THE GARDENS OF CORDIO
Nino Cordio was born in Santa Ninfa, Western Sicily, in 1937 and studied first in Catania then in Rome at the Accademia delle Belle Arti, and finally in Paris in Friedländer’s studio. His artistic background was formed in the Fifties, in other words to that period dominated by the “concrete-abstract” of Lionello Venturi and the “new naturalism” of Francesco Arcangeli, who was particularly influenced by Morlotti. I can still remember the hostility, more than antagonism, between the two schools: the ‘Roman’ group on one side – which numbered amongst its ranks Sicilian artists such as Scordia and Tunisians such as Corpora: up against the staunch abstract group on the other, also web populated by Sicilian artists such as Accardi, Sanfilippo, Consagra – who accused the Northern “naturalists” of spurious emotional over-kill with little formal control; Arcangeli detested what was considered to be the superficial approach to the spectacle of nature of the “abstract-concrete” artists and (already at that time) wished to firmly underline the diversity of “Padania”, the plain of the river Po. Living in Bologna in those years between ’55 and ’58, myself being Roman, and educated to love and cherish the unity of my Bel Paese (Beautiful Country) and naturally averse to factions, I could find little justification for this mutual intolerance, seeing as to me the two forms of expression appeared complementary and I don’t believe I was wrong. What they had in common – and this is quite clear today – was a vision of art still tied to the given circumstances of nature, but freed from its textual interpretation and revisited in an autonomous way by the art of painting, be it through the magmatic informal experience or the post-cubist influence on light. In order for this kindred spirit to rise to the surface one will have to wait for the clear break from this shared starting point that was operated by later tendencies. But this starting point was visibly central to the work of Nino Cordio, who had chosen to steer a course in search of that “half way house” between the landscape, or the portrait and abstraction. In his engravings of 1959 the visions of urban suburbs, half countryside half city, grows out of a network of signs that reflect the informal gesture, yet can also claim to represent almost an atmospheric filtering or chiaroscuro effect. One is aware in his work, right from the outset, of what could best be termed as a nostalgia for figurative representation, from which one is unable to draw away completely, even when the “impression” is covered over by blotches and fading light. A disposition toward lyric contemplation transposes the vision of the external world into a state of being; that muddled yet vibrant mass of signs is also a projection of what lies within, a covert answer of one’s feelings to the message sent by appearances, a sign of participation – with those scratches as pointed as thorns – to the pain of dying trees, or the desolation of industrial pylons – those black tangles of curdled melancholy. With different words, Sciascia and Guttuso have essentially come up with the same comments on Cordio’s colour etchings; the former by saying that he generally felt wary of this particular medium with the exception of Cordio’s colour etchings, where “the depth, the tone, the vibration are those of black and white etching; and the colours are simply a development of this process” and the latter when he writes “In these sheets, which have been through the printing press eight, nine times, there is no sense of weariness. This means that the care and meticulousness are not just a question of “studio cleanliness”, but are transformed into a poetic statement”. It must be said that these etchings are almost indistinguishable from oils or pastels and the richness of the transitions and shading is truly remarkable; nor is this surprising technical mastery ever for its own sake, as it is always absorbed into the freshness of the creativity, in the blossoming grace of the forms, the poetic spread of colours, the heavy or scattered shadows of the night-time landscapes. Toward the secret beauty of flowers, Cordio has a literal affection for flowers that has rightly inspired comparisons with Odilon Redon or Hokusai, despite the fact that he doesn’t attempt to reproduce neither the formers preciousness nor the latter’s calligraphic style: his petals are rather a flight of colour, and they sweep over the page with the same mobility and light touch of the light that shines through in the representation of the wood; or the smudges of clouds over Etna, the reflections in the sea, the overturned sods on the land, the vibrations of the sunset that softly blaze and subside between the earth and the sky close to the horizon.
It is effectively a “flowering” of effects, hues, shades, something akin to the damp that “blossoms” on walls; and doesn’t the darkening sky of Cespuglio-luna (Shrub-moon) of 1968 surely for once resemble a time-scoured wall? But this flowering into so many colourful and delicate efflorescences is the humus, of the gardens of the earth and of poetry.