Three incipits for the singular Carlo Cola

di G. P. Bianki febbraio ’02



1When I was born, Carlo was already there. He was seven months older than me;  I don’t remember ever meeting him for the first time, but I clearly remember the first time that, for him, I became important. When we were seven/eight years old, we built a shelter under an old kitchen table, inside a closet, a locked room which was dark and without windows. Every day we would add something to improve it.

To have some light, I brought a battery with a bicycle bulb, as I had seen my brother do with his older friends. In the dark, under the table, I connected the bulb to the battery with an electric wire and … there was light!

It was an explosion of light that suddenly pushed the shadows all around radially. I saw Carlo’s face transformed by surprise, joyfully staring at the small source of light. He looked gleefully at my face lit from below, at our transformed surroundings,  lost in intense and unexpected pleasure. It was just for a moment. I broke the contact and everything went back to the flickering dark that one sees after staring at a light. I switched it on and off several times to show him how easy it was. The bulb found a definite place under the table (seven years later this same table became our first light table, but this is another story…).  Since then, as happens between children,  I have been thought of  by Carlo as a very able technician….

I know that it is not right to relate the work of an artist to small biographical episodes; there is the risk of being unjustly selective, like a mother telling embarrassing childhood stories about her son to his future wife.

On the other hand,  when I look at Carlo’s many paintings, I go back to that moment;  to his surprise for the unexpected vision; to his wonder about how we see; to the innocent enjoyment  of the emotion that we feel when we watch.

In his paintings I feel the call to a condition of  naivety deprived of malice, as it is in childhood. When even the gaze is virginal and , with the sense of wonder, we see things for the first time. I feel the surprise of his gaze mixed with the urgency of preserving the moment.

I have become convinced that when Carlo Cola takes the brushes in his hand, he does a mental exercise of approaching the image he wants to paint, asking himself: “If I was seeing it for the first time, how would it be?” And I think that while he is painting he asks himself this question many times, as if he were reciting an empathic mantra that puts him in touch with a collective zone, in which we have all lived during our childhood, and from which he takes the vital lymph that feeds his work. This is where nostalgia is, the regret for a lost condition. But there is also the evidence that the contact has not got lost forever, that a mental click is enough to go back and see things in their original shape, that a  click is enough to turn off the  background noise of daily life that soils our minds. I know that Carlo Cola has found his personal switch, that he turns on and off, filling me with wonder.

2. The interior was dark,  the upper part of it became a darkened Prussian Blue, the thick painterly substance became thinner, it descended to the floor with the light, covering the eaves with aquamarine reflections. On the folding table transformed an area of colour whose origin was indefinable  contributed to pushing back the niches of mysterious violet on the superior orders.  At a sidereal height, perceivable through its small size, a tiny red dot burns like an offering. “Hey Carlo, what happens if you erase this red dot from the painting?” – I say,  jokingly, like a wisecracking Jiminy Cricket. “What happens is that the whole painting collapses, you cretin!” he replies with a know-it-all tone.

I would like to say a few simple things about Carlo Cola’s paintings. At least as simple as his art. Well, I would like to, but I can’t! I write and I continuously erase what I’ve written. I am forced to admit defeat. This is because his paintings are not simple: they are deceptively SIMPLE,  that is to say THEY LOOK Simple. In his paintings everything is CLEAR Yet to speak of clarity is impossible, words are an insult: you cannot explain what is self evident.

What I can say of Carlo Cola’s painting is that it is DIRECT: it goes straight towards a pre-established direction, it leads straight to whoever looks at it without any diversions.

And I also want to say that it is COMMUNICATIVE.  “An actor’s communication can be really spontaneous only when applying a technique of rigorous acting”

Nice statement. It is written in italics as I am not sure it is really mine. I am, however, sure that it can also be referred to a painter, because it is an inescapable fact:   communication takes place through a technique that permits it, a technique that becomes really impeccable when it is not perceivable any longer.

Hence I can add that it is virtuosity…. (so much so that it seems simple), but virtuosity is a dangerous term, which scares musicians too. I shall then say that it is  a VIRTUOS painting[1], yes… good, with a tendency to goodness. Not morbid; a bringer of virtues.

