What Onorio Bravi sees when he looks out of his windows
A painter can dream, a painter can let his visions or reality overcome him, a painter can confide in his culture, in what he has learnt from his experience, a painter can study the nature of the world or his own, analyse his passions, refuse his own time or accept it: Onorio Bravi has been through these trials, he has grabbed handful of colours and scattered them across his canvas, he has mixed them again and divided them into fragments, splashes, phosphorescent dots, he has made them slide one on top of the other as if they were impetuous streams, he has taken them again, changed their position in space, congealed them at the centre of his pictorial construction; from the changing magma of his colours, those shapes and figures have emerged which make up his paintings today. Onorio Bravi did not immediately succeed in discovering the appearance of his aesthetics, but rather he went through multiple stages which gradually led him to extremely refined results.
Let us try and see what this painting of his is made of today. First of all, when he starts to construct a painting, his soul is that of a “seeder of emotions”, he does not have in front of him only a surface which he needs to fill with his stories or his images, but rather he must loosen the ground, he digs in depth, goes down into a mine, explores its caves, wishes to feel through his fingers the warmth of the clods; he brings out his light from the underground roots, which is always an inner light, a dramatic light. After the seeder there is the archaeologist who gradually extracts from the sand of the desert – of his desert, of the desert of his wishes, - icons corroded by time, clay tablets covered by hieroglyphics, the remains of a wall or of a fortification, the mosaic paving built centuries or millennia earlier, where there once was a hearth, where human beings long vanished used to gather. These images pass in front of our eyes, painting after painting, projected onto the canvas as if they were phantoms. Onorio Bravi apparently paints in order to rediscover, through the thin dust of the past, the living shapes of an imaginary town, the warm and wild places, full of nostalgia, of a desert, where the daily life of a vanished humanity took place; but the traces, the footprints, the furrows reappear in his paintings, emerge from the fog, swing along the horizon in a lost land, in an unknown land. He paints in order to reread the ancient tombstones and the ancient inscriptions which every civilisation leaves behind in its wake; except that now the work is harder: now is the time for transcription and semantic interpretation of signs. This is what Onorio Bravi does through his imagination, through his nervous tension, through imperceptible signs, as if he were marking a path in the half-light to finally reach the heart of his clay forest. He recomposes the echo and the sound which the earth, sown and loosened, ealously preserves.
He is not only a seeder, not only an archaeologist of the imagination: he is both one and the other; he becomes someone who deciphers the papyruses passing in front of his mind in his closed room. I picture him while, with his ears pressed against a wall, he tries to perceive the murmur of very ancient words which used to live in those rooms and in those archaic buildings or in the countryside or in the castles which he can make out through the fog. He paints in order to erase and to recall. His face brightens up when he catches a word or a sentence, his brow is crossed by wrinkles which did not exist before. Life, therefore, has not completely died out if there is a painting to collect it. Onorio Bravi talks with those phantoms, reproduces their conversations on canvas as if he were an Egyptian scribe – who is certainly very closely connected with archaeology, – he rewrites their stories or, simply, their personal chronicles. His eyes search the night; when he looks out of his windows he does not simply catch glimpses of solitary countryside or of a village, the trees made bare by the wind, the roots quivering underground, the flower beds, the cultivated fields, the rows of vines, the fences, the flight of nocturnal birds, the houses scattered in space, where he might even recognise the name of people living there. When he looks out his windows he sees a procession, a dark sea, a torchlight walk of souls knocking on his door and asking to be let in. At this point he says: «This is my land, this is my painting, this is a casket which I have unearthed, these are my shadows and these are my lights». There are no suns and not even stars in this landscape, but there is mist, fog, dusk, sunset, the first light of dawn. Onorio Bravi paints in the half-light, in a secret room of his soul, he paints in a tower or in a cell, as if he were a prisoner. Finally, his paintings have a third component. It is intimate. It needs to feel the warmth of its images. He sees phantoms, but then he says to himself: «They are not phantoms, they are the projection of my conscience». Onorio Bravi is a patient