by Filomena Maria Sardella
The works Di Giovanni displayed in Palermo in 1972 confirmed a trend to enrich his paintings with colours. He still continued however to devote their subject matter to birds and nature, never indulging in naturalness in his pictorial representation. In the review he wrote for the “L’Ora” newspaper on 8 February 1972 Franco Grasso defined Di Giovanni as “a very modern heir of the colour tradition of southern Italy painting”. He did not regrain however from making a criticism about language, stating …”But if the artist suddenly wished to reconcile these fragments of the world, these abstractions of memory, and reverted to depicting real heaven, real flowers, real birds…wouldn’t his painting acquire more of a charm?”…Ah Picasso, why did you not reveal yourself to such a genius? The works on display were of great charm: Bird in the Garden and The Lake, along with other paintings, marked a real shift in the style of the Master, giving way to colour which now was in a wider painting in the background. The arrangements of wings, the dotted feathers, and the small signs of nature here move freely as if to assign a place for themselves on the canvas, which becomes an unlimited space because it has no limits of perspective. The ensemble of the dark hues, the light hues, and the colours gives shape to drapes. A so to say inner wind blows gently on them, moving the spectator’s eyes along a kinetic path. Sometimes the attractiveness of the images leads the eye to perceive them as submerge in transparent water, revealing a wavelike motion effect that changed form one moment to the next. Those we happy and successful years for him, with several exhibitions being held in various Italian galleries. He displayed his works from the “Lo Spazio” gallery in Naples, famous for selecting the artists with the most modern orientation, to Cossato (Verona) and to the Tacchini gallery in Cercelli. He went as far as participating in the 1978 edition – the first – of the “Guiseppe Friuli National Painting Prize” (Grosseto), which he won. From the fact itself the he has so many opportunities to exhibit his works at such a fast pace we can infer, rightfully so, that he has entered the right path to success and to the recognition of his art. We ignore however to what extend the following year, when he forces himself into silence, may have prevented his fame from taking root. Life asks no permission hen it changes its course; for a person like him who has always loved his family, the illness of his beloved Ida became an unbearable pain – Ida had been his companion since their youth if not their adolescence. Two years younger than Alfredo, she had been taken away by her relatives, who were opposing that love born between families related by friendship. She waited until she came of age to go back and marry, at 21, a young man who must have already appeared to be a bit “reckless”. Theirs was a love story of the past, and even the thought of it is touching. – The artist did not stop his hand. Art helped him to endure the tragedy of those years; he went on painting with colours that were sometimes drawn closer and had either vertical or horizontal designs, as if to establish an optical path which was never permanently fixed on one single detail. Nests of Birds at Sunset and Fight of Swallows in Space (1980) exemplify the fashion in which his career did not change the scene but strengthened the element of motion. Displayed in this exhibition are four paintings and a small cardboard devoted to the theme of birds; the choice was limited to these few sampled for lack of space. They have an exceptional impact, an assured emotional hold and a genial execution, considering that they were painted at different times. The graphic element is avoided but not so the line, that abstract journey of the pictorial mark that tends to infinity. It is through the line – twisted and tapered, ascending or descending but never diving – the colour is held back or expanded, creating an inexplicable addiction in the visual field of the user. In the tow Untitled works it is the turquoise blue that plays the role of the attracting force, while the coloures of the two works of the 1968-69 period, Nests and Full Moon and From the Hear of the Earth, Feathers and Roots, are more subdued and earth-like. The back of the canvas bears the dedication “To my wife Ida, with profound and intense love”, signed “the wolf”.
