Artists tell me that their artistic researches often result from unexpected revelations: a shadow on the canvas, a technical mistake, an accidental forgetting, a sudden tear. Events and surprises on a road that is paved with rules, study, and daily work in the atelier.
Not only is the work of art an image of the osmosis between life and art, it is also a metaphor of the otherwise inexpressible adventure that they both invite us to embark on. Day by day.
Serena Maisto leads me to her studio and tells me about a crucial intuition she had when she looked at one of her works she had turned upside down. The work is one of the forty large-size canvases that make up the 40 Steps series; painted using a technique (immediate and physical “drippings”) that refers to US Action Painting, they converse with and contemplate the monochromatic rigour of an abstract-lyrical season we will talk about later. When it is turned upside down, the work changes and another possible image appears, surfacing from a forest of only apparently abstract lines that chase one another in a coming and going from the top to the bottom of a white field, like the black scores of a secret conversation.
Serena Maisto’s creative process, whose aim is to recognize form, starts from here: in the borders between white and charcoal grey or burgundy, she finds some interstices which she paints using bright yellows, intense blues, and peremptory reds.
Blooming gardens and gathering reeds and leaves can be recognized, timid forms of organic memory. The new cycle begins.
Beyond Borders refers to moving beyond the previous border – because no artistic research can disregard previous researches, but should instead be capable of forgetting the previous stage and looking at the present one – as well as beyond the visual borders of painting.
Drippings separate one form from another and, at the same time, roll and flow on to the edges of the surface, taking over every corner of the canvas and even threatening the framework itself.
The eye pursues an incessant becoming of gestures that turn into an intimate, hot alphabet.
In a whisper, the artist tells me that these works, these attempts to find a genesis of forms in the mysterious entanglement of dripping, are a way to speak about herself and the moment of transition she is experiencing. The work cannot be detached from life, because life is stubborn, and actually intrudes on. The artist moves on the line between the rigour of art and the randomness of everyday life like a tightrope walker.
Serena Maisto’s acrobatic paintings, with their black or burgundy filaments on white fields, tell us about her feats of acrobatics.
They show a deep knowledge of her spiritual fathers: that burning and passionate generation of artists who devoted themselves to abstract Expressionism, perhaps the first true avant-garde in the US. Stemming from Pollock’s restless physical gestures, Tobey and Kline’s neurotic and mysterious writing, and De Kooning’s peremptory compositions, abstract expressionism frees the pictorial gesture in pursuit of visual disorientation, that is, of the extreme supremacy of the unconscious over the conscious, of the deep over the methodical, of adventure over the rules of reason.
Rosenberg, one of the most important critics of the movement, called them Anxious Objects; Maisto derives comfort and incentive when she uses her emotions.
Silence is torn apart by the intrusion of colour, and by the dripping of fluid matter on the field, which welcomes its mysterious strut.
The influence exerted by the poetics of European surrealism on US artists in those years clearly appears in their desire to express – at the cost of betting their own lives – the anxiety of the absolute and the search for the sublime, that is, for a reality that transcends all human experience. In Serena Maisto, pictorial research dilutes in the visual dimension as well, thanks to that formal need that at a certain point arises, to measure the relationship between gesture and sign from an iconic point of view. The artist from Lugano learnt all this throughout her long-lasting experience with photography and graphics.
This makes it impossible to avoid the gap between liberation and control, between instinctive gestures and rational attention to the origins and to formal solutions.
Considering these results, Beyond Borders is a crucial stage in Serena Maisto’s conceptual and linguistic research. The artist uses the canvas and plexiglass as pictorial fields on which she can check the behaviour of colour and the way in which forms appear amongst a swarming forest of marks and lines.
In her works on plexiglass, the border between the immediacy of gestures and the pursuit of formal perfection is advanced to a higher level, also thanks to the relationship with the wall and the shadow that light casts on it when it hits the texture of the painting; metaphorically, plexiglass works reflect on what stands behind the appearance of images, stories, meetings, and relationships. Maisto has been working on this for a long time, since she depicted observers in the act of admiring works in museums and then altered those images with thick and sleek strokes.
Today, there are no references to previous iconographies: now that her successful study of Edo Bertoglio’s photographs of Basquiat is over, Maisto is ready to free her own idiom with awareness and wonder.
Kandinskij said that his first watercolour work – which coincided with what we may call “the invention of abstract art” – was born after he was actually shocked by the sight of a Monet painting of a haystack. When he saw it leaning upside down against the wall, while it was hit by a providential beam of sunlight, Kandinskij considered it a sign of fate: once turned upside down, the work released all the power of surface devoid of all figuration. The haystack became an abstract image. All that Kandinskij did was to follow this intuition.
From then on, when we observe an abstract work, we fathom (even unknowingly) its secret and distant relationship with figuration, with the world that generates thoughts, and with a reality that becomes metaphysical.
In other words, it goes without saying that, in the visual adventure, the mysteries of art and life meet.
I like the idea that, today, there is such an artist as Serena Maisto in Switzerland, the land of Max Bill’s rigour, of concrete art, of Alberto Giacometti’s restlessness, and of feeble and yet strong humanity. She proved capable of deriving the alternate tensions of her research from these poles, also studying US art in search for other energies to tell us – in her own very personal idiom – that the adventure of life has not ceased to create images yet.
Serena is looking for these images and wants to show them to us generously.
By doing so, she invites us to move Beyond Borders.