Gianfranco Zappettini: Whiteness and other states of being.
By Alberto Rigoni
Translated by Julia Heim
In Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching it states:
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel:
It is the space within that makes it useful.
If it is true – as Eastern tradition would have it – that the artist or poet is the vate, he who can see before and with more clarity than other men, he who opens the door and shows other men the way, it is also true that this way is never a return to the point of departure, but rather a journey forward, during which the artist bares himself and his art in order to ultimately reach his own center. And the center, as the Tao – the pillar of Eastern tradition – indicates, is made up of emptiness, an emptiness surrounded and safeguarded by matter (the spokes and the clay). Looking at the work that Gianfranco Zappettini created in the 1970s, whether we are speaking of his “white” works or his “superimposed canvasses,” what we don’t see is just as important as what we do. In the “whites” we see a canvas covered in white acrylic, but we don’t see the black surface on which the artist began; in the “superimposed canvasses” we see an empty space on the most external canvas marked by a square traced in pencil, but we don’t see the squares of the underlying canvasses that are filled or partially filled. This is also true of his more recent works, the ones that belong to the series “La trama e l’ordito” [“The Weft and the Warp”], pictorial surfaces in which contemporary industrial materials are woven into a sum that transcends today’s times: the “End That Shines Through” [“Fine che traspare”] (to cite another of Zappettini’s series from the nineties) is also an emptiness (the exterior of the work) that hides the richness and the orderliness of a traditional praxis (in this case weaving). We see the result but not the meticulous process that produced it, and yet both are fundamental parts of the work: the vessel’s emptiness and its clay, the wheel’s center and its spokes.
Zappettini has always maintained, since his first works in the seventies, that the thought behind a work is equal to the final work itself. The end result has always been the product of this thought; this “working process,” (that today we would call “method”) lends structure and form to the piece. What is seen in his works is always influenced by what is unseen. This is why there is nothing intentionally aesthetic or intentionally beautiful in his art: Zappettini does not start with an objective; the objective is conditioned by the journey that led to the destination. If then, the objective – or rather, the work – ends up being beautiful, pleasing to the eye, able to be aesthetically appreciated, it is a consequence of the rightness of the journey undergone. Thus, understanding the Italian painter’s artistic, but above all personal, journey, which has informed his lines of artistic inquiry – which are, once again artistic but above all personal – is of utmost importance. His artistic voyage begins in 1970s Italy, – his path synchronous with the activities taking place in America and Asia at the time – it crosses the museums and the great shows of Europe, and then gets lost and finds itself in the deserts of North Africa, to resurface once again these last fifteen years.