ALFREDO, AN ARTIST BY CHANCE? The personality of an unacademic artist
Never say never. In1984 Gerardo de Simone broke the painter’s silence and convinced him to display his works again at the “Lo Spazio” in a solo exhibition titled Epos under the sun. He linked the painter’s works with some poems by Georg Trakl who died in Krakow in 1914, creating a combination whose interest lay in the fact that poetic contents were strongly evocative of pictorial images. De Simone found a way to deliver a tirade against the way culture, and art in particular, was managed in Naples. This city’s impoverishment was due not only to powerlessness of private dealers who, unlike those in the north, were few and isolated, but also to the inadequate information provided by the media, basically supported, he liked to stress – by partisanship. Even today, this sector is not free from controversy. Meanwhile, the exhibit pressed for other exponents to bring attention to the artist. This was done by Gino Grassi, who looked at the world of Neapolitan art with great attention. Grassi wrote of Di Giovanni:…”(he is) an artist…endowed with an enviable technique and supported by an inexhaustible imagination.” What he particularly appreciated was the “…ability of the septuagenarian painter to constantly look ahead…” A year later Gerardo De Simone, one of the artist’s supporters, organized another solo exhibition in Venice and presented it along with art critic Bilotta. In the brief attendant brochure Bilotta wrote of the Neapolitan artist:…”the exhibit he presents to us…has a mysterious…artistic beauty whose charm lingers in the mind, much like the memory of an emotion aroused by a dream, a hallucination…” Personally, I believe this last work encloses a truth: the human eye never sees events like the ones Di Giovanni narrates with his images. Rather, as stated before, his vision is more of a dream, a seizure of the visionary moment of unconsciousness, a merciless digging among the fears and uncertainties the reason wards off in order to live. It is also a poem that may sooth the pain without bringing it to light or may at times highlight it as if it were suddenly crashing against it, tearing the veil that separating the conscious from the unconscious to overthrow blue, red, yellow and green on it. Together with pink and black these colours were to complete the highly renewed forms of his works after 1985. This took place at once. All of a sudden his works grew, were magnified, and found room in canvases eager for wider fields. Time had come for the final solution, Ida was no more, and Alfredo’s life had changed. He modified the Atelier he would keep until his last days in the Fuorigrotto neighborhood, and moved to his daughter’s. Close to her, her loving husband and her children he found enough strength to keep planning, breaking colours, and mixing plaster, cutting wood whereby to create larger and larger frames to place on his powerful easel. He became more and more creative. Animated by the desire to paint as soon as possible – for time goes by too fast – he executed a vast series of works. Different in many respect from his previous production, they embodied a renewed language that had acquired a new vitality. This language, which was now brilliant and pleasing to look at, attracted more than ever the eye of the viewer who, instantly overcoming any distraction, had no choice but to stop before that work because it was so powerfully attractive. Once he was contemplating it he would wonder if the image was running along the grain or, instead, along the edge of the canvas, slipping onto the viewer. No, the image was held by a disembodied invisible membrane that may save the viewer from the absurd, the impossible, the inability to believe, but appeared before his eyes. The new deal founds its seal in the inauguration of a solo exhibition, which was initially held at the Circolo Curiel of Manarola in La Spezia (August 1991) and reached the L’Arco Gallery of Giugliana (Napoli) during the same year. The works of the last period would be enough to describe him, his pictorial force, it’s creative ability. That is why most of the paintings now displayed in the Sala della Loggia Aragonese of Castel Nuovo are those he executed in the last years of his life. The aim is to pay tribute to his force, which remained indomitable despite the advancing years and was very special, for it allowed the emergence of representations drawn from no one knows what inner, surreal world he was certainly familiar with.
Most of the paintings bear neither a month nor a year reference. As he was not the type of person who would leave anything to chance, he must assume that he did not want to mention a date because it would be a reference to his age, to the time that was flowing as “extra”. He specified the date only on his final work, as if he knew he would never paint another one. In more than one canvas stereotyped figures are depicted in pairs, dyed in red or shaded in grey as shadows, do they seem to be watching us inquisitively? Truthfully, the feeling I believe to be the most relevant is that they may be spying our life that still on, they who have long been gone to another landscape layered in parallel planes with no internal space, where everything is weightless. Only light, embodied by many, truly many, colours are amplifies as to fill the spaces. Barbar N. wrote that, “His faces recall Brauner’s” and his birds are “in the manner of” Max Ernst. Surrealism, which was expressed by Romanian artist Victor Brauner or by German Max Ernst but not De Chirico; the Expressionism of a painter like Oskar Kokoschka; and even more, the Abstract Expressionism from Jackson Pollock to Sam Francis, were undoubtedly Di Giovanni’s points of reference. Yet he always looked at them in a critical manner without ever portraying in his work a detail, a single detail, copied “in the manner of”. Cultured and inquisitive, Di Giovanni showed in his last works that he had elaborated a personal quest for modalities of his expression that would give to his artistic language a unique flair. Suffice to mention a few of them. One is the Singing in the Forest at Night canvas measuring 2.9 x 47.2 inches which appears on the cover. This work uses bright colours from blue to red and white, combined with no shades. The same thing do the three canvases having a similar chromatic tone displayed at the back of the room.
