On the white space, which represents a psychic space, Cristiana Isoleri inscribes the intimations of a personal matter, of a story that is re-experienced from the deep, where the existential experience is transformed into remote vibrations, an occult resonance: the echo of an echo destined to emerge suddenly as a living and compelling presence.
As such, each painting should be considered as a particular moment of that story, a moment that appears complete at the image level but is connected to the next one, because it is institutionalized morphologically to the deep and secret impulses of the artist. This consideration should not lead the reader to misunderstand Isoleri as a follower of action painting.
If initially she indulges into her instincts, it is equally true – and obvious – that she then turns to the intellectual aspect of the images in order to find the most suitable characteristics for making them a vehicle for communication, making them in fact plastic evidence.
Indeed, the formal legitimacy of these paintings lies in their own structural rigor, which is to say in the ability of the artist to assign a “time” to what was before an obscure and indistinct spectrum.
The primal condition, I may add, for an easy reading; a condition that allows these pieces of art to be better focused, especially for understanding them as projections of a private story that becomes a metaphor of a collective story.
Indeed, placed side by side, these images light up, step by step, a path that, from an initial context of conflicting situations, tends toward a liberating perspective, toward a cathartic equilibrium.
At this point, one should note that the expressive means are, for Isoleri, specifically structured: they are present in the hallucinatory tension that is innervated in the silvery shapes.
Dazzling emblems of the technological monster that oppresses and violates the human quality; in contrast with a gold coat that symbolizes instead the surviving, yet resistant, signs of a desperately defended Eden, an Eden that is also a prison of pitfalls sometimes torn by the reds, the wounds of anguish and pain. And yet in other paintings, one identifies in the blues and greens that emerge and represent hope an ever obscure yet tenacious faith in redemption, these latter paintings carved by a slower pace, propagating towards stasis and lyrically accentuated. Despite having a past full of artistic experiences, Cristiana Isoleri has been waiting for many years before exhibiting her works to the public. More than a return, this show is a new presence, to be looked upon with confidence, to be followed carefully.
It is not easy to comment upon the process (the suggestions, the decisions, the necessary doubts, and the sources of interference) behind Cristiana Isoleri’s paintings. This is because, upon initial examination, seems to set apart from standard and too obvious methodologies such as dependencies, historical references or simply sentimental ones or the environment, which so often represent the starting point for criticism. Of course, it is possible to find elements from incontrovertible appearance, to delimit research areas, to attempt feelings of sensitivity; these are the times of trends.
For example, it is impossible to ignore the influences of the long plastic works of the school of Marino Marini, or to forget the collaborations of those years with Cavaliere, with Sangregorio, with the Brera friends, and the first version of Il Giamaica; from Dova to Crippa, from Baj to Peverelli. One cannot ignore the natural disposition toward the concrete, toward factual expressions of sculpture, and the near intolerance to this means, to the complete abandonment for a different “dimensionality” perhaps felt as more direct, or more free from a magical, abstracting, dignified digestion: that of color. However, in front of Isoleri paintings, it is a hasty operation to deduct logic consequences. It is in the mosaic that we can find significant aspects.
The use of color, by itself, is rarely pictorial, and when it comes to the risk of an undesired elegance, it is not for an emotional effect but for a detachment of plans in a given space. In fact, the colors are very limited: black, gold, grey, and silver (with some red), with the tendency of not being colors but materials. This is the case with collage inserts of papers, plastics and foil, in sudden abrasion reliefs. The colors, upon closer inspection, are made of brass, plaster, iron, with their shadows, opacity and contrasting smoothness to accentuate a vacuum, or a mass, to point to a plastic dynamism.
And it is in the juxtaposition of these two elements, in the shattering of the image in imprecise clutches and the inevitable and precious reference to matter, that Isoleri’s ambiguous operation acquires a meaning. It is significant because it is aware, ambiguous because it is always with a strong emblematic tension.
And it is not entirely resolved, in the sense of the incomplete fulfillment of achievements if Isoleri, as I have seen, is working on the technical recovery of certain intuitions that would lead to a new balance between impetus and reason. The operations are legitimate and in many cases supported, especially where her “informal” base is intentionally clarified and controlled. This would suggest a closer interest of Isoleri, not to an indiscriminate gesture but to a clear lesson of Fontana. Even if her world remains dominated by the consciousness of the fracture between an objective reality and the desire of an abstract calm to contemplate, we can notice in her most recent work a distance from more easy solutions towards a more structural, compositional rigor.
