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The Imitation Of A Memory: Pizzi Cannella On Painting, Poetry, And The New School Of Rome
Robert Barry , March 25th, 2018 05:32

For much of the 1980s, Piero Pizzi Cannella was associated with the New School of Rome, a group of painters reinvigorating painting in the Italian capital. An exhibition of nine new works opened this month at Partners & Mucciaccia, London

Veduta, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 155x200cm. Courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia © Pizzi Cannella Archive

”Painting takes the whole body. Like a boxer in a tournament, the strength of the hand is related to everything else.”

In a vitrine in the far corner of the gallery, a black and white photograph presents a man apparently deep in thought. Pierro Pizzi Cannella sits hunched over in an office chair, just a hint of white beard poking out from the shadow of his black hoodie like some reaper wracked with concern for the dead, his shadow cast against two canvases, on the wall of his studio in Rome.

The same two paintings can be found here on the walls of Partners & Mucciaccia in Mayfair. In each one, an antique metal garden chair, one blackened, as if rotting, the other fading, almost crumbling into dust. Each chair is placed beside a table in matching style. They have the appearance, somehow, of a memory or a dream, caught slowly evanescing into the dense swathes of paint that fill the backdrop of the painting.

They seem to crackle like old film, almost sepia-toned. There is a lost world conjured here, something like the one evoked by Di Sica’s film, The Garden of the Fitzi-Continis. Their title, both of them the same: Interno. Interior. Inside. But inside what? Or whom? Where are you taking us?

“I started painting as a child, long before the Academy and University. My father was my first master, but fundamentally it started ‘suddenly’, as one is struck by an illness, a virus.”

The paintings’ titles lead us to that of the exhibition as a while, Storyboards: Interni & Vedute (‘Interiors and Landscapes’). Shall we presume that here, upon these walls, through these nine new works, these eleven large canvases, all dated 2018, is sketched out the shots of a movie? Like cinema, Pizzi Cannella’s paintings, here, collapse time and space.

In one – Luna o luna nuova – we see the thirteen phases of that eponymous moon, laid out in sequence over the skyline of an unchanging city, paint dripping from its landscape of cupolas and residential blocks. The world goes round, the city remains. In another, we see seven rough-hewn cathedrals superimposed upon a hazy map of the world. A network of belief. Lines of faith crossing the globe like radio waves.

Sette mappe per andare via, 2018, mixed media on canvas, cm 155x200. Courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia © Pizzi Cannella Archive

“When I was 17 I took a train from Rome to London to see The Baptism of the Christ by Piero Della Francesca. I remember asking myself, captivated, why the body of the Christ is the same colour as the tree. I am still asking the same question.”

There is another time, also, traced out upon these canvases: their process, the marks of their production, scarring the surface in smears and scrapes and drips, what could be a thumbprint, ghosts of the body that painted these lines in florid gestures and heavy daubs. Each painting displays itself as the frozen repository of its gestation.

In the vitrine which holds Pizzi Cannella’s hunched, hoodied portrait, we see a collection of other photographs taken by the artist himself. They reveal his works midway through their painting. Directly onto the glossy surface of these prints he has sketched out additional ideas: a few scribbled words, the skeletal frame of a lizard crawling across the frame, other scratchy lines and outlines, later to be appended – as we can see, from the finished works on the walls around us – to the canvas itself.

The over-painted photos offer a fascinating insight into the painter’s process, into the time of the paintings themselves: assembled in layers, like interlocking strata, separated by pauses and elisions, like an archeology in reverse.

“I consider the canvas to be ‘the whole possible world’. That’s why I don’t plan ahead for a painting. I let it change and transform. This way, by accumulation and deletion, I come to the point where nothing can be added, nor taken out.”

But what impresses most about these works is their texture: dense and cloudy, cloacas of pale peach and washed-out teal, dirty greys and muddy browns, in oil and acrylic, layer upon layer upon layer. It’s like looking at marble, like being in the presence of the ruins of some once-mighty civilization (Europe?).

Imagine Anselm Kiefer, haunted not by the holocaust and decimated cities of post-war Germany, but by the suffocating weight of Italian culture and history. The Renaissance, the spires of Venice, ancient Rome, all bearing down on shoulders already brutalised by melancholy and regret.

These paintings are crying out to be touched, for their skins to be peeled back.

Interno, 2018, mixed media on canvas, cm 155x200.Courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia © Pizzi Cannella Archive

“In the 80's, painting ‘grabbed my hand’. I found other artists that shared the same state of mind [Ceccobelli, Dessi, Gallo, Nunzio and Tirelli, the Nuova Scuola Romana, or School of San Lorenzo]. Over the years we loved and hated each other, just as it happens to lovers…”

11 August 2004, 6pm.

A video screen on the wall announces the date and time. A telephone is ringing.

“Yes. Who am I speaking with?”

“No, it is not too early. Maybe it is too late.”

As he talks on the phone to some unseen, unheard interlocutor, Pizzi Cannella doodles on paper with a thick, blunt pencil. He is dressed in the same black hoodie as the photo, albeit with hood drawn down now. The scrap of paper in his hand develops a dense thicket of graphite marks, angrily cross-hatched.

“More than thirty years I have been thinking with my hands,” he says into the telephone.


“Everything I do is urgent…” he is still talking into the phone, outside now, sat in a wide open field, “I believe painting starts with this … I paint by heart, as it used to be in the past … It is a collective memory … the imitation of a memory … I love the white of the ice in the poles … I would love to go and see them … I will rebuild them in my studio.”

Invito al viaggio, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 35,5x50cm, Courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia © Pizzi Cannella Archive

27 February 2018. 1pm.

I email my questions to Pizzi Cannella in Rome. It is two weeks until his show opens in London.

He writes back:

“I believe that painting is the high road. I absolutely trust in the artwork born from paint. However, I love to lose myself in rural paths, whose mystery is necessary. I love music, almost all of it, poetry and those who chase beauty, God, dreams and projects. “

Piero Pizzi Cannella, Storyboards: Interni & Vedute, is at Partners & Mucciaccia, London, until 12 May 2018