Recensione critica

“Simonides defined painting as silent poetry and poetry as painting that speaks; for

the actions that painters paint as they are being done, are described by words after

they have been done.”

Plutarch, De Gloria Atheniensium

The crux of Aurelio Bruni’s art is memory: that function of the mind capable of calling up - visually in the case of painters – past experience via the four phases of memorizing, retaining, recalling and recognition. Of course the faculty that regulates memories has always been connected to Art, since according to classic mythology Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory, daughter of Uranus (Sky or Heaven) and of Gaia (Earth), in an amorous union with Zeus conceived the nine Muses: tutelary divinities of poetry and the arts, Apollo’s faithful companions.
It is precisely in exercising memory that Bruni’s manner moves towards “museum painting,” aimed at recovering the classic idiom and the loftiest figurative tradition, not in the sense of a sterile repertory of iconographic models, but constituting a modus vivendi and above all a vocabulary capable of narrating the episodes of the present. In the early 1950s, De Chirico, after his metaphysical phase, was one of the first artists to open the path to a painting that was “impregnated by museum,” insisting on technique, on the “bella maniera” and the absolute objective fidelity of the image. His was a painting done with “his right hand” – he used to say – the one predisposed to realism, guaranteed by the mastery of the craft. The desire to decline in the present the lessons of the masters of the past was also felt by a group of artists defined Hypermannerists by critics between the end of the Seventies and the beginning of the next decade. Cultured painters, Anachronists, Nuovi Nuovi, depending on the individual stylistic features. Indifferent to the various labels and without feeling he had to be identified with any specific movement, in those years Aurelio Bruni developed an expressive language of his own, faithful to the cult of beauty conceived of in classic terms. At the same time he began his exhibition activity, with a one-man show at the Galleria Chariot in Rome.
Bruni chose the path of realism, but his is not a verist type of narration. He uses the instruments of myth and fantasy of a romantic matrix to flee from and transfigure the occasionally banal, vulgar, in other cases tragic, but always disappointing, contingent reality. His works at the time were populated by the ancient Gods or heroes resembling the protagonists of the Nordic sagas. He plundered the repertory of Art History. His thoughts took shape as figures. In his mind images associated and confronted each other, transformed into iconographies. Iconographies transferred to canvas, veiled with heroic melancholy, amorous languor, idealizing concepts, religious aspirations.
One of his favorite themes is Still Life, treated alone or inserted into a broader context, maintaining the usual significance of memento mori and moralizing admonishment on vanitas, on the fleetingness of life. Even so Bruni adds a personal iconographic feature: threads or strings, varying in length, thickness and color, but clearly evident in their bright tones. A significant example is the Composition with Rape of Persephone, resplendent homage to Bernini’s baroque genius and Flemish Renaissance painting with its motif of interior-exterior and the lenticular realism of the landscape described in a bird’s eye view. The colored strings or slender cords are wrapped around the objects, interweave, create aerial forms, at times seem remnants abandoned by a distracted tailor, or disappear in the cavities of crumbling walls or behind heavy curtains, Are they learned allusions to Ariadne’s thread, essential in finding one’s way through the meanders of memory? Or a sign to be thought of as a visual persistence of a gesture?
Bruni’s stylistic virtuosity is such that he succeeds in describing the material consistency of the elements depicted in every little detail, suggesting their tactile-visual sensations: the cold smooth surfaces of sculptured marble, the rough surface textures of the oranges and lemons opposed to that of the smooth and shiny apples, the silken effects of brocades, the worn pages of a dusty book, the sparkling luminosity of gold or metal, the diaphanous shimmer of water and tears, the voluminous softness of hair, the transparency of glass in which the objects are reflected. His fascination with Caravaggio’s masterpieces is evident. The realism, above all the “tenebrismo,” those clear blades of light that cut through the obscurity to define the shapes of the objects and have them emerge from the darkness, bring to mind the revolutionary genius of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Centuries after his death Caravaggio, criticized for his