painter, he constructs his paintings one fragment after the other, as if they were the pieces of a mysterious mosaic of his. He builds islands inside each of his paintings, surrounded by a sea of grass, islands driven by the wind or by melancholy; they are the islands of solitude, abandoned fortresses. They contain sarcophagi and stone altars, the breath of time which submerges and reconstructs everything. His brushstrokes are anxious and affectionate; he tries to find a way around his changing and misleading shapes. Maybe, on the other side of the window, a procession is taking place, or maybe it is a wild dance, or there is a banquet in honour of a princess; maybe those shadows are building a pyramid or an obelisk; someone is running in the night or climbing the rocks, others are running away or simply sighing lovelorn. Then suddenly those human shapes are turned into a tree or a wall or the floor in a room. They are not still: it is clear that they are passing by, they come from faraway, certainly brought back by the painter’s mind, and they are going to a mysterious place which has no name, in search of their happiness or of their memories; Onorio Bravi, however, on threshold of his house, or near his half-open window, reassures them, saying: «you have left your footprint on this canvas, look at the colours which still paint your skin and your eyes». Who are these figures really? They could be statues or capitals which have taken over a human shape because such concise and turbulent painting is also a commemoration, and we like to think that it is also a confession. Onorio Bravi’s painting could be defined liturgical, he seems to paint confessionals, pulpits, tabernacles, where the mysterious monks could appear any moment in a long procession, covered in dark frocks, but he also paints coloured windows which appear along the facades of his houses, lightened up by small flames or by candles. Onorio Bravi has come from faraway, from his past, after a long route, as if he started to paint today for the first time. He has a great responsibility: going much further. In the subconscious of this artist, there often appear multiple impulses; in part they belong to his nature and his suffering, in part they belong to the world around him, to his personal reminiscences and to the society besieging him, to his knowledge and that of others; in his paintings there is the echo of an anxiety, the memory of a history which time has fragmented. Then something paradoxical happens and unexpected happens inside that painting, which is actually its essence: layer after layer Onorio Bravi outlines a new form which reminds us of an important name for the art and culture of our civilisation, that is to say romanticism; it is clear that the passing of centuries has not totally exhausted its message. Our conscience and our memory still bear the mark of that feeling which in its time had a revolutionary character and stirred enormous enthusiasm among intellectuals and artists between the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It was something new, at the time, because it opposed tradition and static forms and ideas. Through romanticism, humans suddenly learnt about the power of imagination, the power of mystery, of the unknown, of fear, of passions, of generosity, of courage, of heroism, of sacrifice. They even discovered that in the world there was a different beauty which had not yet been seen, no longer the classical or sacred beauty, no longer the beauty which preferred order and the golden proportion, but finally a beauty which could be irregular, which distanced itself from the traditional rules followed by Giotto and reaching Raphael and Leonardo. It was a darker beauty, a beauty which caused surprise and wonder. There was a sudden shift from Apollinean to Dionysian beauty which then appeared not only in art, but also in literature and philosophy and touched the whole of the twentieth century and even its historic avant-garde which owes much to romanticism. In the past, beauty could be understood by anybody; with romanticism an unknown beauty appears, a beauty which, instead of showing itself in sunlight, dissolves in darkness, a beauty which was not easy to describe, no longer a physical but a spiritual beauty. This is what happens in Onorio Bravi’s painting: there is the echo of romanticism revisited through modern sensitivity, there is the search for the invisible, the unexpressed, there is the fascination of darkness. In his painting there is an urge and a change which gradually crosses the whole psyche, from the primeval to the complex, which touches on death (a fundamental topic for romanticism) and reaches resurrection, as if his painting - after a long path - had visited the Hereafter and was now hoping to regain paradise lost. Onorio Bravi’s romanticism is also made of hope and restlessness; it is a very emotional romanticism, shaken by the typical anguish of our day and age. Every painting seems to show the end of the path, but actually it is always the starting point for a new adventure.
translated by Elena di Concilio