Reviews » Francesca Brandes 2008

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Of belongings

Whoever is born comes into the world. If it happens with an ever-heightened awareness, with that certain intuition that goes beyond the single absolute, one discovers for oneself the ability to become that stone or the soul of the wood, the veins of the leaves or oxygen. Thought and action become mineral, gas, damp like the rain-soaked earth after a storm and as impervious as rock. Every being, simply, is potentially everything else.

This same energeia, so beloved of Aristotelian thought, imbues Françoise Calcagno’s development as an artist, her being both self and other, here and outside of here, today and yesterday, with all the passion of transition. Metamorphoses don’t happen in her, because the combinatory variety of her coming into the world unfolds clearly before our eyes. Françoise doesn’t consume history, but rather uses its virtues with a harmonic motivation that stupefies us.

The coherence of her imagination always amazes us, when it is bound by a measure: in this artist’s works strength and form coexist like theme and plot, and the form is not a limit, but a continuous self-portrait of the stare and its reflection in the water, of the hands that caress the wood like a part of the body, of the inner voice that recalls memories and pools of nostalgia. Each gesture seems not to be the fruit of an all-consuming desire, but is governed by an ideal authority. It is difficult to imagine an I so gently assertive, as if life – the whole life – were based above all on those earthy pigments that the artist lays like treasures upon her canvas, on those sudden lagoonal mists that blur the joy, backwards, until a sudden rescue of the drowning.

Calcagno seems to be telling us that, in order to think, things are needed. Perhaps because, on reflection, art cannot exist without necessity, the energeia is channelled beginning from an impulse, from a primary motion. The rest is a question of style: research, daily toil, consistency and awareness of the journey, practice. As a creature shaped by desire, the project expresses itself in a concreteness of generous colour, upon which the graphic traces run into the incisions, a suggestive sign that defines the rhythm of the composition. Elsewhere, Calcagno applies fine layer after layer, from which shreds of existence (faded photographs, tentative handwritten notes) are allowed to emerge against the light. Leaving a trace, that’s one constant, as if not to lose the way: compass-painting, tender yet obstinate, the work is moving for its vibration and consonance, for its attribution to destinies, for déja-vu.

In this art, both fresh and mature at the same time, an art of senses and sharing, the individual impulse is, metaphorically collective. The force that passes – with incandescent slashings – through the coloured matter, comes back to life, indeed it is also in the relationship-confrontation with the artistic community (colleagues, critics, friends and soulmates) that Françoise has brought together around her atelier, this happy island in a city of islands.

It is probable that respect develops also taste, like a treasure that is passed from hand to hand, without losing anything of its ethical charge. Calcagno lives, with her work of flesh and tone – the joy that burns and the pain that drains – and lives with others, in tune. The being in tune with the world, the adjustment, along with the being able to recount the states of soul without being descriptive, but bringing forth the hidden soul, these are the characteristics evident in the work of Françoise Calcagno. Without resorting to her own scenographic training (a shortcut that many others would use but not her, she loves risking…), the artist lays out cycles which are free yet structured at the same time: Marco Polo, Wood and Glass, the fundamental Memory Maps.

Everything is connected like a stream of consciousness, and everything develops like a river rushing towards its mouth, swollen with histories and emotions, with smells and sounds. I would go so far as to say that some of Calcagno works even possess an olfactory aspect, and not simply that of the materials themselves (pigments, wood, salvaged materials). Rather it resembles the smell of a large earthen house with wide windows that allow the light and smells of the day to enter. Nothing is ever created randomly, the glass embedded into the dense background, a fragment of a letter emerging from the breath of the material: the conceptual gravity of the large cycles, present in larger and smaller dimensions with organic executive joy, is guaranteed by a total control of the constructive levels, by absolute discipline.

Over the years, the artist has undertaken a long internal journey, to reach an awareness of the special relationship, a little magical, that she can establish with nature, with the essence of things, with others. Françoise is aware, so it seems to me, of her own belonging to the world, and, therefore, of belonging to herself. To be oneself, with ease and determination at the same time (and this is one aspect that prompts wonder), she gives herself form as a rule, creating a mechanism of meaning that becomes a communicative code.

Of the rest, only those who know what a norm is are able to change it: from this, the benevolent flash that guarantees the poetic subversion, whether it regards form or content; that moment of madness that passes for the unpredictable movement, the unhoped for encounter, the scrap that disturbs like a sudden storm. Françoise, who knows how to play with children, loses no opportunity to play with histories and places. So the material becomes a bridge for a serious playful exercise: the artist’s books, heights of refinement and moods, with an almost plastic structure; the Scuri, beautiful examples of pictorial liberty, painted together with weather and atmospheric events. Thus the atlas of her space-time landscapes – suspended between earth and lagoon waters, between the walls of the home and far-off lands – seems like a diary of a fantastic excursion, an inevitable wandering in which to leave traces of human testimony: a lodging house for the consciousness, a good idea of the future.

Francesca Brandes