“[Abbé Gévresin] shows Her the ring, turning it slowly in his fingers, explaining to Our
Lady the meaning of each stone that shines in the gold setting; beginning with green jasper,
symbolical of the faith which led the Virgin o receive the message of the angelical visitant;
then comes the chalcedony, signifying the fire of charity that fills Her heart; the emerald whose
transparency signifies Her purity; the sardonyx, with its pale flame, like the placidity of her
virginal life; the red-sard stone one with the Heart that bed on Cavalry; the crysolite, sparkling
with greenish goldreminding us of Her numberless miracles and Her Wisdom; the beryl,
figurative of Her humility...”
Pierre-Joris Huysmans, The Cathedral
In the past, painters sometimes used animals (the hair of the white piglet or squirrels’ tails in order to make brushes but also the conchineal insect, an insect used to make red dye). In order to obtain colours which were essential to their work, they also used vegetables (pastels, blue colours), a mixture of chemicals and also soil (in particular ochre) and many ingredients belonging to the mineral world, soils (yellow and red ochre, green soils etc.) and minerals, which had to be ground down with patience and strength (the French expression broyeur du noir, vale a dire on other words grinding the black, comes from the long and laborious preparation of the colour black, which is obtained from seeds or branches of burnt vineyards). Some of these ingredients were common, such as lead from which white was made but others were quite precious, such as porphyry, used to make red, or lapi lazuli, used to make blue (you could also resort to using azure stone from the mountains, which was not as nice). Gold, of course, was the most noble and expensive material. In the thirteenth century, the German monk, Theophile, reported a number of recipes collected in an important incunable, while at the end of the fourteenth century, Cenninno Cenninni in his Libro dell’arte put together the main processes used in painting.
With scientific progress or more specifically that of chemistry, colours changed into pure and simple formulas, which, since the end of the seventeenth century, have never stopped being perfected. One of the first artificial processes that received universal success, Prussian blue, has never ceased to be improved whilst other methods have been invented and manufactured.
For nostalgic reasons or for reasons of necessity inherent in their work, many artists continued to use these methods of creating colours belonging to past eras. However, they were only isolated incidents. Even more because artists from the beginning of the last century have never stopped introducing new materials. Newspaper paper and wallpaper (Georges Braque’s and Pablo Picasso’s collages in the 1910s), the most heterogeneous objects (junk materials used by Antonì Tapiès), flyers (Villegle and Arthur Aeschbacher), dinner leftovers with dirty dishes (Daniel Spoerri), slate (Raoul Ubac), small pieces of sugar and chocolate (Aldo Mondino), and the list would be endless. So the art of painting often did not require its original tools.
Rossella Faraone belongs to this new category of artists who works without the help of paints. Up until today she has chosen to achieve her compositions by using stones alone. At this point we must dispel every sort of misconception that could arise when we think about the mineral world. Faraone isn’t a sculptor (in the true sense of the word) and has every intention of remaining in the field of painting even if from this point of view her works are of an eccentric nature (but everything is relative to what we know about modern art). She is not interested in bas-relief or the technique in full relief, even if her work shows volume provoked by the nature itself of the material which she manipulates. She plays with the depth and irregularity of surfaces, which she has already constructed in her mind but this is nothing more than one of the processes she uses in her artistic activity.
Her professionalism and extremely sophisticated technique that she adopts in the treatment of stones derives from the craft of being a jeweller. For her, sapphires, rubies, emeralds and onyx do not have any secrets. People should not think that she has settled in transposing one technique, that she nevertheless knows very well, as this is intended to be nothing more than a pure and simple add-on. Whilst working she forgets about the acquired laws of her profession that requires deep knowledge and acute practice in order to preserve a deep intimacy with valuable stones.
Few artists have used stone. We must remember that our ancestors left their hand print, designing animals and hunters on the walls of their caves – as such we can admire the Lascaux caves in Dordogna, which contain paintings dating back to approximately 14,000 years ago, Altamira, almost 10,000 years ago and Cingle de la Mola in Spain, creations which date back to around 7000 years ago – or on the side of mountain rocks. The Navajo nation created magnificent compositions on stone and in ancient China extraordinary stones became considered as works of art. The writer Roger Caillois who felt as much pleasure in front of a stone as in front of a painting, evoked this passion which continued in the east in the twentieth century: “Nowadays, in shops in Beijing and other major Chinese and Japanese cities, you can buy stones in elegant forms and with harmonious curves fixed into sculptured pedestals. These are the equivalent to objects that could have arrived at advantageous prices. During the eighteenth century, Tch’en Ki-jou enumerated in Trattato dei virtuosi divertimenti the favourable conditions in order to appreciate paintings. Amongst these, “on numerous paintings during the Song period, which showed gardens or terraces of a palace, tall irregular rocks were erected outside like a supreme ornament.” I could also list zen gardens, which at times are composed completely of rocks and gavel. Anyhow, it is not only geologists who become passionate about different stones. In fact, these stone also came to be conserved in glass cabinets during the Renaissance and the Baroque period. This trend has never been appeased. Those artists who worked with stone outside the specific sphere of sculpture are rare. The case of Raoul Ubac can be cited as almost an exception. Rosella Faraone’s research assumes a regular nature, since her works don’t use other “pigments” but only rocks that she herself chooses.