way of painting so far removed from academic idealization of any kind, considered a heresiarch, an enemy of the “bella maniera,” “the assassin of painting” – according to Poussin -, would never have expected that a painter inspired by his manner would have been called academic and classicist. Unquestionably Art is the child of its time and expression of the society that produced it. But because of the historical Viconian “cursi and ricursi”, styles and tastes recur over and over in the panorama of artistic creation. In this complex, and let us say, absurd time, heir to Postmodernism, or its latest spin-off, ephemeral tendencies, ways and types of art that are completely unlike each other coexist, at times screaming out at us and commercialized as publicity ads. It is in this historical moment that a growing interest in figurative painting of images, which I consider an inalienable value, is coming to the fore.
This Umbrian painter is not afraid to demonstrate the excellence of his masterly technique. He is a “pictor classicus” – to borrow De Chirico’s autodefinition – for whom classicism is perfection of the image and impeccable execution. His “return to the museum” is not coldly cerebral, but emotionally participated in with pathos. Myths, legends, real or imaginary figures, heroes of the Christian faith, all live with the same intensity in his paintings. Bruni asks the spectator to be intellectually and spiritually involved. He metes out suggestions, describes the objects around him with crystalline clarity, as well as those oneiric visions that leave an indelible mark on the eye and make the soul shudder.
What dominates in the landscapes, immersed in a metahistorical time, is a panic sense of nature, seen variably as mother-stepmother. Rural country landscapes alternate with desolate and impervious rocky scenarios, like the stalagmitic mountains that serve as a majestic backdrop to the disastrous Fall of Icarus.
In his portraits the artists gives his sitters a mythical aura, at times even with epic tones. On the other hand in dealing with religious themes he humanizes the saints, without diminishing their spiritual greatness and force. Claire, for example, is shown in the most intense and dramatic moment of her earthly life: the shadow of the crucifix, the only sacred element, can barely be seen in a corner on the back wall in the light of a new day, when, after a sleepless night, the young woman grasps the scissors, about to cut her long hair as a sign of her renouncing all material goods. His Saint Francis of Assisi is moved to tears thanking the Lord for the daily bread to share with his brothers. Bruni sees Jerome with his usual traditional iconographic attributes with the lion, his only companion in the desert, shown in the form of a stone relief, the skull (memento mori) supporting the Bible the anchorite saint translated, the penitential stone, and the red hat emblem of his rank as cardinal bestowed by the Church. The human expression of his face is sublimated by the transcendental intensity of his expression. That same intensity glows in the eyes of Moses as he leaves the lands of Egypt. Bruni in this cases adopts a photographic realism. In portraiture he concentrates on faithfully and minutely registering the physiognomies, but his acute study goes further into an introspective and psychological analysis, entrusting the task of revealing the self of the protagonist to a gesture or the addition of an ichnographic element. The self-portraits merit particular mention. In his Self-portrait with Headdress, he shows himself, with a high and mighty air, behind a marble parapet on which a scroll is resting – and in the best tradition of the northern Renaissance – and wearing a sort of turban interwoven with colored threads and light, an extraordinary pictorial passage. Similarly in Man Reading he describes the headdress with its silver highlights, but attention is drawn both to the still life of fabrics and cushions in a marvelous perspective view, and the deep chiaroscuro that caresses and shapes the forms. In other cases the painter imagines himself as a Sentinel in the Desert, last and solitary keeper of atavic traditions, like a warrior transformed into a marble statute in a slow but inexorable metamorphosis, or as a man sunk in a solitary meditation, or as an actor in this great theater of the world wearing a broken mask.
Aurelio Bruni’s genius is many-sided, refined and sensitive, solitary, reflexive and fertile, nourished by the splendor of art and the harmony of music. Courageously coherent, the artist pursues his expressive studies in an attempt to offer a possible key to the interpretation of reality. He is a child of his times. Drawing forms and syntagma from the past to give this multiform and troubled present some form of meaning cannot be considered anachronistic.

Francesco Santaniello