Monography, in Italian and English language, essay by G. Granzotto, year 2000, ed. G. Corbelli of Brescia

Catalogue essay, with an interview at Balsamo, in June 2000, by Elisa Parma.

Vincenzo Balsamo

         Vincenzo Balsamo is a Mediterranean artist that has not sat back on his laurels and has not stopped at his origins. Unable to finish his academic studies due to family and financial reasons, he firstly tried to assimilate and refine all the secrets from workshops, with the meticulous and precise work required of a decorator. He then personally visited many of the areas and environments which saw the development of the masters of European painting. His trips to Paris and Lugano must be viewed as a thirst for knowledge, and a direct examination there of The artist even moved to Paris in 1991. If he was unable to visit places and experience the atmosphere first-hand, he could nonetheless visit museums, which he did frequently.
He is, therefore, a self taught Mediterranean artist, who has carried out a cultured, tireless research, and who is also almost biologically attracted by Northern European painting. He has worked for over forty years, studying in-depth and metabolising everything almost at the same time, without sacrificing much in his artistic path to those times of change.
The first twenty years were spent initially in the search for a definition of plastic structure, then in a progressive distancing from the same, and subsequently a progressive lightening of the material density of a colour. In his early work, this was almost physically and tactically perceivable due to the urgent quality of immediate representation, or identification with the subject matter, while confirming the main pull of blues, greens and reds. This all merged in the influences and stimuli derived from visiting or studying the more important movements and aspects of modern painting: from Post-Impressionism, to Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism (especially a typically Italian "Severiniana" version of decorative imprint), Informalism, understood in a more general sense as freedom of gesture and experimentation of material, up to the various declinations of Abstractism. This remains within a more sophisticated view, which we will try to analyse in these pages, and an important moment enveloping all his experiences.
At the beginning the influence of Northern-European painting, which is more or less consciously sought after, and that of the "Scuola Romana" leads the chromatic range towards dark colours, almost darkening the coloured fabric of the painting, and the use of roughness and hard areas, rather unusual for a Mediterranean painter, which leads Balsamo to the use of signs that bring light, as colour is not prepared with a specific aim, and the work has areas of passage from the totally enlightened to areas of lighter shadow not due to strong chiaroscuro effects but due to the passage of a violent light to a more subtle one, from a lighter shadow to a darker one".(1) It was nonetheless the bearer of shadow, of almost the total absence of luminosity, a feeling in landscape and still life that really seems to echo an expressionist outline, perhaps through the conscience and intentions.
These are then Balsamo's artistic origins, that seem to arise from this mixture between Mediterranean culture, baroque sensitivity and sensuality and rational and speculative thought, as well as a culture open to the influences and pulsations of northern Europe.
During that early period, it was probably the sensual component that was most important, but at the same time his speculative conscience tended to guide and steer him safely towards the quietness of the cubist language. Certainly a careful analysis of his art cannot but stop at this passage, this post-cubist imprint, clearly evident during the early seventies, and which was becoming important as the primary instrument in the process of decomposition of form and the shattering of perspective, important once again during the early eighties, while being more recompositional and stressing a structural connection that is still significant and productive following the decisive encounter with Abstractism.
Therefore, the acceptance of the great cubist lesson, common enough to almost all young Italian artists of the post-war period to be considered to be an almost compulsory step, allowed Balsamo to choose, select and analyse naturalistic aspects of reality which most captured his attention, such as landscapes and still lives that were "Baroquely" full of objects, without remaining caught up in a figurative and surface dimension. He thought, perhaps rightly so, that the emotional impact with regards to the object, previously the responsibility of pure colour, and material-chromatic immediacy could be preserved, almost protected, in a sort of decantation, from strict metre clearly defined when highlighting the planes, corners, and the geometric nature of objects.
At the same time this allowed him to loosen the rigid formality of the work through the use of a still-structured grid, but one that allowed the form the shatter. Balsamo's nature pushes him to section, subdivide to recompose: he is not an artist that accepts without criticizing, that immerses himself unconditionally. He analyses. It appears that subsequent escapes during the mid-seventies, towards rather casual and irrational gestures and towards research and adventures in matter were inspired principally by a feeling of indebtedness towards the poetry of the Informal (as was the case for many artists of his generation). Perhaps the "Decomposizioni" or "Nebulose", for example, where not completely due to his own experience, or rather where not part of the most sincere and profound nature of his painting. However, when in 1981 the "Lo schermo liquido e galleggiante" ("liquid and floating screen") which his paintings had become during the "Filamenti" period, began to re-organise according to a structurizing script, the curvilinear fluidity of organic symbols announces its own end and the relationship with cubist thought is re-established. From this moment on the various "Visioni simboliche" ("Symbolic visions") or "I Pesci" ("The Fish"), "La Brocca" ("The Jug") or "Una lettera" ("A