A reflection, mine, on the work of Antonio Freiles, namely on what in the 70s was called “painterly-painting” perhaps to underline the end of non-autonomous and strongly influenced destination, forces me to use the sort of distinction in literary philology between the before and after (temporal and/or causal) of a term or concept or also a single word: a quo and ad quem. Categories which in my absolute judgement I extend to the two fundamental instances of aesthetics and ethics, which are the conditio sine qua non of the very same existence of art. In other words, in the artist’s journey there is a before and an after, a derivation and a destiny, or rather the ‘internal’ reasoning to the aesthetic discourse (the relationship between art, its history, its languages) and those ‘external’ or ethical ones (the relationship between art, its function and its destiny), like in that admirable compilation that Erwin Panofsky called iconology, the past and future of art are connected in a global design in the tight weave of relations with the previous or coeval culture in every order of material or spiritual phenomena.

Looking at the work of Antonio Freiles means, therefore, placing it not in a situation of Eden-like innocence, but rather at the heart of those vicissitudes which have characterised the century just past and its projections into the future.

But meanwhile, who is the man-artist inaugurating the twentieth century?

He is certainly a new, a different man. Disenchanted enough with respect to the emotive conditions which accompanied him, between hope and illusion, to the threshold of an epoch assumed or promised to be better.  A man who had to substitute the fascination of expectations or dreams with the pragmatism of the project, the safety or arrogance of certainty with the precariousness of experimentation. In the field of creativity and art, the abandon of the ancient aesthetic of imitation (the Platonic-Aristotelian mimésis milestone) which presumed, often together with a dogmatic technique, a revelation of the ideal in the real, for an art as “non-objective representation” (in titulo in the fundamental work by Kazimir Malevich), has substituted reality with a world of enigmas, of ghosts and mysterious appearances which no longer wander through landscapes, be they overturned, of history or mythology or nature, but, so to say, in those of the spirit, substituting those “icons” with unknown “figures” in the ancient iconology and even in that potential reservoir of images which is the unconscious and which, according to Edgar Morin, multiplies until infinity. A man, I was saying, not only disenchanted but also painfully deluded, as was Kandinsky, who identified abstraction with the spirituality of art. In short, all the culture of the 20th century, stripped of every transcendental illusion and turned in on itself, underwent a kind of self-analysis which had now taken position in place of the very ends it had always served. But it was about a false tautology, a game of mirrors, all in all of another illusion. Art turned to itself as “doing”, as a craft and, if we wish, as a game, restricted or charmed by the desire to investigate and/or purify its own system, its own processes strongly withdrawn into doubt also because of exhaustion or an emphasis on aesthetic matters no longer felt to be in tune with current civilisation.

The crucial problem of the 20th century was therefore language. As Filiberto Menna described in his famous pamphlet “The analytic line in modern art”, art was inflicted by a reduction of the complex to the simple with regard to its structures and by the removal of the sublime, by symbolic reduction or impoverishment of forms and even the pigment. A process which Renato Barilli, bringing to test all the arts, defined as “normalisation”. In such a way it may have seemed that art, self-gratified and little disposed to the transitive senses, or, which is the same thing, decisively far and consciously the enemy of that “twentieth century ontology” (or rather worse than an aesthetic “ontology” which bears the test of historical becoming) which still weakened the Crocean culture, might have lost its “finality”. It is the loss of the télos which had Giulio Carlo Argan, paraphrasing Edmund Husserl and his “Crisis in European Sciences”, pronounce its prophetic obituary, adventurously found in Hegel’s latest theories. But it would be precisely Argan to suggest an heir of this deceased in a substitute role: namely that art is different from what everyone knows it to be, neither does it take the place and/or the functions, it does not assert but rather researches. Besides, also the theoreticians, namely the scholars of aesthetics who for some time have considerably reduced philosophical emphasis as a kind of “weak thinking”, that is to a series of conjectures without axiological certainty and which in the field of aesthetics speak of experimental practices, appear to be in harmony with Argan. Or rather, as in the case of other militant critics (I cite the couple Germano Celant and Achille Bonito Oliva) one speaks, respectively, of an absolutely technological art compatible with the character of our present civilisation, or of a nomadic art, picked up from its age-old tradition and replicated in a “different” manner. I think, perhaps reinterpreting Husserl in a less tragic manner, namely with the Husserlian Enzo Paci that also art participates like the sciences involved in the making of an encyclopaedia. Art has not pronounced any axiological resignation, but has assumed its own finality in itself, it is a self-value. I would like to add, returning briefly to the start of these rather tangled and schematic reflections, to those “external” or ethical reasons which perhaps constitute if not the essence then at least the task (or end) of the very same art. And it is an ethical task, not only that which was so dear to Schiller, of transferring the aesthetic of art to life, as much as the “internal” conscience of the aesthetic discourse as well as the artistic adventure is socially progressive even when it is declared to be mannerist, even when it replicates itself in an infinite philological chain, also when it ignores its own destiny: for the very fact that it exists, that it qualifies our existence because it shows us its great and dramatic uselessness and necessity.

