The «chartae» of Antonio Freiles

In a retrospective evaluation of the researches in the field of the visual arts of the decade now coming to a close, one must underline the return of an expanded and subjectivistic figurative expression which established itself in accordance with the fashions of the different neoexpressionisms and, at the other extreme end, over the expansions of experimentations in the immaterial area of the new communication media, especially the electronic ones. These two pulsations seemed to give a typical character to the scenery of the decade, extending and intertwining other tensions that were typical of the preceding one, viz. the dematerialization and conceptuality of the visual practices, the recovery of an “analytical” factuality, primarily conscious and, in any case, irreducible.

With respect to the two identified and soon evident trends there is however a third one, less manifest but not less typical of the last decades. This can register the different experiences applied to the constitutive processes of the factual canon of the world of visual arts: the very active contributions from painting to sculpture in the eighties are to be interpreted in this sense: this is the right way to consider the many and different researches implying the redefinition of one of the most ancient and versatile materials used in graphic and communicative activity in general: paper; it is necessary, here, to examine this material according to a complex and modernly oriented perspective to better understand the reasons and achievements of the most recent and significant work of Antonio Freiles.


The process of manufacturing paper has not changed its basic phases through the centuries. It avails itself of the laying of a felt of cellulose fibres suspended in a very diluted watery liquid on a very finely woven metal net. In this way, the cellulose fibres gather together in a sheet through “felting” when the water is removed and the sheet dries up.


The importance of paper in the history of eastern and western civilization – where the manufacturing process has not changed much – is fundamental, not only for the transmission of culture connected with writing which is still its basic means, but also for all those expressive forms of the visual world implying graphic configuration.

The feature which, however, distinguishes contemporary researches from the traditional ones is that, whereas the classical process uses the characteristics of the basic material – hence the great variety of paper types different in their texture, weight, colour, coarseness, thickness, transparence and so on according to the different purposes they served as regards graphic or pictorial expressions – the new experimenting artists act on the generative phase of the process itself, achieving the definition of a new material whose singular evidence and particular texture appear every time inseparable and unrepeatable.

In this way paper still has a symbolic ambiguity even today. It is par excellence the repository of the world fo communication and fantasy, an indispensable basic material of memories, written or outlined, and is at the same time the living image of frailness and lightness.

It is also this aspect that recently stimulated many artists. Indeed, the tension towards formulations, at one time primary and stratified, of factual culture, has also attempted to reach beyond those limits of weightiness typical of the triumphant, compact and thick “painting” which has asserted itself in the last five centuries of western art.

Why isn’t it possible for the tenuous, bright and vibratile substance of an outlined or coloured sheet to compete with the continuous and thick chromatic surface of paint which loves to be spread, like a film organically uninterrupted, definite and final, over an external support, albeit a congenial one?

The predilection of many contemporary artists for paper can be viewed in the direction not of a reductive trail, but as a constructive revolution in the universe of factuality. The universe of paper is for this reason the world of written, drawn or liquidly painted memory; the symbolic place where images reveal themselves both intense and in some way volatile. It is also the field, for artists like Antonio Freiles more radically committed to an open and innovative process where it is possible to lead back to an effectually productive polarity the basic technical procedure; it is, at the same time, an invention ever renewed, within the shifts and articulations of a precise canon.


Antonio Freiles’ s artistic history seems to lead in a natural way to his latest works and choices. Freiles was raised in Messina, the Sicilian city most committed to the life of visual arts in the second postwar period and availed himself of the isolated teaching of an artist like Salvatore Castagna who was always eager to perceive the different forms of creative factuality, and was active for decades in Messina as a solicitous and generous teacher; Freiles has also confronted himself with the most advanced expressive researches on a national and international scale in the field of the production of graphic ari that he himself has stimulated.

The climate in which Freiles made his first significant experiences at the turn of the seventies is that of a recovery of a “practice of painting” which in the sixties had met with objections in favour of proclaimed conceptuality of the artistic image and of the assertion of a visual metalanguage beyond the bidimensionality of the field of conventional painting. It was a difficult situation, a time when many who remember how things were in those years, believed that the path of painting was leading towards an irreversible extinction, but when the necessity was felt to make a basic reassessment of the principles, the essential and redundant ones, concerning every possible way of creating an image (beyond the “banal” opposition of the preceding decades, between figuration and abstraction).

In this environment every gesture, process or activity involving the use of pictorial pigment and the shading of light implied a new awareness without which any expansive


progressions of a modem “icon”, recognizable as a symbol and effectual as a language, would no longer have been possible. This is surely no easy ground for a young artist attracted, by natural aptitude and education, besides his critical awareness, to the lesson of the great masters of the international lyrical abstraction. Guido Ballo, Enrico Crispolti and Tommaso Trini have been, in the Italian sphere, keen to understand this root, effusively lyrical and, owing to an undeniable topographical connotation, “solar” of Freiles’s painting. However, all the attentive viewers of Freiles’s work, also from the international side-where comments like those of Patricia Trutty-Coohill deserve mention for the pertinence and breadth of her references have always made a point to underline how the “lyrical” register of Freiles’s work has never been bound to the restricted and reflecting continuity of a surface (a phenomenon that is characteristic of much “analytical painting” of the seventies), but rather compelled to give relief to its own magmatic material essence. In this, the forms are combined by means of a spatial condensation and even more for their temporal essence, becoming or waxing, oriented in the direction of a progressive opening or, if you will, of a lucid “drift”. One feature that can be recognized as a term of a formative and poetic reference through the course of Freiles’s career as a painter in the seventies, is the way he sets before us a field of vision examined in its essential formative phases and then led to a transmuting image beyond the limits of any possible “frame”.


