IconoSophia, in search of a philosophical painting

We interview Alessandro Bulgarini and Luca Siniscalco, respectively the artist and curator of the exhibition that was recently held at the SpazioAref in Brescia.

di Lorenzo Pennacchi

Cover: Alessandro Bulgarini, Samsara fleet (born again), oil on prepared canvas, 2019

In October we had the opportunity to visit the last solo show of the painter Alessandro Bulgarini, born in 83, at SpazioAref in the heart of the historic center of Brescia. Guided by the artist, we entered a world full ofΒ sense, which amazed us with the richness of its symbols and the multiple references from numerous fields of knowledge. An archetypal universe capable of arousing various questions, which we addressed directly to Alessandro and the curator of the exhibition Luca Siniscalco.Β 

Hi Alessandro!
Let's start with your artistic training.
When did you approach art?Β 

Hi Lorenzo, the passion for the history of Art was born at the time of the University while I was attending the Faculty of Economics; and within a few years the vocation to Pictorial way, whose technical rudiments I had already learned throughout my childhood, attending the studio and exhibitions of my grandfather the painter. Only around the age of twenty did the need and awareness of being able to express myself with painting emerge. I then began to visit numerous museums in Italy and Europe, chasing the authors that I thought were of greatest inspiration, asking myself assiduously about the technical methods, the materials, the stratifications and the chromatic choices, experimenting accordingly up to reach the current technique that I considered suitable for the issues I dealt with. Initially the references were the avant-garde of the '900, in particular Dadaism, Metaphysics and Surrealism, with which I have always had a particular elective affinity, then going on to analyze more in depth the iconographies, themes, techniques and paradigms of Renaissance and, in part, of the ancient civilizations. Then, in 2009, the meeting with Seriously Fox - founder of the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism - and the contemporary study of authors such as Carl Jung and the others to which we will mention later, were determining factors in the choice of what I paint today.

Luca, you have been following Alessandro's work for some time now.
Would you help us retrace the most significant stages?Β 

The stages in the development of Alessandro's art can be recognized in two autonomous but converging processes. On the one hand, i exhibition itineraries, which signal the progressive conquest of an increasingly distinctive identity within the "system" of Italian contemporary art, through the important personal Hierophany (Pietrasanta, 2015), Syncretic Code (Brescia, 2016) and High Fantasy (Reggio Emilia, 2017), without which IconSophia - summary and sum of the previous ones - would be unthinkable. On the other hand, the personal research, of an artistic and cultural nature (philosophical and esoteric in particular), which led Alessandro to blend with originality some trends of his first pictorial phase (aesthetic realism, social criticism, surrealist fascination) with the awareness that emerges precisely - and with increasing clarity, with the passing of the years - in the aforementioned solo shows: art is an alchemical forge, from the direct and sacred nature, aimed at the inner transformation of the artist and the spectators who drink from it. According to Alessandro, the art of the future will therefore be "archaeo-modern”: Original, vigorous, icastic style, with avant-garde features; archaic, spiritual vision, rooted in the symbol and intimistically addressed to archetypes.

Alessandro, tell us about the genesis of IconSophia. Do you think this exhibition is in continuity with your path?Β 

The project IconSophia was born already in 2018, a few months after the conclusion of the previous exhibition High Fantasy, but I found some closed doors and it took two years to arrive at a suitable venue to be able to propose it. In the meantime, the corpus of works has been enriched, continuing in what has been my research direction for at least a decade. IconSophia arises certainly in continuity with the previous exhibitions and indeed proposes an overall definition of my aesthetic choice, tracing the canons and explaining the philosophical references.Β 

Androgynus (Contraria sunt complementa), oil on panel, 2019

Luca, what are the main elements of IconSophia? I am thinking, for example, of the concept of philosophical painting that emerges from the press release.

