Stepping out of the childhood
When talking with friends about my works exposed
at the Tenth Quadriennial exhibition, they said:
"I liked that lawn
I was impressed by
I liked the one that was all
written on and then crossed out with those lightings
and the word "RIFARE" (start over)
at the end
I like the one that says crow in
black and wheat in yellow and then the word crow
ends on a light blue background that looks like
water but instead it says sky, was it water or sky?
Oh, see, I got it right! But how did you do the
blackboard, with acrylics? The green one reminds
me of a Divisionist Balla". I am not writing
this last sentence for conceit, but because it is
the sentence that most reflected my intentions.
When, a year ago, I presented my work in Rome with
a written-painting exhibition born of a research
on the mediums of expression of the childhood world,
I could not imagine that I would have developed
this modern, ironic and in a way desperate way to
re-propose pure painting, derived from my starting
over from the beginning, imitating my childhood
creativity and almost as if I had never painted
Living inside culture is certainly very different
than following ghosts and blooming about things
in a place called Colle Nibbio; I had a chance to
measure myself, to have some reference points, to
choose what I thought was best for me. It is this
way that, last summer, writing, writing, writing
in Calice Ligure, I wrote wheat thinking of SEURAT,
sea thinking of MONET, wheat thinking of Van Gogh.
I though didn't give up the children's blackboards,
their notebooks, their freedom of invention, the
taste of writing a scribbled word, mysterious and
revealing at the same time, things that, for me,
represented freedom in front of the canvas seen
as a monster, the joy to finally have the courage
to do what I had never had the courage to do: stop
caring about the fine drawing, of the fine matter,
of the fine painting.
This has been the time of the exercises, of the
essays, of the blackboards of fast notes for the
painting that I was doing right next to blackboard
itself, a diptych or even a triptych (project, wrong
painting, final painting) as if I wanted to postpone
the my stepping out of the "childhood of art".
The adult works followed immediately and naturally,
and the "fine painting" exploded again
as a passion developed among difficulties. So, the
painting saying gras grass grass, with an overlapping
writing, colour-light, of the Divisionist kind,
looked like a lawn to many observers.
Right now I am already painting works which I wish
The experience of the free sign, of the cathartic
scribble is too present with a taste of nostalgia
when I work frenetically and close to neurosis,
so I write and cross out, cross out and write, because
I hope this is my new means of feeling free in front
of the joy of doing.
Rome, May 1973
From "Diary on the
No more than a page.
Fifty centimetres by fifty. Seven squares by seven
years. Seven years of painted diaries: painted,
erased, rewritten, seven years of canvas and word
rolls, seven years of "worn out shoes and of
flasks of shed tears".
From the deep of the conscience, from the deep of
dreams, images and words emerge, floating like debris
on black backgrounds and on white backgrounds. On
a day like any other, I discover that they can become
animated shapes, maybe white, maybe with wings
seagulls that let the river current lead them slowly
to the sea, on top of the water
And it's all
part of this large painting: everyday cruelty, indifferent,
uncatchable love between a word and another, frozen
despair, from a supermarket freezer.
Incredibly, the inventory can save us, it is the
memory of what we have lost and of what is left.
Peremptorily it comes towards us from the back of
a notebook or of a square sheet of paper, fifty
by fifty, maybe on the bottom right, on the wall.
The sentences were copied, heard, found. Not everybody
will understand them, maybe they are just for imaginary
people or for people that do not exist anymore.
Messages left next to the telephone of previous
tenants, by unknown friends, by people met on the
train, by porters waiting for the penalty kick
a great puzzle with light evidence of a precarious
The smoke of a cigarette, tandis que vous
vous sentez coupable.
...The day after. Eternity? Morning diluted by the
Se coucher ensemble, cela était beau,
le paysage était beau.
...An uphill road that takes nowhere.
On top of a tower cut in two.
I was proud of owning all the possible landscapes.
I made the portrait of doctor Gachet, in the beginning
of June 1890.
I spent Valentine's day with an artist dressed in
black, a dark guy, a strict guy but then who says
that he found celebrities, or chivalrous adventures,
or free thinkers in love ridiculous?
Here's to me, to the story of one of my foolish
I invented the colour of vowels: A black,
E white, I red, O blue, U green.
May the gone times of the days in love return.
You, since always arriving, going everywhere.
Rome, February 1979
No wave can comb the sea
No wave can comb the sea
This is the
fragment of a poem by Dylan Thomas which has poked
my soul for months.
It is maybe chance that one day led me to the sea
(an extraordinary year of work). Every morning,
a bruised and shiny dawn to surprise me, aggressing
me in front of that plain made of water-light-colour.
