From the tip of the tongue to the tip of the brush
(Foreword of "Presque vu - Atlas of Untold")
As the majority of people I’ve often experienced that peculiar phenomena called “Déjà vu”, that is when a situation, place or a scene actually happening or manifesting itself for the first time seems to be the perfect as well as ominous replica of something we’ve already seen or lived before. As far as I can remember that perception was very recurrent over my childhood. Sometime its intensity was so enveloping and insidious that more than once I was about to believe that this feeling was the proof I lived one or many more previous existences. In my case it happened mostly when I was alone in the open countryside, just surrounded by the vibrant silence of the twilight, or when I was inside an old building like that one of my grandparents . I still vividly remember how I was entranced by studying the penumbra descending over the dizzy staircase leading to the bedroom like a bridge built among two distant temporal dimensions. My fear of falling while climbing it was so strictly tied to my enthrallment for its majestic and ancient weirdness, that the sense of having already been there centuries ago (and not just physically) became a sort of sadomasochistic rapture. The occurrence of such ideas easily melted with my dreamlike activities, enhancing my sense of dislocation and creepy longing since I couldn’t establish the right amount of fantasy (or dreamed memories) generating my particular “déjà vu” experiences.
Soon this mood evolved in a deeper state of mind that engulfed my imagination pushing me to find a way to free myself from the overgrowing sense of eeriness by giving them a plastic interpretation.
Since I was 4 years old, drawing was the most direct process of draining my kaleidoscopic entanglement of uncanny emotions. When I learned writing I had the chance to try decrypting that aura of mystery through the evocative use of words. Nevertheless, I slowly realized that both narrative and poetic writing were limited by a rational cage of rules and structures unable to fully preserve the same quality of magical enigma owned by other less exclusive codes like music or cinema. Even radical experiments like those of James Joyce who tried to replicate the “stream of consciousness” erasing the punctuation and syntax, or Guillame Apollinaire who conceived the “calligrammes” in order to graphically enhance the lyrical power of words, looked like too much ingenious attempts to imitate the same spontaneous poignancy of the visual or musical arts. Consequently the will of approaching the art of painting marked a third step in my personal quest to translate what Freud called “unheimliche”. Indeed it was around my early adolescence, when I was managing to acquaint myself with the canvas and the brushes, that I started to analyze a more subtle shade in my own sentiment. Actually the illusory perception of forethought contained inside the psychic delight of the “déjà vu” revealed to be the source of a more complex tension linked to the bewitching nature of a cosmic truth hidden behind simple circumstances or images. While I was keeping working on my feverish painting expeditions , I progressively began to seek this new intuition into cinema and video art, whose grammar of lively mysteries seem to be closer to the perfect rendition of that delicate and powerful emotion of an impending revelation evolving in space and time.
Although so far I dedicated myself to writing, directing movies and music videos and composing music, I still consider painting my most intimate dominion where pursuing the evocation of what I like to define “mysterium interruptum”, “a suspended mystery”, that is something very similar to the experience of the “presque vu”, “almost seen”, when we feel that we’re about to recall a name or a word without being able to tell it. In fact like the more sensual “coitus interrupts”, the pleasure of this impression relies on the anguished awareness of the unspeakable that only the crystallization of momentum rendered by a painting can deliver to the watcher, whereas art forms like cinema and music manifesting themselves in time tend to dissolve this “frozen arousal” into their dynamic volatility. Thus I can say that my best paintings, most of them collected in this book, are somehow the aural secretion of the loop between the “déjà vu” and the “presque vu”.
One of the most meaningful release of this “circuit” has been the painting entitled “The breath of William Kurelek”.
The story of my obsession for the painter Kurelek dated to the discovery of his masterwork "The Maze" that happened accidentally when I was a child reading a large book about psychiatry belonging to a friend of my father. The detailed and disturbing sagittal representation of a human skull full of boxes containing small iconic scenes (reminiscent of those ones depicted by Magritte, Ernst and Dali) impressed me so deeply that I couldn't forget it for a long while, even if I wasn't able to know who was the painter since the book didn't provide the name of the author. The mystery enveloping both the painting theme and its creator boosted even more my fascination for the image. Somehow his Bosh-like and bruegelesque taste reminded me an intense state of mind I perceived when I was very young staring at the little figures on the basement of an old globe in my house. But when I checked that basement I discovered that those figures never existed.
Accidentally many years later I found again the same large book in the house of a friend of mine, and this time I was tormented by the gloomy urgency of a truth hidden behind that image. I checked out the illustration references at the end of the volume and, following the several clues on the web, I finally managed to find his name. Since then I studied his life reading rare Canadian books and discovered further impressive pictures and drawings he made during the period he spent at the London Maudsley Hospital when he was hospitalized for his depression and painted "The Maze". I started to paint a medieval urban landscape while I was simply musing about all the ancient feelings I recovered when I found again that gruesome Kurelek's self-portrait. Even though I cannot explain why I paint it, I think that showing what you cannot express through words and logic, or that is "on-tip-of-the tongue", might be the reason paintings are made for.
Alessandro Fantini, November 2011