Painting as a theatre of sensations, emotions, memories and projections
As evidenced by his practice of not giving his paintings and engravings a title that is evocative or denotative of what they are, but rather assigning them a sequence number giving the date of their creation proceeded by the initials MC. Writing in 2004, in what amounts to a manifesto for his poetic art, Onorio Bravi decoded these initials as “Momenti Contingenti” (Contingent Moments), that is to say instantaneous happenings, or to express a paradox with an oxymoron, monuments to the here and now, something that is by definition a temporary state of being. Similarly, Bravi invariably sees his work as the documentation of a transitory condition of the psyche, inextricably enmeshed with the senses, the heart and the mind. A “contingent moment” that creates its own story and that, in a certain sense, is the total sum of its own singularity. This leaves aside the figurative nature of his works and their implicit subjects, if we can thus express ourselves when referring to an artist whose visions cannot be identified in terms of content that can be summed up in one subject. Bravi’s contingent moments are unpredictable creative acts, triggered by the friction between the spiritual state of the artist and external happenings, both extremely mutable components. The situations involved never reoccur the same way, nor they follow one sequence whose consistency would somehow make them “necessary”, although they all recall visible analogies. The creative act has something unintentional about it, that we must not call it instinct, to avoid plunging into psychoanalytical ambiguity, in the sense of a Freudian reading that would be deceptive for a pictorial language and a poetic world whose manifestations and symbolic functions recall primal values, both in their expression and meaning. These functions actually echo Jungian archetypes, rather than that automatism induced by the obscure tensions circulating in the unconscious, stuff for dreams and surreal inventions.
In order to signify the uniqueness of the creative act and the work itself, and the fact that this cannot be translated into a caption, the verbal summary that is a title, Onorio Bravi has adopted this coding system that we could say is a kind of inventory. The formula seems to have been sampled out of the idioms range in use, in the 1950s and 60s, among those analytic “operators” of pure forms: the abstract-concrete, the optical-kinetic and others. These are authors for whom impersonality was the prescribed rule, both in their language and in the aesthetic product. It is worth recalling this because that formal distancing mechanism also tended to presuppose a sort of screening out of the emotional sphere of the recipient, in order to minimise the involvement. In essence, the idea was to act on the r the urge to take shelter in the earth (in a cave or in the very bowels of Mother Earth, sometimes depicted as vegetation) or in a manmade building. It is the threshold between the inside and the outside, the dividing line between two physical extensions of the world, but also the liminal point between here and beyond, to be crossed for an otherworldly descent. Or, it may be a collective action with an intuitive anthropological value: a gift, a dance, a hunt, a game, a procession. In short, a tribal manifestation with its own implicit ritual and, perhaps, partially inspired by a residual animism.
The scene is immersed in predominantly crepuscular tones, if not decidedly shadowy to dark, shot through with shafts of gleaming light. To these projected spaces, the backlit contrasts of the favoured sunsets against the silhouette of hills or houses give dramatic tension in a spectacle that is barbarian rather than mitigated. A further contribution is made by the light effects in the foreground, often conceived as what could be termed reverse backlighting in relation to the horizons and backgrounds confined to the low, earthy notes on the chromatic scale. Finally, there are the beams of light directed at a particular focus or significant point of the scene, such as a door, a window, a cavern, an escape hatch or walkway often appearing, as I have observed, as marquetry, a sort of cloisonné on the background. Indeed, this even ornate marquetry is how Bravi at times conceives the backdrop when it tends to invade the whole scene with the façades of buildings profiled by backlighting or strings of cavities or cells or undefined observation points from which the light issues forth as if through a glass pane.
Finally, I would like to point out the accentuated colour scheme, often in clashing colours, and the particular luminosity of the individual elements that form the scene. These could be a tree whose branches have been lopped off, or a figure marked out in green, red or more often malachite blue, or rather the distinguishing imprint, if not the spare graphic representation, as on a Neolithic shrine, of a tree or a figure. Dislocated as they are, in both scenic and technical terms, from the organic space of the work, I would call these presences, devoid of any identifying features, totemic in the way they rise up and stand in silence presiding over a place whose nature, to a greater or lesser degree, bears the signs of mankind. While it may bear such signs, it is not always consecrated nor respected by the invasion of human artefacts. Bravi seems to be telling us that his painting prefigures a sort of primordial device, as if to exorcise that dissipation in the relationship between mankind and Nature, that is neither Arcadian or Eden-like, but rather physiological and therefore different in kind and multi-faceted. For this reason, the acts that we witness and the presences that inhabit these scenes themselves assume undoubted symbolic connotations that are obviously not born of the literary world, but are cultural in the anthropological sense, above all in relation to phenomenology, or rather, the syncretism of magic and sacred. These elements make it possible to identify and explain the grain of art brut and the neo-primitive that runs through Bravi’s visionary world.