Waking up in the dark every morning, leaving the
gorges and the cliffs that surround my house
every morning a surprise, melancholy, the regret
for the paintings of, on for the sea, that for so
many years accompanied my life as a painter.
The sea is one hour away from my house, almost two;
to approach it, I drive silently for a an hour,
sometimes two, the countryside is grey, then it's
green, then it's yellow, according to the seasons
and the blue, afterwards, reaches me, worn out by
light and by the hours, like a new face every day.
The countryside is quiet, always looking like itself
for days and months; the sea is never the same and
changes from one hour to the next, its hairstyle
changes according to the currents, to the wind,
to a sailboat, to the wing of a seagull.
No wave gives the sea a final look, no wave manages
to untangle it, calm it down, tame it, intimidate
it; but a wave can love it, caress it, know it,
run over it.
With fury or sweetness, up to its very end, to that
foaming (desirable!) end.
One day, the passion for Thomas's poem had become
more violent, and I began to insert it here and
there in a painting, in a sketch, in a watercolour
the verse and its analogical image, the colour and
its memory, its shadow.
Just like when you can't remember a word, a name
that you have to mention to someone and that word,
that very word, re-emerges at a later time and in
a different space
just like that event, the
time came in which I understood why I was experiencing
such an obsessive attraction.
No painting can "comb" painting
And the discovery that my name, in German, means
"wave maker". Make waves, but why? To
try and comb the sea?
But we just said that no wave can: but in its being
condemned to rhythm, or in its rhythmic game, for
love or for fun, for hatred or fear, it tries and
tries to infinity.
I think about my painting a picture after another,
year after year, as if it were a wave pushed by
the sea by the wind, forming and reforming itself.
The sea just stays there, like art, like painting,
ready to change but immutable at the same time.
Unlike the wave, I know how I can change the sea,
painting, art but exactly like the wave I will ride
painting, art, until that foaming (and I hope desirable)
Calcata, July 1985
"Fire in the water"
Simona Weller, you express yourself with painting
and writing, which one of the two media do you think
best suits your communication?
This is a question they asked me on Sunday afternoon,
in Novembre 1995. It was a stranger, a member of
a cultural centre in Pescara.
More and more often, people ask me to tell them
about myself. I think this is a consequence of time
going by and of my many "militancies".
In Pescara I am a debutant writer, in Modena a well-known
painter, in Verona a critic dealing with the Theory
on the difference of feminine sign in creativity
I answered the lady in Pescara that writing has
the ability to penetrate and spread out, a characteristics
that painting, even 1800 painting, does not have.
A small book, printed in a thousand copies, follows
paths that multiply like the circles of a stone
thrown in a pond. It speaks, dialogues, thus communicates
with many people. A painting, as a unique specimen,
never gets this chance. Nor do a thousand paintings
by one same author. An artist exhibiting in Rome,
may sell in Paris and export to New York, following
an itinerary that is unknown to the large audience.
A painting, even the most known and celebrated,
does not leave any trace behind itself. Except,
of course, in the world of art workers, that sort
of international sect, in which the economical-political
interests are badly mixed with the cultural ones.
But this is another story.
If writing has therefore more echo than painting,
the communication problem still remains.
What can a painting communicate that is different
from a book?
If we exclude ideological propaganda, that certain
involvement that in the Sixties-Seventies
exalted bad work by bad artists, and if we discard
feminist realism, another misunderstanding
that minced up the talent of many naive amateur
provincial female artists, all we have left is the
memory of one's own history.
But don't you think that I want to paint a family
saga: portraits of ancestors, the stories of grandmothers
who were hindered from playing an instrument or
Memory is the first root of contemporary painting,
intimately linked to the discoveries of psychoanalysis,
to unconscious, to dreams, to symbols, to the happenings
of life. Detail becomes universal. This is what
I mean by memory. Where a feminist slogan from the
Seventies immediately becomes revealing. So,
private becomes political? I think so. My private
history is the story of an apprenticeship to awareness.
The story of an unsolved conflict between a romantic
artist's view and a merciless System. A system that
overturns all values, all the certainties of young
person who believed in art. Thinking that she was
able of expressing herself, convinced to be able
to participate, with her talent, in the construction
of a portion of the road of human History.
With the recklessness and arrogance of youth, something
in between Don Quixote and Joan D'Arc, thirty years
ago I knocked on the door of the temple
masterpiece a day keeps the critic away: these
are the words of a late Sixties song by Giamaica
Back then, my friends had told me. For my whole
life I would have had to prove that I was an artist.
Well, their strategy is to wear you out, to make
you start over and over again. Just another way
to get rid of the weaker ones.
Am I a winner?
