Piero Mascetti Paintings: A New Pictorial Language

Nelida Nassar  06.01.2014

Piero Mascetti exhibition at the Audi Villa in Beirut organized by the Italian Cultural Institute reveals the artist’s latest oil paintings. They are burst in gestural experimentation and an explosion of colors. Ruskin accused Whisler of  “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face” when he unveiled a near abstract picture of firework in Battersea Park. When Jackson Pollock towards the end of his life called his wife Lee Krasner pointing to a canvas on the floor and asked her: “Is this a painting?” She seemed bemused. What to make of men who really did find fame by hurling paint in the air? These questions still do the round. Mascetti, an abstract painter seems to be one of their contemporary, apparent heir and in their lineage. Though he started out as a realist painter, he had no hopes that the lines and loops of his “automatic” gestures might subconsciously coalesce into coherent images. We met the artist for a conversation:

Nelida Nassar: How do you define yourself? What artistic background you come from?
Piero Mascetti: I am a painter, entirely self-taught, born on the outskirts of Rome. I started to draw and paint early in my life. It was not easy, and isn’t still today.

NN: Tell me something about your training and the influences on your art
PM: I do not know if we can talk about training. The first time I lifted my eyes to the ceiling of a church in Rome was in 1973. I remember the moment vividly because at the time cars were not circulating in the city due to the measures of fiscal austerity. I had managed to bike to Porta Maggiore, entered the church of Santa Croce where in the 18th century Corrado Giaquinto painted the magnificent ceiling fresco above the altar. I stood there spellbound. I was about ten years old. Since then, I never ceased to visit, observe and study the Venetian style majestic paintings displayed for over hundreds of years in the major Italian churches.

NN: What kind of mediums do you use? Do you mix different mediums type?
PM: I use pure raw canvases of Italian linen. I then prepare a primary base that I mix consisting of rabbit glue, Bologna gesso and boiled linseed oil.

NN: Do you paint daily? Do you follow a particular discipline?
PM: I live for painting. I paint every day and do not believe in inspiration but live in a sort of perpetual intuitive and spontaneous creative state. When the creative process is premeditated it becomes limiting. I also do not believe in self-discipline, as I consider that an artist is a kind of an obsessional traveler with a goal. I think that this obsession has remained and is part of who I am, the obsession with painting of course.

NN: What are the ideas behind the current exhibition entitled “Mediterranean Messis?”
PM: The exhibition was born and revolved around a large canvas 2 meters high x 3 meters wide, entitled “Mediterranean Monstrum.” I painted it immediately after arriving to Beirut. The term “Monstrum” here means wonder. The wonder is none other than what the Mediterranean Sea means, the cradle of the wonderful people that surrounds it, and I specifically use people in the singular. The additional paintings that I have completed in Beirut are a collection of situations experienced between individuals and the streets. They are as I may say… different positions and diverse thoughts and glimpses that unravel quickly like a film. I harvested them as one does harvest wheat (Messis). I am convinced that painting today cannot tell or write it all. The time for grand narratives has passed, and in any case films, a fine discipline of the visual arts says it better. I believe that for the discipline of painting to survive should speak louder than the narrative not the other way around.

NN: Do you paint outdoor or are your paintings done indoors? Do you work entirely from memory?
PM: For logistical reasons, I paint in my studio because usually my paintings are very large. I paint everything I see that traverses my way. It is very simple, everything around me is already painting and I just have to transfer it onto the canvas.

NN: Your paintings have evolved over time? If so, tell me something about how and why this change?
PM: I will not speak about evolution but about simplification. The needs to find the shortest path that reach the mind from the soul with an image that have a strong relationship to music. No need to ponder it much, it either happens or it does not. Over the years, I have removed the superstructure that made the image rigid and heavy, and I really have succeeded in eliminating a great deal…

NN: Has your painting been representational before becoming abstract? And how do you balance these two aspects in your work?
PM: I’ve always had a tendency to demolish the image then to transform it, making it “informal,” then pushing it further just enough not to lose it while keeping it as lively and fresh as possible.

NN: How important are the sensation of temperature and climate in your work?
PM: I am a meteoropath, sensation of temperature and climate is very important. I sometimes open my studio’s door waiting to feel the rushes of the wind.

NN: How important are colors in your work? And what do they communicate to you?
PM: I am a colorist and I use primary colors. I love the colors of the oil medium because they represent painting par excellence. I use yellow, red and blue and I also alter the primer in these colors to make them much more powerful and personal. Even if I first “sketch” on the canvas in charcoal, these three colors dictate the picture. I search for the precise “resonance.” if I may say so, between one color and the other, and it is the color and this “resonance” from which the forms take shape and are perceived.

NN: When you look at your current exhibition, what do you feel about your own work?
PM: I am incredulous. I feel an uncertainty and a child’s fear that looks at the world for the first time. I also wonder:  “What’s next?” I never have the answer, because there is none. The only certainty is that I am a painter and that these exhibited paintings are the tangible proof of my work.

NN: When a person comes to visit your show, what would you like them to perceive and admire in your paintings?
PM: I hope that everything will be perceived simply as an act of love with little cerebral and mental posturing. The feeling, the honesty of a stripped gesture, without masks that intuits something is going on within this exhibition, a here and now. Even a radical change of scenery would satisfy me because it can evoke today’s reality and truthfulness. If with these painting we attempt a leap towards the imaginary, however we should initially keep our feet well grounded!

“The more horrifying the world, Paul Klee once said, the more abstract the art.”  Is Piero Mascetti despite his exuberant colors confirming the state of malaise the world is in with his paintings?

2 thoughts on “Piero Mascetti Paintings: A New Pictorial Language

  1. Very interesting Q&A session with the artist, Nelida! Yes, I remember Mascetti vividly and had found him touching in his simplicity and earthiness. Many thanks the article, Zeina.

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