Letter") will speak to us of shattered forms that follow one another and are superimposed, but we can also see a certain compositional re-organisation, in which corners and edges begin to re- appear. More than cubist references, we should speak about "cubist-futurism" links and influences, that had already appeared in his painting at the end of the seventies, and where Balsamo had already indicated his interest in Futurism. This interest now becomes pre-dominant, as the artists is fascinated by the "Severinian" lesson, which urges him to put into his work a fabric, a weave of "cubist-futurist" memory, almost an ideal and organised presence at the same time. Everything nonetheless points towards a definite abstract choice. Mondrian and Kandinsky more or less consciously show the way and indicate solutions to a form of painting that has ended up completing the de- volumetrication and shattering processes of each plastic occurence, dividing the lines of perspective escape as much as possible, scattering a syncopathic writing on the surface, albeit almost using cursive signs. This was nonetheless able to link all centrifugal thrusts due to a specific formal and chromatic rigidity.
Balsamo's work in these last ten years offers a small miracle of synthesis. These paintings are all urgent, all portray inspiration and pulsation, emotional and evocative narrative, structural, compositional and decorative thrust: all of which, while managing to favour their own identity and the need to be portrayed, come together and harmonise in a single compositional drawing. To Balsamo abstraction is synthesis and it could not be otherwise for an artist that shows a multitude of interests and stimuli, sometimes very different one from the other. The repetition of signs, to which he abandons himself freely but consciously, letting the signs dig into the memory, scrutinise it and allowing pent-up emotions to be released, becomes an instrument with which to penetrate the magma of passions, happenings, events, memories, and an instrument which Balsamo uses with mastery guiding it along established paths. The same can be said of another source of liberation and acknowledgement of feeling and emotion: colour. Here again it is the colour of memory, able to re-awaken and recall feelings to the consciousness, not really portray it. Colour itself in its typical ranges of blues, pinks, greens, is modulated according to mental and eidetic declination and harmony rather than tonality. Thus too, that diffuse enlightened irradiation that envelops, surrounds and completely penetrates each painting appears to be mental, ideal and almost metaphysic, as if each work was the fruit of an immersion into a luminous dust of transcendental origin, and of a conclusive re-emersion, like a product that has been filtered and purified from all waste and everything superfluous. Everything is therefore scanned, sectioned and confronted in its multiple facets through these teeming signs and this pile of luminous beams, but everything is also led back to compositional unity through the parsimonious use of a few guide lines, a wise and limited graphical underlining.
"Those shaping lines regularly and luminously mark the weaved surface acting as the endogenic potential in a display which is now pictorial, and is each single time an unrepeatable phenomenon of possible narrative itineraries being the revelation of the microprocessing movements of an imaginative physiology, which changes chromatically each time according to possible different cadences of feeling, be it happy or thoughtful, and at time almost dramatic".(2)
Enrico Crispolti, rightly understands the effective importance of another secret of unity, as well as the articulation of Balsamo's pictorial symphony, or, as Crispolti changes to say "a free jazz musicality in a rather predictable sound, but continuously different and surprising".(3) It is not only this linear synthesis, these architectural signs that is the real glue holding his painting together, but rather the luminous substance of colour that removes its own purely chromatic specification in a luministic fabric (an impregnated colour, is thus damp with light), in a weave of light that will penetrate, merge and re-unite everything. Through this luminous declension of colour Balsamo can also allow himself an indispensable and very refined decorative system: chromatic and indicative spells, ornamental licenses that echo the great Byzantine tradition, but also his previous experience as decorator.
Nonetheless these never allow the fundamental compactness of the work to disappear, they do not let us forget that fabric, that weave of sign-light-colour that underlines all his work. Therefore the story can appear to be more thought-out or more researched, better written, more indicative, more intricate or more direct, aimed at the emotive impulse or the illustrated course of colour, pervaded by an internal sentimental force. It will nonetheless always maintain the same expressive and compositional unit value: i.e. that of a filtered and poetically recognised emotion through the tank and sieve that is memory. The memory chest is the fortune of experience, discovery, from which Balsamo draws in all his paintings, in which he immerses himself in the search to find those fantastical emotions that represent the heart of his artistic adventure. Each painting is a small chip, a segment, a moment, a page of this fantastical tale.
Once again Crispolti states: "Balsamo's paintings are not pages from his diary, a naturally accidental diary, but rather pine-ordained graphic-formal executions improvised nonetheless... those formative lines constantly link their narrative events in a sort of mental bio-morphism of episodes in an inexhaustible tale within extreme imaginative synthesis..." Now, in his current season, his fantastical memory for example, is increasingly full of fantasmagorical "presences", dreams that take shape, dimension and form, and which we can, in reading his work, identify, trace and discover. These do not represent a break, but only a phase in his continuous, and rhapsodical tale, they do not interfere with compositional harmony and unity, but rather contribute to the growth and development of the overall magic.

