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In the phase of approaching Franco Beraldo's painting, the critic documented himself with catalogues and texts by colleagues who had followed and interpreted his artistic career over time. Leafing through the critical literature, the metaphysical suspension of the twentieth-century thematic reference appears in the foreground: still life in the landscape. Thus a line of reflection takes shape, centred on a classical iconography, revisited in an intentional and original way. Concepts such as suspension, essentiality, clarity and contemplation are loaded onto a primary theatrical scene where everything is both a particular figure and a universal form: trees and houses, sky and sea become timeless icons of trees and houses, sky and sea. Having elaborated the theme of metaphysical suspension and formal reduction, the critical eye appreciates and highlights the pictorial skill that masterfully uses local tones, a special Mediterranean clarity and the secrets of the Venetian tradition combined with the Novecentista tradition, consciously mindful of remote Byzantine origins. All this speaks in favour of a very composed and taxing painting, and the critic takes comfort in this. Then he went to see the artist and his diligent hermeneutics had a sudden jolt when he realised that the severe path had been nothing but a continuous challenge to the autonomy of colour, which in the end would arrive alone at a happily reckless abstractionism. To meet him and talk to him in his studio, surrounded by his works, is to understand that the focus of his work is certainly not on the citation of the twentieth century but on the search for truth, or rather the power of light and substance, of colour. Between the sacred icon, hieratic in form, unfinished in detail, which was his youthful incipit, and today's surprising protagonism of colour, there seems to be a design, not calculated but very firm in its desire to experiment and challenge every kind of chromatic epiphany. And so we enter, less armed with knowledge and more curious, into the heart of his research. Franco Beraldo's artistic biography appears, until today, as a continuous dialectic between divergent polarities. On the one hand, we find the iconic fixity, the high definition of forms and spaces that are hardly susceptible to expressive alterations; on the other, a freer, more sensitive course unfolds that will result, with mature innocence, in the paintings and glass panes of his last period. In the beginning he evoked, clearly and distinctly, the 'still life' with objects painted in negative, by way of absence. The silhouettes are barely outlined, like forms without volume, like canons without expression, impressions, casts of light alone arranged in a certain spatial order. Were it not for the extreme formal politeness, one would think, as has been done, of Semeghini or the Chiarist masters, but this really does seem a stretch. It is not a question of subtraction by way of drafting, of extenuation of the colour; but of a purification carried out by way of thought, an arrival at the unrelated formal diction that names things but does not recount them. The counter-evidence of the intellectual dimension of this production is the use of cold colours and the absence of framing: the shapes of the objects are suspended in the void, placed within a single plane that immediately qualifies as the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. No warm colours, no distraction, no red. "A tube of red lasted me thirty years". Beraldo abolished expressiveness in favour of concentration, of research conducted on a purified painting, deprived of its effects, its vanities. So it was a debut that was entirely experimental: as if the artist was fine-tuning his creative tuning fork to give the tempo and chords to the compositions to come. More than a representation, it was a form of meditation on a theme that has been fundamental in the history of art and that will become recurrent in Beraldo's production. He uses that canon in a chastened and instrumental way. Precisely in order not to draw attention to himself, he takes the pictorial dictation to the minimum level of perception: nothing must come between the painter and the canvas, nothing between the observer and the painting. We start again from extreme simplification, from silence. It is appropriate to insist on this first moment because in the simulacrum of a canonical theme, the painting appears bare, of an unadorned purity, docile yet adamantine (even in a mineral sense). The same thing happens with the landscape, where this time it is the colour, as light and as paste, that becomes the object of verification, in a solution of synthesis that the critics have rightly defined as Morandian. The view, because this is the framing of the painting, immediately appears as a frame of visible forms transformed into pictorial surfaces: houses, trees, hills, sea and sky become chromatic backgrounds, within which the colour nevertheless palpitates, manifesting itself as a sensitive surface. Unlike still life, landscape is consubstantial to painting. The modern landscape is an intimately analogical form of painting, with no clear line or division between planes. In reality, the boundaries between the pieces maintain a