Lorenzo Bruni: You use abstract painting to reflect on the mechanism of vision and to create a physical experience out of monochrome; this sets up new relationships between the content (the painting) and the container (the architectural box). The need to establish a balance between the control over things (you have always used maps or texture screen dots of photographic prints) and the wonder occasioned by uncontrollable events (the transuding of colour from oils and its tangible presence beneath a compact and firm surface as in the “Inversi” (“Inverted”) series of 2000, or in the later “Coast to Coast” series of 2005) corresponds, at a formal level, to the relationship between the sign and the surface. This is where your modernist inheritance lies. Taking this as my starting point I have always wondered what colour means to you.
Paolo Parisi: Come on Baby light my… colour! Colour is to do with both the viscera and the intellect. I quote The Doors in reference to the issue at the heart of my work: experience. My paintings, drawings and installations all amount to attempts to convey an experience, live, witnessed first hand, while serving at the same time as a reflection on ways of seeing. For this reason I don’t recognise any difference between the “Inversi” and the sculptures or, better, the photographs (“M.V.”, – acronyme for Monochrome View – 2002) produced for my one-man show at Neon in Bologna in 2002. There were sheets of blue plexiglass superimposed on photographs of snowy landscapes. The paradox created by the natural white of the snow, filtered at the time through coloured lenses, represents for me the condition of us today in the Western culture, where we see things constantly through a filter: a “sentence” or condemnation from which there appears to be no reprieve. My obsession (painting) is about this condemnation and the need to escape it, by working out a physical way of looking at things, and not just a mental one (and vice versa). Colour is what makes this dialogue possible. Colour is the immaterial component: it is luminous but also dense and physical. We are constantly immersed in it, something I try to bring into focus.
LB: Colour is perceived as a sound that breaks through other sounds and for that reason forces us to weigh up our approach to observing reality?
PP: Yes. The idea of reaching an absolute standard in observing reality has always fascinated me, not through a desire to escape, but more as a way of finding a more concrete way of facing up to experience.
My need to work in monochrome now stems from the modernist awareness that the “physicity” of the canvas has already been conquered to the advantage of the illusory space within the picture frame. The challenge now is to turn our attention to the space occupied by the spectator and by his point of view hic et nunc. This has to be undertaken within the means available within the realm of painting and by seeking to renew the available language. With my recent project for the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato [“Come raggiungere la costa (Museo)” – “How to reach the Coast (Museum)”, 2008], the spectator walked in a corridor filled with colour, or rather with light: an effect achieved simply by putting red Plexiglass in the window space. Looking towards the exterior the landscape and sky appeared as if in a painting, while looking towards the interior, one could see a drawing on the walls in silver of a nautical chart manipulated to create a coastal view.
LB: Is this the balance you mentioned at the beginning? You always bring seeing and perception together, man’s desire to control the world contrasted with his desire to abandon himself to it. Your intentions are apparent in your attempts to create new parameters to guide us and rethink our relationship with the world around us. I am thinking not only of the 2004 Observatorium, for your show at the Nicola Fornello Gallery in Prato, but also of Luogo (Place), the sculpure with a video created for your show at the Gianluca Collica Gallery in Catania in 1996, or your work in the landscape Territori di confine (Bibliografia) [Cross-border territories (Bibliography)], for the Provincia of Turin, in 2003. You make the spectators aware of their own point of view, both physical and mental, but also of the fact that this point of view has to be shared and compared with that of the other spectators. Is that right? Or are painting and vision above all personal?
PP: My interest is in working on a dialogue with and comparison of subjective visions. The Observatorium of 2004 (layers of corrugated cardboard forming a perfect cube when seen from the outside but worn away within to reveal cracks and openings from which to look out), for example, accepts the presence of the individual viewer but does not leave them isolated in the world. We are obliged to enter into dialogue through the light and holes, or, as in the work in Lenbachhaus in Munich [Observatorium (Valle del Bove), 2006], through sound. Hydraulic pipes in coloured PVC linked several rooms through holes in the walls, through which sound and the voices of the other visitors could be heard. This sound was a mixture of the rational and the instinctive of which we spoke earlier because there was also the scientific recording of the underground rumblings of the volcano Etna (the horizon of my childhood…). These also created vibrations and a physical experience.
