The eloquent silence of painting

Silvia Evangelista

Carlo Cola is a solitary and secret painter, and his exhibitions, which started at the end of the 1980s, have been characterised by their rarity (notably the “adventure” in Dubai, in the Arab Emirates, whose atmosphere inspired some of the most fascinating works to be found in this exhibition). This is the first time this painter from Emilia Romagna has publically presented such a wide range of works. The Milan show is therefore a precious opportunity to get to know the art of this original painter, to encounter the magic and silent atmospheres of his paintings, and admire their warm and truly unique tones.

Thanks to the unusual and bright chromatic scale, he communicates the fascination that painting has on him (and on us). Painting is a secret and mysterious craft. It is a window wide open to the world around an artist who seeks to understand its profound silence , as the “normal” life passes by, using colour as his only tool, a colour that is mellow and full of light, with unusual tones and strong and vital chromatic hues of violet, lilac, orange, bright yellow, green, turquoise and blue. Through the privileged and wonderful medium of painting, it is possible to create universes, atmospheres, sensations. Through shapes and colours it can show us things in a new, different way; and this is even more fascinating when the subjects are ordinary, known, anonymous. This is the magic of painting. “There is no art more clearly creative than painting” wrote the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard; “As with all creators, the painter , before working, knows the imagination through the rêverie that gathers around the nature of things.”1 The term , rêverie is difficult to translate. It, has the meaning of fantasy, dream, fantastic imagination, of letting go and daydreaming, of memories and images of our present viewed with the freedom of dreams, irrespective of logic and rationality. This term seems to me particularly suitable for Carlo Cola’s paintings, due to the way he represents reality, faithfully but also almost transformed, as if objects emitted a subtle poetic sensation of dream and fantasy , which is how the artist expresses his emotions, his perceptions, his personal and intimate vision of the world to us.

Carlo Cola’s art has a subtle charm which goes beyond the effect of mere representation – his subjects are remarkable for their “common” and ordinary qualities – and these stimulate our imagination, but above all our visual senses, turning us from detached spectators to privileged participants in the world he sees. It is almost as if through the artist’s eyes we can see what he sees, as if we enter as insiders into a sort of parallel world of Cola’s paintings: a world very like the one that we see around us – room interiors, bookshelves, churches or quiet landscapes, villas and buildings surrounded by gardens. A world that is nevertheless, estranged and almost indecipherable, suspended in time. All this just through painting. It exists alongside the “normal” world, with which it shares the same images and figurative principles, but from which it differs s by the sheer force of imagination – through what we can call rêverie – transforming the imagined world into concrete images of signs, shapes and colours.

The objects are represented with a restless and vigorous painting style which, while not faithfully adhering to the optical quality of reality, evokes its “overall” vision, – even though it questions its statutory rules, starting with those of perspective. The painted scenes, with the slanted views, the “dilated” framings, the spatial depths that are deliberately and dramatically exaggerated, all suggest a sense of silence, of waiting that seems to question the certainty of the image, its hypothetical , inalterable truth. Light is the protagonist of the paintings, it is intense and “absolute” and pervades the canvas with the strength and energy of a fountain of life: a combination of colour and light that cuts like a blade through the surface of the painting, so that the objects themselves are transformed and the images seem to “pulsate”. It is by the magic suspension of a time full of light, of a quiet and calm vision that reality is recomposed with harmonious shapes and colours.
This is a parallel world which, even with its perfect verisimilitude, does not “work” exactly like the real one, with its imperfect or multiple perspectives and views from a distance.

Carlo Cola’s paintings can be characterized by their particular slanted vision, which reinvents the space of the canvas and introduces a new dimension to it, that of time. This is not the “moment” as captured by the impressionists but rather the “extended” time of a photographic image with snapshots of life captured by an artist who looks at reality as if he was watching a play. Almost like in a theatre, the artist paints the world as if it were a stage set on which the actors are, as yet, absent but about to start their performance. It is as if life were, for the painter – and the observer – viewed through a filter, on the other side of an imaginary window from which one watches the scene of the world. The theme of the window is a recurring one in Carlo Cola’s works: a window lets in sunlight, like a stream of light; another window opens onto the outside, on the green, on the air, on life. The same happens with doors, which are often present in his interiors and are often half-open, leading to other rooms, other worlds, other lives.

In these paintings there is no feeling that something dramatic has happened; but there is, sometimes, a sort of slight restlessness, highlighted by the absence of human figures. In actual fact, Cola’s paintings are never visually inhabited, although – we are sure – someone inhabits those rooms, those houses, those atelier ; someone goes to those churches, those libraries; someone goes up and down those stairs, opens those windows, looks out from balconies; someone has just gone through those half-open doors, someone is about to come in. We look at the scene of the painting as if it were a play about to start. The painter seems to evoke that slight sense of restlessness, of the pause we experience during the short time between the raising of the curtain and the entrance of the actors. The stage is ready: everything is silent and still, waiting for the action to commence.

Here , for example, are the houses of painters: Chagall, Picasso, Francis Bacon’s atelier ¸these are rooms that the artist has never actually seen but knows about through photographic images. They live again in his works as places that are real and imagined at the same time, where the natural disorder of an atelier becomes a metaphor for the artist’s work, whose presence is evoked by objects, tools of his trade, open books, sheets of paper, models – as if the inhabitant of those rooms had gone out for a moment, interrupting his work for just a few minutes and was about to come back. It is this sensation of someone being present, although physically absent, which makes Cola’s representations so entirely different from the photographic images which often serve as their starting point and inspiration. This happens in many paintings of his, even in the peculiar picture that portrays a “Missile” (Missile) – an unusual object – where the rocket is represented at the point of being launched. On the other hand everything is still in the painting, as if it was the freeze-frame of a film, and the action turns from real into an almost metaphysical one.

The same is true of the “external”, views of gardens, villas, houses, often painted at sunset, when the sun shines its last slanted light and the shadows come (Ponte inglese, Lisbona, Monastero di Panteleimon; Isola Santa, Case indiane, Tramonto in Italia to name just a few examples). These are paintings where nature and imagination merge in a magic tangle, creating a silent, suspended atmosphere: places built and inhabited by human beings, but represented in absolute solitude. The only signs of human presence are in the clothes hanging out to dry, in the open shutters of an urban view, in a lighted window.

Silvia Evangelisti

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