Temi Perenni | Galleria Giorgio Persano


Paolo Grassino sa unire all’ironia la pietas senza nascondersi la crudeltà della regola dominante, la stessa di sempre: cane mangia cane, ma non prima di aver sbranato i cervi. Con un ghigno allo stesso tempo addolorato e divertito, riveste le pareti dell’abisso di spontex, ricavandone sguardi attoniti di vittime consapevoli e fauci predatrici, scene di guerra quotidiana che forse fanno da post-preludio ai suoi crani spugnosi corredati da scheletri in technicolor. L’artista non ha dubbi: ha scelto di stare con i  perdenti. E di fronte ai suoi splendidi animali si resta incantati come davanti a una processione di anime morte in una giornata di sole.

Giuseppe Culicchia

Knows how to unite irony and mercy without hiding the cruelty of that dominant rule: dog eats dog but not without having first torn to pieces the deer. Like a sneer which is at the same time both hurt and amused,  he coats the walls of the abyss with  spontex, he extracts the dumbfounded gazes of mindful victims and threatening jaws, scenes of everyday war which perhaps act as a post-prelude to his spongy skulls furnished from technicolor skeletons. The artist has no doubts- he has chosen to side with the losers. One remains bewitched before his splendid animals, as though before a procession of dead souls on a sunny day. In the place of the uniformed band, the grinder sounds.

Temi Perenni

Line and colour fought a long battle to win the upper hand in painting in a dispute begun towards the end of the sixth century and which went hand in hand with the spread of Neoplatonism. It begun with the rethinking of one of the most Platonic passages of Aristotle’s Poetics which affirms that who uses even the most beautiful colours haphazardly will never delight the senses as who has drawn a figure in white. Although disposed us to forget the various ethical and, why not? political aspects which have brought the memory of the dispute to the modern day, there are a few words by the contemporary Henri Michaux which, although spurred by the need to cover different ground, do not fail to resuscitate some echo of that old debate: With two colours you can paint, with only one can you draw. Even that one colour, that black ink which Michaux chose to paint with, becomes the image of disorder, of the absence of design and beauty. It is that black wave which wallows in its own mud and blindly destroys the page and its horizon, crossing them blindly, in a stupid and intolerable way. The uncontainable stain compels him to intervene, to PAINT TO REPEL. The resulting work is an act of resistance to colour where the figure is a small, unexpected victory; a body still alive on the battlefield.


If it were possible to not let colour spill, expand and stain; if it were possible to use colour without freeing it, it could be kept under observation, and that force of expression and that autonomy of temperament, which so frightened every classicist period, could be analysed.


Glass filled with liquid colour was Paolo Grassino’s first work. He drew straight and broken lines with bottles filled with coloured ink and screwed to a white wall, as though the white and the opposing force of that declined invitation were the last impediment to the free pouring of colour beyond the banks of the drawing. Yet those aligned bottles, so precariously set, ready to be torn from the wall to irreparably let drip their contents, are anything but a pacifying image of the old dualism. Their tension resounds like drawn bows which, stretched to the length of the arrow, are now ready to be released. Lines are ideas,- wrote Manlio Brusatin- they seem to pass each other with great ease, to almost collide in the air, just like arrows. Like arrows which are all shot from the same bow and chase each other towards the target, they can enter each other, twisting like a ribbon and causing their proud straightness to burst into illusion. Apelle won a similar war of arrows, according to Pliny, when, having drawn an extremely fine line of colour and after Protegenes had divided it down the middle with a differently coloured line, he was able to draw within the two a third, which left no space for a finer line. However it is in this ancient competition that the idea of the noble birth of the piercing line founders, and we find testimony of the irreducibility of that body of colour from which Line is formed, its extension that, however minimal, exposes it to blows and wounds, making it fall from the weighty heights of ideas to the imaginary of nature, to their liquid colour matter.


After those bottles and jars shut closed, transformed into cells of labyrinthine aquariums, Grassino let the colour kept within the line pour out in a continuous flux, as he began to draw systems of tubes, spread out in space like a giant system of conduction and reverberation of the tension between the two historical opposites. In the flux of those complex webs, sound remains trapped, whilst colour, left free to run without settling, imitates its vibration. Grassino’s tubes work like the pipes  of an organ, like a complex concrete musical machine where sounds dispersed above and below the horizon are captured and re-launched by a pump system. His heavy, black and white bath tubs are ironic versions of Verne’s Nautilus, come up to breath with difficulty, like an enormous metal cetacean abandoned on the shore.


In the meantime, his drawing started to become populated with skeletons immersed in seas animated by fish. Works where the lines of colour, winding around themselves, have rendered the figure a kind of reflection of its inner structure, exactly the way a sound propagates under water. In Grassino'’ drawings, the organisms are born by calcification, half animal, half mineral like the coral cemetery of “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea”. They seem the solidification of vital fluids, just as the underwater coral seemed made of blood, crystallised into flowers.


