THE PAINTED CITY

Giovanni Battista Bedolo was born in Milan on 18th February 1962. He gave up

his studies of Philosophy when he was twenty-one and went to live in France,

firstly in Agen and then on l'Ile d'Oléron, where he created his first

temporary compositions with materials washed up by the tides. Since then he

has changed his place of residence very often, following a deliberately

nomadic way of life, and achieving a refined integration between land art

and painting. Since 1984 he has developed studies on the morphology of

plants which result in pictorial cycles exhibited in various personal and

collective exhibitions, and has designed and cared for various gardens.

The interview

We interview Giovanni Battista Bedolo starting with a brief introduction to

his work.

I propose themes such as plants and gardens using a contemporary language.

It's like arousing a collective ghost: Eden, a primary state, a harmonious

state that is not longer transmitted.

Tell me about particular experiences in your childhood, how did you become

acquainted with plants and gardens?

I spent my childhood and the following years in gardens. My father was the

gardener of a historical park, kept as in the 1700. I received a vegetable

imprinting: you experience the sense of human solitude in gardening and at

the same time the relationship with the plants, this drives you to have

great imagination.

Why do gardens cultivate imagination as well as plants?

Because of the relationship with so many different forms. Plants, if you

observe them closely, differ morphologically both amongst themselves and in

time through metamorphosis, the various forms stimulate fantasy. In a garden

you have time to think about other things and thoughts flow harmoniously, a

wiser thought ensues.

If you had to say, as a consequence of your experience, what language plants

speak, what would you say?

Plants speak the proportional language from which I draw elements that are

useful in pictorial composition. Shape in a plant is the fundamental aspect

of its language.

How have you organised your life in the metropolis?

After numerous journeys I landed in the city, changing both studio and house

frequently. From '85 to '88 I represented animals, especially cats, composed

of seven pieces of metal plate, nailed into painted panels: they were split,

lacerated, lacking in unity, dissociated in a metropolitan situation.

Symbols of contemporary living, a "split ego" unable to be re-composed,

postmodernist. I chose seven pieces as a contradiction since seven is a

traditional number of harmonious composition.

Is an artist touched by the world?

People value and appreciate a form of expression that discloses what they

live, that gives an image to something you feel in the air, in the world.

Even if fundamentally the artist is looking for something new, he is looking

for something that doesn't exist.

Is the crisis of painting as a form of expression a crisis related to the

painted image and not to painting as a genre?

It is determined by the difficulty of presenting images that remain, that

please, that are emblematic and representative. Nowadays there isn't one

symbol that is valid for a culture, therefore it is only possible to give an

individual vision. In restoring the symbol to nature I take an archetype of

natural origin such as a calyx, which is no longer codified, and I give it

back an ultimate sense by reproducing it in a vegetable environment, as a

flower. Illustrated pictorially I restore it, now free of a series of

cultural superimpositions, to its natural environment where it continues and

where (genetic engineering permitting) it can continue to remain a symbol.

My task is to restore symbols to nature, as a reality beyond our will and

interpretations, take them back because they are superfluous in civilisation.

How do you operate?

My work starts from shapes in the vegetable kingdom that take my eye. I then

take an interest in the relationship there is between these forms and their

function in the plant, in the vegetable system, in the wood system,

proceeding from micro to macro. Painting a plant, a palm tree, or a cypress,

a seed, a mangrove fruit is a way of pantheistically carrying inside

ourselves a part of nature which no longer belongs to us, to which we no

longer belong.

What relationship does shamanism have with your artistic work?

There are no longer common or general points of view in culture, the

shamanist method of the individual who places himself in relation to the

world remains perhaps the most appropriate. There are many cases in

contemporary art, because the individual finds himself alone and has to

initiate himself to art, consequently every artist has his own method with

its merits and secrets.

Can you illustrate the shamanist experience which produced the pictorial

cycle "The morphology of plants"?

It was a series of works where the warm yellow of the sun, falling on the

blue of the cold waters, created green areas that gradually defined leaves:

the photosynthesis factories that generate the vegetable world, moreover

Goethe with the original plant, the Urpflanze, points out that the start of

plant evolution coincides with the origin of shape.

I'd like you to describe how you operated.

I worked horizontally, placing all the canvases on a level surface, mixed

the paints, prepared water in watering cans and gathered bamboo leaves

during the day. I wet the canvases with the watering cans, arranged the

colours, placed the leaves on the canvas, doing all this moving around on an

area of about a hundred square metres. I worked at thirty paintings

simultaneously, considering each one as part of an ecosystem, as part of a

wood, a plant, as if it was a leaf of a tree. Once the leaves were arranged

on the fresh paint, the sun did its part: it fixed the shape on the

background of cold water, I intervened where I wanted the shapes to be more

evident. As far as the large canvases are concerned I mix the paint and make

it dynamic, the canvas is placed horizontally on natural surfaces: grass,

stones, mud, sand. I walk over these extremely large canvases, I use

elements that are round about for painting: branches and leafy branches. I

pour the water with the watering can. I prepare myself beforehand working on

the shape, by means of studies, observations, drawings and painting. Sand

got into my work on the dunes in Kenya mixing itself into the paints.

To go back to a previous subject Iíd like some explanations about the

Urpflanze and its relation to your painting.

Reading Goetheís Metamorphosis of plants I became acquainted with the

Urpflanze. Goethe imagined an original plant that represented the organic

vegetable matter, formed in the simplest and most direct way, from which by

differentiation numerous other vegetable forms originate. I have tried to

paint the original plant showing its frugality, the situation in which by a

minimum effort the plant reaches the maximum of its essence concentrating in

itself the fruit, the seed, the flower, the leaf and the stem: elevation. I

had thought of serigraphs: I started printing them, but each print was

differentiated by painting. This was because the vegetable kingdom

originates by differentiation from the original plant.

