CARLO COLA – Inside the silence
Carlo Cola- Room with a View
When I say Room with a View I don’t mean Edward Morgan Foster’s marvellous novel (nor even the poetic film adaptation by James Ivory). I’m thinking instead of what the novel did not express and so of what is left unsaid and merely alluded to in Carlo Cola’s painting, its hidden, even invisible aspects. It is as if each of his paintings were located in a solitary place, removed from its immediate surroundings, as if on the highest point of a hill. And, in actual fact, Carlo paints in an isolated room, at the very top of his house, a room which can be reached only by way of a steep wooden staircase. The stairs are between the outside and the inside of reality: on the one side, far below, there is the city and its old winding streets; on the other side, further up, in a sort of tower, there is a kind of quiet retreat, gradually detaching itself from the surroundings almost as if it were in the middle of a desert or forest.
We are already in a room, and it is from this room that, especially in the last few years, Carlo has been creating his paintings. He is a painter who cultivates a love for solitude, but this is an interior solitude, a secret one that is enjoyed within an imaginary space because Carlo, in reality, has an intensely active social and working life, a life with many deep human relationships. However, when he paints, it seems that he closes the door of his tower-room and immerses himself totally in his art. This is the central aspect of his aesthetic sensibility: to paint as if we were moving through the picture; or a forest or desert. Stones, pebbles and twigs could be collected along the way. Also, in his paintings, bizarre objects or even simple furniture, seem to be visible as if through a kind of mist. It is there that we discover them, as if carefully gathered by an archaeologist. Carlo Cola is, in truth, a collector of memories. He needs to preserve them, to place them inside a larger showcase: the secret room of his art and his imagination. He is a painter who travels a lot in his mind , a painter who needs to have a solid wall around him where he can place his objects, his paintings, his memories. Scattered around him are a huge number of jugs full of strange liquids, like an alchemist. On a table lie hundreds of tubes of colour, some new, some already used, some squeezed or twisted, or hardly touched, which through the practice of painting have become soft, almost fluid. They look like glimmering precious stones in the lamp-light. Around him, old wooden doors are half closed, while the tower reveals another maze. The colour is in his paintings and it is also in the room where he paints, glimmering like some oblique sunlight, as if the pigments from the tube flowed all around like water from a stream and had found a still place on the walls of the room, on the floor, on the painter’s hands. The room has a bizarre quality of its own, the accumulation of objects makes you think of the room as the Wunderkammer of an ancient collection that is characterized by randomness, the painter’s casual whims; a place where order and disorder meet. Also there is a hint of Carlo Cola himself in these paintings, although no human figure is ever visible. He enters and leaves his paintings, not literally of course, but as if he has become at one with his colours. There are no mirrors in his room and they are rarely to be found in his paintings. Mirrors are just deceptive, dazzling surfaces, they are opaque, they try to escape within the depth of the walls. Everything is part of that which is depicted. It’s almost a mystery how all those objects exist within the room. The painter says that he has drawn those rooms from actual places, they are the Rooms of Picasso or of Chagall, the Room of Balthus or of Marguerite Yourcenar, of famous and unknown people, but can we believe painters even when they seem to be telling the truth? True Painters, of course, never lie, they always tell the truth, but this is a truth that only belongs to the origin and history of those who paint, not the history of those who look at the painting and who ignore, must ignore, what that room has been based upon. These works are like ships that have crossed the desert. They are covered with a thin layer of salt, the wind has pulled and torn their sails, the sea has burst through the hatch, sea birds have flown through, the very structure shows the storms they have faced, they have been transformed into castles, towers and precious gems by the painter. It’s like the desire to investigate the universe before or during creation. Too much time has passed. We see only the finished result and must be content with that alone, like mortals must be satisfied with what they can see with their own eyes. Also the room has made a journey through time and memory. We know that it comes from far away, from other experiences, that it has already lived for a long time, but we are interested in its current life, what it is now. We are like Alice, we went through the looking glass, we went beyond the mirror, we entered a room that is on the other side, and it is here that Carlo Cola’s artistic adventure begins.