Maybe I am, because I worked without commissioners,
because I rebelled to the terrorism of critics and
fashion, because I always painted, without overexposing
myself, while I grew and renovated myself.
I am here to propose a new type of painting, though
still linked to writing. A relevant writing, as
if overwhelmed by the four elements.
How do you make one of these paintings?
You work on the matter, making it as soft as clay.
You work in tension, because each sign must maintain
a certain structural consistency.
In order to obtain this, I think of the fragment
of a word, one of my words like mare (sea), onda
(wave), erba (grass), alba (dawn).
This allows me to never make the sign redundant,
to not change it into a pattern, but to give it
the same elasticity of a handwriting, the same variability
of a wave.
The four elements have always been present in my
work. I now managed to make them live together,
making up a technique of my own.
Sometimes it is the wind that gives air to the painting,
some other times it is the water that creates the
rain effect, some other times it is fire that burns
the sign until it crumples it up, others it is the
earth, the idea of the loved earth, to enter the
painting like a furrow.
When I am in my studio I feel myself boil, like
a volcano. I work in a trance until I am exhausted.
In the evening, when I lock the door behind me,
I don't think of my paintings anymore. I dive into
what surrounds me, the surroundings of Calcata.
The green of the woods, the noise of the stream,
the sun that rises and sets behind the hill, the
moon that encloses the village in an enchanted net,
the memories that come and go like night birds.
And sometimes they caress you and give you sense
of cold, some other times, a sense of heat.
In the morning, when I open the door again, my paintings
are there, looking at me from another life. They
seem so beautiful or so ugly to me. I face the ugly
ones as enemies. I start a body-to-body fight, until
the colours start singing again, until the structure
works. By structure I mean the space that the painting
captures and the space it rejects. The air around
it and the load-bearing shadow, the connections
between the warm shades and the cold ones.
It is an ambition of mine to make every painting
that leaves my studio crunchy as freshly baked bread
and, just like bread, warm.
Oven and bread; painting and woman; maybe these
binomials hold the mystery of sensual vitalism that
inspires my nature and the sign of my difference.
When I rip and tear, when I gather, around my sign,
crumpled up draughts of wind, I don't think of Lucio
Fontana; I think of Artemisia Gentileschi.
I feel the rage with which the great Caravaggian
painter reveals that a woman artist can be fierce
when she is forced to survive.
And excuse the emphasis!
Rome, December 1995
Letters to Van Gogh
I have always felt an irrational love for the act
of writing, before that of drawing. I was fascinated
by my grandmother's handwriting and by my father's,
inclined to the right, coloured in blue or green.
I still wasn't able to read (but I learnt at four)
when I first took a pen-nib in my hands, plunged
it into a small bottle of green ink and voluptuously
filled the sheets of a black covered copybook. I
traced odd signs, carefully inclined to the right,
like the handwriting of the adults. I believed I
was writing all that I now think and know how to
express and that was enough for me. During adulthood
I have always written letters to everybody, to understand
myself and to understand, to console me and to console.
In my archive I keep hundreds of letters written
to my mother during the years at the boarding-school.
Small, harrowing sheets, decorated with blue ink
and little naïve drawings, blurred by tears.
Then, after the years at the academy and the painting
apprenticeship I found out again and took possession
of the poetry of the copybook pages and the children's
blackboards. But I was an educated woman by then
and through my painting I played the child as well
as the child used to play the adult. So the child
of the seventies dedicated to Van Gogh her canvas
filled with a coloured writing, woven out of words
like corn, crow, sky; or else canvas whose background
was as black as the blackboards with this writing
Composition: paint a cornfield with crows on
But - like all the things you find by chance, effortlessly
- I did not appreciate that intuition and did not
work it out the way I should have. I had to go on
for a research whose goals were always farther.
In the year two thousand I met Ronald de Leeuw,
nowadays director of the Rijksmuseum, but before
then of the Van Gogh Museum. Ronald gave me as a
present the books he wrote collecting the letters
Vincent sent his brother Theo or even the letters
written by friends after Vincent's death. Reading
those letters, so rich in nuances and poetry, filled
with suggestions on life and painting, the imitative
instinct of childhood came back to me. So, together
with a new friendship (with Ronald), these new paintings
(for Vincent) were born. Their background is a light
blue, like the ancient writing paper. There are
blurred parts, rubbings, superimpositions of sentences
and images just like in a notebook or on a blackboard.
Then, of course, there is Van Gogh. Symbol of all
those artists that work silently, believing in painting,
keeping themselves from limelight. Then, of course,
there is me. An old child that after thirty years
goes back to a work left unfinished, allowing herself
the right to appreciate the importance of her own
invention. In some paintings in fact you will find
a "well" or a "good"
a bit of self-encouragement
Calcata, March 1985
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