How do you paint and where?

For about 8 years I painted almost exclusively in a studio. Nomadism marks

the present way of life and we can not escape from that even if we wish.

Nowadays I paint in the most varied and natural situations possible. From

open air exhibitions in the early 90s Iíve moved on to performances, in one

night in an open air discotheque I painted a large picture which was then

exhibited on walls in Milan. With my case of paints and my canvas on my back

Iíve painted in Kenya too; on the dunes of Lamu, on the island of Manda Toto

I couldnít have worked with a laser or computer with the same immediacy.

Are there recurrent subjects and strong themes in your painting?

The bamboo and palm trees are significant plants. The bamboo is a siliceous

plant, it has elongated leaves, an alternation of nodes and internodes which

recalls musical symphonies, it reveals the secrets of the composition in

nature from which we can draw inspiration. I defined the palm tree a green

sun because it rises from the earth and climbs up to the sky, the trunk is

the road that this sphere follows. Gardens are a fundamental theme in my

painting, the garden with the palm tree, the bamboo garden, the island

garden, the garden where seeds germinate, the garden as a world or the world

as a garden. Man considers the garden an evanescent thing, he lives it as a

lost garden, something that can no longer be realized.

Why do you propose these paintings that are all gardens?

Because they are the input of a plan for a garden, of a place. In our

imagination we give great importance to the exotic garden because it is the

place where we manage to relax, unwind, feel the ghost of contemplation, the

surrogate of meditation that we can only experience by travelling thousands

of kilometres, by reaching an island. In our countries gardens can no longer

give us this kind of sensation. The four paintings "Blood and Lymph" are the

four seasons that occur in the garden, the relationship between the

vegetable and animal world in the primeval garden, seeds germinate in the

garden, the calyx is drawn from the vegetable motif, the Minotaur, the happy

island, the watering can, pumpkins.

Iíd like to know if there are key works in your production.

Cats in the metropolis are a key theme. From cats I moved on to watering

cans, the first watering can I painted: The object that guides. I started by

evaluating the objects that surrounded me and by considering quantity a form

of pollution, physical and mental. I eliminated all those that didnít have a

sense. From the cat saturated in objects I moved on to the watering can as

an object that guides, that clearly leads me into the garden. The watering

can represents the possibility that the garden exists, it is so important in

my painting because it is the instrument of the gardening ritual. After

plant morphology and bamboo, I came to represent Alcinooís garden: the

garden always in bloom. I thought of the essence of the flower, the

sensuality of the flower, sex organ of the plant, of the most logotype and

elementary representation possible, I wanted to represent this simplicity in

considering the flower. In Africa I studied the palm tree in its natural

habitat grasping the sense of this plant better and I became acquainted with

the baobab in its structure. Roaming around islands I realised how seeds

travel over the water, move from one island to another. I discovered that

plants too have a nomadic aspect, they are not as static as we have always

considered and represented them. The seed that flies, that floats, is the

plantís message, it is the genetic information enclosed therein that can

travel, visit new places, new worlds. Nomadism is the message.

Why do you talk of plant intelligence?

Intelligence exists in the garden as relationships between the plants, an

intelligence and harmony in proportion, in the way the plant is structured.

I have identified an intelligence also in the seed, the flower, the root, in

all parts of the plant. If we think of intelligence as the ability to

reproduce, to exist, we cannot deny the surprising ability of vegetables.

The question I ask myself and which determines my work is: Where the plantís

feeling is located and what it is like.

One of the latest artistic, cultural initiatives youíve proposed were the

large paintings exhibited in Milan, would you like to tell me what theyíre

about?

About two years ago I was invited to Kenya to create some large dimensioned

works on canvas. These works have been exhibited in Italy where some friends

asked me to prepare large sized works to display on the façades of buildings

being renovated. This is how the initiative called =The painted city= came

into being and saw the creation of large paintings: pieces of about eighty

square metres of painting on canvas. Opening up new spaces for works of art

means stimulating city re-planning, because at each operation of renovation,

there is the possibility to transform for the better.

Why these large dimensions?

A tribal chief from a Polynesian island describes in amazement, the habits,

customs and uses of civilised peoples, when he talks of the city he says

that white men never go out of the house, comparing the city to a large

house. In effect we move around the city as in a large house, just as in

every house we have posters and a television set, in cities too we have

adverts, maxi-screens, lighting. This is the real sense of urban furniture:

considering the city as an enormous dwelling, we are all inhabitants of this

house. The large pictures are subsequently divided up, exhibited again and

taken inside the houses, creating continuity between the small dwelling and

 

Therefore you are personally a bridge between the city and extremely natural

environments. Consequently you bring these natural environments into cities,

what do your works propose?

Palm trees in Africa, a bend in a river, an alpine meadow in bloom and a

ridge of cypress trees at Lake Garda. These are the places where the city

dweller arrives, places for re-charging, where for one moment we touch

contemplation, where we go to =break off= from the pace of metropolitan

life. It isnít the natural place that I bring into the city, it is the

representation of the logotype that the city dweller has of the natural

place, he finds it there in front of him, presented in a metropolitan key,

 

change the environment where we live in a positive way, by bringing a

fragment, an idea, a conception of nature into the city to bridge that

division that exists between man and nature, between the city and the

natural environment, in view of a possible reconciliation of the dichotomy

that has characterised the history of man for so many centuries.