In comparison to the powers of information, discussion and manipulation of the mass media, the communicative capacity of the visual arts today often appears weak and deprived of true efficiency and we ask ourselves ever more frequently if these same arts are still able to have that role at another time surpassed the aesthetic dimensions in order to reach the noble sphere of protest, commitment, and social dissident and denunciation.
It is in fact undeniable that painting, for example, has lost that old ability to transmit symbolic, political, or religious contents, the very ability that first established the great decorative movements and then many other socially committed works, works that were destined not only for cultured viewers but served the broader function of involving all levels of society through the complex overlapping of its clear and metaphorical messages.
Nevertheless, painting and the visual arts still possess an analytical capacity that makes it possible to overcome the ephemeral and contingent character of mass communications, thanks to a dialogue that provides for a use of many elements of their media-related languages, plucked from and then enlarged in a slower and more meditative dimension of in-depth examination and reflection.
The exhibition of Francesca Leone has not been conceived as a collection of unlinked works and is not intended to represent a simple gallery of portraits, but has been accurately planned as a true installation that takes its point of departure from images taken from the media and transfigured in their passage towards painting, an instrument that has need of a broader-scoped temporality and that permits the construction of a route of dense and intense meaning without overshadowing a controlled emotional component.
Following in a personal and independent way, the method that was already in the possession of illustrious predecessors by the end of the nineteenth century, and was widely developed by Pop Art, by Hyper-realism and by many other European movements in recent generations, Francesca Leone therefore begins from a photographic projection, a projection which – however – becomes totally transformed in the course of the pictorial process and reconstruction of the image. The photographic sample is in fact taken up again and transformed by a strong weaving together of broad monochromatic fields that follow the physiognomy-related traits and the bodies and reconstructs them on the pictorial support by fluid and vibrant brushstrokes that succeed in communicating the vital pulses emanating from faces, faces belonging to both past and present.
It must moreover be noted that Francesca Leone employs a deliberate method in framing the faces she portrays, a style that deliberately recalls the framing of the cinematographic masterpieces of her father Sergio Leone, positioning themselves therefore in a visual context that in the mixing of diverse expressive forms has already won many converts not just in the film world, but also amongst painters, photographers, video artists and which belong to her as an inheritance that is almost more genetic than cultural.
Thus the artist, with a solution of great communicative and metaphorical efficiency, chooses often to not represent the complete portrait of the protagonists of this project but instead inserts them into a compositional structure that gives greater energy to the expressive depth, thanks to the solution of close ups that enter into direct contact with our perception.
Also in these works dedicated to Tibetan monks, that allow for the simultaneous presence of many figures or of one sole figure repeated many times, Francesca Leone has arranged the architecture of her paintings as a sequence that is presented in an interesting coupling between the spatial-temporal flow of the cinematic image and the ancient processions of figures in mosaics, frescos, and bas-reliefs, those theories blended together to put into greater relief the relevance of the social or liturgical role of the figures represented.
In this sense the work of the artist confirms for us how the painting fins itself in a position that is at the same time unique and difficult, a position that enables it to take up again the testimony of the past, enriching it, mixing with it and fusing it to different languages in an exchange of influences and reciprocal cues extended in a planetary dimension that involves artists that span from Europe to China, from India to the United States and to Japan and that represents one of the most significant couplings that shall be cause for reflection to the upcoming history of the visual arts in the twenty-first century.
Therefore, like the ancient alter pieces that permitted the non-temporal and simultaneous presence of personage linked to a transcendental dimension or who lived in different historical periods, the installation of Francesca Leone seeks to create a sacred space in which the presences of those who could be seen as possible ‘saints’, both laical and religious, of the contemporary world can co-exist, personages endowed with a ‘sanctity’ that is both ancient and modern, bound by their strength and their determination to defend tolerance, equality and justice, linked in their desire to defend their principles of equality, unity and culture even at the cost of imprisonment, torture and loss of their own lives.
This same exhibition, carefully conceived to accompany the paintings, is born of and stands out through particular detail and constructs a true immersion in the tension between darkness and brutality and the light of the message of peace, between the darkness of pain and the serenity of a new harmony, a harmony that is continually re-proposed, severely opposed but constantly reclaimed, in a difficult and arduous path of slow but inexorable democratic conquests. At this moment in history, in which the flows of migration between different peoples have intensified and in which new politics of expansionism and economic and military conflicts between nations, ethnicities, and interest groups have reappeared, in which racism and war have worsened in their cruel virus-like capacity to spread intolerance and barbarity, in this particular moment the artist’s choice to create an “iconographic repertory” built around meaningful and urgent themes – themes that would, were they treated in an inopportune way, lose their validity in a mediocre roll call of generic, presumed and hypocritical collective sentimentality – is particularly important.
Francesca Leona avoids this risk by means of a synthetic vision where anguish and protest are reinforced by the choice to not represent violence and abuse of power directly but to entrust the figure of the monks the task of enriching the symbolic message of the installation together with the faces of those who wished to resist, fighting for peace and human rights and often arriving at extreme sacrifice, a sacrifice that (as the early Christian church understood quite well) represents that victory which in works of art was eloquently expressed as the palm branches bestowed upon those who were persecuted and slain for their faith, a ‘double’ symbol that alludes at the same time to their martyrdom and their triumph.
In such a way the spectator in this voyage within the black walls of the room will be able to enter into a space in which Evil could be imprisoned and subdued by the strength in the eyes of Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the Dali Lama and Aung Suu Ky, united to the anonymous faces of the Tibetan monks who inhale the acidic air of tear gas or who cover their faces with their hands, thereby defeating the ferocity that has been unleashed upon them and around them, in a new visual energy, an ethical and spiritual energy that breaks the boundaries and shatters the barriers in order to meet our gaze and compose a virtuous cycle in which the images represent the tangible sign of the waiting for an advent of a future – perhaps Utopian – a future and lasting era of peace and justice.