Lecco, Galleria Giuli, Enrico Castellani, 1980
Composing his flawless white canvases with a sequential pattern of nails using a nail gun, Castellani created a progression of negative and positive poles, a rhythmically undulating relief suffused by a dynamic interplay of light and dark. Appropriating an almost sculptural language the artist achieved an illusionary effect traditionally created through painted chiaroscuro. Freed from the constraints of representation Superficie Bianca encourages the viewer to look beyond the picture plane and posit their own ideals and theories onto a 'blank' canvas. Castellani outlined his overarching concern to forge a distinct artistic dialect devoid of all traditional chromatic and figurative implications by explaining: "For me, the question is that of creating a totally white surface outside any pictorial phenomenon, any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface: this is a white surface that is a white surface and nothing else. With the ‘lines’ there is not even the possible ambiguity of the picture: the line extends only in length, it runs to infinity, the only dimension of time… There is nothing to say: one can only be"(Enrico Castellani cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 45).
In its purity of form, Superficie Bianco reflects the primary concerns of the ZERO group, of which Castellani formed an integral part during its relatively brief existence during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The collection of artists who exhibited under the ZERO banner during this period – including Lucio Fontana, Otto Piene, and Yves Klein among others – sought to transcend the limitations of conventional painting. Seeking to discover an entirely new creative language unencumbered by extraneous concerns and traditional ideas of representation, ZERO artists employed light and motion as a means to radicalise artistic expression. Pure colour and light was seen as the essence of cosmic power and became synonymous with the spiritual liberation of the individual. Castellani and his contemporary Piero Manzoni, founders of the legendary Galleria Azimuth and Azimuth journal, were at the very forefront of this radical artistic redefinition. With a practice centred on the monochrome canvas, the artists were closely aligned in their means of expression and medium. Through a subtle moulding of the canvas they highlighted the surface as the essence of the artwork and asserted its individual materiality and objectivity. Moreover, Castellani embraced the conceptual possibility of a rational progression. As the oscillating effects of his intricate protrusions change with each alternation in light and viewpoint, his Superficie are instilled with a life of their own.
A lyrical coalition of the primary principles of Castellani’s idiosyncratic Superficie, the present work is a consummate example of this revolutionary corpus and a highlight of the esteemed collection of Paolo and Alida Giuli.
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