LB: Sharing of vision: you would like this to be manifest not only on a mental level in the spectator?
PP: I would like to suggest the possibility of a shared condition of experiencing things, but not to impose it. The Observatorium is not a place for the individual ego, but a means of comparing oneself with others. The monologue does not interest me, but trying to coax a dialogue does. I like to imagine that painting is not only frontal but that it can become an active element linking painting, sculpture and the fusion of both in space, favouring an active space, containing traces of a collective and elementary geography. This has encouraged me to turn my attention to working in cardboard (which strikes me as very similar to working with paint as it also entails the stratification of layers) to produce sculptures / benches that only come to life when they become part of the spectators’ experience. For the collective exhibition “Geografie” (Via Nuova, Florence) it seemed natural to include Benches for Everybody (2004-06) from which visitors could view, not only my works, but those of all the other artists. From this “island” the public was encouraged to engage with the cognitive dimension of art. Territori di confine (Bibliografia) [Cross-border territories (Bibliography)] was like a prologue to these works. It was a poster with the picture of a landscape with a superimposed colour catalogue and a metal strip engraved with a bibliography on colour. The idea was this: to be standing in front of a mountain (or of the view of a landscape) and to be able to see the lake (yet another surface) that lay just beyond…
LB: I knew we would reach this point sooner or later! It was clear… In your work nature is of fundamental importance. What green is “real”: the green we see in a plant or the green in the colour catalogue? Do we accept nature or rationalise it ? It occurs to me, reflecting on landscape (both mental and physical), you developed the idea of creating new spatial coordinates and of a shared environment in your work Nomi dei colori classici (Sinfonia) – “Classic Colour Names (Simphony) – for the Villa Romena in Florence in the summer of 2008.
PP: That work was monochromes in shades of green. It was supported by poles set up in the garden, which also served as stands for musicians who played pieces inspired by nature. The piece was inspired by the RAL colour codes produced in the Weimar Republic in 1927. This was the first attempt in Europe to make “colour communicable”: its application to industry meant it offered a new dream of development to the whole world. So, with this work, as with others, as well as considering our relationship to landscape, I was reflecting on the means we have at our disposal for communicating among ourselves. This is what I meant when I referred to our vision being condemned, to us all serving a sentence. But glimpses of freedom do exist. Every colour plate became during the evening a piece of music for a different musician and instrument, playing a symphony of nature. All the musicians had to play the music inspired by those colours: perceptively (from what they saw) or culturally (from associations, Bach, Mozart, etc.).
LB: Sounds, installations, and paintings designed to make us reflect on the container surounding them and not just on their lines and colours ..the sharing of perception…so what does painting mean to you?
PP: Painting is surface and stratification. The practice of painting, on the other hand, involves a reflection on the language of painting itself and on how we see things. The last series of works I made called “Under the bridge”, was inspired by the words of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. There are images of the sky over which I draw with a silver permanent marker — and silver is a non-colour or all colours because it draws into itself everything around it — other images derived from aerial views of the mouths of rivers: images associated with liquids. Water is then transformed into gas, and viceversa. This also represents: two opposing points of view that converge. As in my previous works: form and content, exterior and interior, experience and contemplation, appearance and substance… are no longer in opposition but appear as a single entity. From the superimposition of layers and points of view an unexpected image always emerges: a birth instead of the potential death of cancellation. That is what painting means to me… the possible.
Published in Flash Art 279 | dicembre 2009 – gennaio 2010. © 2010 The Authors and Flash Art Italia, Giancarlo Politi Editore.