Lodovico Meneghetti

Lodovico Meneghetti

Writings on Dady Orsi


In the spring of 1972, Angioletta and I began work on the restoration of an old house we had bought in the village of Costella in the municipality of Bonassola. The small hamlet had a cluster of old buildings, linear, respectful of the contours of the land: some still inhabited by families originally from the place, others abandoned, one, leaning against ours towards the west and also in a spectacular position 125 metres above the sea, occupied by a family of … pioneers from Milan. They were Edoardo (Dady) Orsi, his wife Maria Grazia Bassi and their son Cosma, a boy in the first grade. We finished the work in December and inaugurated the house at Christmas. A friendship was born, cultivated day by day during the summer holidays and lived in Milan, with frequent meetings in our homes, in the art galleries, in the evenings at the Orsi house open to friends. So our experiences became the reason for stories that welded together the vital threads of a before and an after, to obtain a single one like the ‘strong thread’ of the seams of yesteryear. Below I collect some short writings on the art of Dady Orsi.

  1. Dady Orsi (1984) veduta di Bonassola

The natural space


A case in which the design of the painting contains a very high level of intentionality, almost a provocation. The procedure for its realisation is so well-defined and controlled, like the operation of a delicate device, as to decisively diminish the dangers that litter the road towards the final representation: these appear to be the essential conclusive material acts of an operation that is in reality rich in spiritual and intellectual aspects, carried out by bringing to the surface a deep layer of one’s own memory, freeing the recesses of one’s own artistic culture accumulated over decades of experience, in short, telling the truth, if I may express it in this way, to oneself and to others.

In this sense, the discovery in certain landscapes by Matisse at the beginning of the century, and the use of details, of pictorial embryos as the basic material of the design mixture, evidently endowed, for the painter-researcher, with inapparent, mysteriously compressed forms/forces that he wants to deploy in a field of forms and meanings that are entirely his own. They cannot be misunderstood as a pure game, or an admirable and risky exercise, but after all not too difficult, for someone who has always been adept at moving through a network of conscious quotations. On the contrary, it transpires as a feeling of humility acquired through a maturation and simplification of one’s own complicated endowment of desires and regrets on the one hand, of capacities and limits on the other; and it translates at the same time, legitimised by that truthful process, a desire to experiment, that is, not to stop definitively at a destination but to continue the journey. A decision that is all the more effective when it is outside any incredible and impossible neo-avant-gardeism and, necessarily, nourished by the most distant roots.

  1. Dady Orsi (1984) spazio naturale III
  2. Dady Orsi (1984) spazio naturale VI
  3. Henri Matisse (1906) paesaggio

for one and especially in this case, given the very strong unity, indeed exact re-application of the design and execution method, as a whole, almost as if they were one large painting full (in turn!) of very expressive ‘details’ in themselves and totally coherent.

It will be up to the critics to say more appropriate and convincing words (in their own language and style) in their detailed (and circumspect) examination of this work, perhaps telling of Popperian forgeries. I believe I have easily grasped the overall sense, i.e. meaning and direction, of this pictorial abstraction. So I have tried to explain it. Now I invite the observer not only to look at the paintings, to see each one in the conspicuous manifestation of the forms, colours, and materials, and in the intrinsic quality of the brushstrokes, carefully remembering the sources; but to feel inside each one and surrounded, as if imprisoned by all of them. One will enjoy the essence of this construction, of this “landscape”: a space that expands in every sense from a small original lump (Matisse’s cue); an excavation (as always throughout the historical course of the arts) in present reality and memory, to represent one’s own new reality, thus a space, a natural or humanised nature, proposed without the shadow of naturalistic truths, a real natural space.

(However, in this work by Dady Orsi there is also a taste for play, not so much, or not only, in the meaning of fun and consequent satisfaction, but rather in that of contention, a proud and legitimate contention with great painting).

On the occasion of the exhibition of the same name
Galleria Schubert Milano 1984

  1. Dady Orsi (1984) Uliveto a Bonassola

Underglass paintings 

  1. Dady Orsi (1980) ciottolo

    The historical paintings on glass that I remember looking at those of Dady Orsi belong to a popular culture widespread in Italy in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, in the Veneto, Tuscany, Apulia, Sicily… and in other European regions, Romanian, Armenian, Hungarian… Art not to be assimilated to painting on irregular sheets tied with lead to make stained glass windows in churches, a long European history from the Middle Ages to the threshold of modernity. Instead, it was artists who grew up locally who produced paintings on sheets of glass that were regular in format (on the back, of course) but never large in size, going around the countryside and small towns to offer their skills in depicting sacred and civilised stories: mostly in a simple way, with characters well outlined in a scene without too many secondary elements.