I. The carving of the stones
“Until now drawing has remained in the form of stars, rose windows, semi-regular structured lines and curves which develop according to a secret motive but which is without doubt possible to calculate. Other modules are free from all regularity. No arithmetic can be guessed here. Now, big spots disperse in twinkling or shining beaches: profiles of fries or tadpoles, salamander, alchemists alembics with huge beaks, algae whose ribbons are suddenly dilated into enormous almost rectangular blisters or profiles on volcanic bombs which twist to an end where they gasp in the breath of the eruption.”
«Septaria», Pietre, Roger Caillois, 1966.
Rossella Faraone has developed her art beyond all representation. She has not opted for the rigorous and cold constructions of neo-plasticism or the Hard Edge American artists. On the contrary, her paintings are of an exuberant nature and could be thought of as “baroque” even if this term covers diverse and contradictory forms. Let’s say that they are instead baroque in essence, remembering that this term was originally used to choose irregular shaped pearls. It’s difficult to assimilate them to any one artistic flow. If she was closer to the abstract Expressionist painters she would have, in her artistic works, an attitude that would be closer to specialism but not that which Lucio Fontana and his friends did after the war but from the point of view of their research. There is a relationship between the materials, which likens her to Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Burri. But when all is said and done, all these analogies are of no use if not to create a fairly vague idea of the originality of her work as it is impossible to assimilate her with anybody from the recent past or from our time. Rossella Faraone has invented her own method and her own aesthetics.
If we examine a great diptych such as Iesusits chromatic register is limited to black, white and gold. From the centre of the composition it radiates concentric circles. Spirals, that seem to come from the vertiginous immensity of a faraway galaxy are found on both sides of a central circle. All these forms give the sensation of expanding only to end near the border of the painting with curls of iridescent colour. The background is black and reinforces the idea of the universe that surrounds us, of those infinite spaces which frightened Pascal. In order to create this work, she used pearls, obsidian, black agate and onyx. The use of these stones and pearls is not accidental. The use is not only connected to the stones’ natural colouring but is also associated with their intrinsic significance. Here, the obsidian, onyx and agate are all black stones. The obsidian stone, a volcanic glass, was named by Obsidius and was, according to Pliny the Elder, discovered by him in Ethiopia. According to the Bible (Genesis), Oxyx is distinguished from agate (which can be of numerous different colours including white) because of its layered formation. Finally, agate, which is almost pure silicone, was named during the Ancient Greek time after a coastline in Sicily. Some of these stones are associated to mourning, others to nightmares. Therefore, this work of art could be interpreted as pale blue lights that illuminate the gloomy depths of the universe, rendered by obscure stones. In Rosella Faraone’s Bene e male (2006-2007), which shows a black background and an almost indistinguishable picture, she has created an almost identical composition, though simpler and without revolving spirals and the central pearl. Bene e male This seems to be the preparatory study of Iesusthat doesn’t give anything away with regards to its circular and vortical nature. The diptych of the same name offers us a less pronounced drawing: a huge land of white, some grey with transparent white reliefs, which close with smooth edges as if they had to contain the force of another black surface with spots of golden dust. The idea of the black is recurrent in her works. Meteore It can be found in Meteore (2006) where bright blooms are formed amongst golden reliefs. Buchi neri This reappears in Buchi neri (2007) where golden spots and signs emerge and tear the darkness like amazing stars and meteors. Or in a painting created two years later with the same name, arches of circles that form a blue vortex starting from a central relief expand across a yellow background. The black hole gains different looks and characteristics.
It is certain that macrocosm is the artist’s chosen subject and attributes to this subject a transcendental and mystic value. However skies do not always have such a powerfully tragic appearance, which can be felt in front of Iesus o Buchi neri. Visioni dal pianeta Cactus Iesus or Buchi neri. Visioni dal pianeta Cactus (2008) gives the feeling of being in front of a sphere with purple and white areas and golden yellow spots on a dark blue background. This imaginary star is both recreational and phantasmagorical. Stella nascente (2009) has a more wrinkled surface covered with multi-coloured protrusions. Rocks seem to come out from the centre covering the picture almost completely and also covering the blue epidermis. Finally, Pianeta del dragone dormiente shows a seahorse made of malachite underlined with golden dust. But this works could also resemble a landscape of our planet seen from the sky which opens on an unknown continent with seas made of a blue which is deeper than the one we know.