line-like gap, which will re-emerge in a cubist, free and gestural manner in the paintings of transition towards the last abstract-informal season. In the landscapes of the 1980s, the transformation of vision into composition is clearly visible, where the planes become significant chromatic backdrops and the dexterity of the pictorial layout is not hidden but accompanies the gaze. Two oils from 1985 mark two different hypotheses of verification: one more metaphysical, the other more naturalistic. The first (L'attesa, 1985) is a Sicilian landscape in which one can discern a dechirican quotation, both iconographic and stylistic. The second (The Sea at Terrasini, 1985) is a Tuscan maritime landscape with two large houses in shades of red. The variety of greens, ochres and browns crowding the part of the landscape on land follows a downward slope towards the sea, manifesting its pictorial nature in the cursive brushstrokes, while the sea and the sky oppose, at the edge of the horizon, two concluding planes of two-tone blue. Both paintings work on the autonomy of painting rather than on the landscape: one in the more literary and metalinguistic sense, the other more compositional. The dichotomy proceeds: in the painting La terrazza della memoria (The Terrace of Memory) of 1987 there is a further verification: the metaphysical quotation remains, but the chromatic planes become warmer, more animated, while in the still life on the table a freer, more sign-like element appears, not caged in a clear-cut form, a sign of an inner dialectic between the two dimensions and of a future development. However, at that moment, the metaphysical aura is still prevalent, even if the internal movement of the chromatic drafts appears quite vital, even the sea, in Landscape (1990), becomes wavy, the starry sky and the objects themselves show a more animated tonal fusion. It is a pictorially troubled picture, a sign of changes in other and opposite directions. This crisis of composure shows a further shift in the painting Still Life in the Landscape of 1997, where the outer edges of the frame, which opens onto the seascape, feature two tree profiles that look like the irregular edges of a tear. In this circumstantial painting, even the surfaces of the most defined forms are in turmoil: the colour throbs and the intimate movement produces a rising light, an auroral glow in the texture of the brushstrokes that alludes to a secret, unstoppable fecundity. The encounter between the two planes and the approach of the still life to the pictorial vitality of the landscapes, dissolves the metaphysical aplomb. Beraldo declares from the very moment he recalls it, the total pretextuality of the quotation: his painting does not aim at the rebirth of stereotypes, but at discovering the secret soul of colour. In this scenario, the landscapes with "Morandi-like" traits appear, from a distance, as the other side of the research in which the romantic component is exercised along the path of a mimetic reduction that enhances the volumes and drains the shadows from the natural forms. In this process, technique is fundamental. Beraldo had previously worked on paper with watercolour. Colour on paper is authentic, that poor medium restores the sincere evidence of colour, its intact light. The approach to fresco painting is the result of the same desire for research and experimentation. The fresh paint of the 1990s is central to Beraldo's artistic career, so much so that the critics who have written about him have taken it into account as the centre of gravity of his poetics. But there is no tactile complacency, no surface effects.

"The fresco is aristocratic", he tells us, "it is imperishable, capable of millenary solidity, it is born with the man who leaves a trace of himself". He tells of the enchantment of a Christ Pantocrator admired in a cave in the Brindisi area, near Mesagne, with the water flowing over it yet not affecting its ancient, hermetic power. He tells of the alchemy of carbonation that produces crystals of colour, prisms of salt, that emerge towards the surface: he says that the fresco "grows forward". His research concerns the secret colour, the profound, non-negotiable complicity (for this reason, also aristocratic and not bourgeois) that binds him to the process. The painter and the colour engage in a challenge each time, at each challenge, a rite of discovery. It is a "work in the dark": the painter works, calculates, prepares, and while he does so, the colour retreats, hides and then, with the air of a day, appears and speaks its truth. The metaphysical and contemplative key of Beraldo's painting was tempered and at the same time overturned on the fresco tests. In the still lives within landscapes, the space, motionless and anti-naturalistic, is devoid of any narrative relationship with the background. The score of the forms is a spatial syntax, a chromatic arrangement, an orchestration of drafts, a weaving of colours in the plane. It is pure composition, which however does not eliminate the evocative value of the object forms used as radar to intercept the variety of colours. In the fresco this assumption becomes transparent: the thematic choice appears, in an even more marked way given the courtly nature of the medium, as a formal transit for exquisitely pictorial