ACTIONREACTION - A REVOLUTION AFTER A NAP

The art of Pippo Lionni can not be found, it must be experienced. No need to embark on a voyage, to consult art guides, to look for points of reference in books, footholds in the comparative works. We can comfortably sit on a sofa in the position that we like ; the journey we will do is interior.

The Latin verb that — even in the mists of its phoneme — makes this route clear is “experiri”. It means “to experiment”, to try, to test, to experience. There is in this verb the tension of force, the testing of one’s skills ; “se experiri”, to measure oneself, to face the unknown, to scrutinize. Upon this now famous couch on which we have settled we feel better if we do something with this experience, we analyze it, we construct a text, turns of phrase that put us in communication, that bring us closer or further away. What matters is that the wavelength is that of wonderment, which has capacity, an ability that can be activated, without the pretense of a result. We could say that we would like to be surprised to be surprised, something seemingly very elementary, or try to be surprised in the sense of removing all obstacles that separate, distract the eye, force it to float on the surface, that impede us from going behind simple appearances. Now, to think of it, we are no longer that immobile stretched out on our sofas, now that we have been caught up in an intelligent vortex, that we are falling deeper and deeper in the dark where one is free to be as lost as one wants, now that we are finally free to be "natural", now that our thoughts have become eccentric, abnormal and simply respond to our primary needs of existence which means trying not to lose sight of the wonderful. We removed the superfluous from ordinary life. Our existence, ultimately “mise à nu”, returns to pulsate in a dynamic state. Each of us finally sees oneself through the abstraction.

This was the driving force behind the artistic experiment of Pippo Lionni and the two composers Sergio Corbini (pianist) and Stefano Franceschini (saxophonist). First of all, they live far away from each other. The painter is constantly moving between Paris, New York, Sweden, Chianti - between today’s mega metropolises and the distinctive elegance of historic architecture, to navigate alone on a sailboat in Sweden, to life in the timeless farm house Porcignano set in the hills and woods that the Etruscans chose to inhabit in ancient times. Then the two Italian artists, whose journey is the creative dynamic of jazz, of improvisation - an "improvised" journey that does not preclude, restrict or render secure. The space in which they move is archetypal: leaving Africa and arriving in the United States, mixes reality and legend, grinds together spirituality and blood: it is a journey that tests, allows one to experiment while ones heart takes off from its roots to fly in the metropolises of the United States, where great artists have written the history of this music.

Maybe in life one never really meets. Maybe it’s the emotions that meet in the spaces that gave them shape that represent the various phases of our lives, a bit like works of art. The genesis of the joint work between the painter and the two musicians — we'd better say three, because Pippo Lionni is also a musician — is not possible without such singularity. The works of Pippo Lionni are indeed “in primis” in time and space as are their titles, in a chronology with geographical coordinates.

In fact, there are moments when things happen, there are chance meetings, artists create, and there is that dimension of the vastness of the imagination in tangible space in which a work is born and grows. There are the smells, the sounds, moments of rest, the breaths, the days and the nights, and one’s basic needs. There is the canvas on the floor upon which Pippo moves barefoot, a canvas that is at once a home and the whole world, where he places his feet and his body in a way of working that makes the method an end in itself. The idea that Pippo Lionni shared with the other musicians was to compose a work in layers in which the creation was to be done simultaneously in three separate places, where meetings would be rare necessitating online communication, where the work wound take form as a collective effort, as a struggle, all with an unpredictable outcome. Pippo Lionni’s canvases in this present phase are white, large format, with symmetric and asymmetric geometries, tracks, traces of the mechanical or space-time paths, strictly black, sometimes with large white spaces - unsaid spaces, the spaces where the imagination that already erupted elsewhere rests. The same Pippo Lionni defines the artistic creation as "a revolution after a nap": a beautiful expression that combines historical grandness and the simplicity of daily life of the artist.

From this art-music duo a factory of sound is born, who’s musical atmosphere and dripping synaesthesia emerge from the painted space like a musical score and are transformed into a sonorous essence. At the same time, the painting is created from the music, which in turn is based on the discordant noises and random rhythms of the working process itself, on the sounds of the artist with a palette knife on a canvas, on his industrious hands and knees. These sounds, recorded directly from Pippo Lionni working on paintings, are reworked on computers to produce asynchronous and sound swarm rhythms, in the manner of the artists of the so-called "concrete music".