With his manual skill Dady could achieve compositions rich in detail, even minute details, which the viewer can enjoy if he examines the work carefully.

Those who knew the assiduous diversification in his work know to which precious compartment of the artist’s entire archive the glass paintings belong. We sense that he attached a special value to them.

Observing them today, we feel that he made them with a particular delicacy of mind and heart, a love and care, as an artist and a craftsman, that are rooted in the experience of both cultured and popular art. The tensions of the confrontation between painting and miniature make the most of the resources of the interweaving of modernity and tradition, i.e. between present and history. It is a rare occasion to be able to enjoy works like these today, when consumerism dominates even in the art world. Their size, inherent to their most intimate nature, enhances their value, also because they seem to consciously oppose the arrogance of the market and the merchants.

Presentation of the Lilluccia Gallery exhibition of the same name (Bonassola 1987)

The pictor and the artifex: dady orsi’s creativity between cultural work and craftsmanship

  1. Torchio settecentesco appartenuto a Dady Orsi
  2. Dady Orsi (1981) acquaforte con nudo femminile

Dedicating himself totally to drawing, graphics, painting (and sometimes sculpture) in order to reach the pinnacle of art after his remarkable production in the field of advertising and applied form, Orsi had to rediscover his roots, the sap still dense with intimate humanity, while the scholar was as dedicated as ever to recognising the emotional and pedagogical experience of all art.

I was able to follow and understand how Dady, a mature and cultured man, brought to the surface the deep layers of memory, freed the recesses of his accumulated artistic knowledge, showed the resources of the interweaving (the tensions) between tradition and modernity, that is, between history and the present.

The recognised artist may accept, as in ancient times, the commission, even with a compulsory subject, or he may proceed by self-commitment, or he may have to deal directly with reality or myth: in any case he will never be a liar. By telling the truth to himself and to others he will always be free. How much ‘art’ lies nowadays? How much does the author lie who, having found a profitable way to share with the merchant (not only in the economic sense), outside of the profound reason for artistic research, reproposes it continuously until the decisive drop in the production diagram, equally to a “disposable” object?

This was our conviction at the turn of the century when we had several opportunities to discuss the actual state of art, now almost only a collection of specialised markets. Today we could both say that little or nothing is saved from the point of view of institutions, galleries, schools and academies. The (successful) private galleries boast the lordship of buying and selling, the rest are at least disarmed, above all they are submissive, they have not reacted to the exclusive appropriation. The artistic education of young people is inadequate or has been twisted around the fashion tree, which, moreover, is drying up despite the support of the most powerful international economic organisations.

And yet, Dady, a participant in Gramsci’s choice (“pessimism of reason, optimism of the will”) would probably have expressed confidence in overcoming the barbarism of the current times. A sculptor friend, a strong opponent of surrender in the face of the crisis of art, denying Arturo Martini’s saying “dead language sculpture”, assures me that there are a thousand embryos of the artistic ideal and its resources hidden in social strata that have never been the recipients of artistic discourse and works: they could develop, a new dialogue could be born, free from the painful game between two parties, the speculative one and the one of those who adapt to it for their own particular interests. interests.

Pictor optimus was De Chirico. I have compared both Pictor and Artifex to Dady Orsi.

Artifex, nevertheless it is the second term that best defines his personality. For the ancients, there was no clear difference between the tasks of the artist and the craftsman. And ours was indeed an example of symbiosis between the two crafts. The care taken in the preparation and execution of works belonging to different classes came from the prodigious skill and dexterity of the craftsman. I refer again to the glass painted according to the technique of the popular painters who wandered around churches, and especially to the enormous lithographic production he produced himself on the large 19th-century press (itself a masterpiece) with the loving and expert help of his wife Maria Grazia, ‘Megy’.

Risking some repetition, I conclude by asking art lovers and critics to recognize Dady Orsi as a sincere artist, for this virtue difficult to be equaled by others. He was never afraid of historical and current references, nor of declaring his love for specific works of both the past and modernity. He discovered embryos endowed with compressed forces and forms which, as a painter-researcher, he wanted and succeeded in making unfold in a field of meanings that were entirely his own, totally free from misinterpretation. From Orsi, the care taken (imposed) in his work shines through as a feeling of humility, which after all acknowledges debts. But it soon rises to the plane where the reductio ad unum of the rich and differentiated patrimony of relationships, between desires and regrets, between dexterity and impassable limits, extends. Landscapes, interior scenes, female bodies, still-life…, on canvas on paper on glass on walls, subjects and manner subjected to the unifying efficiency of the different tools employed “by the master”.

