If you aim to impart joy through your art, you best do it with a big smile – just like Adriano Caverzasio’s when I met him recently! And, if your art is intended to bring pleasure to all ages, how much better it is when the company of the artist himself gives as much pleasure as his artistic output. For it was certainly a great pleasure for me when I interviewed him during his exhibition entitled ‘Visioni Arbitrarie’ at the gallery of San Pietro in Atrio on Via Odescalchi.
This exhibition was mainly but not entirely devoted to his study of some of the iconic buildings in Como, treated in either two or three dimensions. It also included portraiture with a series of some of the most influential artists from the 1900’s.
Adriano explained the importance of some of these artistic figures to me later in the interview but I wanted to start by understanding more about his interest in architecture.
AC: More than anything else, I have borrowed from architecture so as to do my own thing. In the way children seek to dismantle their toys to find out how they work or are put together, I have sought to do the same with architecture. I pull things apart to get rid of the austerity and to uncover the soul or heart of a construction. I do the same with my portraits – I want to see what’s inside the subject – to bring out the most simple, pure, clear aspects.
Adriano has developed a very singular way of representing architecture to render the ‘spirit’ of the individual constructions visible and appreciable within the limits of a picture frame.
These studies are examples of urban landscapes but given a very distinctive treatment; such that the pictorial or sculptural art form that arises adds to the appreciation of the architecture that originally inspired it. So his art has impact – the images or sculptures have their own identity and cohesion but they also convey an appraisal of the original structures. Perhaps it may be best to describe these studies not as urban landscape but as urban portraiture given Adriano’s purpose in seeking to make evident the ‘soul’ or inner spirit of the buildings.
For those of us who have lived in or visited Como, many of Adriano’s architectural subjects are well known. Como has a rich heritage of architecture ranging from the original Roman fortifications, through to the renaissance villas, neo-classicism, art nouveau and then more recently, international renown for the rationalist masterpieces of Terragni and others, inspired by the designs of the visionary modernist, Antonio Sant’Elia. Given this local patrimony, it is maybe not surprising that Adriano, born and raised in Como, would have reflected on it at some time during his artistic career.
Most of the architectural studies in this exhibition were of neo-classical buildings, such as the Teatro Sociale or the Tempio Voltiano, or the works of Giuseppe Terragni. The Tempio Voltiano was designed by a contemporary of Terragni’s, Federico Frigerio, who represented the traditional eclectic school of architecture that was prevalent before the rationalists and modernism gained influence. The two best-known architects working in Como in the first part of the 1900s, Terragni and Frigerio, could not have been more different in style. This difference has led some to take sides in a rather fruitless debate as to who may have been the ‘better’ architect. Adriano was not going to enter into any polemic on this.
AC: No, the point is they were just different. Terragni was following the revolutionary principles of the Bauhaus. He was designing for simplicity and purity. Frigerio instead was continuing the established neo-classical and Liberty styles and doing it very well – but his was a style designed to display luxury. Rationalism however was born out of the idea of providing stylish housing for a less rich class of person. To keep costs down, they designed out all superfluous elements so as to arrive at the heart of the building. It is that ‘heart’ which interests me.
The portrayal of the Transatlantico, also known as the Casa Giuliani Frigerio, seemed to me at least to reveal a preference for the clean lines of the rationalist design compared to what is depicted as the barely distinguishable planes of the building fronting onto Via Rosselli.
AC: I have developed a deconstruction/reconstruction technique to get to the core of an architectural structure. I deconstruct the static shape by dividing the design into different zones and then give each zone its own supporting planes and its own perspective. I then ‘reconstruct’ by hanging these different zones together again, to create a feeling of depth.
This little snippet on technique was delivered quickly as if wanting to move on to the more important aspect as to why the technique is deployed – and the answer to that was in the sub-heading to his brochure – poetry. ‘There’s a danger of losing the poetry if you stay too focussed on the technique,’ he stated.
With all this talk of architecture, Adriano wanted to point out that this recent exhibition was merely a reflection of current work and not representative of all his areas of interest. He remarked on how figurative art and architecture used to be taught locally within the same institution, the Brera Academy of Art in Milan, up until the 1930s when both disciplines borrowed freely from each other as he has done. Yet this was the third of his exhibitions to have been held during his career in San Pietro in Atrio, with each one having a different thematic focus. This mention of the Brera in Milan and the development of his art led me to ask about his own artistic education and training.
AC: I qualified originally in Industrial Art here in Como and then followed a series of courses as a student of Torildo Conconi – a famous Lombardian artist. Then I worked as a furniture and textile designer until I went full-time as a professional artist in 2003. I was then finally able to realise my dream. I had my first exhibition here in 2005 but being able to dedicate myself fulltime to my painting and sculpture has since allowed me to make faster progress – and of course, scope to make the occasional mistake!
