Painting is the artistic form most connected to its own long tradition. Especially when speaking about Western culture, European in particular.
With the beginning of the 20th century and the affirmation of historic avant-garde, painting has had to face off against the aesthetics of the new, made of anomalous materials, the end of the era of verisimilitude, and the necessary relationship with space.
The true great change began at the end of the Second World War. While the age of the Informal was coming to a close, substituted by newer formulas such as Abstract Expressionism and the New Dada in America.
Already in 1948, Lucio Fontana theorised Spatialism; the possibility of seeing beyond the limits of the canvas. With the adopting of the monochrome, painting changed following the meeting with conceptual art, something that Fontana understood early on, thanks to the sensitivity introduced, above all, by the Gruppo Zero in Germany.
The contemporary idea of the painting after the painting went in that direction in the 1960s, both with Minimalism and with Pop Art. This new theory was discussed in the art world: starting with Color Fields in the United States; Group Zero in fact in Germany; in Italy, in particular in Milan, debate was fuelled around Azimuth and Nuove Tendenze (New Trends) – a group of young artists that formed in Milan in the early 1960s that also included Castellani, Piero Manzoni, Gianni Colombo and Paolo Scheggi (who passed away prematurely like Manzoni at only 31 years of age). The art work was no longer configured as a reproduction of something externally concrete but as a true and proper object. The filiation of this “family” occurs in Italy above all through the analytic painting of the 1970s, and today nearly half a century later, Pino Pinelli is the artist of this trend with his installation shapes that once again introduce the concept of space into the painting.
The next turning point came about with Arte Povera starting from 1967 and, not by chance, regarded the Italian movement of post-Second World War that achieved the most success abroad. In this case, painting was made merely residual; this was demonstrated for example in the maps and tapestries of Alighiero Boetti. By the way, a similar matter was also faced by Pop Art, even though in the more famous of the second American avant-garde, the iconographic theme remains central. An artist like John Chamberlain works in a hybrid territory between painting and sculpture, using scrap material from industrial civilisation in a plastic fashion and contaminating it with chromatic interventions.
In recent decades, between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new century, painting has encountered other worlds, for example that of the media, artificial images, sometimes regaining the quoting mechanism that had already taken a hold in the 1980s.
In the group of ex-rebels launched by Charles Saatchi, Damien Hirst reflects on the question of ephemeral beauty, in the constant parallel between life and death, and the butterflies of his work Freedom, exhibited here, become the symbol of vacuous beauty, and contemporary vanitas. Seemingly at polar opposites while they are not, are the visions of computer graphics and videogames of Julian Opie and the robust abstract brush strokes, truly elegant by the way, of Jason Martin.
In the painting of today, in America as in other parts of the world, the theory of everything reigns: in the Minimalist quote of Ivan Navarro, the young Australian artist Michael Staniak, and the globalist figuration of Kehinde Wiley. The great Japanese artist Yakoi Kusama created numerous performances bordering on the obscene, more than often altered by the use of drugs in a pure hippy style painting the bodies of models with polka dots and using them completely naked, in a theme of free love and sexual promiscuity. Another name that is drawing the attention of the critics is that of American Leon Golub, who fused the American tradition of Abstract Painting with that of European Expressionism.
In other words, all that remains after painting is painting.
- Damien Hirst, Butterflies Painting...Freedom, 2007. Courtesy of Jerome Zodo Gallery