                                                                                                                   Giovanni Granzotto

1) Floriano De Santi - Vincenzo Balsamo, the song of color - catalogue of his anthological show 1959/96 (pg. 10) Arpino,
   Palazzo Ducale Boncompagni.

2) Enrico Crispolti - Vincenzo Balsamo - Published by Giorgio Corbelli editore, Brescia 1992 (pg. 15).
3) Idem, IB
4) Idem, IB

Vincenzo Balsamo Interview

         We arrive in Verona to interview Balsamo in June, a hot, sunny Monday that feels like midsummer. His appartment is right in the city centre, in a lovely sixteenth century building.
His studio has many paintings on the walls, others are stacked on the floor, some are finished, many canvasses are under preparation. Balsamo cannot keep still: ha shows us his latest work and his early, figurative, works, he explains his ideas and shows us through each room.
He worries that there is enough light from the large windows for the photographer to work: we must photograph this painting and that painting, as each work is the clear representation of a well defined period in his work.

"You see, I have opened and closed five distinct periods in my paintings. I tend to experiment a great deal and when I find the right path the past and what I have done until that time no longer interests me. I move forward according to what I feel inside.
Looh here: the nebulous work of the 70's, the decompositions, filaments using an air-brush, these are seldomly published works and have never been shown because they are extremely private. They helped me to find the path I am following today, and I didn't like them at the time...
The same applies to sculpture. This year I am also interested in sculpture, but I must still study, understand what I really want. That will come in time, I am in no Hurry."

Therefore the synthesis of signs we see today is the outcome of all these tests?
Also, but above all it derives from what I feel, from my personal journeys. I believe strongly in research. A few years ago I was painting things that were forerunners of the things we are seeing today, but I didn't understand them ta the time because I was still uncertain of where I wanted to go...

A synthesis?
Yes, a synthesis, now I am increasingly projected towards synthesis. For example, today I am synthesising and analysing the thecnique of cubism and futurism, and I am developing everything according to my own personal interpretation. The most important discovery for me was that of Futurism, and I matured with Braque and Picasso. Nonetheless I must state that I have never been interested in specific movements and trends, I have never drawn inspiration from anyone. Perhaps only during the 50's and 60's when I lived in Rome and mixed with the artists of the Roman School, but I was young, and the young, we know, always to others.

The Roman period...
Ah, that was the best time of my life.
His eyes light up, and he gives me one of his rare smiles.
Zizzari (Angelo Zizzari, the Gallery owner) had opened a gallery in Trastevere, right in Trastevere, in a place where no-one would have dreamt to open a gallery. Mafai and Vespignani lived close by, and Monachesi, Moretti, Vangelli, Penna would arrive in the evening. Sometimes Pasolini would also arrive, and we would talk about art, we would argue and we would experiment.
Then Zizzari moved to Via Margutta, and became a "Marguttiano" while in 1963 I was chosen, with others, to represent Italy in Paris. To me this was like a dream, I saw the Impressionists and the Fauves, Picasso...

And also Klee and Kandinsky, I assume.
Are you asking me whether I drew inspiration from Klee and Kandinsky? You see, these matches are due mainly to the critics: would you believe that I do really like Klee. I found Mirņ and Kandinsky rather inspiring because of their use of colour, but in reality the colour derives from my closeness to the Roman School.
Perhaps I cannot be classifed as part of history of art, I am myself, that's all.

Are you a pure painter, one who lives through his paintings?
Certainly. Each work contains something of myself: there are Neapolitan songs, my dreams, music... my Mediterranean origins, for example, which determine the light that inundates my paintings. The white houses, the sea air, these are things one always carries around within oneself. I have painted paintings that have never been shown, that are almost white, because I carry the brightness of Brindisi inside myself. I live for my work. I have no friends. I am happy being alone and isolated. I work fifteen hours a day without getting tired. I do not want to seem proud, but there will never be any false Balsamo's.

Sorry... ?
He smiles.
No-one can copy the work I do: the preparation of the canvas is so long and meticulous that I challenge anyone to try it.

Could you explain how a painting develops.
It is a long process, I take days just to prepare the support.
I must first do the priming work; let's call sponging, with special brushes, this is followed by a netting that gives that sense of divided application: then another sponging. Then the canvas must be cleaned, and all impurities removed. Then I begin to draw with extremely fine brushes, in order to create a network of lines that grow... or dissolve. Today I tend to de-materialise signs.

You spoke about Divisionism...
Yes, Previati and Segantini. I like Segantini very much, he is one of the great Italian painters that, in my opinion, still have a lot to say. But mine is not proper Divisionism, I do not take the theory of decomposition of colour literally. I use this technique in my own way, without being a slave thereof. It helps me to give vibration to the whole.

We are speaking about painters you admire. Are there any amongst your contemporaries?
Burri, Fontana, Veronesi, Radice. But I like Dorazio best of all, due to his ability of animating colour and his technique. I think that Dorazio is still underestimated in Italy.

One last question, Why do you never gives titles to your work?
I have already explained this a number of times... and perhaps he would like this to be the last.
I do not title my work because I want everyone who looks at a painting to see in it only that which attracts him. A title would force the viewer to see through my eyes, and that is precisely what I do not want. Human beings are different, we have taken different paths; I do not want to impose my own experiences on them... It is enough to know that they feel something when they see one of my paintings.

                                                                                                                               Elisa Parma

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