We the painters must talk with our hands.Annibale Carracci
Dady Orsi is a reserved artist who does not like to talk about his work. In expressing art with art, his gaze reveals the wonder hidden between the folds of the usual. At a time when abstraction and figuration seem to be hostage to fashions and factions, he moves between these two polarities, almost eliding their contradictions. Orsi works in the wake of what Raffaele DeGrada calls selective realism. In his work, graphism prevails over pictorialism: rapidity of line, chromatic sensitivity and a taste for measure give his painting freshness and balance. The colour spreads between the lines of tension that animate and structure the canvas. Orsi’s gesture is not a striking statement of novelty that breaks the codes of the past. Rather, it is an intimate dialogue with reality and with his own time. His inspiration emerges new from the long river of art. The creative flow of history is evoked through references to Picasso and Velazquez, to Manet and Klimt, to ancient Roman painting and the visionary painting of Bosch and the Flemish. The way in which symbols and allegories are used is also linked to ancient figurative culture. His bringing together different visual cultures heralds the Postmodern. Nevertheless, refusing to be bound by any one style, movement or current, Orsi directs his curious gaze where desire leads him. As a man of Renaissance versatility, a humanist, and a collector Orsi grounds his art on the search for knowledge and beauty. Essential to this is discipline in the exercise of his craft. His lean painting made of pigments mixed with tempera he composed himself evolved in a variety of ways over seven decades. The principle of each work is the patient and personal exploration of materials and colours in their expressive possibilities. Realism and concreteness begin with contact with the materiality of the work.
The simpler the lines and forms, […].J.A.D. Ingres
the more they have beauty and strength.
For Dady Orsi, drawing is the means to formulate figurative thought and translate his emotions into signs. He uses an endless variety of styles and techniques to express the broad spectrum of his feelings. In this daily exercise, Orsi finds the freedom of improvisation that is never separated from rigour. The primacy of drawing can also be seen in his painting, where the lines play a fundamental role. While still very young, he used non-academic ways of drawing. In some of his animal sketches from the 1930s, he used a brush technique inspired by Chinese painting. Here, elegance and naturalness are pursued through a quickness of line that is only apparently spontaneous. Orsi also uses drawing to take notes from real life. If in the small family groups of the early 1940s he draws purely as an outline and depicts social irregularities and disparities with ironic subtlety, as a soldier he draws the shootings with the firm dryness of one who has experienced the horrors of war first-hand: these works are among the very rare instances in which the artist depicts the “crooked wood of humanity”. Pencil and ink given to pen and brush are the most commonly used techniques. The 1950s saw an artist sketching the gracefulness of female figures and dance with open, aerial, and mobile lines. In the wax drawings, the abstract sign gives the creatures depicted an archaic and primordial character. This unique technique is like that of batik, where the drawing is traced with transparent wax on which a colour is then applied to reveal the lines. In the 1960s, he was poised between the dramatic energy of Picasso and a desire for detached lightness. His techniques included collage and coloured pastels. From the 1970s onwards he produced a large series of female figures drawn in pastel. The work of recent decades favours the transparency of watercolour or liquid gouache on a few marks. In the Still-lifes of the 1980s, the work on minimal drawing combines the vagueness of transparency with precision.
When I know your soulAmedeo Modigliani
I will paint your eyes.
The human figure is predominant in Dady Orsi’s production. The subjects she portrays are mainly family members and close friends depicted in the decorum of their everyday humanity. The search for a dimension devoid of any heroism or monumentality is reflected in the choice of small format. In keeping with the historical period, in the 1940s he used a palette with often harsh and bitter tones, which likened him not only to the artists of Corrente, but also to Picasso, whose influence emerged strongly. As his gaze on the human being becomes more subtle, the palette shifts towards a colder range of colours: the sweetness remains, but the figures are more algid, as if to evoke the sober elegance of the cultured bourgeoisie of the time. The expression of the subjects he depicts is always marked by a balance that recalls Modigliani’s phrase: “happiness is an angel with a serious face”. The 1960s saw a move towards the more synthetic results of 20th-century art. More and more often, his subjects took on symbolic or mythical features, whose form moved away from the human anatomy. The material of the painting also became more rarefied. In the impressive series inspired by Velazquez’s painting Las Meninas, references to Picasso and Giacometti are grafted onto the prototype. From the 1970s onwards there was a sort of return to order, anatomy, and realism, expressed for example in the copious production of erotic paintings, much loved by gallery owners Beppe Mainieri, Piero Fornasetti and Jean Blanchaert and by poet Raffaele Carrieri. Among the many female figures painted in the 1980s, the portrait of his wife Megy Bassi (1989) stands out, where a particular light, rendered using yellow highlights, and the use of Klimt’s decorative modes celebrate his woman with a loving gaze.
Art is never chaste.Pablo Picasso
The theme of Eros pervades Dady Orsi’s work. In his vast production of female nudes, the artist reveals the other side of the bourgeois woman who, like the Maja desnuda, is depicted in all her seductive power. Even at its most extreme, Orsi’s eroticism is never prosaic: his preferred type is that of the sophisticated woman, with noble features, who seduces with natural poses. Techniques and materials are varied: the works on canvas and wood, always in tempera, tend to be painted in a defined manner and with a greasier paint, those on paper see the use of a technique made up of discontinuous signs, in which pastel and gouache create plots of light and transparent signs. As far as image processing is concerned, Orsi uses a variety of approaches: he draws from memory, uses models but does not disdain the use of photographic images. The nude made its first sporadic appearance in some drawings and paintings from the 1940s. Still reluctant to exhibit these works, in the 1960s he increasingly devoted himself to the female nude. It was only from the 1970s onwards that there was an explosion of erotic paintings. The moment was propitious: the theme ceased to be taboo in mass culture. The first exhibition of nudes was held in 1975 at the Galleria Mainieri. The works exhibited revealed an exquisitely realistic eroticism that clashed with the then predominant tendencies of the representation of the female body, which were more critical and intellectual. These were the years in which the international artistic debate questioned whether eroticism had a right to citizenship or should be relegated to the sphere of pornography. Orsi shows what the public wants to see, but what culture does not consider to be innovative. At the end of the 1970s, when the erotic art of Lautrec, Klimt and Schiele had not yet attracted mainstream interest, Orsi produced monumental series of drawings (and engravings) representing women in explicit poses. In representing the perturbing side of the woman of his time, the artist revisits the manner and style of his illustrious models.
