The French painter Ingres (1780 – 1867) asserted that: ‘Colour adds ornament to a painting; but it is nothing but the handmaiden…’. He knew better than anyone that painters can never take colour for granted. In fact, there is generally very little left of a painting if you take out the colour. Old Masters who sublimated the chiaroscuro in their paintings knew this, and this is one respect in which contemporary artists are indebted to their illustrious predecessors.
The Italian painter Simon Pasini is one of those contemporary artists who gladly stand on the shoulders of the Old Masters in order to get a better view of the boundless potential of painting. He captures the light in a masterly manner in his interiors and city scenes, in a similar fashion to his celebrated predecessors (such as the Venetian Masters Giorgione, Titian and Veronese). This gifted painter makes it very evident that he has been classically trained and that he is a master of the fresco technique in the way that he goes about his work. Even though his work builds on all the achievements in painting over the course of the centuries, he remains very modern, in every respect.
Simon Pasini would be perfectly capable of painting anything that crossed his path, yet he has a strong preference for interiors and scenes featuring people who seem unaware that they are there. They are completely engrossed in their daily activities. But, in spite of their unremarkable appearance, they are essential for the vitality and the atmosphere of the scenes. In Pasini’s world, they act as catalysts that fix, freeze or preserve a fleeting moment. The subjects and other elements (such as a façade, a wet street, market stalls, a window or a table in a café) are vital links for the painter in order to sublimate the chiaroscuro in his paintings.
Pasini tends to opt for a muted tone. His paintings are remarkable for the distinctive choices that he makes with respect to composition, tone, perspective and atmospheric conditions. For example: in one of his recent paintings, he zooms in on a patch of light on the floor of a café. The people at the tables surrounding it are partially excluded from the scene. You cannot see them properly, as if it were a snapshot taken by a photographer who hadn’t properly zoomed in to include the people in the café. By means of this unusual approach, the artist asserts that he is primarily interested in everything that is in danger of disappearing in the transience and mortality of our existence. He deliberately creates an open space within the composition, which means that the human figures and objects are removed from the heart of the composition. The empty area that appears in the scene underlines his fascination for everything that appears to be irrelevant, such as empty spaces and small details.
The daring use of perspective and the undogmatic approach to composition are typical of Pasini’s impressive, inventive and unique working methods. His paintings do not focus on predictably beautiful things, but concentrate instead on the junk and rubbish in a courtyard, or on ugly overhead cables and power lines that disfigure the street scene. In this way, he emphasises the transient and fleeting character of the observations that he is recording, as if to say that everything in his paintings is based on coincidence or intuition. And yet, he has pored and deliberated over every tiny detail and every artistic flourish. Each brushstroke is weighed up and considered. The attention and dedication of the artist and his technical refinement are an assurance of the production of tableaux where beauty and tranquillity meet, and where the observer holds his breath so as not to disturb the atmosphere, in a supreme effort to preserve the ‘frozen moment’ for as long as is possible.
Simon Pasini attaches great importance to the tone of his paintings. The sweltering heat in ‘San Marcellino’; the Mediterranean light that pricks holes in a shadowy roof of leaves; a sun-soaked Venetian terrace; market stalls bathed in sunlight; people at a terrace, gathered under the shadow of a centuries old tree; the lively glow of an ochre-coloured façade. But also: the Dutch greyness of a drizzly day as dusk falls (‘Amsterdam CS’). These tones all attest to the fact that in Pasini’s painting, reality is filtered through a gossamer thin and transparent veil, or a muffled tone, that makes everything softer and more intimate. This sublimation of concrete observations and sensations is part and parcel of the layered and transparent painting style that determines the final result. Occasionally, the scenes are panoramic. At other moments, the painter keeps the scene small and intimate, but at all times, concrete observation and hard or dreary reality are transformed into a harmonious impression that reflects the intimacy of his inner world.
Simon Pasini knows how to maximise the return on his material. He gives warmth to paint, colour and light, creating a new and original reality in the process, that did not exist until he unlocked it with his art. It is striking that he does not paint definable lines, instead preferring vague contours that represent an imaginary reality where melancholy and yearning hold sway and where the principle of ‘carpe diem’ is held high. The artist translates his own frame of mind into a form of contemporary art where the border between form and substance becomes blurred. He manipulates light and colour and moulds reality to his own will. The layered painting style is integral to the interaction between the various elements that dominate the scene as well as to the dialogue between the painter and his material.
In this way, interiors, street scenes and cityscapes come into being, all bathed in a hazy light where enervating chiaroscuro effects induce sensations of colour and light. In his unique and inimitable fashion, the artist creates a poetic world alternately dominated by shrouded or evocative, passionate or placid accents. Each individual painting is a moment in time: personal observations and sensations are sublimated and preserved as timeless and unique experiences. Time stands still and life itself slows down in order to mark time for just a moment.
Wim van der Beek writer/art critic curator contemporary art
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