It is impossible to classify unambiguously this completely innovative music that, while making use of jazz improvisation, is in fact something else, coming out of the experiments in electronic music of the second half of the twentieth century, sound editing techniques in the wake of "tape music ", from the use of synthesizers, from "live electronics".

The originality of the artistic project comes from the fusion of these techniques, improvisations, the use of electronic and acoustic instruments, and the pictorial input. The black and white graphical abstract language of Pippo Lionni’s recent paintings becomes vertiginous sound launched into the air with a sense of freedom: musical ideas that laugh, grow, rise and fall, multiply and then come to rest together with us.

Donatella Tognaccini, Monti in Chianti, September 13, 2016



MUSIC, THE EYE OF CHILDREN AND THE ART OF PIPPO LIONNI

Making art in the contemporary world can mean many diverse things.

The real world has long since lost the single and unique legitimate model for the artistic artifice.
From the moment in which each aspect of reality, starting from it’s image, becomes technically reproducible, art began an accelerated expansion of it’s territories to include the transformation of form, space, light, materiality and much more, triggering new processes of perception.

Pippo Lionni has always chosen to confront the physical and material dynamic of the action of painting with a direct conceptual connection to a vision of inherently architectural and musical space. Lionni’s action always springs from process: temporal, because it contemplates expectations, necessary meditations, inevitable second thoughts, and conceptual, because everything that happens or is recorded on the canvas (or on paper) is a long journey through the meanders of the unconscious before emerging with the energy of a sudden geyser.

I have already had occasion to reflect on Pippo Lionni’s painting and to highlight those that, in my estimation, are the essential characteristics of his 'making art', mainly his ability to fight each and every time a match with the canvas and with himself, radiating a physical, even bodily, vitality, seemingly antithetical to his process of cultivated and refined thought from which his impulse originates. He wields with freedom and authority his own language that originates from a complex cultural heritage and the contemporary metropolitan context of his up bringing.

For over a year Pippo and I had been discussing the creative process, formal language, structure, and the city in his art and my work as an architect. During a small exhibition organized by Frederico Fusi at the exhibition space, Inner room in May of 2015, where we presented a series of architectural drawings alongside action painting, we began working on a major exhibition "Big paintings" in October of 2015 in the newly opened architectural complex of the Casa dell’Ambiente in Siena. The exhibition concept juxtaposed a series of large-format hard-edged paintings in a concrete and brick “unfinished” open space.

This particularly rough interior revealed the strength of Lionni’s forms, the capacity of his painting to reverberate in the space, in both harmony and contrast - invading the space with his tangle of lines and increasingly dense system of overlaps and intersections, to the limit of elimination. The exhibition highlighted how Pippo Lionni’s visual language is in tune with that of architecture, while at the same time emphasizing the limits of the architectural horizon.
As is often the case, this exhibition was the occasion to critically confront ones own work, thus ending a phase and opening the door for the next one – at the time it is more a question of doubt than of understanding how to go further.
His answer came with hard work and suffering, during his subsequent project with the P! Gallery in New York.

The exhibition was an experimental type of collaboration with the contemporary music composer Qasim Naqvi, instigating a process of action-reaction between the two artists, transposed through two formally diverse languages.

Though this was a logical initiative on the part of Prem Krishnamurthy (of the P! Gallery) given the strong contiguity of Pippo’s work with music and his non preconceived process which develops continuously enriched with variations and improvisations, akin to the practice of jazz, in the beginning this direct relationship with Naqvi’s music, was very difficult.

What happened at that time, which had its origins at the end of the Big Paintings show in Siena, took on the unwelcome form of a crisis.
Normally, crisis, of any shape or kind, is seen as a failure, an anguished leap of faith, proof of a personal debacle, or a dead end. But the true, original meaning of the Greek word krisys is another: It means, in fact, separation and choice, the equivalent of the Latin de-cide, cut, and then choose, using good judgment and discernment. In this sense, crisis even becomes a moment of clarity, the opportunity to take a step forward and grow; It can even become a permanent state of continuous search for new realities and directions.

Furthermore, as it happened Lionni took a different path, beginning a new line of research. His relationship with music -which has always been important - underwent a decisive transformation after the "Chronology” show in New York. Until then he “bounced off” of existing musical compositions. During the Chronology crises the painting process itself began to produce sound, thus creating a dialectical response - sound and the visual forms created simultaneously both serving as forms to react to as an interrelated continuum in two sense dimensions (if not three with the physical sensation). Thus transforming the artistic language. Process determining process determining form. Attacking the canvas attacking the artist attacking the canvas.