Painting nature does not mean painting the subject, but rather to make its sensations concrete.Paul Cezanne
When Dady Orsi paints the places he loves the most (Venice, Lake Maggiore, Lake of Varese, Bonassola), a marked formal simplification in a geometric sense emerges (the lesson of Cézanne is evident here). The elements of the landscape are reduced to shapes, while the spaces are uninhabited. The painting focuses on the sensations that the landscape evokes rather than on its description. At the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, a series of landscapes stand out, each constructed based on a different pattern: for example, the repetition of small circles conveys the diffuse brilliance of the marine and lake atmosphere; the rectangular plaques of colour recall the placid gloom of the lake. In the seascapes painted between the 1970s and 1980s, the angular waves and hard rocks are an allegory of the cruelty of certain circumstances in life. The skies above his beloved Bonassola, painted in watercolour, are instead a free and fluid image of the continuous mixing of the elements. Around the mid-1980s, born the idea of the Natural spaces – large-scale works in which the artist “transforms reality into compositions of masses and signs that are neither geometrically abstract nor openly explanatory” (Meneghetti 1984). This series of pastel paintings and drawings are characterised by the use of a strong and anti-naturalistic colour. The method followed in making these works is to select a fragment of a Matisse painting and amplify it on a large scale. The Natural spaces are a reflection on landscape elements as the origin of abstraction.
[…] hanging representations of suspended life […] objects of consolation for our hectic lives, icons to be contemplated contemplate in pauses of rest for the eye and the spirit.Miro Silvera
Still-life is a genre that Dady Orsi knows well in all its historical evolution: from Zurbaràn to Baschenis, from Cézanne to Morandi. Orsi knows how necessary it is to go beyond “the academic exercise of the pear and the apple” (this is how the critic Raffaele DeGrada defines that painting which reflects a pure formal construction). In his still-lifes, silent and poetic, a rarefied and rigorous composition creates a sense of suspension of time. Orsi concentrates on a few objects with an ordinary, lived-in air, rendered with a vibrant sign-painting that is flakier and more textured in the 1940s, more liquid and airy – until it reaches an almost immaterial lightness in the following decade. The works of the 1950s show a significant change in direction (parallel to that seen in the landscapes). The adoption, that is, of a language of geometric and simplified forms, borrowed from abstraction and Cubism. The use of certain shapes, such as concentric circles or spirals, determine effects of movement and radiation. The 1980s and 1990s saw a return to a more classical figuration and larger proportions. There are frequent references to 17th-century still-lifes (an example is the depiction of lutes and baroque musical instruments that recall the musical symbolism of the Baschenis suspended concert). In depicting the objects he has collected for a lifetime, Orsi prefers painting in neutral, opaque tones. In the ‘suspended life’ of these objects, the artist finds that solace so well described by the poet Miro Silvera. In the mid-1990s, he was inspired by Morandi’s painting: the works of this period, in fact, recall the balance and noble simplicity of the Bolognese Master. Eggs, fruit, crumpled newspapers, antiques seem to be caught just before or just after their daily use, like living elements in the flow of human activities.
The artist who uses transparent glass as a support for his painting creates two paintings simultaneously.Frieder Ryser
In the 20th century, the technique of reverse glass painting was used by masters such as Kandinsky, Klee and Duchamp. Among Italian artists of the second half of the 20th century, only Dady Orsi produced reverse glass paintings in such a significant quantity. Orsi sees under glass painting technique as a meditative exercise (or ritual) to be performed in the early morning light. With this meditative dimension in mind, most of these paintings depict symbolic subjects and/or esoteric allegories such as musical instruments (a Baroque allegory of music reduced to silence), rays of light, keys and clocks. Another subject represented is the nude juxtaposed with the fragility of glass, which can be interpreted as a reference to Vanitas, to the fragility of human life. Among the artist’s favourite themes are still-lifes of domestic objects, human figures, faces distorted by anamorphosis and, above all, Rooms which, from the late 1960s onwards, the artist represents as ‘mental spaces’ filled with fascinating stories, childhood memories and suggestions of the senses. Not simple domestic interiors, then, but real Wunderkammer. Although they have a crystal-clear appearance that reflects the lucidity that the execution requires, the paintings under glass are not made to be looked at transparently like stained glass. Rather, the function of the glass is to give the colours a glazed, mirror-like sheen. The technique requires control and firmness. The image to be painted must be so clear in the mind that it can be painted backwards, in an arduous technical tour de force. The term reverse glass painting aptly describes the special nature of the process, which involves painting the underside of the glass pane, starting with the details and what should appear on the surface and then applying half-tone and underpainting. Orsi is such an expert that he is also able to reproduce the late antique technique of gold leaf underglass. Once the painting is finished, the sprayed-on background (almost always black) gives it a dark tone, creating a conceptual contrast between the brilliance of the glass and the dark esotericism of the symbols.