Nothing is excluded from the conquest of art thanks to this truthful process, while a constant desire to experiment further arises, not to stop forever at a destination, but to continue the journey like a Schubertian wanderer.

Written on the occasion of the first anniversary of the artist’s death.

  1. Cosma orsi con scultura ready made di Dady Orsi (1981) ©Studio Emilio Colella
  2. Dady Orsi e Megy Bassi (1979-80) cuscino con scena erotica

Lodovico Meneghetti 2004

“the natural space”: a 2019 reconsideration

  1. Dady Orsi (1984) Giardino – Galleria Schubert

This theme, which later became the title of a series of paintings, then of an exhibition at the Schubert Gallery, imposed itself through the conversations that often took place at Costella where there was no lack of visions, perceptions and stimuli, so to speak, naturalistic. Even though there was nothing intact about nature (as there is nowhere else), the dense presence of old olive trees dominated, climbing up the hill in crags (supported by dry stone walls) from the impervious courtyard of my house opposite the sea. I proposed to Dady to transform the reality in which we were trying to identify ourselves (staying/being among the trunks and under the foliage of the plants) into compositions of masses and signs with strong strokes, neither geometric-abstract nor openly explanatory. He could have used any medium, yet Dady chose the simplest, pastels. The colours would have sprung from the fingers (of an expert colourist like him) almost by themselves, consistent with the landscape. There were no fractures in the calm sensations hovering among the olive trees. Perhaps we could think of multicoloured skeins of wool.

I look at Mondrian’s famous passages from the painting Trees (pre-1908), through various deformations including the first Silvered Tree (1911), to the abstraction of Oval Composition (1914) with light colours, from which, with other reductions close to Klee’s sphere, he leads us, in full De Stijl, to paintings structured on inflexible black bars intersecting at right angles (Composition, 1921). It is among these that the large areas of clean, full, pure colours shine through. Orsi was far removed from abstractionism, but Mondrian’s demonstration that it comes from nature (after all, what doesn’t?): can’t the seventh stage, Oval Composition (Trees) of 1913, a dense set of twisted lines, threads and strands crowding into a skein, be taken alongside Orsi’s Natural Spaces? Connections, as we know, spring up like mushrooms in any reality check or dissertation. “Everything is held” is a convenient locution, it seems to have become the interpretative philosophy of the world. Haven’t we been told for decades by the crazy solons of the economy of forced globalisation?

Here we are on the terrain of art, let us avoid forcing things, the things “that are held” are heard by listening attentively to the silent music of the forms created by the artist. If before I looked (and found it?) for a relationship between the skeins soaked in strokes and an idea of a residual tree in the process of transformation towards abstractness, now, going back in my memories, I see myself in the olive grove with Dady who, sitting on a folding chair, paints from life. With his favourite materials, inks corrected by tempera and slightly diluted watercolour, and the well-known rapidity of execution, he obtains two dynamic figurations; the plants seem alive, as if whipped by the wind that is not there. I compare them with Mondrian’s Silvered Tree: the relationship, ignored by us at the time, is astonishing, even though Mondrian’s painting is almost in black and white.

  1. Piet Mondrian (1908) Alberi
  2. Piet Mondrian (1913) Composizione ovale con alberi
  3. Piet Mondrian (1911) Albero Grigio
  1. Dady Orsi (1984) Paesaggio – Galleria Schubert
  2. Dady Orsi (1984) Paesaggio – Galleria Schubert

In 1985 (the year of the olive groves), four years before Natural Spaces, Orsi’s expression already belonged to the dialectic between the reception of the landscape and other subjects. On the other hand, in Bonassola the sea and the coast seen from the sea extended the opportunities almost to infinity.

The exhibition at the Schubert Gallery will count other years of trials in this sense and will sanction his vocation to interpret the entire reality around him, from people to things and open space.

(Matisse’s passion for landscapes was but a small part of a sensibility due to wanting/needing to know the arts in the greatest historical depth. The same motive as for any author who wants to offer the world the best of himself). ) The masterpiece, if achieved, holds an enormous unitary force, gathering to itself the differences of all the attempts made, successful or failed, a force to be projected into the future.