Between allusion and illusion

In the works of Rossella Ramanzini every image contains even more images: a multiple structure, an elastic organism, open and of many forms. Just like a Borges text, every element of this immense, elusive construction may be the door of entry: from any fragment (shape, decoration or card game that may be) one scrutinises and potentially views the whole. But here lies the visual trap: the whole coincides with the part, completeness is constructed only partially, as if it were a paradoxical puzzle. However, Ramanzini does not limit her work to showing us the pieces (or the players) in her mechanism, but she involves us in its functions, enticing us into its action. Our eye thus experiences what philosopher Merleau-Ponty calls “the enigma of vision”. “It would be very difficult to say where the picture I am looking at is” he writes. Since I don´t look at it as one looks at an object, I don´t fix its position, my gaze wanders through it as in the nimbus of Being. More than seeing the picture, I see through or with it”. It´s the image that marks our path, the composition that guides us, the colour that allows us to see. For Ramanzini, art is no longer an object but a process, and perception is not passive, but active. For the artist, it is not important to reach the end of the race (defining the forms), as much as experiencing the race (still conjecturing forms). If we look closely at, for example, the work entitled Coi cavalli ti trastulli we find ourselves before a rhythm of symbols, silhouettes, and decorative elements closely entwined to create illusive figures resembling those of Rubin. An infinite vortex of visual knowledge, a migration or a drift of senses, a contagious point of view. The outline of the horse is also wallpaper, the allusion to the game of chess is also a recollection of the Magritte´s mythical man in a bowler hat. It almost seems that the artist is concentrating on what is the power associating the images, giving as a result the plausibility of the absurd, the unpredictability of the common-place, the precariousness of what may seem mythical (the symbol, for instance).

Do not think, however, of the impeccable mental games of Giulio Paolini, again made of continuous connections, links and visual comparisons. In Paolini Art suggests a suspended interrogation on the “why” of the image; in Ramanzini, instead, it is a perspective on “how”. In Paolini the work envelopes itself and the analysis of its internal structures; in Ramanzini all is “everted”: a way of being “orientated while losing ourselves”, bringing us to knowledge by the loss of conscience, as if inside a play or a labyrinth. All is shown, illustrated, but the solution lies beyond appearances. Can we call it an alternative message, an irreverent scenario? What is certain is that the artist displays all her strategic armoury to make things appear this way: mirrors, dual images, the alternation of positive and negative, reversal of roles, etc. All contributing to making the picture a sort of “theatrical action” or even the world seen as a “sub specie ludi” (playful sub species). Even the technical solutions have something of the playful, similar to what a child does when attempting to construct an image with his moulds, only that the child is trying to put order into his dreams or his impulses. Contrarywise, Ramanzini uses hand-cut matrixes so dreams find their freedom. Hers is a jigsaw, made up of so many pieces melting and spreading Always in search of improbable relationships, of apparently haphazard encounters. It is the aesthetics of the “as if”, of tromp-l´oeil to be more precise, that to the formal fascination of painting adds the spiritual fascination of deception, the mystification of the sense. It is enough to subtract a dimension from real objects and figures (their depth) to add another to their magical presence, to their dreamlike perfection: something similar to what happens in Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot: a place in two dimensions, totally flat, inhabited by figures barely traced on an eternally illuminated floor. A place where the maddest ventures occur, the laws of gravity are subverted, all coordinates of space and time are infringed, while still being a place ruled by rigorous mathematical orders, precise geometric rules. Ramanzini´s works, we could say, are “masterpieces” of perspective illusionism. Her rules are the cut, the inexorability of the outlines, the distribution of the planes. But then her evolutions are similar to those adopted by Matisse in his Papiers découpes: they are attempts to “overcome the eternal conflict between drawing and colour”, drawing directly in colour and continually introducing combinations, inserts and superimpositions. This way she succeeds in maximising two sources of energy: the modulation of the neutral (or even white) backgrounds and the electrifying saturation of colour.

Just that the figures remain inexorably flat, pure shapes perhaps recalling mannequins (but without any ambiguous metaphysics). The artist endows them with numerous elements referring to games: “suits” of cards, pure arabesques, skittles, chess pieces. Sometimes even games made up of other games or games raining from above, as in Magritte´s Golconde. But there is no intention to hold a speech on the fun or space (distance) that games allow us to obtain with respect to ourselves and with respect to the reality by which we are normally surrounded, even if circles, seeming binocular lenses, could induce us to think otherwise. Playing games here is intended in its possibility of producing unbalance, uncertainty, risks, visual pretence. So we realise that in the “reality of play” it is essentially one´s own ego that is at stake. We are in another world, in another scene (maybe on another stage, since the paintings are symbolically on a wooden support).