They also legitimate the strains of informal in his turbulent language that moulds the pictorial material, building structures that are askew and unbalanced, inducing anxiety as the eye travels over the undulating contours of this uneven terrain perceptive mechanisms and, if possible, to liberate the consequent intellectual processes from any psychological and emotional fallout.
The exact opposite of this happens in the work of Onorio Bravi, whose imagination cannot be activated without a sensory short-circuit - a kind of illumination, as Mallarmé saw it - that reverberates deep down, agitating those depths from which hitherto submerged sensations and memories that are always charged with emotional potential emerge. In the catalogue to an exhibition of his work that took place last year and was entitled “Momenti Contingenti”, in a text imbued with critical insights into the form and meaning of Bravi’s paintings, Janus introduced the charming metaphor “sower of emotions” to define the artist. Quite an extremely pertinent and evocative image, suggesting both the profusion of figures in the paintings and the emotional, evocative fervour they arouse. It is no accident that this metaphor has been applied to this collection of his most recent works, in which Bravi affirms the principally psycho-dynamic nature of his creative process, proliferating and sowing in the sense of an endogenous germination, the aim of which is to spark off a chain of associations in the imagination of others. It is my impression that Bravi is a naturaliter painter, painting by instinct, unintentional in the sense that he surrenders to his visionary flow. This however, is not to say that he is extraneous to the process that governs these “germinating” creations which initially, or at least with the minimum margin for mediation, for revision and modification during the creative process, clearly possess an organic structural unity that needs to have been internalised and effectively assimilated in order to achieve it, suggesting a landing place following a period of drift. This organic structure creates the ambivalence of Bravi’s buildings that, while they seem constructed around a solid, ponderous framework, nonetheless appear undermined by a form of subsidence, subterranean movements that shake and deform them, often to such a degree as to threaten to break them up until they become devoid of form. The natural inclination of his soul, now a habit of mind, towards inner turmoil and poetic expansion, makes Onorio Bravi act within an expressive area in which, rather than employing model-making and representational procedures, there is no space for linear and causal logic nor for any other simplistic links. Those seeking the key to this tangled web, the Ariadne’s thread with which to find a way round this labyrinth of images that appear, as already noted, assailed and distorted by some seismic force, will discover that the artist is an inveterate master of diversionary tactics and fragmentation of both the senses and the mind. He is anything but the accomplished provider of patterns that are refined of form, carefully designed for programmable aesthetic practices and intended to be savoured in a journey that is devoid of surprises and accidents along the way.
In the curious plasticity of those bulks that seems to derive from the chaos engendered by those subterranean collisions, a telluric power is unleashed and Bravi’s creations appear to be environments, or rather scenes in which a sort of psychodrama is unfolding, perhaps because, even when there are no clues to his presence, the hand of man is implicated. We are witnessing an elemental drama in action, in the sense that it is centred on primal passions and motivations, such as the flight instinct gripping one or more flickering.
These are some formal stylistic components that I recall, in addition to the predominant expressionist influences, as of Nordic origin, alluded to in 2000 by Claudio Spadoni, and by Bravi also in the context of a certain homage to the Scuola Romana. In the already mentioned text, Janus further quite rightly dates back to older traditions, interpreted with particular emotional tension, as sources of Bravi’s poetic world: «[...] The painting of Onorio Bravi demonstrates this phenomenon: there is an echo of a Romanticism revisited with a modern sensitivity, there is a seeking after the invisible, the unexpressed, there is the fascination of obscurity.
In his painting there is turmoil and a sense of change that, little by little, performs that massive crossing of the psyche, from the primordial to the complex, that skims over death [...] and comes to fruition in resurrection [...]». Onorio Bravi beckons us to enter, to cross, or at least to let ourselves be captured by the broad mobile textures, “landscapes” the morphology of which is agitated to the verge of total collapse, almost always marked by human settlements, by houses whose architectural clues and urban aggregations cannot be linked to any precise topography and culture, although there are clear signs of some ethnicity (we know how much his memories of his long sojourn in Algeria, its climate and all the manifestations of that land, have nourished his imagination), in short, environments and landscapes that suggest the locations for primordial events. Those are apparitions and mysterious occurrences open to a great many possible subjective interpretations, as we are not presented with the riddle of the Sphinx posed by places and situations simulated as if to evoke some suspended, backdated time, at least in relation to history. Yet the pathway does appear enigmatic to the traveller lingering on the threshold of that elsewhere prefigured by Bravi. What I mean to say is that, in my opinion, the enigma does not hide a number that is the key to decoding the riddle that is the implied message. There always remains a margin of the impenetrable and inexpressible in the places where Onorio Bravi stages his inner theatre of those interwoven sensations, emotions memories and projections that make up the fabric of his life.
translated by Cetra Congressi S.r.l. Flavia Corina Di Saverio