Passer de la forme Humano-euclidienne aux espaces multivalentes avec une intuition artistico-esthétique où liberté, richesse et qualitativement est une aventure merveilleuse pour un artiste de maintenant: Cristiana Isoleri est normalement à la “puissance” structurelle de l’art en devenir, et nous propose un contenu essentiellement panthéiste qui se doit de nous enchanter.
Esthétiquement parlant, notre ère post-dada se normalise autrement par déductions intuitives sinon formelles venant du fait d’être d’un nombre d’oeuvres d’art heureusement devenues telles dans ces quelques trente derniéres années. Apres les messages d’intuitions passionnées de Wols et Pollock et ceux axiomatiquement décidés de Serpan et Donishi, des artiste comme Cristiana Isoleri, dont la sensibilité intuitive a normalement changé de puissance, preposent non moins normalement qu’autrement des enchantements artistiques aux “Amateurs d’art” totalement dignes de ces nom, dans le constant dépassement des reconditionnements d’une autre psyco-sensorialité esthétique.
Lyrics of Sandro Penna in the mirror of Cristiana Isoleri’s pages
…The encounter between Sandro Penna and Cristiana Isoleri appears exceptional on the pages of the editor Vanni Schweiller’s “L’ombra e la luce”. Seven unreleased poems and seven etchings. Isoleri confesses that Penna’s poems “have provoked” her drawings, encouraged by confidence with the poet. Isoleri is from Milan and has already worked with Alik Cavaliere and Achille Funi. Sculpture has been her first passion; since 1964, she has moved from painting to material painting, of reliefs and recollections that establish a “continuum” with her previous experience. In the etchings of the book (printed by Giorgio Upiglio), the qualities of rigor and elegance (which can bring to mind the silent universe of Spacal) stand out with an extraordinary strength: high teaching joins invention and meditation in a space of traces and colors. This has an echo in Penna’s words: “When the marbles of bridges become whiter / and on the green by the river, the first flames start / the soul does not know if the words…”.
The organised images of Cristiana Isoleri
The expressive world of Cristiana Isoleri, strongly characterized by an informal abandon to visual elements derived from nature (from a symbolic point of view, rather then direct description), had not yet achieved results so significant as the ones I define “organized” (the term does not seem excessive for a compositional process that goes against rationalization) in relation to some contemporary work. Her work is characterised not only by excellent technical expertise and a natural interest in the secret sense of the cycle of birth, death and regeneration, but also by a harmony with the texts chosen that provides a very coherent interpretation of Isoleri’s work.
The author has chosen to place these side by side and to not describe the meaning of some poems that could be the exemplification of a parallel work. The author has avoided overly strong texts and has chosen poems from specific cultural areas where there is a form of investigation that involves sensuality and emblematic transposition.
In the Anglo-Saxon tradition we can find this, for example, with Nathaniel Tarn, who resumes in an innovative way an extremely ancient subject. We see this also in the tropical Latin-American climate with Luis A. Fernandez, where the landscapes suggested incorporate a truly surreal vocation. Seghers and Simongini may be an exception, given their origins, if their poems, in their cultural context, were not exceptions themselves.
While in Jakimovskij, from Macedonia, one can notice a curious, unexpected propensity to the spectral, with such allusions to the meanings of cyclicity to make its text, like the others, perfectly acceptable in relation to its intentions. In the reciprocal exchange between texts and images, in the same differentiation that is established between the inevitable “rationality” of the word and the magical allusiveness of the color, on which the artist relies, Isoleri achieves a remarkable ultimate unity.
ACHILLE BONITO OLIVA
The art of recent years has been characterized by an interdisciplinary practice of various languages in which the image has been often matched with words digressing from its specific domain and landing in an environment with no artistic category or limitations. Literature has often experienced such digression.
One example is the publication of a portfolio, published by Vanni Scheiwiller in Milan, with poems by Rafael Alberti, etchings by Cristiana Isoleri and an introduction by Sebastiano Grasso. Rafael Alberti, a well-known Spanish and anti-Franco poet, lived for a long time in Italy due to his opposition to the Spanish regime and belongs to that generation of intellectuals who have made art a practice of civil disagreement. A friend of Garcia Lorca and other Spanish poets, Alberti has always pushed his poetry towards civil activity without ever losing sight of the existential core of man or ever alienating the individual substance of the poet’s subject.
