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Fabio Bianchi



Towards the end of the 60s, mainly in Italy, Arte Povera (minimal, or "poor" art) turned the art and cultural world upside down, sending out extremely innovative messages and leaving a weighty legacy behind, even today. It did not spark criticism or radical schisms but caused a strong psychological and visual impact with its significant links to Process Art and mainly to Conceptual Art. In Italy, Arte Povera was slowly assimilated into the system but today still retains a special aura. Many artists still have this gifted intuition, feel the momentous physical recollection, that incomparable spiritualization of the subject. Like Elisabetta Fontana (1965), who for years has been carrying out a subtle dialogue both with Arte Povera as well the high teachings of Alberto Burri, Arte Povera's silent and sometimes unrecognised initiator. But Fontana, indirectly, does not shy away from a dialogue with the glorious legacy of informal Art, but uses a creative and communicative dynamism to look again at reality across artifice, history and nature. Parma born and bred, self-taught, she has always cultivated a passion for art but only between 2005 and 2006 did she intensify her efforts, seeking acknowledgement from the media and the public at large, organising personal exhibitions and participating in collective shows outside her native Parma, as facing the irreverent, curious and hyper-critical are all fundamental to an artist's growth. Fontana's increasingly refined compositions - all mixed techniques, stylised and formal combinations on canvas or cloth - generate an instinctive mental translocation, stimulate eternal returns in the circle of life and in the symphony of the seasons as they concentrate, subliminally but potently, echoes of artistic movements and trends, from neo-Concrete Art to Minimalism. The apparent humility of the half-worked, rough material becomes, for Fontana, a testimony of the past, enveloping an existential experience, often dramatic - in the accented contrasts which the artist seeks in the clashes of colour, in the complexity of the subject, indecisive yet decisive. Also because it is mute, cannot speak, can only endure, transmit, perhaps hint, at the future tangle of contemporary art. The material becomes memory and through Fontana becomes a welcoming "here and now", severe, sometimes romantic (the Embrace) where even capturing an essence is difficult because - reminiscent of Wittgenstein - every experience is relative, localised, living in the flicker of the moment. But, thanks to the magic touch of her art and the undoubted skill gained over more than two decades, Fontana achieves, in her latest skilful compositions , an absolute meaning, epic, in some aspects transcendental: a realisation of self and her own being (Deep Perception) but also of the variegated world which surrounds us, limited, but always the "fleeting moment" of extraordinary emotional tension (Ray of Sunlight). Fontana, like many other Italian artists at the beginning of this third millennium, finds herself at a cross roads: like the 50s when many artists were disorientated and felt let down by post-war society. Turning away from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, they still used materials, colours and atmosphere effectively, blended to create - between Abstract and Informal - a new mental and cultural order. Today, there are either artists who suggest the same things, unchanging, tired imitators returning to more or less traditional themes or there are artists like Fontana, who search and experiment: the materials show the unalterable fixedness of sometimes age-old concretions, the need to blend with nature and the environment (Earth Without Time) raising the perceptual ceiling to the maximum to set a new relationship - in some aspects even more mysterious as it is unknown - with one's subconscious and the collective imagination (Ghosts of the Past). Estrangement is barely apparent, alienation controlled, solitude forgotten and everything, carefully measured, become healthily vital, deeply spiritual. Also, because Fontana chooses the actual experience lived not its representation, the instinctive not the rational, leaving everything that is theoretical behind to favour sensitivity (Secret Sack). Her works, shunning stylistic and thematic classification, are rich in hints and ideas. They are not limited to occupying two dimensions of the canvas or filling the edges of the medium but have a further range: they aspire to three dimensionality but hold back, almost aborted. But these are useful points because already now they imply artistic or literary cross-referencing and viewed in sequence look like a book, a great book on life, the slow and inevitable passing of time. And they tell stories, creating possible future scenes where interest is focussed on organic unity and the expressiveness of the material itself, crumpled or gripped onto the canvas according to well constructed gaps in space and time to heighten circumstance and transience. In this way, Fontana ably brings many common places into the discussion, in the grand history of art inviting us to reflect on our attitudes and beliefs in this current, questionable, art market. Her work therefore retraces the utopia glimpsed in the 50s, lived in the 60s and slowly faded away through the 70s, suspended between New Dada, Nouveau Realisme and Work in Progress - repeating the urgency of identifying new sources of inspiration for a total renewal, typical of today's New Age.
So, finally, Fontana tries to reconcile a working class dimension with the middle-class need for the beautiful, the elegant and sometimes eccentric using a strong, handcrafted feel to break the Avantgarde taboos, to reconstruct the strength of the painting and bringing encouragement and hope in the face of an ageing civilisation's decline.