The New york “collaboration”, either by accident or though an uncharted reaction, provoked an unexpected answer that left not only visual traces on the canvas, but also liberated individual bumps, beats in rhythmic sequence, delays and accelerations, and screeching scrapes sounds in space. In turn the collection of recorded tracks were mixed as layers in much the same way as the visual forms were superimposed on the canvas. The painting became a huge indeterminate and mysterious musical score, while the sound became an equally strange musical composition, giving each painting, and the visual in general, its particular dimension as sound.

This was certainly the case for Pippo Lionni who lives in a continual state of instability traveling between physical places: Paris, Siena, Porcignano, New York, Gaiole in Chianti and Stockholm, but even more so, in a mental journey that helps him to remove old deposits, dangerous satisfactions, insidious formalism. A purifying bath and salutary rejuvenation fueled in parallel, but also complicated by, an extraordinary experience born at the margins of the exhibition "Big Paintings" of Siena and developed over the next eight months, until the last exhibition "Abstraction in Action - The Residency" staged in the Vecchie Cantine in Gaiole in Chianti.

Infact, the Sienese exhibition was the beginning of a workshop on abstraction in art that involved two elementary school classes in Gaiole in Chianti. Thirty-five children, together with their teachers, followed Pippo during 8months as he worked, visiting its exhibitions, his studio, his residency in the Vecchie Cantine, where he worked on his biggest canvases – the seven meter long paintings, "20160515 43°11°" and "20160518 43°11°”.
But not only. Between October 2015 and May 2016 the artist and the children developed a continuous, intense, in depth dialogue, based on an equal exchange of views, on the collective and direct participation in the various phases of the work in progress. The extraordinary acquisition of awareness among pupils of what it means to express themselves in an abstract language which was considered unusual and inappropriate, was slowly and proudly claimed as a new opening toward personal vision of the world.
One of the most famous sentences of Picasso reads like this: "It took me a lifetime to learn to draw like a child."

Lionni’s Tuscan experience has the same value because instead of concentrating on the object of the process he concentrated on the full unveiling of the mechanisms of his way of making art, on the process itself, thus making it accessible to children’s understanding through the action of making art, as something that is “done”. The combined openness about the process, the constant revealing of his own doubts, inevitable upheavals, moments of joy, and auto-criticisms… along with the notorious crisis, revealed the deep, pure and most authentic artistic vein that the human being possesses, thus very close to the innocent, selfless, superstructureless, state of childhood.
This result, obtained thanks to the direct participation and the collective involvement of the teachers and assistants, was a sort of total immersion which set in motion a process that stimulated the imagination, turned on emotions and passions, helped overcome the possible disappointments, mistakes, the inevitable “being stuck”. Following such a complex journey teaches you that what is developing in your mind can be realized with your hand, but also and above all, that, what has been imagined is right and has a right to exist.

What was extraordinary for the children and their teachers was to be in constant direct contact with the source of experience. Lionni and his work was there in front of them, they talked about it and in turn produced their own work through their own experimentation, according to their own personal and creative processes, affirming their own abstract conception of reality.

The hands on work was complemented by research projects in contemporary abstract art, all of which, the discussions, the research and the practical exercise, were at a level normally uncommon in pre high school level programs. Contact with contemporary art without preparation quite often incites an a priori judgment of rejection. The novelty of the method was the elimination of “school book” learning through a direct participation in the work process of this artist, as a real person, someone who is working and preparing an exhibition in front of them, with whom there are continual totally open discussions about the choices, doubts, experimentations, criticisms and auto-criticisms present in the process of creating, assembling and disassembling of the work.
From Lionni’s point of view the experience was just as amazing, because it added meaning and value to his work, expanding the boundaries and integrating them into the development of process itself. Paradoxically the experience reduced the cultural distance between people through the medium of abstract expression, itself insidious of old tenacious taboos and stereotypes.

Pippo Lionni and the children of Gaiole, after the participatory experience of "Abstraction in action," will continue their laboratory this year focusing on the visual experimentation of abstraction in photography, a theme that builds on the previous experience while adding, the transformation of the digital camera in tablets and smartphones into a tool for making art, the focus on the image in terms of abstract form, the role of criticism in the process, and, hopefully, exhibition scenography.

With the clean energy of their minds these children have already understood that an abstract image is part of reality, and that the more you delve deeply into the real world, into it’s structure and into it’s most secret and hidden forms, the more you end up meeting a different and unexpected reality that speaks another language. They will be the ones to make that clear to the adults of future generations.

