Enzo Cucchi, a leading figure of the Italian neo-expressionist Transavanguardia group,(1) does not seek to persuade gradually, but instead to convey the truth he portrays like a bolt of lightning. In doing so, Cucchi eschews all that is irrelevant, and concentrates entirely on just a few important forms. These are gestures freed from temporary chance occurrences, reducing figurative painting to a minimum in order to underline the power of metaphor. Recurrent motifs trigger a wealth of associations linked to memories that we cannot quite define, for “painting is exclusively a painting of legends … Legends that have really taken place … ”(2) Cucchi’s belief in the authenticity of images is bound up with an understanding of reality that is based more on the reality of mythical ur-images than on the transient experiences of the present.
It is not a matter of finding the correct form, in the sense of an ideal form, but of finding an ideal image. Accordingly, the motifs are neither beautiful nor even realistic in relation to the natural forms on which they are based, but are measured solely in terms of how aptly they express what they are meant to convey. In this respect, Cucchi follows in the footsteps of a northern European tradition that is very much rooted in German idealism, and that has entered the world of visual art through various avant-garde movements. At their core lies a definition of beauty formulated by Friedrich Schlegel in the Romantic era.
Schlegel makes a distinction between what is “beautiful” and what is “interesting.” What is interesting becomes the criterion by which the quality of a contemporary aesthetic object is judged. The benchmark is no longer beauty as a timeless ideal, as formulated in classical antiquity, but the notion of a truth that can take different concrete forms. What is interesting thus becomes the contemporary equivalent of past beauty and, with that, comes to embody a new concept of beauty. Franz Marc, for instance, posits that, “beauty = truth, ugliness = untruth.”(3) Elsewhere, he deduces that essence of things lies “only in purpose (the purpose of life) … the how being irrelevant, but rather, the consequence of purpose (of the emotion).” (4)
Cucchi would subscribe to such a statement, even though his own approach is a far remove from the religiously transfigurative approach of German Romanticism and its offshoots. He is more interested in the truth that is embedded in a mythical past, when images were not yet dependent on rational explanation. In his works, the absence of a specific time is striking by its very absence from a specific place. There is no living vegetation. Instead, there are boundless oceans, rugged landscapes, and arid deserts of sand. People are present only in archaic ideal images—as heroes or barbarians, as embryonic beings or as skulls. Cucchi grasps bygone, mythological time as a reality in the here and now, making it fruitful for the present day. This attitude is shored up by the conviction with which the artist commits to his work, setting signs and signals that suggest a solution to the conflicts of our time. For Cucchi, the past does not clash with his own historical situation, but instead possesses an autonomous and eternal value, independent of real time frames.
(1) The term “Transavanguardia,” coined by Achille Bonito Oliva, primarily describes the Italian variant of neo-expressionism in the late 1970s and 1980s. Achille Bonito Oliva, La Transavanguardia Italiana, Milan 1980.
(2) “La pittura è solo quella delle leggende … Le leggende sono veramente accadute … ” Enzo Cucchi, La cerimonia delle cose / The Ceremony of Things, ed. Mario Diacono, New York 1985, p. 49.
(3) Marc further emphasizes: “Why should we not speak of true and untrue images—you call them pure and impure, but you mean the same thing. And those who describe the beauty, purity, and ugliness in truth as untrue mean the same as well.” Franz Marc, Schriften, ed. Klaus Lankheit, Cologne 1978, p. 178.
(4) Franz Marc, Briefe aus dem Feld, Berlin 1940, p. 61.
Further works by Enzo Cucchi in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0531, Untitled, 1987, Ballpoint pen on paper, 17 x 24 cm
Inv. no. 0533, Untitled, 1987, Ballpoint pen and India ink on glossy paper, 9.7 x 12.3 cm
Inv. no. 0543, Untitled, 1988, Pencil and charcoal on paper, 25 x 17.5 cm
Inv. no. 0544, Untitled, 1988, Pencil and charcoal on paper, 17.5 x 24.9 cm