Particular emphasis deserves the largest of all, measure 83.8 x 72.8 inches, where the artist breaks the colour on the right bank, enhancing and animating the fulcrum with a strange essence. Such details, which enhance pictorial touch that is at the hears of each painting, must therefore be sought patiently as if they were behind a screen or a curtain, because the scenario of the works is in the back and the action unfolds precisely behind the scenes. We, the viewers, have to discover them patiently, carefully, keeping our balance as we glance up and down, transversally, from the left to the right, attempting to discover what is not apparent but awaits to be disclosed. Some of the works display a more fading tone, with colours that range from a white softened by a grey to a yellow softened by an orange. Their surface seems to suffer; colour does not flow by compact but it frays as if it were flayed off and peeled off, which gives to the strange creatures it allows a glimpse of an even more fragile look. A similar rendering is given by another work that bears the title of Pharaonic Fresco. It treats itself to a solemn opening, a sort of animation provided by the horizontal rhythm of a procession of richly-dressed characters drawn in profile, perhaps a learned allusion to Egyptian iconography.
by Filomena Maria Sardella
What a bright child Alfredo Bovio Di Giovanni must have been. His daughter told me an anecdote that I found amusing. This story leaves no doubt that even as a young child he has a certain temperament, being already witty and ironic if not bold. There can be no doubt this episode was recounted over and over in the household. Gloria must have definitely heard it from her own father as well as from her grandparents, who were present in that moment. At the time Alfredo Di Giovanni was attending primary school a guest teacher often visited his residence. A friend of his father, he too an employee of the Ministry of Education, the guest would occasionally help the boy with his homework.
The teacher had a particular liking for a blackbird that was proudly displayed in a cage in the window. Convince that his friend would appreciate it Alfredo’s father offered him the bird as a gift, only asking him to pick it up in the evening so as to have enough time to clean the cage and make the gift look pretty.
However, Alfredo thought otherwise. Not bearing to even think about being unable to see the bird he was fond of, the child quickly found a brilliant solution. No sooner said than done, he replaced the blackbird with another bird that had no black feathers. This obstacle did not stop him: The painted its feathers and carefully placed the bird in the cage. Late on during the day the teacher came by, happy for the gift. He picked up the cage and one at home he hung it, as is the norm, from the curtain rod on the balcony.
Morning broke; like all birds, this one as well dived into the small bird bath, soon shaking off the water with those quick motions that only birds can make. It sprinkled the white curtain with black dots, decorating it but revealing it was not a real blackbird. The teacher protested, of course, but the true blackbird did not leave little Alfredo’s house. This perhaps – who knows – was his first approach to painting. What is sure is that, much the same as birds, painting as well was to be Alfredo Bovio Di Giovanni’s great passion. He was imaginative and as lively as described. This somewhat “rebellious” trait of his personality was precisely the lifeblood that fed him. Never did he let his life be ruled by a dull daily routine, by conventions, or by the inevitable constraints of his tasks, from which in any case he never shirked.
Any research directed towards understanding the work of an artist of our time would never see tales of daily life as minor details. Even in this case we may possibly attempt to delineate through them the path taken by this man, taking nothing away from his character. Together with the humility of he who, knowing the imperviousness of historical search, tries in a different way to transfer it to the contemporary world, this is the only method that allows an easier understanding of the specific language that sets it apart. For Alfredo Di Giovanni this meant to make clear and evident the freshness of his pictorial inventions, which nothing had to do with schemes.