Grassino’s tubes, like Nautilus’s organ, are the type of instrument which Lévi-Strauss associates with death. Instruments of darkness and cosmic disorder, they are like the bamboo shafts made to crack at the funerals of chiefs and then buried with the bodies by certain tribes from central Brazil: they are nothing more than ducts for fleeing spirits. The spirit escapes, and in escaping resounds. After the final sombre organ chords sounded in darkness, a sigh from Captain Nemo ends Nautilus’s adventure.


In another marine cemetery, that of Paul Valéry who, in Tel Quel, before the extent of the sea, had already positioned the sigh à l’extrême de toute pensée, the soul celebrates in Tempe du Temps the rite of identification with Being. A rite summarised in a sigh, in the inlet which reopens to drink la naissance du vent. But that sigh, the realisation of poetry, would not have reached completion if not for the strike of Zeno’s arrow, after that wounding of intellectual anxiety that tremors, flies and yet no longer flies, creating a disheartening sound.

Entre le vide et l’événement pur,

j’attends l’écho de ma grandeur interne,

Amère, sombre et sonore citerne,

Sonnant dans l’ame un creux toujours futur!


This central void has become ever more important in Grassino’s work. It is a quivering nucleus from which the tubes, like cause and effect upturned by Cellini’s canes, blow the form towards the exterior instead of pushing it inside the print, and in doing so, both radiates and lends form.


The grinder is time and transformation. It is composed of superimposed wheels in continuous circular motion. A clock captures time freed in space and extends it without lumps, spread by its hands between the glass and the face, in a clean process which proceeds from perception to quantification. The grinder, on the other hand, has to do with the very body of time, with the flesh and bone of life which is lived and finite. So that the grinder does not stop its movement, it must always be refurnished with more body and more matter to mince under the weight of its grindstone, so it may become nourishment for other flesh and bone. There is nothing clean about this process. Against the roughness of the body of time, the grinder ploughs its walls and scrapes its grindstone. The tiring sound of its movement produces all around an abrasive space. Grassino’s installation is born of the sound of a stone grinder. The work opens around the first void  produced by that sound, as the body of time in the image escapes to the limits of the space, as though seeking refuge in the porosity of the grinder’s walls, ending by letting itself be slowly consumed at each turn, scrape after scrape. Opening itself outside the compression of the void is the forest. The grindstone leaves its mark on the cold coil of the woodlands. On the disorder of crossings and stains of colour, a regular design of horizontal scales remains imprinted which renders the surrounding space a long reptile curled around itself in a circle, like the old serpent Oceano delimiting the world. It would seem that in the indistinct streaking of the woodlands, Grassino wants to recount two counterposing principles, that of the deer and that of the dog- that of the victim and that of the hunter.


Deer stay. Arranged in a parade like an army lined up on highground, they present their colours like red and gold flags. These regal colours are by long tradition the birthright of these animals, they are blood and light, the martyrdom and the salvation of Christ as they appeared to Saint Eustachian between the two branches of the antlers in the middle of the darkness of the woodlands.


Dogs go. They run seeking prey, they do not flaunt colours. They camouflage with the deep green of the forest. Yet even dogs with their panting do not seem to get very far. Their paths are contradictory, they cross like the antlers of deer. Their sense of smell stumbles, bridled by different trails.


Deer and dogs have the same streaked skin as the serpent. They are both bodies for the grinder. Deer and dogs however will not produce nourishment neither for themselves, nor for others. These dogs will not drink blood from the hacked off heads of deer, as tradition would dictate. These deer will not end up on the banquet table. Since that which the serpent skin withholds, by now with difficulty, in both animals as within the whole forest, is a white liquid, dense with death, a poison which has rendered milky and identical the gazes of both the deer and the dogs. The strong bright colours of the forest are like the red of poisonous mushrooms, or like the red of mature berries, swollen, which open cracking wounds under the pressure of the wheel that grinds them.


In preparation for the hunt, dogs and deer suffer the same treatment. In fact deer are even domesticated so as to attract other deer, and it is in this that Grassino seems to see the very principle of death and the violence of images in the woodlands, the violence of regular rhythm, of cultural rhythm, of the grinder on the woodlands. That same violence which lives, not so much in the act of killing, but in the willingness to render natural energies well- suited to hunting palaces. Death is more connected to the culture of tapestries than to that of the rifle. The pattern of the textile and the limits of the frame has, with respect to nature, that lethal power called ‘picturesque’. It is the same power wielded by postcards and posters. The picturesque has within itself the same principles as the substances necessary for embalming. They are really hunting trophies that Grassino displays outside the coil of the forest. Trophies in which remain the memory of the disorder of embalmed stag and doe heads, knotted one to another. They are trophies skinned of their very colour. Only the white of the bones remains, of the preserved death of natural science museums. Killing and death, in Grassino’s works , are nothing other than a frozen cultural coating: they are the pin piercing the body of time such that aspects of reality be presented to us like many insects arranged on a bed of polystyrene.