If it is true that the renewed world-wide pictorial scene in the past few years has revealed an interest for the universe of coloured signs tied to the membranous and tenuous existence of paper sheets, then we must say that Freiles’s activity in this field in Italy has been precocious. His first experiences in this area date back to 1979. They show at once that it is important for the artist to fix the terms for the redefinition of a new form, both communicative  and artistic, not on the paper surface but in the substance of paper. The difference between the two operative methods is not irrelevant. Working on paper means to develop an artistic process for the definition of a form in some way “external”. Penetrating into the very matter generating a primary process, working on this until an identification is obtained between the structural substance and a visible form, means to drive the whole artistic process towards one artistic expression where the elements combine together and reveal themselves in images. The same course that the development in painting has tried to trace is manifest and even becomes radical, in the chartae, an archipelago of “volcanic” islands changing continually, even if the configuration of each sheet becomes every time irreversibly sealed.

The approach between a moment that recovers a remote anthropological memory and an artistic practice consciously innovative, is not to be considered, at the end of a difficult century, dominated by the endless mouldings of technique, as a contradictory point. The uninterrupted force of artistic expression is indeed the more valid in that it has to coexist with uncontrollable breaches and persistent pursuits and perfusions. This balance-unbalance often causes axiety in those artists who operate in the communicative world of art and, ironically, it is comforting for those who can appreciate their works in a real contemporary context. To establish whether these chartae are retrieved fragments of a material culture which in ancient times was able to make precious or rare papers from the leaves of the papyrus frequently found on the banks of the Sicilian rivers, or whether they are today an “invention” aiming to prove at all points of its route the unremovable physical quality of the processes that make it possible, may be an irrelevant question. It is however important that the papers should reveal instantly and with a fulness of expression, the value of the colour layers, of the effect of light on the front or angles, with respect to the artifact that indicates two net phases in its being a coloured space, a space of light: an internal constitutional phase whose memory is constantly revealed, and a phase of duration and expansion whose term, as has already been mentioned, is not fixed, and which is even strenuously denied.

Whoever has a knowledge of the Italian art of this century is aware that the dominating constant is perhaps the “energetic” component or line, an expression of a rebellious condition, compelled to refuse the stratified weight of a heavy historical memory, and consequently tending towards the relentless kindling of the new. This line starts from the acute reflections of Umberto Boccioni connoting all the futurist experience and certainly does not extinguish itself into the Arte Povera which shifts Nature into the Museum trying not to curb its pulsations and primary significance.

This “energy” is not an extraneous element even to the newest researches in the field of painting (which develop the lucid but strict analytical propositions of new painting). Freiles’s work can also be viewed in this key: a sum of pulsations of matter retrieved into a primary formative nucleus and forcefully revealed at every point of an evident demonstration that Enrico Crispolti has been able to define “epiphany”.

The papers collected in this exhibition are, however, to be read in their plain evidence. In this perspective some primary plastic data are to be considered. The first one concerns the inner conformation of filling in the colour within the shape of the sheet which has a constant size (a square sheet with a side of about forty-fifty centimeters). With an approximation that I think can be considered admissible, one can make out three basic spatial configurations. The first is dome-shaped, so frequent on a large and small scale in so large a part of western painting: the square pictorial field, prolonged upwards, rises towards a fast curvilinear border, compelling the eye of the viewer to a quick and continual perceptive movement. The second configuration juxtaposes in the same icon two “figures” balanced on two sides of the visual field which, in their turn, are reversed both in form and colour in the sense of a positive-negative inversion. The third configuration, which it is possible to isolate as an element of reference for many chartae, consists of a juxtaposition between a chromatic, relatively compact “cage”, but not homogeneous, and a sudden breach-arrow that intervenes to sprit the visual field or to hit it according to a free geometry of approach, in the fashion of a mobile target. These configurations are not stereotyped iterations, but expanding variations of a topologically live arrangement, and the artist loves to lead back to it the process and the invention of his every effort.


An analysis of Freiles’s most recent work cannot but emphasize the sources of light and colour of a work entirely tending to and rooted into the universe, ancient and ever new, of painting. Freiles is a painter of mediterranean light. He does not fear the glaring splendour of the yellows which Goethe rightly considered as the most difficult colours in the hands of any painter. Freiles loves the orange tones, the raw and bloody reds of fertile soils. He loves the violet colours of the “oriental” horizons of the sea town where he lives. He loves the deep and shady greens. However, his painting leaves no room to shrill and sung themes, involves as it is in the coarse and tactile thickness of the papers; it prefers to hold by a compact fulness, it loves to mark the border between one pigment and the others as if it would establish an organic and changing continuity. The colour of these papers, in these papers, is a pulsating liquid giving each sheet the life of a singular artifact, attracting insistently our vigilant perception and intelligence (of the things of the world and of its uncontrollable images).

Vittorio Fagone



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