verifications. Beraldo resorts to quotation for reasons that are all internal to the thread of his thought: that dictation of rigorous forms, which look to geometry no less than to pigments, has in any case lost its innocence on the way to history. The clarity of a formula, the still life with geometric solids, bottles, eggs and shells, belongs to the Masters of the twentieth century just as, say, architectural space belongs to those of the Renaissance. To them also belongs the recovery of the fresco as a pedagogical and celebratory teaching. A painter who reconsiders the techniques and vocations of the great masters in twentieth-century painting cannot but experience this adventure as a challenge, an open game with the sovereign inadequacy of the fresco and still life. However, the quotation is not inert, the independence of the formula is not a stereotype, but a theme. A theme that becomes a motif of compositional agreement. And herein lies the original nature of Beraldo's pictorial idiom, and it is only by starting from here that one can fully understand the subsequent developments of his painting. If it had only been a quotation, that is, taken as an iconic leaf from the basin of images available to the voracious contemporary eye, he would have worked on the cliché and built his originality, if anything, on visual obsession. Instead, that thematic carryover is the first reason, it is the pretext for an original pictorial texture and therefore relived as varietas and not as vanitas, as source and not as memento. The concept of the spatial and chromatic vitality of the iconographic recall is present, in various ways, in all the critics who have dealt with Beraldo's painting. When we speak of vitality we mean verification, the reopening of pictorial credit, we do not allude to some form of expressive energy that formal rigour dominates until the 2000s with precise intention. Beraldo paints still lifes and landscapes in the manner of a working hypothesis, as if he were checking the fundamentals, fixing fields and horizons of eventualities. Only by practising and verifying techniques and expressive means and by reinforcing, in the varied repetition, the chromatic warp could he, over the years, trespass on other and very different expressive domains, to the point of overturning the original dictation. The shadows will become fragments of signs, the lights will become local illuminations and the colours will hover with meditated gestures anchored to the sign clues. The compactness of the forms, of which, however, the intimate murmur could be felt, was thus a long and fertile antecedent to the freedom of composition that was to assert itself during the first decade of the 2000s. The dissolution of formal constraints will take place within the fresco tear, which has something unnatural, very subtle and provocative about it. It is precisely there where, more than in any other fold of art history, the mineral fixation of forms takes place that the informal idiom manifests itself. Dynamic wings of chromatic polyphonies fade into each other, light up and veil, fade, effuse, simulate the absorption of the support. In other words, since it is a fresco, they deceive the eye, taking the connoisseur's expectations of the medium by the tail. In this experimentation one can see a kind of conceptual malice that goes in the direction of paying homage to colour and its infinite potential, its metamorphoses. In the last season it is colour itself that takes the initiative in its appearance and its narration. It is colour as sensitive light, as the spirit of a subtle material that disappears in giving it to the light, that dictates the direction of the composition; it is the chromatic gradient, timbre and frequency, that promotes trends, oriented gestures and shifts. With or without the graphic hints of visual and mnemonic orientation that can surface in the turmoil of the chromatic scores. Now red bursts out, yellow is rampant, the blues are intoxicated by the whispers of warm colours, fading towards the wide range of indigo and violet. Everything explodes and yet, tout se tient. In fact, even in the freest, most gestural paintings, there is a subterranean balance, a sense of remote order that offers an escape from the unspeakable. The colour possesses its own form or, if not a form, a location, a position value, a specific weight, a voice at that point in the vertigo of freedom. Nothing is free, casual; that overflowing freedom comes from afar, it comes from the opposite. The old rigour is on the ropes but innocence is cultivated, and no less happy for that. What conquers is the disenchantment that allows all this freedom, of making and unmaking oneself, of the motions of colours. In the papier collé, the game becomes uncovered when the tear fault simulates slopes, evokes distances, traces perspective illusions, distances. From the game of collages, to the wonder of glass pastes: the lightness of pure aesthetic enjoyment is now on stage, without hesitation. At the end of a long journey we arrive at the beginning, according to an ancient logic that links wisdom to a return to childhood. As if to say: from research to enchantment, one makes sense of the other. With the blessing of the Italian twentieth century.


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