That is certainly one of the fundamental themes that we wanted to highlight. The painting exhibited in IconSophia, despite its figurative and "enjoyable" style, it is not a seductive decoration, a collection of "beautiful forms" that flatter the conformist palates of moderns, nor a placid exercise in aesthetic rhetoric fin de siècle: It's a vigilant and peremptory reminder of the wisdom that is hidden in the images - and which gives the exhibition its title. Painting is "philosophical" insofar as it recalls the philosophical and esoteric potential - cognitive, ultimately - placed in art, which is, as the German romantics asserted, superior gnoseology, supreme form of experience of reality, in all its degrees. Authentic art - of whose "great style" Nietzsche was a prophetic cantor - is then a gesture of overcoming opposites, a practice of inner transformation that involves both the artist and the viewer, an aesthetic made up of excesses and creative dissipation. Fundamentals, in IconSophia, there are other themes that act as a corollary and deepening of the image of "philosophical painting": the interest in archaic and traditional symbols and narratives (whose initiatory, existential and pedagogical matrix has often been forgotten in modernity); the recovery of the icon-image against the simulacra of postmodern civilization contemporary to us; the importance ofHigh Fantasy - the creative imagination about which the champions of twentieth-century magical realism have written.

Alessandro, bearing in mind that each painting on display hides a spectrum of meanings and a multiplicity of references, if you had to choose some iconic works, which one would you indicate and why?Β 

First, I would think of 3rd eye, the depiction of the "third eye" in a 3D portrait where the figure tries to come out of the table, and the vertical ocular graft refers to the iconography of the vesica pisces o almond: known in India and Mesopotamia, it has become a constant in Christian symbolism associated with Christ or the Madonna in Majesty, very frequent in medieval times. Symbol of ogival shape obtained from the intersection of two circles, it represents the communication between two worlds, two different dimensions, namely the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine, access to the imaginal world. Then atAndrogynus (opposite sunt complementa), with the union of masculine and feminine, alchemical symbolism very present in the Renaissance period taken up by Jung with reference to some aspects of the psyche and related problems. Man and woman are complete when the two elements present in each individual are in equilibrium. The creative element and the practical one, the intuitive element and the logical-rational one. It is the concept of complementarity of opposites, theOmnes concordant in One as an overcoming of the duality of the existing perceived by the senses. Reflections that often return, albeit in different meanings, also in other works in the exhibition. Still, it comes to mind The bird of self-knowledge. In fact, the process that leads to the development of awareness - the ancients teach us - necessarily passes through the practice of self-observation. The "memory of Self", the stay present to yourself creates a shock (the bird's bite) that brings the mind back toHic and Nunc: the "here and now" also connected to meditation, and present in all the wisdom traditions, including the Buddhist one of Siddhartha Gautama:

The secret of physical and mental health lies not in complaining about the past, nor in worrying about the future, but in living the present moment with wisdom and seriousness. Life can only take place in the present moment. If we lose it, we lose life. Love in the past is just memory. That in the future is fantasy. Only here and now can we truly love. When you take care of this moment, you take care of all the time.Β 

Finally, I think of Samsara (born again). This Sanskrit term indicates the perpetual cycle of life, death and rebirth. L'cosmic egg which contains infinite others depicts this cycle. The breaking of the egg, however, is also the overcoming of Samsara, the emancipation of the cycle of rebirths, the ultimate goal of the Eastern Traditions.Β 

The bird of self-knowledge, oil on prepared canvas, 2019Β 

Developments in the exhibition were evidently influenced by the pandemic. Alessandro, how are you experiencing this particular historical period?Β 

IconSophia it opened its doors on 29 February, and was open to visitors for the first week after which - due to the pandemic in fact - it remained frozen until 26 September, the new inaugural date until 25 October. A second stage will follow in Florence, and a third one in Milan in 2021. In the original formulation I had foreseen, within the exhibition, also two conferences on the themes of Archetypes and imaginal thought, held by authors (Marco Maculotti, Andrea Scarabelli, Claudio Marucchi, in addition to the curator Luca Siniscalco) who for years have been involved in disseminating those topics, which are the philosophical substrate within which my aesthetic choice can be fully understood. For now the conferences have been postponed, but we will propose them again at the next scheduled personal exhibitions. After the exhibition and seeing the approach of this second lockdown, I again stocked up on canvases, brushes and materials in order to be autonomous for several months and I returned to immerse myself in work, in new works and in the endless research on Mundus Imaginalis.Β 

In the introduction to The spiritual in art, Kandinsky argues that "the effort to revive aesthetic principles of the past can create at best works of art that look like stillborn babies." What do you think of this statement and who are your reference artists?Β 

