The Collage by Silvia Beltrami

by Giorgio Bonomi

It is difficult, in today's scene of young and/or emerging art, to find someone who knows how to combine manual dexterity (that famous “tékhnē”, a word with which the ancient Greeks indicated “art”) with the ability to linguistic innovation (result of a careful research) and with a choice of themes (the content of the work of art) that are current and such as to arouse in the observer thoughts and reflections: well, all these aspects can be found in the poetic and, of course, in the realizations by Silvia Beltrami.

The artist – who is also a very skilful drawer and is able to paint “perfect” naturalistic images, but these are performed only occasionally to “keep the hand in practice” - works with the collage of cuttings of very different kind of paper (from newspapers, magazines, wallpaper and many more): with these “cuttings”,  that look like the pieces of a mosaic, in her latest works Beltrami organizes a speech on hardboard’s panels, while before she used to work on “fresco’s tears”, that is to say using that classical very fine technique to prepare the surfaces on which then she applied her figures.

Beltrami works, from the point of view of the contents which, of course, also affect the production technique, for “cycles”.

Before going into the analysis of these cycles, we have to point out that her compositions appear as a sort of “explosion” that “scatters” pieces of that original image, appearing dialectically with a double movement: in one way it seems that the explosion , a sort of big bang, applies a centrifugal force “dispersive” that from the nucleus launches into orbit or in a linear flight the particles; in another, instead, the image may appear as equipped with a centripetal force to which those individual fragments are “sucked” by the central figure or figures, in a sort of magnetic attraction or absorption in a “black hole”, to use once again terms borrowed from physics.

The patient work of construction creates remarkable coloristic effects, as if the artist did a contemporary reinterpretation of the technique used by the Impressionists or, even better, by the Pointillists, based on small brushstrokes that, put together, reproduced the light, the colour, the space, the movement, the image. So the composition is very structured and complex, and it always shows the human being as a central element attracting the attention of both the work itself and the spectator.

And more. The artist does not “draw” the image first in order to “build” it then with the pieces of paper, but she directly proceeds to create the subjects represented: this working method is evidence of how the “collagist” technique does not arise as “ancillary” to the drawing, but it is itself a way of drawing and painting at the same time. In short, coloured paper’s “pieces” have the same function of brush and colours used to create a work on canvas.

But there's more.  From the “warehouse” of her materials, that is to say from newspapers, wallpaper and so on, Beltrami does not collect already defined images, but only small coloured elements. Therefore, if we see a face or a belly on the panel, with their features and colours, these do not come from a printed photograph of a face or a belly cut by the artist, but are “composed and coloured” with those paper bits that this way function as pencil, as well as brush and colour.

Perhaps, it is precisely because she practiced the fresco’s technique in which the colour has to be “attached” to the surface, that her collages present themselves as “paintings”, not only to the eye but also to the touch, so much the “pieces” are adherent to the board.

We can, at this point, consider Beltrami’s work cycle by cycle, thinking about the issues that its contents express.

The first cycle of works is of 2006/2007 and it is entitled  Indifferent: from the title we already understand that the characters are “insensitive” people, which do not expose themselves, in fact it is a sort of “solitary crowd” formed by individuals “closed in oneself” as monads “with no doors and no windows”.  In these works, the composition is made of pieces of paper which are bigger of those she will use afterwards and you could say that now “painting”,  though always representative of figures, is realized with large, almost informal “brushstrokes”.

Immediately after, in 2008/2009 there is the cycle called  Lead Men, in which the poetic and the technique of the artist proceed with conscious confidence. We see alienated men, “faceless figures busy with a daily obstacle race, the never-ending and desperate struggle for survival and profit”. Technically Beltrami applies her paper’s pieces on torn fresco’s canvas, so the works acquire an even more melancholic aspect. Loneliness, competitions (obstacle race, tug-of-war, turning on Saturn rings which, as known, are difficult to define, because of their origin, texture, shape in itself), lack of definition of the faces, appearing almost as shadows of themselves, increase that “tragic” sensation we saw appearing in the previous series.

This feeling, that becomes more marked in Limbo (2010/2011), consisting of works in which figures assume that dialectical “explosion/implosion” we mentioned before. If, on the one hand, the “limbo” is an “edge”, a “boundary”, that is to say neither here nor there, and the “Limbo” in the Catholic vision is the place for those who deserve neither the punishment (Hell), nor the reward (Heaven, and/or a stay in Purgatory before that), on the other hand the “Rave” originally means “delirium”, “fury”, and only then (about from the eighties) it takes on the meaning of “free party”, “transgressive” and, therefore, “dangerous” (the Rave Party); as a matter of fact, we often read of accidents, even very serious, occurred during or after Rave Parties. So the main characters of these works - which seem to be, if we consider the Dante’s afterlife contruction, more in the lustful circle of Hell, the one of Paolo and Francesca, appearing as carried away by the wind, than in the proper Limbo - do not express the cheerfulness of a party, but exactly that “tragicalness” of the extreme and extra legem situations typical of a Rave Party (but maybe also in today’s youth conditions that do not seem to give “cheerfulness” or “hope”).

In 2012, Beltrami tests herself, with a very effective result, with the video, making  Basiliscus Plumiforms, with the cartoon technique. A man (business man?) with a briefcase in his hand runs incessantly and without a destination on a watery, marshy surface; he runs, runs then he disappears; then he appears again and he runs, runs but, in the end, we do not see him anymore. The basilisk (whose etymological meaning is "little king") is in nature, in zoology, a small reptile, but in mythology and in a lot of medieval iconography it is a treacherous animal, from the poisonous breath and deadly glance. More recently I Basilischi was a movie by director Lina Wertmüller showing provincial young people apathetic, indifferent, without will or responsibility: well, in the dramatic video by our artist we can find, at the same time, all these aspects that the basilisk has.

And we get to very recent times with Rave series, which consists of works all of 2012. Of the sense, and the meaning, of “Rave” we already said, now here we note a further maturation of Beltrami’s personal and peculiar working technique: the composition becomes now much “complex” with a multitude of subjects, “exploding” and “imploding”, at the same time, as more “simple” or better, “spare”, as the images are presented with a few human figures or relegating all images in a corner of the board, so that it remains white for the most of its surface, such as to take on metaphysical significances and symbolically “disturbing”.

We can’t avoid noting, finally, as all Silvia Beltrami’s work put, itself and us, in front of the human “problems” not only from a sociological and ethical point of view, but also from the iconographic one, since the human figure is never absent in her works: so a poetic that makes of humankind its heart, and we deal with a humanity that is definitely neither peaceful nor happy, or rather anxious and dramatically in flight from itself and from the others or that physically crashes into itself and with who happens to come near it.

An art of “content” that makes the spectator “thoughtful” and led to deep reflection but, just because it is visual art, communicated also with a technique, adhering to the discipline, wise and effective.