PAOLO STACCIOLI REVIEW
BY Cristina Acidini | POR Cristina Acidini
To welcome Paolo Staccioli, for this exhibition, there is a whole museum: the noble and precious museum of San Casciano where, among the numerous works of sacred art, furnishings and tapestries of the Catholic liturgy, masterpieces of fundamental importance for Gothic art in Tuscany shine out, such as the St. Michael the Archangel and stories of his legend by Coppo di Marcovaldo, dated 1260-70, and the Madonna of Vico l’Abate, the first true work by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, dated 1319.
I recently wrote about these two paintings that, «populated by hieratic and solemn sacred protagonists, yet vividly animated by narrative efficacy and the intensity of affection, … they lend themselves here to serve as ancestors of excellence to our contemporary artists». And indeed, the exhibition of Staccioli’s works here renews the great little miracle of the co-presence of the ancient and the contemporary in the plastic arts, which, under the banner of their respective high quality, is evident in links, cross-references, mutual suggestions marked by friendship through the centuries. The severe and absorbed faces, the splendour of the colours, the brilliance of the gold there, the lustre of the ceramics here, dialogue without barriers.
This is certainly not the first time Staccioli has exhibited in monumental and museum contexts, considering the intense succession of his exhibitions at the Museo Archeologico di Fiesole (2007), the Museo degli Argenti at Palazzo Pitti (2009), the Museo Horne (2011) and Palazzo Medici Riccardi (2013). On each occasion, the friendship between his art and the visual expressions of the past has been reinforced; and perhaps, in Staccioli’s case, the origins of that friendship must be sought in distant chronological belts, digging into his identity as a man and as an artist until finding a remote past hidden there as an invisible but decisive nucleus. Because in the figurative universe developed over years of activity by Paolo Staccioli, the types and situations we have learned to recognise refer insistently – at least, it seems to me – to the Tuscan ancestors above all, but also to the Italic and Mediterranean ancestors in general, as we know them through their temples, their houses and the images they left of themselves in the findings of their necropolises. Faced with the Staccioli Warrior, an icon with innumerable manifestations, with transitions in dimensional scale from statuette to monument, one cannot help but be reminded of the Capestrano Warrior, one of the most evocative and mysterious artefacts of the Picenum civilisation, as Anita Valentini commented in the 2013 catalogue. The elongated and rigid body (which in Staccioli’s Warriors is imprisoned in puny cylindrical shells), the physiognomy concentrated in visions that do not belong to us and, above all, the headdress with its wide brim, make the tall stone and marble statue belonging to the ancient Aufinum and preserved in Chieti the ideal progenitor of the lineage, which Staccioli continues with his laborious hands.Their boats laden with rowers (in which we immediately, conditioned as we are by images and current news, see emigrants on their way to indistinct hopes and probable dangers), remind us of the crews that have plied the waves of the Mediterranean throughout the ages, from the epics of Ulysses and Aeneas to the anonymous ones of the Phoenician merchants, of the Etruscans, themselves emigrants, of the fleets that sailed from the ports of the great maritime cities of Italy, of the Berbers and Turks who fought against Christianity and who were opposed on the Tuscan coast by the knights of St. Stephen. A navigation, with all its risks, that leaves Staccioli’s works with wide margins of mystery: who departs, who returns, from where, and why? And the same could be asked of his crowded wagons, the primary means of transport for families or groups of uncertain social location and even more vague destiny. Questions that remain unanswered, while the small or big characters stirred by their creative imagination go about their occupations. Which, to tell the truth, are not always reassuring, but quite the opposite.
If we want to identify with the human and other characters that recur in Staccioli’s corpus, we find not only the archaic and impassive sentinels eternally awaiting new orders and those travellers with no visible destination, whom I have defined in the past as «homeless, exiled and fugitive characters», but also individuals and groups trapped and forced into unsettling situations. The great men burdened by inexplicable spheres and mysterious suitcases, like Atlas modernly burdened by fatal weights. The trawls strangely assorted over the curved surfaces of spheres and vases, forced to balance precariously on top so as not to slip down, in the indistinct space outside their polychrome ceramic world, uncomfortable but reassuring: a question of instability that also appears in the see-saws. . And if Staccioli’s horses, drawn, sgraffitoed or modelled, convey a sense of such vital and uninhibited freedom that they can be compared to the animals evoked on cave walls by unknown Palaeolithic artists, for them too we glimpse the construction of a repetitive movement arranged and commanded by an unknown authority, when they are placed in a circle, running one after the other on improbable merry-go-rounds, in which joy is a fine painting.Here, at San Casciano, the selection of works privileges the male and female figure with long, slender forms, refined heads, isolated or in pairs: and spheres and sphere-bearers, and much more drawn from the artist’s well-stocked archives.
In addition to the frank and never repetitive modelling, Staccioli’s creature-creations live from the joy of noble materials, which his artist-demiurge masters with millenary experience and at the same time with ever new and candid surprise. The splendour and the roughness of the bronzes with different patinas, from almost black to intense green and shining like gold, create strong chiaroscuro effects. The ceramics emerge from the kiln unpredictable, under the appearance of a sumptuous and varied chromatic range, to which the shiny metallic reflections – bronze, gold, copper – add nuances and reflections that capture the light through sparkles and dots. Those who know Staccioli and have seen him work in his large workshop, from which his daughter Paola also embarked on her own artistic path, know how with each firing his anxious anticipation for the result is renewed, with each casting the curiosity for the piece that has just seen the light is revived. Throughout his life, Staccioli has chosen to devote himself completely to art, and has been rewarded by a wealth of inspiration, which he translates into an inexhaustible and enthusiastic energy for making.
(From the catalogue of the exhibition «Paolo Staccioli. Oneiric Journey», Giuliano Ghelli Museum, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Florence 2017). By Cristina Acidini.