But it is time to return to Freiles, who in this overall picture comfortably finds his place. Antonio builds, thus plans the “fields”; he plans them, and their boundaries can often be seen blooming out from beneath the colour, rigorously, geometrically and in any case, surprisingly. For this reason I spoke of fields rather than forms. I remember the first time I found myself facing Rothko’s works how moved I was and how I understood what I called “the poetry of boundaries, the indefiniteness of the area and precisely his “imperfection” in tracing borders which, like any boundary, configure a series of dialectical couplings; the stopping and the flight, order and causality; desire and frustration, the rule and violation; prison and escape ¼various authors speak of Rothko with regard to Freiles both for “normalising” the poetics, namely liberating it from any mysticism or exoticism as well as embracing the American experiments of some abstract expressionists. Freiles adopts him as a model, as he adopts, perhaps certain experiences of a Barnett Newman or an Ad Reinhardt…I would prefer, if ever, to recall the trials of Supports/Surfaces, but also here I would have to atone for a certain ideological severity of the French. In any case, references can only recall, by means of luministic, chromatic or structural homologies, that “making paintings” which in the second half of the century, or precisely in the 60’s onward, assigned painting a role and strongly laic sense. Antonio Freiles, through decisive and reductive discarding, as he said, practices a minimalist option; he does not reduce to primary structures, does not seek primitive grammar (which would still be part of a sort of morphological ontology, of a foundation), but he chooses those minimal formal masses with which he defines the painting. In other words, as Vittorio Fagone suggests, Freiles emphasises colour and light of the painting. Croma and lumen are immanent games which regard the emotions and illusions respectively.  Every symbolism is kept at a distance. The figures are governed by geometry, as I said, or rather as his critics have said. They generate by following the vast combinatory richness of the “module” of which we could trace a quick and imperfect taxonomy: inscription, complementarity and supplementarity, simultaneity, opposition, iteration, dislocation…

In short, the law governing the relationships between signs (figures), namely syntax, enjoys the highest will which is the artist’s, who with the epiphanies of reason realises its opposites and namely Pascal’s esprit de finesse which is the reign of intuition, form, and according to Spinoza, the height of knowing. Freiles’ “fields” are uneasy, even uncertain, even imperfect: the state of the forms is vibrant, the motility and the indeterminacy of the fences, of the drafting, the boundaries, produce, as one of his interesting critics, Sandro Parmiggiani, says, “starts”, “need for the frontier and its negation”, vanishing lines like one who feels oppressed by claustrophobia in a friendly space… I will try to conclude that Antonio Freiles, certainly an exponent of those sorrows and cultural anxieties which move our time, is, as we have seen, an elusive artist: he eludes the material and regenerates it on paper swarming and pasted with paint; he eludes the form, he expresses it, betrays it and exceeds it; he eludes colour and renders it ambiguous with stubborn additions… But he is dramatically incapable of being elsewhere. Precisely he who attempts to take the deception of art to the top, reconsecrates in the manner of an exorcist through the dismissal of evil or like the Phoenix through the resurrection of its own ashes.

Antonio, therefore, is right here among us.

Eugenio Miccini


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