I became friends with Luciano Regoli when I lost my mother, one of the most difficult times of my life. To have her again close to me I came up with the idea of asking my many painter friends to paint a portrait of her. Of course, they were to use some photographs of her. Instead of simply picking out a few photos among the many available, Luciano Regoli gathered them all and shortly thereafter handed me a sequence of portraits in which my Mother appeared of all ages and in all fashions. The verisimilitude was so striking that I was touched by it. Not only did Luciano show psychological intuition, “rediscovering” my Mother – who he never had met – simply through these images, but he also proved his artistic talent, as if remembering of reliving, and achieved great painting by finding its roots primarily within himself.
I kept turning to his talent for portraits of family members and then of myself when I engaged in public life. With renewed attention I followed his evolution that appeared to reach the highest and most complete stages when dealing with portraiture within the framework of the most noble figurative expression. An anthology that morphed into a gallery, a collection that then became a museum. Italian and foreign personalities, a single individual, family groups. These traits never changed and in time revealed a refined, lived, and meditated stylistic maturity and an increasing elaborate and perhaps suffered artistic awareness.
One day, I understood painting was not enough for Luciano. He cultivated it, he sublimate within it, yet something was missing. Writing. He achieved it with the journal he kept during some trips he took in distant lands; when he illustrated them, giving birth to travel journals, he was able to blend intimately writing and painting. Another side of this artist who was able to expand its techniques of expression without betraying himself while maintaining the uniqueness of his creative inspirations.
As his painting reveals at each stage and his life at each turning point, still much may be expected of him.
Gian Luigi Rondi, Rome, April 20 2004
LUCIANO REGOLI OR “BELLA PITTURA”
In the 1920s and 1930s, when the connotation af “bella pittura” (roughly, beautiful painting) was awarded to a painting, the painter (be he Filippo De Pisis, Mario Cavaglieri, Felice Carena of others) was pleased because it was an acknowledgment of a very satisfactory painting, reflecting his means and possibilities. Time went by and many things changed. After the Second World War, the expression “bella pittura” losts its appeal and was perceived almost as an insult by those artists who were awarded with it. More time went by characterized by unending phases and counter-phases, with swaying of taste, and the definition of “bella pittura” regained its positive value. It may now legitimately aspire to have its own role in critical debates in spite of its rather vague and historically uncertain nature(1).
This of course does not mean we have turned back to perceive art as it had once fomented the work of painters and sculptors during the first half of the last century, when it was based on classical tradition and followed the rules of schools and academies. At this point, such heritage is no longer part of the dominant culture, which grants credit to other techniques (photography, video, installation), other purposes (denouncement, derision), and other events (exhibits of a modern mass liturgy like those in Kassel or the new Biennale of Venice), awarding on the side of expression of a “painting painting”, similar to that of the past. However, the important progress made is the following: that the doubt is covertly fomented, that it may be possible, together with the dominant culture, to accept the work of those who are not acting out of self-interest but are bound to the idea of painting as an expression of nice features, a homage to drawing, and the appreciation of the virtues of color and technical virtuosism.
HOMAGE TO TRADITION
These introductory remarks illustrate that Luciano Regoli does not work in splendid isolation but in syntony, perhaps unconsciously, with few others who like him are attracted to the luminous examples of past paintings, renewed not by imitation but based on a deep self identification, on a ideal sharing (2). It is not necessary to debate the artist’s use of a similar attitude by accusing him of an anti-modern spirit: an artist should follow his own path that reflects his inner needs, without taking into account whether or not it is in synchrony with present trends.
There is not doubt Regoli passionately glances back to past paintings. He is clearly attracted by two specific periods: the 1600s, dark with shadows and lights, and the 1800s, which reveal landscapes in a new light and a more convincing and complete realism, especially in portraiture. From here the specific rendering of his works that tend to escape our time and fall into a dimension that is more imaginary than real, far away from the day by day life and yet subjected to the laws of art. Thus, a dimension difficult to place, which is simply out of there. This aspect of Regoli’s work is particularly evident in sacred art, as in the case of the altar-piece “Lapidazione di Santo Stefano” (330 x 254 cm) located in the church dedicated to the protomartyr in Campioni di Buggiano, province of Pistoia. A meaningful “pathos” permeates the composition, escaping the devotional iconography that shadows so much of the sacred art in favor of dramatic interpretation of immediate communicative power, and rendered with a sumptuous painting ideally connected with those of Chassériau or Delacroix. The fierce violence of the torturers with perfect statuary bodies, the heat of a rearing horse, the detailed gesture of the man with the turban on the left who is about to throw a stone counterpoint the act of submission and offering of the young martyr whose eyes look toward the sky where he sees no reassuring angel nor definitive promise.