But at the end of this recital, of this coming and going between reality and emblems, dreams and mirages, images and tales, we have the sensation of being inside the statutes of the “ornament”. An ornament however not intended merely as an option or decorative embellishment, but as a probe that interrogates and questions some of our secular convictions on the forms of art. Even Psalm 33 recites: “The Lord with his breath created the ornament of the heavens”. Here, Ramanzini´s “decorative painting slips away from all functionality to be collocated in the useless waste, in the ulterior nature of the gift. Its ornament is as if it had no signature, no author, no master, no aura. It tells nothing – no gestures, no enterprises, no faiths – it tells only itself with its labyrinthic entwinements and its abstract (and provocative) grace.

Luigi Meneghelli
Art Curator – Writer on FlashArt



Free Play

Rossella Ramanzini labors diligently over each of her paintings. There are layers upon layers of pattern and silhouettes, each shape needing to be left to dry before the next adjacent mark may be placed on the panel. Her technique has developed through years of experimentation with unusual tools and countless processes. Although it could be a frustrating exercise of endurance, it has been a labor of patience and love.

The title “Free Play” is an apt description of the artist´s working experience. She explains that her method is like a game or a puzzle of shapes, colors, and humor, mixing elements over and over again until the perfect outcome is achieved. Looking at the compositions closely we can discover the subtle, intellectual games that Ramanzini is indeed “playing”.

The artist´s imagery and concept bring to the surface a luscious engagement of patterns, colors, and profiles. Ramanzini´s work exhibits her skill in art, craft, design, and decoration, much as in the Italian post-war design renaissance when architects collaborated freely with artists and designers, and when arts and crafts reveled in conspiring together to produce wondrous products, structures, and installations. One finds a perfect reference in the words of the Milanese painter, sculptor and designer Piero Fornasetti when interviewed by art historian and curator Shara Wasserman, “Design is what the Italians do naturally. Spontaneously. It is restraint, harmony, and balance.” These words apply perfectly to the work created by artist Rossella Ramanzini. In addition, Fornasetti´s work has been described as belonging to a magical world, saturated in image and color, and filled with whimsy and wit. The influence here is wonderfully evident. And while Ramanzini leads us down a similar rabbit hole in this body of work, it is decidedly her own surreal world of fashion, sport, games, and a touch of humor. All this is composed through delicate, stylized silhouettes, and ironic juxtapositions.

In this particular world, although we do find references of a lighthearted place where games are celebrated, some forms, either those that are standing fixed or those that float across the surface, are in contrast and appear to have a double significance. They cause us to look beyond the façade to deeper social meanings. When we look at some of these subtle image choices, we see that we too are perhaps asked to play the game, to solve the riddle, or find the missing puzzle piece. The artist´s work reminds us of the work of M.C. Escher, artist and master draftsman. In viewing his work or that of Ramanzini´s, we can choose to simply enjoy the fanciful placement of patterns and geometrics, or we can look deeper to discover the meaning of questions posed: rain drops falling through a bleak gray sky, men staring face to face before a backdrop of pawns, an upside down crown floats over a female silhouette, and divers hang in mid air as if time had stopped.

Rossella Ramanzini was born in Brescia, Italy, where today she continues to live and work. She graduated in technical studies and began experimenting with painting on her own, discovering a personal vocabulary that allowed for explorations through out a range of Neo-Pop and Optical Art. Many of the Pop artists, notably Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine used a striking graphic style reminiscent of commercial art, and often employed printmaking, especially lithography and silkscreen to achieve a cool and detached approach. Ramanzini achieves a similar sensibility but through the use of hand cut stencils and tapes creating hard edges between the adjoining painted colors that renders a crisp and contemporary look to her works.

We cannot complete a discussion on the artist without going back further to reveal or ponder influences of a distant past. Vittorio Trainini, a celebrated artist from Brescia, was Ramanzini´s great uncle. He is renowned for his painting, sculpture, architecture, and frescoes in more than 100 churches. The artist mentions as well the direct influence of yet another artist, also an older family relative. Maybe for some it is purely coincidence, or perhaps it is the destiny of all Italian artists to be influenced, in some form or other, by their rich cultural heritage. In the works of Rossella Ramanzini, one has only to look at the exquisite use of colored geometric patterns bordering many Italian frescoes, or the balanced symmetry of beautifully designed rose windows, and this historic source of inspiration becomes evident. It is fortunate that these elements have found their way to surface again and they are applied in the artist´s own perfect balance of contemporary expression.

Whether the artist´s work reflects styles long past, or an artistic movement closer to our contemporary experience, what matters more is the end result. It is her particular poetic use of concentrated surface design and the subtle allusions to humanity that interest us. It is her depiction of the games we play, sometimes winning and sometimes losing that fascinate the observer.

Alette Simmons-Jimenez
Simmons-Jimenez is an artist, curator, and writer based in Miami.