This portfolio is also a testament to the poet’s consistency, and introduces the surprise of some etchings that accompany the verse. The author is Cristiana Isoleri, who has realized a sort of visual counterclaim, a scansion of signs that have a rich autonomy. The paintings follow one other with alternate rhythms, visual correspondences of a mood: the one of the poet, who intends to celebrate the alternation of his existential condition, coupled with the passing of the seasons. Sebastiano Grasso, with a fine and intelligent tone and an acute, yet dense, writing, emphasizes the specificity of Alberti’s poetry and the harmony between the words and the visual rhythm. Isoleri’s paintings have their own visual density that come from the ability to combine a light mark within the fabric of the color, scarcely outlined yet emerging and bright. The background reminds us of the walls of Tapies, the great Spanish artist, with his surfaces that support the deep signs, yet scarcely scratched and delicately expressed. The alternation of the depth of the sign evokes the different shades of the poetic song, from the murmuring of the moan to the scream of universal desperation.
All the conditions of the poetry are displayed in the etchings of Isoleri, who manages to represents on her paintings the cycles of life with its ups and downs. Often, the marks cross over, stopping and rearing up again, giving to the space an opening image, a dimension without hierarchies, without highs and lows. A space that corresponds to the circularity of the poetry that does not know any stops or mandatory full stops. The idea of graffiti is the symptom of a manual, artistic skill that tests its assaults on the space of the image, with tones that give back a mentality of art as a primary breath. In sum, this portfolio demonstrates how it is possible to work with different expressive languages. Images and words, poetry and a visual counter melody perform a duet that shows how art is a choral practice.
Alberti and the broken love
“Amor querido/amor/sin querer c’mo me has herido/ amor… Amor que eres ya mi vida, amor, amor/…”
The verses of Rafael Alberti awaken the echoes of the heart, of the feelings, evoking to the mind the trobadores, in their unbroken walks, in their tirelessly wandering, in the un-anguished search for a natural arrival of the gaze, of the hand, of the poem. Do you remember Jaufré Rudel? Amours de tierra londana-/par voz totz lo cor mi duol – “My love from a far land, because of you all my heart hurts” – the trobadour used to say thousands of years ago. And now, the Spanish poet seems to resume the golden thread of the dream that remains intact in men’s lives and rejoices once again.
“My dear love/love/without wanting, how much have you hurt…”
The difficulty of talking about poetry is always enormous, and it is at risk of falling into the blinding satisfaction of what has been said already and even better. However, it is worth breaking the habit of silence to announce that today, at six o’clock, there will be a presentation by Mario Luzi and Marcello Vannucci of a portfolio of poems by Rafael Alberti, translated by Sebastiano Grasso. The preface is also by Grasso, an enthusiast of Spanish poetry. The poems, of varying length but of equal appeal, are combined with three precious, moving etchings by Cristiana Isoleri which transmit the same message of the poems. It is very unusual for a visual language made by colorful spots and marks to be able to complete with words in this way, like in the Canzone dell’ Amor ferito Arabesque, the rhythm and merry song of the angels. The portfolio presented today at 6 pm in Florence at the Michaud Gallery is published by Vanni Scheiwiller. He has managed to combine three great talents: a poet, a painter and a translator. The verses of Alberti are all, in their musicality, capable of giving the reverberation of youthful passion.
Preface for the exhibitions at Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara (October-December 1990), Milan (September 1990)
The key to the event is in the papers in which lie words, signs, images and color. The poet’s struggle with identity has enlightened Cristiana Isoleri’s pursuit. Starting with the lyrics of Sandro Penna, elegant and rigorous, she then continues with other texts. From there, the high skill is combined with invention and meditation in a silent space: chromatic traces and remains exalt the supreme word of the poet: “Quando diventano più bianchi i marmi – dei ponti, e sul verde del fiume si accendono i primi – fuochi, l’anima non sa se le parole…”.
Cristiana Isoleri is accompanied by a lucid anxiety, a constant interrogation. Now, in her full maturity, in all her work, from graphics to painting, she shows the achievement of meditation in a very sensitive story; a conflict between instinct and logic beyond ambiguity, between consumption and material splendor. Black, gold, silver, grey and red are the colors used the most by Cristiana. From within the Lombard capital of the mythical seasons of Mario Marini, from the cafes of existentialism and from Dova, Bay, Peverelli and starting from Achille Funi and Alik Cavaliere (her beginnings were with sculpture), Cristiana has lived and filtrated everything with an experimental doubt and a coherent tension that tackle the structure of reality in order to discover inside, behind and beyond the reasons of a resistance, the exact and mysterious code of consciousness.
