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Labyrinth of life

Italian artist Duccio Berti explores the unknown through symbolism



Unravelling the mysterious: A work by Duccio Berti

IT IS remarkable that despite globalisation, which constitutes among its many features dissolving boundaries between nations and regions in the spread of art, ideas and music, the local that is the regional or national character remains dominant and emerges with clarity. Art, which in the Enlightenment Age was proclaimed as universal in nature, now in the Post-modern Age, is inscribed with dominant features of the local; a particular region or nation from where it emanates. The rooted-ness of tradition is particularly evident in the works of Italian artist Duccio Berti whose maiden show is happening in Chennai and in India at the Artworld.

Trans Avant Garde

Duccio claims to have belonged to the Trans Avant Garde Movement that took place in Italy in 1978. Considered one of the most important movements in contemporary art in the last quarter of this century, the Trans Avant Garde, a term coined by the Italian critic Achille Bonito Oliva and first used by him in an article published in the periodical Flash Art in the autumn of 1979, was an affirmation of the renewal of painting in the aftermath of abstraction. While affirming the role of a new painting, it simultaneously addressed relations to past traditions, rejecting the notion of progress and drawing freely from a rich cultural and artistic heritage. Within this group the approach of the artists to their work was expressionist with emphasis on the mystical, archaic, mythic or the esoteric. Duccio's works showcased in this exhibition carry the dominance of this approach based as they are on the concept of "labyrinth".

His works intrigue the spectator, because the visual language though appearing to be simple is fundamentally premised on the `labyrinth' as a leitmotif. This predominantly marks out to be conceptual, because it demands that the viewer either interprets or searches for the referents of these images from the outside world. Explaining his use of the labyrinth, Duccio says, "It is a flow of life, from mind, to heart to arteries and veins and other organs in the body. Everything is a labyrinth, unknown and mysterious." It represents dualities inherent in life, the mysteries of creation and death, of the known and the unknown, phenomenon and noumen, heaven and earth. Duccio thus operates through symbolism as it enables him to `represent' the mysterious, imaginary, arcane or abstruse. It is not difficult to read this approach in his works since he comes from a tradition that deployed it widely particularly during the Renaissance.

Early life

Born in Florence, he moved later to Milan for his art practice. His art education was never completed as he found the whole approach stifling and pedantic rebelling against its regimentation. From his younger days he was surrounded by words and ideas having grown up in an ambience that brought together some of the greatest intellectuals of the time to his home, since his father was a writer. Within such a milieu, Duccio's thought process was activated and found its fulfilment in the visual language.

Duccio's paintings are not very large. Created against a background of the labyrinth, which is either circular, elliptical or triangular, he sets his drawings or paintings that wilfully carry the residue of his classical tradition in terms of pillars, capitals, architectural details, hybrid forms, skulls and many other images. These are mainly ink drawings set against the heavy tonalities used for the rendering of the labyrinth, which is varied to be either representational or abstract. His creative process involves visualising the entire structure of the painting in his mind. It is originally conceived as black and white, but as the process begins the colours also take shape and ideas, which from his childhood had been internalised, come to life on the canvas. And the presentation of his works to the audience is similarly projected, i.e. frames within frames, emerging out of the labyrinth of his mind in which the central core is vital.

In addition Duccio travelled to Kerala and worked on coir, creating diverse effects transposing his western sensibility that stands apart despite using elephants and other Indian images as motifs.

Duccio lives and works in France and has held important shows all over the world.

The exhibition is on at the Artworld, Ganeshpuram, till April 16.

ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT

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