On a first visit to the recent exhibition, I had the impression that many of the paintings were monochromatic and I wandered if this was possibly due to rationalist architects not dealing in many colours other than white. Adriano’s response prompted me to pay closer attention!
AC: It’s not true to say they are all monochromatic – it depends. For example my paintings of the Teatro Sociale (see above) and Frigerio’s Tempio Voltiano are. That’s because it would seem strange to me to depict them with a celestial blue sky or an emerald green lawn. Instead I want to keep the viewer’s focus on the main subject of the painting – without distraction. You’ll see that other paintings do have more colour. It depends on each situation.
This one for example (pointing to his painting ‘Como –Asilo Sant’Elia 5’ shown above) is achromatic because there’s a night-time sky but with the school in daylight creating a surrealistic effect. What I look for are simple visual effects which will not distract so I will use colour if it helps achieve that.
The brochure to the exhibition entitled ‘Arbitrary Poetry’ stated that Adriano, in executing his designs, functioned without ‘premeditation’. This statement seemed to need some clarity so I was keen to understand what was this ‘arbitrariness’.
AC: It means that I am primarily guided by instinct; although for each project there is an initial period of research and reflection on how I might deconstruct and restructure my work. But after this, I allow myself to be guided by my own sensibility or instinct. I don’t like to do much prior calculation. When you think too much, you can end up just confusing yourself. I prefer if forms take shape naturally.
My art is not conceptual – for me conceptual art is more like literature – mine is visual. I took inspiration from a group of Italian artists working in the 1970s who called themselves the ‘Transavanguardia’.
The Wikipedia summary of this movement states:
(they)…. responded to the explosion of conceptual art which found many mediums of expression, by reviving painting and reintroducing emotion―especially joy―back into drawing, painting and sculpture. Transavantgarde marked a return to figurative art, as well as mythic imagery, which was rediscovered during the height of the movement. The artists revived figurative art and symbolism, which were less frequently used in movements after World War II like minimalism. The principal transavantgarde artists were Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola de Maria and Mimmo Paladino.
Adriano was later to use the word ‘joy’ himself when summarising the impact he sought from his works.
Displayed at the back of the hall was the series of semi life-sized portraits of leading 20th century artists mentioned at the start of this article. Whilst these are not necessarily Adriano’s heroes, they do represent for him the major influences in pictorial art over the last century. They are Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, Sergio Giacometti, Mario Schifano and Keith Haring. As elsewhere during my interview with Adriano, I found myself learning from him – here it was from his insights into these artists. I am particularly grateful for the attention he placed on Duchamp, Haring, O’Keefe and Schifano since they were previously little known to me. When reading about Giacometti, who was brought up in the nearby Swiss canton of Ticino, I came across this quote from him which might also serve as an insight into Adriano’s work. When asked how he came to sculpt his emaciated elongated human forms, he stated:
‘Figures were never a compact mass but like a transparent construction.’
I think the same could be said about how Adriano sees his architectural studies, of course aided by the rationalists’ own desire to maximise transparency as in the examples of the Casa del Fascio and the Asilo Sant’Elia.
The other way that Adriano has explored representing the soul of a building is through his sculpture which consists mainly of three dimensional artworks within a picture frame.
Just by adding 20 centimetres of depth to his works, the viewer enters into the shadows and spaces that are opened up. He himself had previously defined architecture as being a concrete art creating spaces you see from the outside which you can then enter and occupy. Pictorial art instead is made to contribute to or compliment the spaces we live in. His sculptures offer a more enhanced three dimensionality in order to convey the essence of these spaces we can normally enter. I have tried to capture the effect of this depth by taking side view photos of the sculptures.
Reaction to architecture must of course be personal but I have found that buildings in Como like the Casa del Fascio or the Asilo Sant’Elia give me an intense visual pleasure when I see them.
There is no need necessarily to stop and analyse why that might be – but my guess is that it is down to the very qualities that Adriano is also seeking in his works, namely purity, clarity and simplicity achieved through perfected proportions in the treatment of space. Adriano has managed to encapsulate and represent that nebulous ‘spirit’ within these perfectly proportioned buildings and represented it in microcosm in a different form of visual experience – not as space itself but as a pictorial compliment to space. And just as with the artists of the transavanguardia, he hopes this will above all convey a spirit of poetry and joy. He hopes we will view his works with the same uncomplicated pleasure of children as they perceive and explore the world around them. His exhibition certainly gave me a sense of joy only matched by the pleasure of listening to his explanation of it.
For those of you not prepared to wait until Adriano holds his next exhibition in San Pietro in Atrio, he is always delighted to receive visitors in his studio if they call in advance to arrange their visit. The studio is right by the ‘Er Piu’ restaurant in Via Castellini 17. His telephone numbers are +39 031 267454 or mobile +39 340 3076881. His website is www.adrianocaverzasio.com.
For more information about Antonio Sant’Elia, check out our blog post entitled ‘Como’s Internationally Renowned Urban Visionary’.