Paolo Staccioli, Sculptor of Silence and Anticipation
An exhibition of Paolo Staccioli’s most recent work has just closed in the Sala delle Colonne in Pontassieve town hall, yet here he is already getting set to return to Florence, to the Horne Museum, thus once again in direct contact with the legacy of artists from the past, in a splendid exhibition that will be presenting new work inspired by memory, dreams, space, desire, time, silence, and anticipation. Shut away in his studio, Staccioli is capable of forging distant memories that recall the pleasure garnered from classical texts rediscovered and recreated with freedom and with a sense of candour. He models his identity and he plays out his game in a clash between the need to be both modern and ancient at the same time: a conservator of shapes and of changing surfaces. Ever since the decoration on his very first vases, he has been revisiting subjects and themes already broadly explored in his early work on canvas; indeed as Nicola Micieli put it in 1997, it almost feels as though Staccioli has always painted deliberately for ceramic, for its alluring and translucent surfaces modelled by the occasionally unpredictable complicity of fire.
He is capable of playing with Eros, portraying him as a winged child playing on his own or in the company of other divine children modeled in the round around the neck of a vase which itself often turns into their plaything. In this, he echoes the vases produced in ancient Canosa di Puglia, for instance, as Maria Anna Di Pede so acutely pointed out when writing about a splendid vase with figures modelled in relief which Staccioli made in 1998 in engobed faience painted with oxides and salts under a glaze, and which he polished to “a splendid red-bronze colour that causes it to gleam with a fiery light typical of the most beautiful sunsets” (Tommaso Paloscia 1999). The vase was presented at an exhibition entitled Memorie dell’Antico nell’arte del Novecento [Echoes of the Classical World in 20th Century Art] at the Museo degli Argenti in Palazzo Pitti in 2009. But there is a putto who has been showing us that he knows how to ride in the spectacular natural environment of the Parco Poggio Valicaia, above Scandicci, since April 2000, clinging to the neck of a sturdy bronze horse two metres tall, as green as the horse painted by Paolo Uccello in Florence cathedral using green earth; and that he knows how to guide the horse to explore the paths of man.
In a fantastic and visionary take on reality, Staccioli also explores his highly personal relationship with the ‘landscape’, a landscape that never changes, a landscape full of tales interlocking with other tales, of winged horses, of weightless knights suspended in a void even though they are fixed to a chassis on wheels, like the toys of our youth or like those on a merry-go-round, or suspended in unlikelyswings where men, too, can clamber up to tell the world of their hopes and desires. Using those themes on which he has meditated at length in recent years and which have now become part and parcel of his repertoire with boundless and unbridled imagination,he is recognisable without becoming repetitious, simply giving one the feeling that he always dwells on the same theme, the horse theme with which he continues to experiment in shapes that fill space very tightly, saturating it completely: it, too, a space without hierarchies in which there is no such thing as near and far, as above and below, as before and after.His treatment of space, while compressed by small ponies in relief, is perfectly defined in the armour of his good-natured and stationary warriors who, though possibly feeling nostalgic for a place where they have never been, will certainly never return there; nor will they ever leave here to go off to war, despite being armed with lance and shield. Despite being crammed into small boats that will never reach the shore, or being reduced to mere busts and hoisted onto large wheeled carts as compact as fearsome tanks, they certainly are not about to hasten on their way. Yet these male and female figures are charged with an with arcane charm: devoid of arms, their legs often truncated at the knee, they are reminiscent of fragments, yet “the helmet and the armour enveloping the warrior’s body, the armour consisting of an unbroken band of tiny ponies on wheels, carry traces of the vein of humour and imagination that we have learned to appreciate in Staccioli since the very beginning of his artistic career”, Elisa Gradi said on the occasion of an exhibition of his work at the Archaeological Museum in Fiesole in 2007.
Staccioli is a master at toying with affection and with amazement, before the siren song of modernity and the memories of ancient times, because as Antonio Paolucci put it when discussing the artist’s work in an exhibition at the Museo delle Porcellane in Palazzo Pitti in 2005, which he had christened Le gioiose ceramiche di Paolo Staccioli [Paolo Staccioli’s joyful ceramic works]: “Can one really play with the Todi Mars or with the Arringatore? With the orientalising style or with Art Nouveau? With the towers of San Gimignano or with the obelisk of Axum? With Gio’ Ponti or with Picasso? Of course one can, indeed one must, because embracing irony, being sardonic and smiling are truly effective antidotes for rhetoric and affectation.” Staccioli is capable of very naturally grouping his numerous silent warriors and his enigmatic travellers into groups of seven, eight, ten or a hundred figures which become icons of modernity and which, though they may be ready to make a return trip down memory lane, never actually set out. Perhaps they are waiting for another group of mysterious Travellers with Sphere, eccentrically dressed in garish colours or in jacket and tie, and holding a sphere on their shoulders, forced to hold up the world like gigantic Atlas figures. Despite the myth’s human cladding, a sense of mystery continues to envelop these almost headless figures, distancing them from any direct link with reality and creating a world that does not exist, but that is very present in Staccioli’s imagination when he meditates on memories of a surreal and metaphysical flavour.
(From the catalogue of the exhibition Paolo Staccioli. Opere / Sculptures 1991-2011 Museo Horne Florence)