CRITICAL ESSAY referred to the Exhibition held in Alessandria (2007)

It is a universe teeming with human beings absorbed in the most diverse contexts that Alessandra Bonomini chooses to portray in her paintings, a reality in which she explores the existence and feelings of a humanity suspended between a trivialising transfiguration and an anonymity that collects the experiential data and transforms it into a ruthless reminder of the futility of pain, a mosaic of small personal dramas and news events that are narrated without any apparent pietas, but rather with bewildered participation.

The visual narrative is entrusted to a painting that combines an expressionistic synthesis and, at times, a reference to the realism of painters such as Fausto Pirandello, revisited through the lessons of the painters of the last generations, from Alex Katz to the New British Art in the rejection of detail and in the choice of an “unpleasantness” flaunted and cultivated as an antidote to academia.
The dilated distortion of somatic features, either flattened or recognisable, altered and emphasised to underline the traces of feeling, does not, as has been said, transform the faces into masks but accentuates, in Bacon’s manner, the inner conflicts and the marks they leave on the face and body.
Similarly, the places, far from presenting themselves as postcard-like images, appear veiled in a metaphysical patina, sometimes lacking specific weight, crossed by a flattening force that limits perspective to a proportional sizing of things, at times, as in the work Ambiente domestico (Domestic environment), overturned in the juxtaposition of planes and the intentional alteration of size ratios.
An important chapter in the artist’s work is represented by her writing, a poetic prose in which the scenarios of memory are concentrated, an essential basis for building and rebuilding the coloured stories which breathe life into her multiform paintings.

Luisa Caffarelli

SPECCHIO TEMPORALE (TIME MIRROR) referred to the Solo Exhibition held in Castellarquato (2008) –
Taken from the 2008 catalogue

In the irrepressible diversity and even beauty of the world, Alessandra Bonomini captures with great sensitivity seemingly insubstantial details, non-decisive moments, fractions stolen from the continuum of existence. Photographers such as Robert Frank have made a theory out of choices like these: life is inbetween, photography lies when it claims to isolate. Indeed it performs an unwarranted operation.
Alessandra Bonomini is wary of idealisation. She is also wary of words (of which she makes abundant use in an attempt to clarify intentions and circumstances, or perhaps to make them more obscure), of critical essays that claim to explain, of interpretations that are too schematic and self-confident. Instead, she seems in need of a word that does not overlap but rather accompanies with circumspection, a word capable of circling around, offering suggestions and opportunities to reflect.

Why so many precautions? Because claiming to tell the truth, to have the last word, is absurd: truly absurd when there is this flow that plunges impressions one into the other, one on top of the other, and the world remains basically inaccessible beyond the frosted lens of our changing and unstable subjectivity. “And it would be a grave error” warns Jean-Paul Sartre (Image and consciousness, Gallimard-Einaudi, 1948-80, page 19) “to confuse this life of the imaginative consciousness, which lasts in time, organises itself and crumbles, with that of the object of this consciousness, which, during this time, may very well remain unchanged”. And then, it is clear: already as I am looking, with every glance I cast, there is something that continually escapes me, so much so that the subject of my complaint or problem is no longer the something but the fleeting, it is not even the hiatus between vision and knowledge but the opacity that is lurking between impression, vision and meaning.