Meanwhile, we can begin by asking ourselves what happened inside his paintings, inside that bedroom, that drawing-room, that library. We have the impression that everything has been placed the wrong way up, even if each object is just where it should be and the furniture is firmly anchored to the floor or rests against the wall. There is order certainly, but at the same time those objects now have an elusive quality, they are transparent, intangible, they have another face. We can hardly recognize them, even if they clearly resemble objects like a table, a chair or a lamp. They have already acquired another life, another form, another sensitivity. We don’t know what happened in that room; was there a crime or a love story or just another dreary kitchen sink drama, but we can still hear the echo of distant words which are hidden within the folds of rugs, still whispering and slowly falling, like grains of dust, onto the chairs or wardrobes. Someone went through that room, someone lived within those four walls, but now there is nobody, only silence reigns, all who were there have already departed through an invisible door (a closed door at the bottom of the room), like the actors at the end of a play. The stage is now empty, but ghosts remain, as in certain stories by Henry James, in which it is difficult to distinguish the dead from the living (The Altar of the Dead for example) or the living from the ghosts (as in The Turn of the Screw and others). These paintings are also inhabited by ghosts, whose shadows still slither along the walls and whose rustling steps are still present. They are abandoned places and at the same time places that are still possessed by some unknown presence, by reddish reflections passing through one wall to the next, by the memory of the old inhabitants of those places who have long since silently departed or even died. Perhaps they are still talking behind a door; they will never come back. That room too has become a place of pain and regret.
Objects are restless. The bookshelves, the books scattered on the floor, the sheets, all refer to a lack of order. The painter has raised the curtain for a short while to allow those objects to enter. In a sense he has imprisoned them, we can look at them as if they belonged to an unknown time. But the painter can always let the curtain fall without warning, closure may come unexpectedly as happens when the visitors to a museum realize it is late and have to hurry towards the exit before the lights are turned off. In the same way, in Carlo Cola’s rooms there are surely ways in and ways out but they are a long way apart and it seems that to move across these spaces will take a long time, a place with no end. Those objects, which look so remote, do, actually, pull back those who walk in front of them, as if they grasped the viewers by their arm or their clothes, as if they wanted to prevent the gaze from turning away. Where have the owners of those objects gone? They were surely there a moment ago, now they are gone. There is no one left, only the echo of their presence, only the furtive rustle of their steps. What we see belongs to the past, we are now contemplating only objects that are somewhat greedy, that are possessive, that have not forgotten their past and what they endured. They try to capture the attention of those who pass nearby as they themselves have been captivated,. They are also passionate objects. They still want to be inhabited, possessed, to keep on living under the skin and inside the body of other inhabitants. Those objects do not want to die. They want to rediscover the excitement of life, they want to be loved. They are also erotic objects, because of their dense, strong colours which dominate every shape, but above all because of their passion, their insatiable greed and intense desire to carry on living. The candelabra hanging above looks like golden or enflamed stalactites, they still exude the flow of a subterranean rain that penetrates the walls of the house like the tempestuous blood in the veins. These drops have oriental perfumes and scents, human secretions, but they have been embraced by a region that seems to have borders with Asia and Africa, so rich is it with colours, imagination, character and passion. You sense that the sea is not too far away. Those candelabra look like bodies that fall from ceilings, like coiled snakes with bright skin, with golden reflections. That room has an old flavour, it almost looks like a jewel box. The poetics and drama of interiors has a century long tradition in painting (and also in literature), from realism to symbolism, which would take too long to list here but those interiors were conceived to contain a clearly visible human presence, the real, physical body of its inhabitant. However, in these paintings the body is absent, it has been forcibly removed, it has been excluded. Only the objects remain, as if space had closed in on itself like a trapdoor, as if it had become impenetrable, inaccessible. But the game of illusion manages to capture my gaze and, for a moment, I feel as if I am sitting in one of those chairs, waiting for an unknown visitor, or as if I am lying on that bed, which once belonged to someone else, waiting for a sleep that will not come.