces can be exposed or violently submitted are answered with the joy of a provocation by the coloured plasticity of those semblances, the extraordinary light of the eyes, the smile of the strong teeth or the descent of the woven head of hair, the broad space of the faces, between the well-drawn cheekbones and the noses protruding with delicate energy .These beautiful paintings by Arrigo, with the almost neo-divisionist variations (but in an expressionist key) in the spreading of colours, with the confidence of the signs that can express pain but also happiness, sweetness, at all events fascination, with their frontal or rounded arrangements of planes with a sort of flavour of archaic sculpture, constitute a new page in painting, and not only Sicilian, and attest to sincere and empathic emotion of love towards the most unfortunate creatures in a world that surrounds us on all sides, though we remain blind in seeing it.


The estetic of commotion

Someone says that a real artist should be recognisable in any of its works. That a subtle and invisible thread inevitably crosses the thematic and expressive disparities. That authentic artists substantially cannot renounce to carry inside themselves, often unconsciously, a sign, a premonition, a totally personal trait that marks the entire work in an unrepeatable unicum (synthesis), and at the same time reveals its ultimate hidden sense. If it is so, the young Arrigo Musti is already one of them.

Indeed his paintings possess the merit of infusing since the first instant the perception of being in front of an accomplished and unequivocal style, reinforced by a noble and unusual poetics, imperious and sincere, constantly torn by the wounds of an ancient as well as unexpected recognition of the pain. Beyond the tremendous ability to merge lights, forms and colours in an innovative and visionary harmony, from some aspects provocative, distressing and disquieting, what especially strikes and surprises in the work of Arrigo seems to me his aesthetics of commotion for a world that has lost its own mythology. The modern affliction of a poet, who longs for a universe of heroes and legends, where human beings are not anymore able to reflect. His desolate glance to an Olympus of Gods uninterested to our destiny as a result of the humiliation by men’s blindness.



Between light and oblivion 

Sumptuous and rational, Baroque and minimalist, classical and anti-classical: continuing and renewing a millenary tradition of thought and creation, Arrigo Musti’s painting is worked out through the paradoxical logic of oxymoron and union of opposites, with that gift of revelation and magnificence that only Sicily has the power to give and to distil, thanks to a history that has its roots in the millennia and in the origins of a culture extended from the Mediterranean to the whole of Europe. 

Arrigo Musti, a Sicilian from Bagheria, is an artist who does not renege contact with his homeland, but immerses himself in the vital archetypes of a place whose radiant power he feels and on which he has chosen to found the theoretical and visual bases of his painting system. A further charming paradox of Musti is his ability to evoke a kind of archaeology of the uninterrupted presence of the arts in Sicily, but without falling into evocations only linked to the past and deliberately distant from our present issues in a linguistic, communicative and stylistic sense. Indeed, Musti manages to converse with the history and grandeur of the extraordinary artistic experiences that have followed one another in Sicily over the millennia through a wholly contemporary vision that does not forget some of the greatest avant-garde experiences of the twentieth century. Arrigo Musti’s work is set, indeed, in a personal and independent way in the current context, cleverly blending references to the history of art with pressing and highly topical issues like the defence of the cultural heritage, historical memory, landscape and environment. In this sense, Musti shrewdly starts from rigorous research on the style, form and physical body of painting, the central and indispensable locus of all research that combines a refined formal quality with a solid conceptual core. 

In the last two years Musti has chosen to go over an inner geography of memory and nostalgia without losing the tension of his research, celebrating the absolute and scattered magnificence of places, buildings and works that make Sicily unique and at the same time evoking its loss, as happens in the sumptuous cycle Beautiful Decadence of 2012, which evokes balconies, Baroque portals and empty rooms of old buildings with a feeling of the inevitable end of an era and of a civilization that finds in The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (and in the movie by Visconti) a clear and magnificent reference point transformed into painting made up of voids and vibrations, centralizations of pulsations of colour and suspensions that seem to be shot through by the echoes of ancient voices that resound in the labyrinth of dust and time. 

In his most recent cycle, Drops, 2013, Musti, as happened to his great predecessors who made the “sublime” choice of reduction, has left behind painting seething with ferments of colour, in pulsating density and spreads of colour that quiver on the support in a decided kindling of contrasts. He has moved on to light and monochromatic material, made up of a spatula stroke just hinted at that, thanks to rigorous and targeted choice of the support, creates a thin or dense relief, just sketched on the smooth canvas without the roughness of some previous works. These works can paradoxically represent a synthesis that starts from the images of classical masterpieces cited in the paintings, which form a sort of archetypal root of art in Sicily. They fit into a line suspended between ornament and rigor that could unite the absolute clarity of the decorations of Giacomo Serpotta with the tendency to overcome the disorder and freedom of expression that can link the work of Antonio Canova to that of Lucio Fontana, in the dialectic between the original ferment of matter and its sublimation in the idealized territory of immateriality. 

The result is a series of works in which painting moves further and further away from the iconic element towards a style that borders on abstraction composed through slight and quivering and roughness that is combined with a stringent minimalist organization often based on use of bright colour that is almost lysergic. 