Kandinskij is right because as the ages change, the aesthetic and philosophical principles of reference also change and artists have cyclically invented new ways and new formulas to communicate their message, changing the object of their representations or the techniques and materials with which to shape them. And so they produced the new, somehow subverting the prevailing dogmas in the cultural system in which they were inserted and going to propose new references for the public of tomorrow. Β«The art that has no future - writes Kandinskij - which is only the daughter of his time but will never become the mother of the future, is a sterile art. It has a short life and morally dies the moment the atmosphere that produced it changes Β». From my point of view I have always felt a certain distance from the nihilistic element - product of materialism - which permeates and unifies a part of contemporary "culture" e I went in search of everything that was in antithesis to that "emptiness", in opposition to the loss of the Sacred which has made us psychotic today. "Art should show us what we still have to know" - says the great visionary painter and refined investigator of the unconscious Austin Osman Spare. What today's society should want to know is what it has forgotten, starting from its own spiritual roots and traditions. Once a certain historical and anthropological identity has been rediscovered, it would then be the case that she would be shown everything that can lead the individual to his own inner awakening, or at least to some awareness. A century later that book by Kandinsky now appears avant-garde again and I agree even more when he writes:Β 

The spiritual life, of which art is a fundamental component, is an ascending and progressive movement, as complex as it is clear and precise. It is the movement of knowledge. It can take various forms, but it always retains the same inner meaning, the same end.Β 

3rd eye, oil on panel, 2019

What other dimensions do you draw from, besides the purely pictorial one? Are there any authors that you consider fundamental to your work?

Much of the inspiration comes from the very beginning literary and philosophical dimension, from the reading of numerous authors, discovered not by chance, in which over the years I have found elements of affinity as well as indications and ideas to make sense of my "feeling". The aforementioned Jung, James, was certainly fundamental Hillman, Mircea Eliade, Ioan P. CulianuElemire Zolla, Henry Corbin, Pavel Florensky, Jorge L. Borges, Alexander Jodorowsky, Italian Calvino and many others, even from previous eras; all authors who have investigated, each from their own study perspective, the themes of the imagination and the imaginal world. In parallel of course, all that group of artists who have given shape to that transversal current in the History of Art which is the Fantastic, from Hieronymus Bosch to William Blake, passing through the Symbolists, the Pre-Raphaelites and of Surrealists, finally arriving at the late late maestro Ernst Fox. And then there is the Renaissance, with that persistent aura of Humanism and immortality, half a millennium away.

Luca, you have written a lot about Alexander's art. How would you define it in a nutshell?Β 

Il Logos finds itself in a peculiar structural condition: it approaches the Ineffable, of which it is irradiation, an ancient emanation, but never manages to say it in its fullness - there is always a mysterious surplus. On various occasions of study and dialogue I was able to name the enigma of Alexander's art as an "apology of the imagination", "art of archetypes", "practice of inner transformation", "philosophical painting" (a brilliant image , coined by the same artist). All partial and unsatisfactory definitions, which also bear witness to the artist's poetics. Wanting to find a complex but icastic definition, looking retrospectively at the admirable path taken by the artist, I would ultimately speak of a "mythical-symbolic aesthetics". This expression is a hyperbole, almost a tautology since the three terms that compose it say, in a profound sense, the same: aesthetics is a sensitive perception which, in the great art of the Western Canon, is a gateway to the domain of the supersensible; the myth is the authoritative precedent that informs the immanent plane of the superhistorical energy proper to transcendence; the symbol is the key to the conjunction of opposites, the royal road for the conquest of wisdom that reflects the plurality of states of being. The β€œmythical-symbolic aesthetic” of Alessandro Bulgarini is therefore a radical affirmative decision along a pedagogical path of recovery of the wisdom of the Origin which finds its unfolding and manifestation precisely in art, myth and symbol.

Thanking both you and Luca for their availability, Alessandro ask you if you have something in the pipeline for the near future?Β 

In addition to planning - as soon as possible - the next two stages of IconSophia and the aforementioned conferences, I am now working on two new projects still in the germinal phase: on the one hand, a series of works on "archetypes of fairy tales”, Trying to distill their pulsating and numinous nuclei, the millenary wisdom of the teachings they contain related to the symbols of transformation in the various stages of life; on the other the soul papers: portraits of the soul on handmade paper with a neo-Renaissance flavor with specific attention to physiognomy and temperament in relation to the expressiveness of the face.Β 

An abridged version of this interview was released on Artribune on November 16, 2020.

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