Fabio Bianchi
Art critic


The Parma painter, Elisabetta Fontana, has been living her dream for years, tenaciously and tirelessly, always with great discipline and far from the temptations of an increasingly ambiguous, if not down right fake, modernity. For Fontana, art is not a television reality show but the sum total of her daily experiences, a unique concentrate of emotions and moods and therefore more sincere, as demonstrated in her latest work - Intima-mente - interesting, informal compositions patiently rendered using mixed techniques. Fontana, in this phase of her career, wavers with great sensitivity between Informal Art and Arte Povera: two movements which defined the 50s and 60s in Europe and the 60s and 70s in Italy, leaving their indelible imprints on subsequent debate and practice. Fontana absorbs the last vestiges of both, on the one side the romantic sense of abandonment and refusal of an ever more opulent and technocratic society, typical of the Informal, and on the other side the use of materials - earth, sand, resins - peculiar to Arte Povera, but cleverly brought into the Informal sphere with the smoothness of oil and acrylic on canvas. This is the main element in Fontana's originality: the feeling that Informal Art was never a structured movement but rather a widespread pseudo-artistic mentality, a linguistic and cultural sub-layer surfacing in various places, not only the old continent, to express a feeling of discomfort. Fontana has transposed all that weight of sensations towards Arte Povera, a singularly Italian movement, even today the only original trend in the artistic panorama of 20th century Europe after the unattainable Futurism. Interest in Arte Povera grew intensely in Italy during the 60s, maybe too much, but was not so well received in the following decades, again in Italy, often because of restrictive commentaries which, in hindsight, left much open for discussion, and many artists still today do not shy away from disputing these illustrious insights. In Fontana's most recent work, brought together in Intima-mente - certainly not her arrival point in her twenty-odd year career but rather a closer examination with a view to future works - the juxtaposition of synchrony and diachrony is striking, actuality and history, formal simplification but also visual aggression. Fontana reflects thoughts and aspirations which have settled over time, translating them into works based on the search for signs, and vast chromatic backgrounds representing the metaphysical in daily life, evident in You and Me Together. The works have a literary type of transparency which in some passages projects a higher universe, or at least gets closer to an almost, but not quite mythical, range, needing time to be analysed and de-ciphered like Gardens Suspended in the Soul. But there is also something mobile, immanent, constantly changing through the material, conditioning our memory to remind us of seemingly secret, perhaps forgotten, identities such as in On the Track of Memories. The creative gesture distorts recognition and realism opting for a narrative, not imaginary but, however, in delicate balance between abstraction and figuration (Red Earth, Black Earth). Some of Fontana's compositions are like an extremely current cross-section of social contradictions, sometime rent apart, but also like an evocative voyage into the recesses of the sole searching for another dimension, not only in our life but also in our culture (Waiting). A vivid chromatic magma replaces clear representation (Earth), allusion enters into rational evidence, the tested method over an anti-method and, where possible, anti-matter (Absence) - all this to demonstrate how, still today, art is - despite precision technology and extreme computerisation -a non-standardized approach, anti-conventional thanks also to the use of handcrafted, common materials, decorative, able to adhere to a post-modern vision - not perfectly but almost - sought by many. Moreover, Fontana's approach includes a few latent characteristics of very vivid, feminist art, mainly of the 70s, without any visible provocation and which actually, quite calmly, underline the emotional aspect in extolling, subtly and elegantly, a certain aesthetic purpose (Intima-mente). It is difficult today for any artist to regain those automatic mental reactions characteristic of ecriture automatique where, as in Surrealism, many artists transferred their impulses and sensations onto canvas guided only by harsh intuition and creative concentration. But Fontana's works are not material released by the subconscious or by passionate outbursts, quite the contrary: they become a new frontier of expression and in some aspects are valid insights both into the subject and from a wider perspective.

November 2008
Fabio Bianchi
Critical of art

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