Here, then, we have paintings such as “156 chilometri”, “Riposo del movimento” (“156 kilometres”, “The Resting of movement”), “Qualche volta” (“Sometimes”) and the beautiful “Ritratto, spia” (Portrait). The first one is the most explanatory, almost programmatic: reality is glimpsed as deformed, only through glass, indeed it is formed by reflection, indirectly. The motionless prisoners in the cave, says Plato, not knowing what is happening behind them and having no experience of the outside world, interpret the shadows as real objects: animals, plants and people. To define as “banal”, “ordinary” or ” day-to-day” the fragment of existence that these paintings depict, although perfectly legitimate and truthful, is nonetheless misleading: Alessandra Bonomini does not pursue the pleasure of understatement at all costs but rather dwells on the distance between seeing and knowing, on the mirages that continually appear along the road to knowledge (not to mention the impossibility of objective knowledge). The windscreen confirms this, as does the distorted perspective of the “Occhipinti” shop window in an earlier painting. Elsewhere, it is not the glass but the focus that insistently concentrates on some point in the painting, leaving the rest in the vagueness of colour, of the shading, and of the fading (in photography this is called flou). In the large diptych entitled “Qualche Volta” (“Sometimes”) (2007) we see a girl behind a kind of bench, holding various objects in her hand, an allusive smile on her face, but we do not understand what she is alluding to. There is an intimacy in this scene which the circumstances do not justify, and which therefore tends to create a certain embarrassment. Where are we?
In a bar, at home, at a party? Who is the girl? Who is she, first of all, to us? The environment remains vague, drowned in a large mirror. Assuming, but this is only an assumption, that we are in a bar and that the girl is the barmaid, the scene might bring to mind Manet’s masterpiece, “A bar at le Folie Berger”, for that certain topicality of the news that the image conveys, and that insinuating and indirect view of the inappropriat incumbency of the patron-guest to whom the girl gives back a disillusioned and sad expression even in the smile forced by circumstances. But if in that case there was a relationship, as strained as you like, but still a relationship. Here, there is only a sort of silence. The mirror is not vertical but rather tilted downwards, so it does not show faces but the floor and the legs of stylish furniture. The smile? there is no one on the other side of the counter, the game stays open and somehow involves us. Something similar happens again in the work “Ritratto, spia” (Portrait), portrait of a woman, not a young woman, wearing big glasses. Her gaze is fixed on us, a piercing, almost inquisitorial look, but not without gentleness. Her face is all in focus, the very fine, caressing stroke reveals every aspect and completely defines her physiognomy. The rest is a chromatic symphony that fills the eyes without explaining anything (or very little) about its content and spatiality. To
continue with the game of references, I would like to mention Klimt, with his sumptuous arabesque compositions from which a face or female body emerges almost suddenly, in great detail and with precise contours. It is not usual for a painter of our time to indulge so satisfactorily in the exuberance of decoration, in the pleasure of colour, inlay, forms, in a game of combining different things, so dense as to become horror vacui. Alessandra Bonomini’s painting is often lush and in recent years she has cultivated this natural luxuriance, letting it explode, accompanying the incisive tension of the sign, a talent for illustration almost like a cartoonist, with a luxuriant taste for colour: cinnabar and orange, turquoise, cobalt blue, emeraldgreen, beautiful bright purple. Why resist? When Alessandra Bonomini was a child, European painting, confined for years to almost marginal and dubious positions, was joyfully reclaiming its full presence on the art scene. Trans-avantgarde, neo-expressionism, wild painting, new figurative art and so on all at once offered colour, emotion and narrative, which then crossed the long season of eclecticism that immediately followed and remain accessible resources up to the present day. These are in fact the elements that Alessandra Bonomini has been freely manipulating for several years now; this is the repertoire she has been given and from which she draws. The fact that you can do whatever you like. Even too much so. But it is that face, that look that breaks the spell and disrupts our momentary lack of involvement. She squares us off without hesitation, but perhaps she is wrong: we have nothing to do with it. In fact, the dialogue engaged here is not a symmetric one and seems to want to break with the old convention of the pictorial portrait based on the basic passivity of the subject, who is there above all to be looked at. Here, on the other hand, the subject is active, and in particular watches us, so much so that she throws us off balance and makes us feel a bit uncomfortable. Once again, what creeps in is a distance, a question that is too direct and too straightforward. The artist may be laying bare a detail of her own experience, but in doing so does not help us to understand, and only emphasises our total inability to do so. Not too different is the situation created by a slightly earlier painting, Riposo del movimento (The Resting of Movement) (2006), a sort of portico of an old rural structure not devoid of noble quarters but strewn with empty chairs and a discarded swing. Where are we? Why there? We are now halfway through the movie, and we realise perfectly well that we will never know who the killer is or who the victim is, or rather that perhaps there is no killer and no victim. We can, in short, form ideas but not wait for the facts to confirm them because there are no facts, there are only pictures full of pictorial sumptuous happiness and ambiguity. “From the far end of the corridor, the mirror spied on us. We discovered (this discovery is inevitable in the early hours of the morning) that there is something monstrous about mirrors”, so begins a famous story by Jorge Luis Borges: all kinds of mirrors abound in these works: wall, rear-view, environmental, indicator and perhaps even handbag mirrors. Objects that suggest
new perspectives, disintegrate spatial unity and undermine our certainties. It is not just a matter of suspended moments, stolen from the flow of time, from the irresistible flight forward, but of an attack brought to the very heart of evidence, of the apparent objectivity of things, adorned with the rich clothes of an elastic and sensitive style and of a sumptuous, luxurious colour. This language, which offered its first manifestations in 2003-04, has now reached a greater complexity, directly proportional to the perplexed aloofness of Alessandra Bonomini, more determined than ever to insinuate as many filters, as many spacers, as many reflections as possible between herself and the situations. On the other hand, do we even know anything that is not a reflection?

