The Eye of Cordio

In 1972 in Milan, a friend told me he had seen an exhibition the day before of a printmaker who was “Sicilian like you” and that he had been most impressed by it. Adding, somewhat hurriedly, that almost all of the prints exhibited were representations of flowers. I think it’s possible to count on one hand the number of artists today who would still dare attempt to depict flowers. Despite their courage it’s not to my taste, I dislike seeing transferred on (the)paperflowers the decomposition of the world and it’s images. All the same I went to that exhibition perhaps because once Leonardo Sciascia had confessed to me that he had a somewhat Mafia-like mentality towards Sicilian artists; that is to say, he was very despotic in his desire to be their patron or accomplice. I entered into the gallery with the intention of making a very brief appearance, after all I didn’t know anyone, and instead I stayed there for two hours, until its close. I left “more confused than convinced” as they say in my neck of the woods. I’ll immediately clear the air of a possible misunderstanding: I’m not an expert on the subject and hence able to explain my preferences in a rational manner: confronted with art or music I am unable to choose, I am chosen. In those two hours more than being chosen I felt favoured, and as such, caressed and cuddled until being moved. The confusion that I carried within me sprang from an indefinable sense

of amazement; an amazement which bordered on disturbing. There was no doubt that in that gallery I had come into contact with more than just the prints themselves. In fact, they could be both looked at and interpreted: interpreted metrically because guided by a secret rhythm, by a hidden scansion. Was it because I didn’t recognise the rules of that metric that I found it disturbing? The reading of a brief passage by Guttuso presenting the exhibition only served to increase my perplexity. Guttuso, having observed that Cordio had an extraordinary capacity of bringing the image to the “maximum of wonder”, maintained that those stupendous prints could not have been “merely the result of technical expertise”. It was precisely this which I found disturbing. Where did that capacity to directly communicate, without filters or mediation, the sense of wonder present in his work spring from? When I returned to Rome (Cordio still lived there, then), I looked for and found an excuse to meet him. He received me in his studio situated in the nearby countryside. Being a man of disarming simplicity and clarity, after a while he began to explain to me the secret of his daily miracle, the fatigue and the Carthusian patience which form its base. Knowing a secret is often not enough to clarify a mystery (writing about Cordio, Sciascia maintained that “there was something mysterious and mysteriously invented in his etchings”) I was, therefore, about to ask him some questions when suddenly I could no longer hear him moving behind me. I had the impression that he had left the studio. I turned around and found him standing silently, looking at one of his pictures, which he held with both hands. His eyes, almost wide open, glowed with a joyous and astonished wonder. I realised straight away that he was seeing far beyond his own colours: he was seeing something which those colours had reminded him of. I stayed no longer.

The questions I had not asked him I began asking myself. What was it that Cordio’s eye instinctively refused to see and what was it that he loved to see? In the first place, it was clear that he refused to see anything man-made. It’s enough to look at, for example, an etching which he calls “Selinunte archeologica”: it’s not possible to find one broken column, a fallen arch???capital , nothing at all. And what about the pictures he sometimes entitles “The Poet’s House”? In most cases the house isn’t there. You must search for a peak of it in its environs, or if it is visible the colours are so unlikely for a house that you could easily mistake it for a plant. On the other hand, the house of the poet Lucio Piccolo is completely and too forcibly present, so much so that it breaks with the horizon. An aim diligently executed. In the second place, he finds it difficult to see human figures. When he does see them, they are pseudofeminine figures: Armida, Monica, the girl in the orchard, the pink profile. In realty they are flowers born through spontaneous crossbreedingscrossbreeding and captured in the act of metamorphosis. aMetamorphosis! It was in this moment that it became clear to me it became clear to me which was the secret metric with which I was to interpret Cordio’’s works.. Those etchings are hexametrical, those colours… beat now the “dactylttilo” ………and then the “spondeospondee”. The frequent succession of tthe dactyl is rhythmne…. Ggives birth to the fiery vivacity of the subject in its formation just as the spondee of color leaves its imprint on the encapsulated flow of the night…. ..Once on the trail, it didn’t take me long to find Cordio’s “place”. It’s a stone throw away from the “De rerum natura” by Lucrezio.


“Principio genus herbarum viridemque nitorem

terra dedit circum collis camposque per omnis,

florida fulserunt viridanti prata colore,

arboribusque datumst variis exinde per auras

crescendi magnum immissis certamen habenis”.

This is not only the place, but alsoit is the time. It is the moment which immediately follows Creation when the young earth literally explodes with luscious vegetation, in a heady|vertiginous accumulation of forms and colours. That moment can not be recounted. It can at the most be sensed intuitedlyively, as does Lucrezio. However, it can be witnessed by transmitting the moment in which green hesitates in defining itself indefinatelyindefinitely as such; in which purple tries to differenziatedifferentiate itself from navy blue or sky blue; inin which red is indecisive about calling itself pink or brown. And in all of this, the amazement, the joyous wonder of he who is witnessing, with his own eyes, the composing of the nature’’s brilliant colours. This is the deepest and most hidden sensemeaning of Cordio’’s art. If there are no houses it is only because he had not at that moment yet seen them and if there are no human figures it is because they had not yet left their footprints on the earth.

Does this mean that Cordio was there in that place and that momentime? Would this be enough to explain that mysterious inventing (from “invenire”) (from ) which Sciascia spoke of ?

I’’ll put forward a hypothosishypothesis. A few years ago, amongst the mountain of science fiction which I I read, from an author I now can’t recall, I came across an intriguing short storyy. It’s possible that the story in the process of recollection has been improved and aided by my own memory. An astronaut is assigned an impossible mission: to land on Mars. After many ups and downs he arrives padded and clumsy feeling both terrified and happy: terrified of the hostile and inhumane environment; happy for being the first earthling to set foot on Mars. even if now I can’t recall the author. He walks for hours amongst jets of vapour, flowing lava and boiling magma risking his life until he finds temporary shelter in a type of cave where he falls asleep from exhaustion. At his awakening, due to a change in the atmosphere, the vapours have disappeared and the jets and lava have ceased. For some moments he sees outside of the cave a disturbing and magical landscape of dark rocks which act as a frame for a horizon of mountains made of glistening eternal ice. Then everything goes back to how it was before. Back on Earth, the astronaut is hailed in all the major capitals of the world. In Paris, as a part of his obligatory visits there is naturally the Louvre. There he sees, with lacerating stupor, the exact same landscape that he had glimpsed from the cave on Mars: it is the one painted by Leonardo behind the Virgin of the Rocks’ head. The astronaut hadn’t been the first one to see it.

Could it be possible that Cordio…? I repeat: it’s only a hypothesis. And so risky that I dare not completely formulate it.

Andrea Camilleri