Arrigo Musti thus immerses himself in an inner flow that aspires to emerge from time to touch the point of intersection between the image and our personal and collective vision, drops down into ancient statues to trace out a geophysical mapping of inner space through spreads of colour reassembling the ancient faces of the sculptures like light waves that break those dark millennial faces dividing them, allusively, again in the metaphorical oxymoron that fuses the conscious and clear space of their features and the nocturnal territory of an unconscious and devouring shadow surrounding their light to drag it into the dark and devouring vortex of oblivion. 



Skira catalogue 54° Venice Biennale “Art is not Cosa Nostra” –  Italian Pavilion

“…Why should we hide from peple the fact that the so called “contemporary” art, this brand image invented from scratch by international financial market, no longer has anythings in common either with what we have referred to as “art” up to now, or whit artists who are real and alive but who aren’t on the stock market? ..”
(M. Fumaroli: “Se i musei dimenticano l’arte per inseguire il mercato” in La Repubblica 28 october 2010)

“..Wouldn’t I listen to Bernardo Bertolucci, Ermanno Olmi, Giuseppe Tornatore, Guido Cernetti, Hanif Kureishi, Edoardo Nesi, if they suggested I should see a movie or a play? So why should their opinion be less importanti if it is a painter they’re suggesting instead? Are they the ones who are incompetent, who have less experience, or are the painters the ones to have accepted being fenced off inside a ghetto or in some inaccessible reservation? To free them with an unexpected recognition is neither a whim nor a sharp move, nor is it an example of the bad habit or nepotistic reccomendations; rather, it provides us with the opinions on art of those who do not normally spend time in sanitariums and hospitals. Artists too must blend in with the rest of the world, allow themselves to be swept along by life, have their works hung on the walls of homes and not just on the sterile ones of contemporary art museums, which so greatly resemble infirmaries. This is the spirit that has allowed us to bring toghether this “Democratic Biennale”, one that does not belong to the critics and the curators, but to the artists, who have been given a chance to look out over the most well-attended and most widely acclaimed stage in the world of contemporary art, without anyone putting them down, without licenses dished out by anemic pseudo-incompetents who cut out for themselves the sad uniform of “those authorized” (a horrifying formula). In Venice, with the manifest vote of admirable and admired people, these artists have obteined a certificate of existence. Over and beyond any mafia.”


My references in my works have changed, but the substance has remained the same.

I have always been convinced that the shape seduces, in one way or another.

If you want to seduce the viewer, a glossy and lacquered surface is always preferable to one that is not.

In this there is the greatest concession I can explicitly make to the seductive images that reverberating invade my imagination and that I continue to use abundantly in my works.

However, I must admit that the surface is the least interesting aspect, if you like, of my works.

I only use it to “seduce” the viewer by inducing him to go “under or beyond” the surface itself. I like to call this oxymoron “unpop”, which stands for unpopular.

After all, as this passage says, the surface matters:

  we only look at what is presented well, which is to say that we only want what others want. The objects set up on these wooden and formica shelves “have been bought, arranged, put together and compared. They can be moved, arranged in a particular way, but once packaged they are separated again, they remain objects like when you find them in a shop.” The subject of Steinbach’s work is what happens in the moment of exchange. 


(Nicolas Bourriaud 2004,19 – paraphrase) 

But in my case, the surface is nevertheless only a lure to attract. It matters less than what it covers.

Pop dominates but does not hide the unpopular.

I have verified that the more I move away from Pop seen, not so much in the history of art sense, but above all in the literal sense of popular, the more I will be able to recount something that really belongs to me.

I have told many stories, all hidden and covered by seductive images in the form made with bright colors.

I have used and use colors and enamels on ferrous surfaces that resemble cars that have just left the factory.

I have verified that it can serve to bring the viewer closer. It works!

But underneath and beyond this surface there are both commonly used objects, such as toothbrushes, buttons, miniature copies of ancient and contemporary shattered statues, in the midst of symbols of luxury and references to the provocations of contemporary art. But there is also a plastic doll lying on the ground which, by analogy, recalls a shipwrecked child, who was not only denied childhood.

This kaleidoscope should be read over a long period of time, slowing down the gargantuan frenzy of images about which almost every one of us has become neurotically insane.

Even if the container is pop, the content is unpopular – as is anything that creates repulsion, fear, indignation, or reflection, etc. I believe our era is unpopular (in the meaning I have chosen to give it). That is, it mixes horrors and honors, beauty and destruction, depth and extreme superficiality, flattening and dulling our senses, as in a scrolling of more or less pleasant images.

It is convenient for us to take refuge in the most pleasant and captivating images but they only recount one aspect of this multifaceted world we live in.

Also, broken glasses, watches, necklaces and bracelets, like the lives of genocide victims, aren’t exactly popular or pleasant images. Only if you choose to go beyond dazzling colors do they tell the anonymous stories of many men, women and children who, despite themselves, have left their mark in history with those objects for future memory.


from lecture: Seduced and affiliated. When the image is unpop-ular - Palermo University 2022




















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