The sunset in art

Exhibit organised on 17 Nov 2018
at Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie Milano

It is a great cliché to think of the “sunset” and associate it to the word “end”.
If we think about the marvellous sunsets that nature bestows upon us, their vibrant colours full of energy and life, it all seems to indicate a beginning rather than an end.
Therefore nature itself seems to subvert this concept. In art as well, there can be a path that leads to a sunset, and al-so in this case, the sunset is a suspended period of time, a pe-riod of waiting, that leads to an end but at the same time antici-pates a beginning, of reflection or renewal, both of the artist and the art.
Let’s watch this sunset together….

By Santina Portelli

Art is born with man’s ability to speak and will continue to live so long as man shall speak. That’s why there is no sunset of art but only a sunset in art. What does Santina Portelli want to tell us with this artistic proposal of hers, with this title that she has decided to give to her artistic proposal? The possible readings and interpretations can be very simple and immediate but we do not tend to, as per our work, to stop at obvious appearances. Have we ever asked ourselves for example why out a painting of the Ecce Homo giving the painting a name that is particularly connected to the present “I am here” and organizing the same painting with a rock-solid force as support and as the crude and naked reality of a time. A Christ without thorns because he is already set/trapped in stone? Let’s go back to the question after having searched for a way to orient ourselves, how to navigate in a sea such as the one the argonauts found themselves navigating in with their little boat Argo passing through the Symplegades.

(Symplegadi (from the greek syn, together, and plésso, strike, hit) are, in greek mythology a group of islands, known as the Cyanean Rocks, at the entrance of the Euxine Sea (now the Black Sea). Legend had it that these islands continuously clashed into one another (giving them their name), and as such creating a danger for the seamen who navigated those waters. They were crossed by Jason and the Argonauts during the search for the Golden Fleece.)
What are then our strong points, our dangerous islands that also serve as doors whose thresholds we have to learn to cross? I propose two names: Ovid and Samuel Beckett.

Why Ovid? Why Beckett? To talk about the artistic life of Santina Portelli?

Ovid: because he was exiled to Tomis, today’s Costanza in Romania on the Black Sea, by Octavian Augustus (Ceaser’s adopted son) after publishing the Metamorphosis. In Rome, in the Scuderie del Quirinale, an exhibit about Ovid is held. Loves, myths and other stories until January 20th 2019. With the metamorphosis, the text that makes Ovid quite famous during his lifetime, the emperor feels that his work of constructing the empire is put at risk by this 15 book poem that shows the metamorphosis of life from the primordial chaos to Ovid’s lifetime passing through myths and narratives inside narratives. Ovid becomes exiled and changes his writing style, actually, he learns the local language in order to continue writing.

When I found myself asking Santina how come she had decided so young to be a sculptor? Her polite and energetic response was: in order to bend destiny to my disability and in order to do that, sculpture is the most appropriate. Therefore, sculpture, as a metaphor of an existential condition to take possession of without being dominated by it. A strength that looks for an appropriate tool to express itself. But there isn’t just strength in Santina, what’s more, her strength draws energy from her infinite and never fulfilled desire. Lacan says a wish comes true but is never fulfilled. It’s the pulsation, that is energy, on the other hand, that is always fulfilled, that demands satisfaction. That is why a pulsation, without the objective that is given to it by desire, proves its own destructiveness, continuously. Santina’s art is a hymn to the costruens that her desire to be, her will to live constantly gives her. But she has nonetheless had to go from sculpture and make do with painting, she has had to accept putting something there where sculpture meant taking it out, adding by digging. Maybe that is why her painting always leaves a slightly relief trace. Just like the painting where the chair at the water’s edge in front of the sea shows concretely the feeble and determined presence of a life suspended between the sea and the land but also one that can tie together the encounter of the sea which continues to physically and concretely caress the body of the earth with its waves while the chair is there to signal the awaiting of a body that is about to arrive.

Or the chair in a blue room which is facing a window which is nothing more than a painting that opens itself up to the colors of the world. An artifact similar to Ovid’s metamorphosis when he uses the technique of “entrelacement” in order to maintain the reader’s attention level high. Another conspicuous point is offered to me by Samuel Beckett when he says: we are all born crazy, then some of us remain that way and again we are all born suffering, then some of us manage to understand how to suffer better. It is not about paying tribute to Beckett’s nihilism but it is about recognizing the great existential suggestion that he is able to propose with his striking formula. Beckett’s great intellectual calibre represents, with its clear esthetic and conceptual immediacy, the matter of existential drama of every one of us and, at a time, the discretional and vital space that every one can actually have in their own life. And so our Santina Portelli who, with her existential metamorphosis, goes from playing/eating colors, to wanting to bend destiny to her disability; to organizing a confrontational kind of painting, of necessary immediacy in order to communicate or scream her feelings; to the need of a path of emancipation as a premise to an action that makes her more aware of her own experience by making a life choice; to arrive then to a painting of encounter as she herself decides to call the four great phases of her life as an artist.

It is not a surprise that the choice is made after the degree in psychology and the painting of encounter that comes out of it doesn’t lose its piercing sculpture-like concreteness that she puts into colors, on the traced line on the canvas. A trace that shows raw flesh to a live and experienced existence. In this exhibit, the use of the Ecce Homo as a powerful testimony of the “I am here” is a call to listen, to encounter the discretion of the listener and it addresses everyone with its one-by-one presentation. The listener’s discretion has to do with the culture we are all associated to and it is precisely this culture which, for its nature, transcends every one of us, all the while producing our own existences, that Santina’s art means to address. It is the culture that addresses its appeal made of sculpted and traced images.
Hers is a great act of culture even more than a message to give to those who wish to encounter it. An act of culture which leaves a mark, which carves its words in the flesh of the culture which welcomes us. Today, this culture is represented by the Sacrestia della Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Tomorrow, for example, it will be represented at the Casa della Psicologia or at the festival of expression Stanze di Psiche.

Artists are one step ahead of psychoanalysts because, just like psychotic people, they operate openly with the difference that artists know the tools they use. Furthermore, with its instruments, art can build social relationships while science tends to build discrimination and segregation even with a simple, banal diagnosis. Nomination in science classifies, distinguishes, segregates. Nomination in art is given to the actions of the artist who opens towards a plurality of effects of meaning and life that everyone can draw from. Art is generous because it presents itself in its immediacy. Art that knows how to bend its own destiny is at once a gift, a for-give-ness and an existential redemption just as we can learn from her expressive energy from none other than Santina Portelli.

Giuseppe Oreste Pozzi
Member of the International Association of Psychoanalysis
Clinical Director of Artelier