Supported by the pleasure of an analysis that may also appear off I have collected what I believe to be important elements, following the different relationship pattern his close family entertained with this new man of the twentieth century. This is how I discovered the true story of the name of Gloria, which he gave to his second daughter and which was not the revival of a family name, like for example his paternal grandmother’s.
There are traditions we may find ourselves renewing even in an epoch like ours, which looks so unconventional. No, Gloria was the name of a mare he rode as a soldier of the army of the Kingdom! Gloria’s recollection of her father is at times irreverent. It enlivens a picture which on the contrary, for her young daughter Barbara, is meant to become a Benjamin’s ‘aura’: Grandpa was the Artist, a lonely and isolated figure, a traveler who wished to encounter Art. True, Gloria may remark sharply, it was the thirst for learning that led him to travel away from his wife and children while still nurturing true love towards them. His own family, originally from Sant’Agata, had often changed residence following Grandfather, who had been transferred several times because of his work. They had resided in Turin for a number of years before returning to southern Italy. Those important experiences shaped the personality of the artist-to-be. The feeling of being a citizen of the world, able to project himself into different situations easily and with no trauma, developed in little Alfredo’s soul. This happened precisely in the same way in which flesh grows in a body, becoming a trait of a personality open to new adventures. As he grew up he became increasingly dissatisfies with life in the village of Herculaneaum where he was soon employed at a glass factory, making enough money to raise a family at 23. It was 1930, and those were difficult years. Back then most of Western Europe, and of Stalin’s Soviet Union as well, was locked in the grip of totalitarian systems. A short time thereafter the Spanish rebellion against Franco’s dictatorship was to be an irresistible attraction for our artist. Much the same as a hero, would he too have left to join the fight, the renewal, the rebellion against the system? He was a free man, simply a free man who was shaking off the frustrations of a life he had not chosen. Even without realizing it fully, he was determined not to let anybody else make decisions for him. Travelling at that time must have been difficult and riskier than even because of Spain – the place he had in mind – was at war. Yet the real sacrifice for our man would have been to miss this opportunity. The sacrifice would have been for him to stay instead of going, this accepting a dull life and accustoming himself to a daily routine – rich of course in shared affections, but with no pressure to change.
The question that arises is, what generated his need to express himself through painting? To take a canvas and impress, on that rough plane stretched between the small boards that hold it, a vision, an image that would fill it with variety, with the images envisions in exactly the same way in which the subject of his works would appear? No certain record exists of that beginning. What is certain is that when he started experimenting with the path of pictorial representation he was all alone and, we should add, relatively young. Perhaps he started by drawing or watercolouring, buy searching, erring, and retrying, accompanied of course by a stubbornness that we can easily imagine as being one of his traits. Stubborn he was in searching for and finding his way in invention, in a life imagines and reflected through the space of his colours. For the world he created was all wrapped up in a space seemingly void of scheme or design, a space he achieved by spreading with no light, no shade, thus with no perspective squaring, the several colours he applied to his canvases. In the Spanish capital he looked at art with the eagerness of a self-taught artist who is endeavoring, maybe or maybe not, to express himself with his pictorial art. It is reasonable to assume that what impressed him was not solely the tragic force of Francisco Goya’s works. In that period indeed a number of Spanish artist of various field opposed the regime (like Pablo Picasso) and become combatants (like poet G. Lorca). In any case he had also visited France, Paris, then Monaco, collecting with both hands, or rather with eyes wide opening, the best innovative proposals of an artist culture that was being modernized by the fast growth of the already well-known Vanguards. I will not repeat myself, listing the artists who fascinated him in the interwar years.
Nor Will I mention what he managed to draw form life in Nazi Germany during his rather inexperienced search for one of his brothers, deported to a concentration camp that remained unknown. WE have decided that this specific subject should be covered by an analytical chapter of this catalogue. Additionally, I would like to mention the painstaking and systematic study of his niece Barbara, who is 2003 analyzed all this material for her University thesis.