II. Double meanings
“I speak of stones: algebra, vertigo and order; stones, psalms and quinconce, stones, darts
and corolla on the edges of a dream, ferment and images…”
Roger Caillois, Pietre
Nothing of Rosella Faraone’s paintings is ordinary. The names that she gives to her paintings
are a sort of guide for entering into the greatly complex game of meanings, which she intends
to attribute to her paintings. Examining, for example, a works of relatively small dimension
christened Metamorfosi (2009), there is a foreground of a white beach bristling with transparent
mugs, whilst in the background we see a red plane of varying intensity of colour. Finally, a
disc, which gives the impression of a rising sun but made with a dull gold and with numerous
irregularities. In the case of the sun, there is an evident paradox with the title, that is to say
the choice of the chromatic harmonies and the ambiguous nature of the solar disc (the
image created is there). In reality, strange and opposing sensations hide from Metamorfosi
which sends us back to a world of sensations and visual, tactile and unreal dreams. The
cosmological theme is still present but the interpretation of the gestation between the most
secret subconscious is doubled. In Reminiscenze dell’anima (2009) a similar phenomenon was
produced. We see the rocky and tormented surface of a hostile territory underneath a beautiful
blue sky overseas whilst another golden blue body hangs over it losing, stone after stone, its
layers. A creation from the same year, entitled Crepuscolo della vita presents a very similar device.
A rough foreground with white and pink rocks, a red - almost black – sky and two golden yellow
rocky stars. These two works have something in common; the contemplation of an uncertain sky,
of a land where nothing is human. They are dream states that are represented in both cases. These
special fantasies were established in the majority of her paintings, for example in Itinerari su Marte
(2008) small islands bordered with gold linking one to another can be seen on a blue background.
The form itself of this grand circle allows doubt to remain, as in Genesi di Stelle (2009) where only
the title gives us Ariadne’s thread. Is it about the pale blue visions or, on the contrary, is it about the
unknown visions from above governed in every case by single aesthetic impulses of the creator?
Maremoto (2009) proves that the dynamics of the act prevails over the subject, which has more to
do with emotions than with its material production.
Moreover, as Le mie isole (2009) demonstrates, the artist felt the desire to trace the map of the interior world, since the universe, which she described in her own way, resembles the geography which she invented to describe her most secret emotions.
Passione (2007) quickly arrives to allows us to partly reconsider the opinion made (perhaps too early) about her artistic production. It is certain that the deep and close relationship with the galactic and terrestrial worlds have given her the essential representative materials that develop from one painting to another. It is equally as certain that the titles that she has chosen accentuate this general inclination. However, will it not be a recall to conceal or at least render the sensations, feelings and compulsions relative, which are the most incisive expressions of that which she cannot express without crossing the artistic perspective which transposes and dignifies everything? Meditazione (2008) could be presented as a group of golden stars closed in a decorative circle of the same golden colour. Even though she has felt the necessity to give her works different kinds of titles, always linked to the spiritual life, this is not done on a whim or from an impulse. Rossella Faraone wanted to insist on the fact that cosmogony and her maps were first and foremost in her escaping thought map and the powerful ghosts that behave reluctantly. From the depths of her subconscious a sensual, exasperate and exuberant art flows which reveals angles and obscure forces with the glow of all the delicate or semi-precious stones and gold. A revised impulse given by an acute consciousness of the divine and the experience of the sublime given from the mystical, deserted and marvellous route which exceeds the individual to reach the universal.
If one stops in front of a Rossella Faraone works and examines it without prejudice of its reality, one would state that it does not allow us to develop only one interpretation. Her works possess multiple meanings which complement each other and at times unusual contrasts infiltrate the picture. Every one of these interpretations gives more strength, weight and density. The originality of her compositions rests on a contradiction between the value of the materials she uses and their decorative nature which conflicts with their explosive nature. We can bet that in the near future, her works will have a more sophisticated appearance. Proof of this can be seen in a small composition (Hansel e Gretal 2006-2007), which is far from Faraone’s normal works in both spirit and title. It is built in an unusual way and compares a pink space with a bright blue space. This famous story by the Grimm Brothers taken from their first collection of fairy tales, Children and Household Takes (1812) tells the story of a brother and a sister who are abandoned by their parents because they are no longer able to feed them. The siblings meet a cannibalistic witch in a bread house from which they manage to escape. For Faraone it could have been another direction to take.
Just as in other times it was common to paint with gold and paint with stones to create altar pieces that decorated altars in Europe during the Renaissance and the baroque period, for Rossella Faraone painting with stones and working with gold is what gives her originality. You can hear the words of Bishop Marbod’s poem Sulle dodici pietre preziose che servono alle fondamenta della città celeste echoing in the air, which is a comment to John’s apocalypse:
“People of the celestial land
Sing to the king of kings;
He is the supreme creator
Of the celestial city
Have foundations here
“Jasper, for its green colour
Brings the freshness of faith
Which, perfect with all of man,
Never loses its strength;
And thanks to its protection
They have withstood the devil.
“ Sapphire in appearance,
Is similar to the heavenly throne;
It represents the heart of the plain,
Who wait with firm hope,
And whose lives and conduct
Sing to God in the highest […]”
Manipulating expensive stones with dexterity and impressive science in the same way as she manipulates coloured pigments Faraone explores an undiscovered territory where touch is as important as sight – an enchanted universe of art, enriched by her awareness, in the glow of an abstraction taken by the hidden strength of her desire.
Paris, July-August 2010