Martina Corgnati

CRITICAL ESSAY referred to the Solo Exhibition held at the Fondazione Cà La Ghironda – Zola Predosa (2010)

Landscape painters, such as Turner, tend to broaden the horizon of the painting, so to speak, whereas Alessandra Bonomini seems to be interested in narrowing it, in moving from the representation of distant mountains to that of a small villa, even a wall, or the edge of a building. This pictorial value suggests an interest in the perceptive events of day-to-day life, capturing it from the standpoint of a widespread minimalism and omitting all emphasis. One might think of a twilight painting, where everyday things are called into question as totems, or as socially-accepted referents. If it is true that the artist sees what others miss, Alessandra Bonomini would strive to see like everyone else, nourishing a sort of unanimist aesthetics. We know, however, and as Kenneth Clark pointed this out several decades ago, and as taken up recently by Harasse , that in a painting the detail can take on, through a striking metonymy, the innermost meaning of the painting, becoming its emblem. It happens as in certain enigmatic cartoons where a figure is hidden that the viewer is dared to find and that represents the matrix of a possible story. Alessandra Bonomini mainly paints buildings, which sometimes take on the disturbing aura of certain metaphysical architectures by De Chirico or Savigno. However, she also allows herself to be tempted by the fluid metamorphoses of clouds, or elaborates masterly portraits, where physiognomy changes into physiognomy, and a psychological x-ray of the person emerges in the chromatic filigree. Portraits like spies of the soul. Her pictorial operation can be compared, albeit very distantly, to Morandi’s poetics, that of searching in a bottle, as she does in a wall of a seaside villa, for a window open on the invisible.

Giorgio Celli

CRITICAL ESSAY referred to the Solo Exhibition held at Rosso Tiziano, Piacenza (2015)