Isoleri, plots and labyrinths for poetry
Approximately thirty pieces by Cristiana Isoleri (Milan 1926), starting from the 1970s to present day, together with three engravings drawn by Giorgio Upiglio, accompany as many unpublished poems by Mario Luzi. It is an occasion to find this refined artist who has lived the Milanese life of the great historic Brera. Her graphics (almost all etchings) are distinguished by the careful use of the stain and for a fine weave that, painting after painting, reveals a secret wealth. Like a modern Penelope, Cristiana Isoleri creates and disfigures her canvas, knowing that with the same multiple “plots” a literary text can be created as well. No surprise, then, if her work often meets with the reasons of poetry. It is as seen in the tables (of previous years) for Rafael Alberti and Sandro Penna. The artist recalls a visit to the ancient poet who lived in Rome, lonely and poor. She had come to him to obtain some unpublished work to accompany her engravings. Thus, in 1978, was created the artwork that imitated the “tarlatana”, the light cotton fabric used by the printers. As if it were leaning on the bottom of the page, the artist shows the outbursts, the irregularities. Then, on this cloth she inserts signs, stains, small colored islands that seem to cross the surface of the sheet. More recently – and with the tables by Mario Luzi – Isoleri’s attention is focused on another system of aligned lines, such as labyrinths. Here, it is no longer the poem to be called into question, but the very shape of the brain; as if those tidy hemispheres could represent the mazes within which the mind becomes lost. Again some stain, some corroded area, like a mold, comes to stop the orderly unfolding of the image. In these “figures”, there is the same atmosphere of clear rationality which, for example, has made famous the adopted Milanese Scanavino.
An artistic journey of light harmony
Urbino – On Thursday, February 15, at the halls of the Bottega Giovanni Santi, Casa di Raffaello, the art exhibition of Cristiana Isoleri was inaugurated. The works I have examined – acrylics, engravings, oils, collages and graphics – are the result of a long “creative journey” which runs from 1971 to 1999. What is immediately evident in the works of the Milanese artist, especially in the acrylics and oil paintings, is that intense way of erasing any objective reference to reality. These are pictures of color and light, determined actions in the freedom of selection and decision. The eclectic capacity of Cristiana, and her resulting refusal of an objective syncretism, not only allows her to give vigor to the chromatic system, but also to organize the informal structure in a clear and preordained manner. The result of her pictorial gestures reveals her intention and excitement for Action Painting. Any reference, however, to Jackson Pollock with painting is, in my opinion, purely marginal: Isoleres show a spatial organization, an original way of thinking. Her work and her actions are meditated, much as musical notes are transcribed on the pentagram. Every color, every “musical note,” is in place with balance and is capable of performing melodic and constant (I dare say) echoes and classic sonority for shapes and harmonies.
In Isoleri’s work, therefore, there are no convulsions or explosions, but rather, order and smooth sonority in a gentle compositional balance. Ultimately, in her work, there is no drama, but rather, a profound and peaceful balance between form, content and color. With her works, Isoleri thus demonstrates an inner equilibrium and gestural control that the works themselves assume and reveals a desired code and system: there is, therefore, no rapidity in the execution of her artistic process, but instead reflection, rationality and infinite fantasy. Some works, either with a dark or light background, show the deep creative sensibility and the aesthetic gesture of the performance: signs and shapes that also reveal a flamboyant artistic vitality and taste and harmony in the use of color. Cristiana can imagine a pictorial space, material of large spaces and evident expansion. But what is the meaning of her works in a continually renewed Western context, where all has been said? It is certainly not easy to retrace the labyrinths of her “story”, of her “visions”, because history and visions would lead us to conceive our limited reading of Isoleri’s message. Instead, the sense of the work gravitates toward an orbit marked by shining reminders evoked by memory, where intense colors like red, black and gold are revealed and take certain forms: they are, I dare say, “psycho-forms”. An artist, therefore – sensitive, mysterious and emblematic, capable of expressing her emotions with signs and colors, looking for pictorial effects in the perfect equilibrium between vision and feeling in the successful elaboration of unusual and constantly new “aesthetic” revelations.
On the occasion of the presentation of the book "La Messa sul mondo" at the Swiss Cultural Center in Milan, 8 October 2002
The fact that this portfolio, which is very fascinating not only for Teilhard’s writings but also for the engravings by Cristiana Isoleri, is being released now is a truly significant tribute to Vanni Scheiwiller, and a consolation for his friends.