A RICHLY IMAGINATIVE REALISM
If it is true that Regoli undoubtedly begins form the real, from the concept of realism as elaborated by painters such as Caravaggio in the 1600s andCourbet in the 1800s, it is also true that his realism departs firmly from ideals of photographic and objective rendering to achieve further results. Examples thereof are those compositions with strongest symbolic impact like Consolazione, Lezione di anatomia, or La vita chiede udienza alla morte, where the placing of figures clearly aims more at the meaning that at their verisimilitude. It is an intellectual painting for which no precise reference point may be found, where the unique originality of a meditative artist is manifested. An artist who wishes to openly dead with those fundamental matters pertaining life, death and decisive moments of life. Regoli instinctively avoids the flatness of a truthful rendering in favor of a more subtle and penetrating portrait of reality, even when his work appears to fit easily in foreseeable parameters, for example when executing portraits of individuals or family groups. This perhaps takes place unbeknown to the models who are seduced and fulfilled by the expressive pleasure of the painting. Conceivably, they are not always capable of grasping the unique melancholy the artist assigns to the human figure and from which the painful, if not obviously mournful and funereal premonition, will always transpire. Such a deep sensitivity is revealed mainly in his paintings of people and less in landscapes and other works like still life, which by law should allude to the transience of things and the inescapable, tragic, passing of time. Instead, in front of nature and of meticulously placed objects. Regoli becomes even more contemplative. He is conscious that within the order that presides over everything, man has an awareness and a limitedness that make his life even more frail. Nature set radiate their imminent and sure rebirth. For this reason, his landscapes and view of the island of Elba, of Rome and of its countryside can breathe freely to the point that the brush stroke becomes more fluid, drifting away from the supremacy of drawing: and it confers the painting a modern touch, at times recalling adaptations granted to motion-pictures.
THE PLEASURE OF PAINTING
Then again, Regoli’s artwork is more complex and articulated than what may seem, and it may not be identified with the meditation given to the most dramatic composition and the serene contemplation of still life and lovely landscapes. Yet, another aspect of this artist should be considered, apparently in contrast with the foregoing. There is a nice narrative feel in his works, almost illustrative (where any demanding connotation to the word “illustration” should be avoided), visible in those compositions clearly inspired by literature, according to erratic and unforeseeable principles, that range form fictional landscalpes taken from the Bible (Mosé salvato dalle acque), faithful tributes to Dickenson, main scenes from Pinocchio and Huckeleberry Finn to immaginary episodes with a literary touch like Zingari bambini si dividono il bottino in una grotta. In all these works, the painter’s inspiration is set free and the artist plunged himself completely int he narrative theme with an instinctive gusto, slightly wild and almost physical. This results in works of immediate expressive happiness, with plentiful citations assembled freely that allow the observer a dip int he past, almost as though the fantasies of literature find in Regoli an ideal interpreter and precious intermediary. We are far away from the aforementinoed icy intellectual atmosphere that renders some of the artist’s compositions so mysterious, and which we could now rename “contemplation of life and death”. Here we find a cordial and familiar climate; a climate that due to some sort of magic (the same found in movies) allows the creatures of literature, expecially the more adventurous one, to come close to us like old friends, almost like real people whome we share our daily life with.The pleasure in painting is the common point between these scenes of literary inclination and the rest of Regoli’s production; a pleasure that implies a range of things: love for drawing, his extraordinary directing skills, the plunging in the physical state of colors underlined by the brightest lights set in contrast to darker areas.
What prevails in Regoli is his boldness, his proud, almost disdainful view of a type of painting that is not subjected to calculation, that ignores ties to the avant-garde, and to which a privileged dialogue – provided this means little – with a long and uninterrupted tradition is sufficient.
(1) An exhibit was recently held at the Pinacoteca Provinciale of Potenza under the aegis of “bella pittura”. Refer to the exhibiti catalogue: La bella pittura 1900-1945, edited by L.Gavioli, with essays by various authors, Venezia 2003.
(2) Sooner or later it will be time to write the history of this painting genre, which includes Gregorio Sciltian (1900-1895), Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), and among the living, the portraitist Ulisse Sartini.
(3) Obviously, we refer to the masterpiece by Mark Twain The adventures of Huckeleberry Finn (1885), “An extensive epic on the pioneers’s America (…) on America during the age of gold and colonization, on violent and simple life” (Dizionario Bompiani delle opere e dei personaggi di tutti i tempi e di tutte le letterature).