The neon: this is what makes Paolo Scirpa’s mysterious tension towards infinity visible, his rethinking of painting into sculptural objects and environments that alter the perception of space. Born in Syracuse in 1934, the Sicilian painter has lived and worked in Milan since 1968, the year of the Belice earthquake and of the social and cultural revolutions, of the Triennale occupation and of the experimentation of new artistic languages. Starting from the Ludoscopi (Ludoscopes, 1970), after abandoning two-dimensionality for the modularity and three-dimensionality of objects aimed at overcoming the barrier between sculpture and painting – as Lucio Fontana has been teaching since the first Ambiente spaziale (Spatial Environment) in 1949 –, Scirpa works in repeated and recognizable series. Here, light and mirrors present a very personal idea of architecture, diversifying his research from that of the optical-kinetics of Programmed Art developed between 1959 and 1966 by Gruppo T, Gruppo Enne, Gruppo Zero, and Gruppo MID. His neon focuses on the transcendence of light, as an epiphany of the absolute from which we all come and to which we all tend. It evokes a symbolic dimension, that of the Byzantine mosaics seen in Sicily, in the Palatine Chapel of the Cathedral of Monreale (Palermo) or in Cefalù, far from the fascination for structure, physicality, and optical-kinetic research of the Programmed Art. Neon and mirror, through geometric shapes, mainly cubic, extend towards the infinite, configuring an “ideal” light; they simulate illusory spaces that are capable of inhabiting and crossing environments with luminous effects that seem designed to bounce, stumble, and amplify the gaze of those seeking not the light itself, but the “whole” that it includes. His sculptures made with neon tubes are not just mere juxtaposed segments of light, but phenomena that transcend the everyday to aspire to an “endlessness” amplified by mirrors; it is almost a baroque citation, deeply rooted in Sicilian architecture, a search for new spatial depths through repeated geometries and lines of colour.
The artist, starting with Megalopoli Consumistica (Consumer Megalopolis, 1972), ventures into installations in which painting and sculpture engage in a dialogue, almost a two-dimensional representation of the Ludoscopes. There is a reference to something else, something undefinable and hypnotic, in his works; focused on the vortex phenomenon, they harness a luminous instant, inscribing it into eternity through solid geometrical forms that detach themselves from reality and seem to float into the space, creating an evolving situation of optical phenomena that modify the perception of time, as they are always contemporary. Since the 1980s, faithful to his need to experiment with new paths, Scirpa has been carrying out a series of design actions by inserting his luminous “abysses” into architecture and environments conceived as translations of two-dimensional Ludoscopes and paintings. From 1983 to 2007, his photographic assemblages, likewise, aim at optical deception with alienating urban projects, poised between the ideal city and the futuristic and metaphysical ones. As the artist stated in 1997: “Infinity has always made me reflect intimately, always being the driving force behind my artistic work, also aimed at investigating the different levels of the aesthetic reality within our technological and consumerist society.
”A painter of electric light forms, master of an undefinable “illusiveness” caught between science and art, Scirpa has always developed intersections and translations between painting and sculpture, where light and the overlapping of neon segments with modular structures create swerves. Albeit being aligned on the study of perception with the fluorescent tube, he is distinguished by his constant search for an “otherness” from the optical-kinetic currents. He is not interested in the artwork as an industrial “product” intended for marketing and media consecration, but he rather introduces a philosophical reason behind the role of art through a symbolic function of light.
Minimalist and charged with dynamic energy, his work implies a humanistic reading, against the fall of the ideal-spiritual dimension of art, in which the metaphysical value and the instrumental one coexist in pseudo-scientific forms in which perspectives of an illusory light shatter in hypnotizing abysses. With their pictorial intensity, his sculptures of light involve a shift between interiority and exteriority, under the banner of an expressive freedom and classical compositional rigour, whose aim is to achieve harmony between the individual parts and the whole.
These are both centrifugal and centripetal works, and the darkness in which they are inscribed is an accomplice; one segment of light above the other, and in the middle of that empty space, the gaze takes flight. Paolo Scirpa is contemporary in combining the technical-scientific functionalist aspect of the neon, an iconic material of modernity, with the symbolic-humanist aspect of its variations of light, which, like the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, foresee the centrality of man as an instrument of perception.
To modify, more than space, the dimension of time, disrupting the reception of the outer world in the instant of the configurati of a fragment of infinity.