There is an impression of undeniable INNOCENCE in Carlo Cola’s art, even while I am trying to show that his work is complex, in spite of  its clear simplicity, which is not spontaneity, in spite of its direct communicativeness. I think it is important to specify that his art is not the result of abstract thinking about the new world order. By following his instincts and distilling his work through his experience Cola has found a way to operate; we can only accept that and enjoy the results.

ENJOYMENT, here is another word that I think is adequate, bliss…. Pleasure of the senses, SENSUAL painting. Part of the eye, it stimulates the retina, it goes through the optical nerve, it reaches the brain, it increases the production of natural endorphins,  a languor rises from the stomach, knees weaken, it is …. ECSTATIC trance. Oh! What a wonderful word , it manages to  merge together ecstasy and statics and its assonance with aesthetic makes it perfect: what is a painting nowadays if not a static image, whose function is to accelerate the  psyche.  In Carlo Cola’s art all this happens without sexual morbidity, the coital anxiety, as constantly depicted by the media besieging  our daily lives. Now, of all that I have written, there is no direct proof in Cola’s art. His art is not a manifesto, its function is not to demonstrate truth (mine even less). Carlo Cola, simply, paints. But try to do a little exercise to approach his paintings; when you look at them repeat the words I wrote in capitals in your minds, test their validity. In the end you will agree with me that perhaps a painting by Carlo Cola is not the bearer of  messages. But at least enjoy its MESSAGE. Retina focused for the time being… then, who knows.

3. I saw Carlo many times the day after, more squeezed than his tubes of colour, showing me the painting that he had done during the night. More than a painting, a transfer of pure energy. This confirms that it is typically human to give of yourself until you die, the expending of yourself in burning activity. In the light of his nocturnal activity Carlo seems to me like a tomcat after an amorous adventure: dishevelled, bruised, aching. He allows me, with a sort of post mortem languor, to be the First Spectator. He is not afraid of my judgment, he knows that he has come out victorious over the creative labour once again. On the surface, I do not appear excessively agitated and I throw in a technical remark (I don’t know why but he expects this from me). I adopt the knowing expression of a man of the world, accustomed to seeing exceptional things: so much so that I am not even capable of surprise. Carlo smiles slyly. He knows perfectly well that to really surprise me he should show me a bad painting….

Carlo Cola long ago stopped asking himself what is the relationship of his work with the whole history of art. Since then he has obtained excellent results.

I am not an art critic… once I used to do an exercise when confronted by art and divided images into two categories:

1.     Images that take you inside the frame, forcing your gaze to enter illusory depths, or into routes on the surface, without sending you back outside. PAINTINGS OF TALES. Entry points to the world of the artist who created them.

2.     Images that break out – come out of the frame – works where the route of the gaze is nullified. PAINTINGS OF PERFORMANCE which provoke a reaction of emotive acceptance or rejection of the object which we stand before, creating a series of references outside the work itself.

This scheme, not very sophisticated[2], allowed me to draw a border line between modern painting and past painting.  Many paintings of Carlo Cola make it impossible to use this division. Miraculously, they take elements from both categories, but they don’t make them clash: each of his paintings is a performance. I know that every time that he starts a painting, he seldom stops before he has finished it; in the big size paintings  the brushing gesture,  ample or  frenetic, which skilfully determines the image  is perfectly visible. The physicality of doing is not hidden but is continually led back to the needs of the story, a simultaneous narrative/image, whose temporal development is determined by whoever sees it.

A painting by Carlo Cola can be exuberant to the point of leaping out at you His means is the seduction of the gaze. His aim is to point to another way of looking by showing. The adopted shape is often that of a mise en scéne, the scenery of  an immanent happening: looking at them always makes you think of someone who has just left or, of someone who has yet to arrive. The notable absence of people from the scene makes us appreciate the beauty of their actions. The human is signified by its absence. The entry of an actor would steal the scene from the scene itself, soiling it: like a mollusc returning to its empty shell.

Carlo Cola’s paintings serenely ignore the categories people try to pin on them. The truth is that they are temporal rebuses, they could have been painted one hundred years ago and nobody would have understood them (thus paying homage to their innovative quality). Because they are contemporary to us, we delude ourselves into imagining that we can understand them. All things considered, what can appear to someone as if a century has past, could equally be viewed as belonging to an earlier century .

[1] If someone, influenced by easy semantic assonances, will think of virtual…,he or she should be challenged at dawn under the wall of the Carmelitane, it is old , anyway.

[2] Ça va sans dire!