That imminence of a revelation that is not yet produced, is perhaps the aesthetic reality.”
― Jorge Luis Borges
Secret garden means a place of meditative introspection; a place where one can contemplate beauty and mystery, erotic fantasies and innocent pleasures, memories and thoughts. Paintings and installations, characterised by figures that no longer correspond to the names we gave them, and which do not respect the traditional narrative, create an autonomous and personal language unknown, full of archaic and metaphorical meanings. These figures are presented not as clear images, but in the way memories often present themselves to us; as in a dream, veiled, without logic, incomplete and coloured by the moment. Human bodies, flora, fauna and the mineral world co-exist, not in a rational landscaped garden but where the laws of nature are upturned; the garden as an almost separate world – an inner sanctuary for both human and mythical beings; a place of allure, mystery and sublime delights.
The work of Siro is the result of a passion for painting and the will to convey his need for knowledge through layers of pigment on a surface. Matter is applied in successive layers to get a feeling of insecurity and imbalance between the bottom and the shape. Siro reduces figures to their essence and then adds and adopts biomorphic and surreal forms, but further frees those forms through the process of painting itself by emphasising more lyrical colour and personal content. He transforms, past and present, into new realities, abstracted and controlled. Instead of an exact rendering, the viewer is presented with suggestions of real objects that are subjected to the artist's personal interpretation of their forms and meanings.
In his paintings, flat, patterned structures comprising organic, nature-inspired lines and spheres disrupt otherwise negative spaces upon which he juxtaposes both abstract and surreal three-dimensional architectonic forms. Mechanical-like aspects interact with abstract organic elements almost as if according to a mathematical formula in a mysterious new narrative that is both ancient and quintessentially modern.
Interview with Siro Cugusi
Can you tell us about your influences and how they impact on your development of ideas?
My influences vary continually. They are so many levels in which my work is informed. It is a search, a constant search. I respond very much to what is around me; I absorb things visually and collect them as thoughts, and if they resonate with me, they will find their way into my work. Sometimes it takes years for something to enter my work – it lies dormant waiting to be activated. I often draw or jot down these ideas and store them away. Sometimes I stumble across them while rummaging through my notebooks in my studio and other times, these ideas, thoughts, just come out on their own.
The “garden” is a reoccurring theme in your work. Can you elaborate on this?
Rich in symbolism and metaphor, the garden has always been an extremely fertile source of my artistic inspiration. Artists from all periods of history, from Ancient Egypt to the present day, have employed the motif of the garden. About the garden Michel Foucault said, “C’est la plus petite parcelle du monde et puis c’est la totalité du monde.”
The garden as a fragment, but at the same time a reflection of the whole world; as a secret private space; as atelier and place of creation; as labyrinth and the artist’s mind; as a place of meditative introspection where one can contemplate beauty and mystery, erotic fantasies and innocent pleasures, memories and thoughts; as an almost separate world – an inner sanctuary for both humans and mythical beings; a place of allure, mystery and sublime delights.
Your current show, Secret Garden, explores the relationship between beauty and mystery but you also engage with the relationships between reality and dream and the rational and irrational, among other contrasts. How fundamental is this engagement with opposites in your work?
I agree with the saying attributed to John Locke: “That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art”. I believe that art lies in between things. “In between” is aligned with my thinking and process; it means a sort of equilibrium among opposites. In my work you will find the artificial and the natural, the real and the surreal, the rational and the irrational, staticity and dynamism, and so forth. In a way, artists are alchemists, so as an artist, I try to find the right compromise, the correct equilibrium and order, a sort of balance of elements, the coniunctio oppositirum, or the marriage of opposites, an alchemical term that means combining two opposite substances, or essences, or even ideas into a unity greater than the sum of its parts. This term also has meaning in Jungian psychology as Jung showed many parallels between the processes of self-understanding and alchemy. Opposites are everywhere in our everyday lives and language. They are also prevalent in our social institutions governing religion, politics, philosophy, and science. There are long lists of opposites of life and language and institutions: spatial, temporal, relative, linguistic, mathematical, social, normative, philosophical, and mythological.
We get a sense that you are pushing beyond the traditional narrative, reason and logic. Can you tell us more about the “language” of your work?
My work is characterised by figures that no longer correspond to the names we gave them, and which do not respect the traditional narrative, creating an autonomous and personal language unknown, full of archaic and metaphorical meanings. These figures are presented not as clear images, but in the way memories often present themselves to us; as in a dream, veiled, without logic, incomplete and coloured by the moment.
Frank Stella said, “I wanted my paintings to live in a world of their own.” Like Stella, I prefer to paint without too many restraints of “realistic” depictions of the external world, feeling a certain freedom in creating a tension between abstract art and some figurative elements that provide suggestions or clues to the viewer as to what to look for in the painting.
Tell us more about your artistic process.
My work occupies a space between representation and abstraction; forms and textures converge not to create an illusion, but as a suggestion of invention. The thing I’m most interested in investigating in painting is the field of tension between the figurative and the abstract. When I start a painting, I don’t have a specific picture in my mind’s eye. Each picture has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic: it has to emerge as if inevitable. Distorting or destroying a motif while I’m painting is not a planned or conscious act, but rather it has a different justification: I see the motif, and the way I painted it, is somehow ugly or unbearable, then I try to follow my feelings and make it attractive. And that means a process of painting, changing or destroying until I think it has improved. And I don’t demand an explanation from myself as to why this is so. My work is the result of a layering process with materials and colour. It is a constant experiment and an enhancement of my artistic abilities. A combination of materials such as oil paint, enamel, acrylic paint, spray paint, marker, pencil and oil wax pastel allows me to have a more differentiated working process. I like to create forms and expressive abstraction out of my own head. Formal design elements – lines, shapes, colours, spaces and textures – are the most important part of my work. The painting is not a planned or conscious act, but rather the images grow into the canvas, in a process of destruction and distortion of pictorial elements and motifs.
In your recent works we often find mechanical elements and surreal forms. Where do they come from?
Various elements influence my practice, such as the art and architecture of ancient civilisations; Gothic decorations, which suggest a sense of tension in the compositions; Masaccio and Piero della Francesca paintings, which suggest a sense of monumentality; the works of Stella, Anthony Caro, Albert Oehlen and Gerard Ritcher, which suggest original abstraction ways; Surrealism, which helps me to find ways to describe the unconscious; and Cubism, which guides my understanding of picture space. These abstractions reflect my goal of conveying both a sense of motion and the power of the story, rather than a specific narrative.
Recently I’ve been looking at old manuscripts: medieval ones but also astronomical, botanical and engineering manuals such as Technica Curiosa, an early compendium of scientific and medical technologies by Gaspar Schott, and Mundus Subterraneus by Athanasius Kircher. By looking at the past, I get new ideas and a better understanding of contemporary art. In my work, mechanical aspects interact with abstract organic elements almost as if according to a mathematical formula in a mysterious new narrative that is both ancient and quintessentially modern.
You frequently exhibit in the US and recently you completed a residency at Lux Art Institute in California culminating in a solo exhibition. What were some of the outcomes of the residency?
The residency was a positive experience allowing me time and space to further develop my artistic practice and tap into US interest in the European art market. The opportunity to present my work to a US audience in a solo show and become part of a museum collection there further enriched the experience both artistically and professionally while working in a new environment promoted the stimulation of new ideas and possibilities.
What are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on still-lifes as a vehicle for explorations in geometric spatial organisation and surreal invention, depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace natural objects such as fruits, flowers, plants, rocks and shells juxtaposed with surreal elements that describe the unconscious, in a celebration of material and ephemeral pleasures and the brevity of human life.