Of course, it is not for me to speak about Teilhard de Chardin, who, as everyone knows, is a Jesuit who enjoyed extraordinary success thirty years ago perhaps because of his position between an orthodox Christianity and a heterodox position marked with sensuality and mysticism. It is therefore these two roots that make Teilhard de Chardin such a distinctive figure, perhaps even slightly obsolete for modern day.
But the most interesting thing is that Cristiana Isoleri has had the courage to take on the illustrations for a portfolio such as this. This because it is not the first time that Cristiana has faced extremely complex and divergent texts with her illustrations – I say “illustrations” because they include engravings, etchings and aquatints – with the most varied techniques. The most important characteristic it is that even when the illustrations are very abstract, they are always coherent with the text, and I believe this is one of the most difficult things, especially today in an era where contemporary art is almost never figurative. Simply by looking at Cristiana’s portfolio, it is possible to see how she has been able to interpret Teilhard de Chardin’s text in a truly extraordinary manner. When Teilhard says, “Jesus, my lord, I accept being possessed by you and brought to the irresistible power of your body”, one can see in these words even a morbid sexuality. And again when he says, “In the center of your bosom, I see nothing but a furnace”; a furnace – not blood, not a heart, but a furnace of passion. All this has been made visible by Cristiana Isoleri, experienced by the public with a table that is truly exceptional, because here we have the body of Christ and at the same time the blood, the blood that comes out of the ribs, but it is only represented by completely abstract lines. On one side, the land that has sacrificed Christ, and on the other, a sky already made of gold, already crossed by a seraphic vision, and in the middle, a golden cross to make this table mystical and pure and religious. To conclude, I would say that in this artwork we have a synthesis of Cristiana’s qualities: the ability to adapt to what is the dominant abstraction in the paintings of our time, and, in a way, to escape from the same abstraction through brief signs – a cross, oval shapes, blood stains – that reminds us of Teilhard’s furnace. The aim is to obtain what sacred art should always be: iconography and abstract at the same time.
Preface to the catalogue “Cristiana Isoleri - Opera grafica”, on the occasion of the exhibition at Sormani library in Milan, November 2015
Since her debut as a sculptor, Cristiana Isoleri, who studied at the Brera Academy under Marino Marini from the mid-1960s, has dedicated herself to painting and graphic-creating engravings (etchings and aquatints) for lyrical texts of several important poets of the twentieth century, such as Salvatore Quasimodo, Sandro Penna, Rafael Alberti, Mario Luzi, Edoardo Sanguineti, Delfina Provenzali and Roberto Sanesi, and also for the theological writings of the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – the philosopher, theologian and scientist – of whom we reproduce the acute critical text of Gillo Dorfles in this catalog.
Teilhard was published in the Scheiwiller editions in 1999 in the text “La Messa sul Monda” (The Mass on the World), translated by Salvatore Quasimodo, which includes an inspired engraving by Isoleri printed by Giorgio Upiglio, one of the most mystical who participated in his graphic production. In the vortex of abstract lines that outline the rib cage of Christ flooded by the blood of his sacrifice, we feel attracted and involved in sinking into a Eucharistic union of passion and love that spreads over the whole earth, illuminated by rays and flickers of the precious golden light of the Holy Cross. Among the books exhibited in this exhibition at the Sormani Library in Milan we can find: “L’ombra e la luce”, a book with seven unpublished poems by Sandro Penna printed by Giorgio Lucini in 1975, with seven etchings printed by Giorgio Upiglio (editor Vanni Scheiwiller); and “Sicilia” with 14 unpublished poems by Salvatore Quasimodo and 3 etchings by Cristiana Isoleri printed by Pierluigi Puliti and the publisher Claudio Nicolodi in 2012. In the first book, Isoleri’s etchings are able to represent through pale gold the difficult psychology of Penna and his tragedies and existential contradictions. In the second book, “Sicilia”, Isoleri is able to infuse Mediterranean charm into the landscape of lava rock with a vibrant turquoise sea and a flaming sky of red clouds emitting golden rays. The second engraving, entitled “Fremiti mattinali”, is dominated by the white on the shadows of the mountain in anticipation of the spread of the red energy of the new day.
We can conclude by defining Cristiana Isoleri as a “graphics poetess” of poets, for her deep willingness to penetrate, interpret, and capture the secret inspiration at the source of poetry.