Searching for a possible inner knowledge, by digging through the conscience, with a strong communication conveyed by architectures and landscapes, by human figures and objects, which are composed or decomposed, marked by a characterisation in terms of sign and colour; in Alessandra Bonomini’s painting there is certainly a living fragment of her own existence, which sometimes seems to open a search for a dialogue with the observers, sometimes seems to inhibit them: the scenes, the rooms, the physiognomies, synthesised or re-elaborated, become the construction of stories, the interweaving of events; finally, those “texts” that are comprehensible through symbols or reflections, find another possible reading through paraphrases, literally two sentences placed next to each other. Alessandra Bonomini opens up a perspective that starts from the ordinary, as in the interior of “La stanza di f.” (“F.’s room”) where the clouds of smoke from the fireplace evoke, together with the composition of the floor, the most intimate narratives and are interwoven with the gaze that falls on the faldistorio chair (a privileged corner where stories can be passed on two by two) or that takes us to the itineraries of memory, with a mirror that, in turn, reflects a further opening. In a large number of her works, through small openings, through windows and doors, through mirrors, the artist offers hypotheses for a journey, a going beyond or a descent into the depths, just as every situation arises in daily life with a pretext and within a context, to give rise, each time, to new paths. And so it seems logical that the next steps in these journeys should be those that take place around the Life of the mind, the sinking into the order/disorder of thought, a privileged sector in which much of contemporary art is located. There is a working, entirely in action (which on a pictorial level is played out between the sign charged with tension and the taste for flanking or distinguishing colour), on the psychological component of man, on the conflict between body (soma) and soul (psychè), in a journey
between an ordinariness made up of people and objects of day-to-day life, and an extraordinariness made up of digressions: “leaving the spectator the possibility of entering or remaining on the threshold, or of reconstructing symbolic everyday moments that are manifested in transit”. It is no coincidence that one of her latest compositions is entitled “Punti di vista” (“Points of view”) and that each of the corners, on each wall, corresponds to two figures that are arranged towards a different side, opening up two different views, just as the horizontal and vertical lines that clash in the canvas in the middle of the main wall suggest two different interpretations. The idea of landscape, which often intersects in her paintings, comes to constitute spaces of “mental” colour (“Mondo viola” – “Purple world”) and is transformed into an Oltreluogo (Beyond place) and, in the words of Bonomini herself, “The metre of a strange track leads into areas of shadow, of non-reflected light. From another road, an elf prone to its own advanced time-controlling race unravels, gradually releasing parts of darkness”. Indeed, in her works, the plane of presences and absences is constantly verifiable, and the attention to “distinct and contrary reflections”, which emphasise specific elements in the surface of the canvas, can be seen in works such as “Zighy” and “Botel”; the female figure in the
first painting is contrasted with a sofa in the second canvas, on which, precisely, no one is seated. In the same way, in Parafrasi a (Paraphrases a) and Parafrasi b (Paraphrases b) we see a series of empty chairs around tables: places of silence, or rather of words that are interrupted to leave room for questions, reflections and suggestions for possible answers. Those who wish to continue in this direction can move from objects to design to physiognomy and stop in front of the Ritratto silente (Silent Portrait) where the stains of life are reflected on the face and the shadows placed behind the face lead one to imagine the dark, empty spaces of existence. It has been written, and can be verified, how the lesson of neoexpressionism is part of Bonomini’s educational baggage: the interest in something that goes beyond the physical but never completely forgetting contact with some semblance of reality, the colour registers that
interpret representation in a more profound way, that portraying “neither too near nor too far from the subject”, make her reach more recently, up to the borders with the work of a painter such as Nicolas De Staël, and in particular we can think of a canvas such as Parafrasi c (Paraphrases c) and of that figure, made up almost entirely of shapes, that crosses a door. The use of colour takes on the aspect of something that often translates into a material element and, in some way, goes beyond form or at least idealises it, in the words of De Staël himself “what gives the dimension is the weight of the forms, how they are situated, the contrast”. Alessandra Bonomini arrives at this solo exhibition after a remarkable journey, in respect of which it is useful to recall the exhibitions held in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and currently in Cuba. It is also worth noting her participation in the Don Primo Mazzolari Award in Bozzolo (MN) and in the 54th Venice Biennial in 2011/12. To resume and conclude the aforementioned journey, it is useful to stop between the works “Stanza di lettura” (“Reading Room”) and “Stanza 001” (“Room 001”); “reading” becomes a key word to observe and grasp elements that are in themselves insignificant, between architectonic planes that become spaces and fragments (to be disassembled and reassembled), to leave no stone unturned, to investigate and reflect, once again in front of empty and disused chairs, canvases full of colour and openings that tirelessly allow us to perceive passions that cannot be synthesised in merely rational forms.

Tiziano Fermi

ABBONAMENTO SOLO ANDATA (ONE-WAY SEASON TICKET) referred to the Exhibition held at the OFFICINA DELL’ARTE, Piacenza (2016)

Human transience, the insult of time, man, even now that he believes himself to be the master of life and death in the greater command of tekne, but nothing has changed. A broader vision is needed, as an artist knows how to do, and Bonomini does exactly that. Already in the work Specchietti (Little Mirrors) she captures a man, barely sketched out, on a means of transport (a theme that she has explored in depth for three years), busy with everyday life, travelling, but to where? In “Lei non è qui” (“She is not here”) and “Interno 18L” (“Apartment 18L”), a search for a different dimension becomes clear, where objects, whether domestic or for occasional use, such as in a hotel, dissolve in the light and the human figure merges into the whole (“Zighy”). In this research, the spatial dimension becomes only limiting and ephemeral (Alla vita della mente – To the life of the mind) and space is provisional, almost metaphysical (Anything but the question), with the human being as a subtext and no longer a main player in an anthropocentric vision. The house, a refuge for the soul, becomes rubble, even spiritual rubble Interno 5 (Apartment 5) and transfigures (Oltreluogo ), matter sublimates “La stanza di F” (“F’s room”) and light prevails (Controluce – Backlight) in a balance between dream and reality. Here the brushstroke is almost metaphysical with a key open to individual interpretation
Passaggio oltre le cose (Passage beyond things). The painting is reversed in “Parafrasi” (“Paraphrases”), “Bad news” (“Bad news”) and “Notturno” (“Nocturne”), where the human figure leaves the scene, including physically. The neo-expressionist influence seems obvious and can be compared to Nicolas De Staël, portraying “neither too close nor too far from the subject” in a tightrope walk between abstract and figurative. The author has thus given us the awareness that we are on a journey, we have a ticket, but it is merely a one-way season ticket.

Fabrizio Rossetti