Carlo Nepi, Siena, June 21, 2016



JAZZMAN PAINTMAN

One acquires fundamental elements for the understanding of Pippo Lionni’s paintings by watching the gestures that he performs during their construction. He seems to initiate a physical, almost corporeal relationship with the white surface that awaits his lines and challenges him with the abyss of nothingness. There is something ritualistic about the complexity of his movements when attacking the space, but also caressing it, as he slides across the floor in a violent, but also sensual dance. The gesture appears fluid and continuous, but demands strength and precision. The surface must be on the ground or against a hard board. A stretched canvas could not sustain the pressure, or produce the same result. The mind makes direct contact with the paper through the arm-that-presses-the-hand-that-holds-the-spackle-knife and leaves a mark, which, at that instant, must be set free.

There is no sketch from which to begin, no rational project in geometrical terms to download in a Cartesian reality. Everything originates from the depths, from emotion, which is to say from the unconscious. When working, Lionni blasts the music he loves at a volume that allows him to think outside of or beyond reason. It is not a secondary aspect of his work. The music definitely has to be there. It permits a relative state of concentrated disorientation.

"I do not work on the track of drawings or sketches (...) my painting is immediate (...) method of painting is the natural manifestation of a need. I want to express my feelings, not explain them. The technique is only a means to achieve this result. Even as I paint, I work a general notion. I can control the flow of painting. In it there is nothing accidental, as there is no beginning and no end. " My painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the un-stretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. These are Jackson Pollock’s words but could have easily been those of Lionni. Such is the proximity - if in nothing else, in attitude - in the creative process between the two artists that, moreover, in terms of content, originate from and continue along completely different paths.

I personally have no inclination toward the entomological tendency to pigeonhole artists into trends, currents and generic -isms, but if I had to put Pippo Lionni in a box, I would press on the lid of that which carries the title of the New York School, which could actually be considered an empty box containing very different kinds of artists united by the same kinds of doubts, the same questions originating in the same ideological disorder; a kind of cultural similarity hard to define - even less, named – so much so that De Kooning declared "Giving us a name is a really disastrous enterprise." Lionni would fit in very well in that crowd, with Gottlieb, Pollock, Newman, Motherwell, Rothko etc., who did not theorize about art but practiced it with a kind of adventurous innocence, as spectators of their own creations.

Pippo Lionni also, in my opinion, acts with the same desire to be amazed, to caught by surprise by what is happening in the force-field into which he is pouring all of his energy. The action of painting, like jazz music, has a definite beginning around which are woven variations and improvisations, long extenuated notes, segments of syncopated notes, swing and abstract sounds. In Lionni’s paintings gesture produces forms of different width, length, rhythm of fractures, intensity of transparency, where each layer is born from the preceding gesture yet predicts the next one, in an agreement between mind, body and space, in a harmony that proceeds toward it’s end without a preconceived plan or point of termination, leading to the complete annihilation of the space.

Lionni did graphics, as a professional, and this is evident in the purity of his forms, from the precision of his lines, from the relationships between full and empty, and the overall management of composition of the image. His language is steeped in architecture and the urban, it breaths the air of big cities and subways, from which emerge the crossings, ramps, overpasses, misalignments and large curvatures. Everything in the linguistic construction of Lionni’s paintings brings us back to architecture, primarily to the physicality of the space in his paintings, a space that is traversed, shaped and continually crisscrossed by pictorial vectors that possess the physical consistency of a fabric of buildings, in fact the configuration of an urban trauma. But also from a figurative perspective, the dense texture of the lines, their performance on the surface and the intersection of their paths in spatial reality seem to obey the same diagrammatic code which, even though in a different way, dominates the graphic-architectural language. One discovers, while wandering upon these maps, the great universal system of urban communication, the idiom with which the Community regulates itself and embarks on the great adventure of building the cities. The overloading of gestures and their underlying meanings bring about the idea of a chaos that is a part of a hyper-urban reality that appears to be precipitating towards the catastrophe of annulment and, pictorially, brings us back to the beginning.

Carlo Nepi, 2015
* Bryan Robertson "Jackson Pollock" , Thames and Hudson limited, 1960
** Jackson Pollock, My painting, "Possibilities" n°1, N.Y. winter 1947-48



PIPPO LIONNI : BODY AND SOUL

Seeing Pippo Lionni talk about his painting, is seeing a body in movement: hands tracing the tension of a line in the air, arms expressing tempos and rhythm, chest bending to relive the memory of the gesture, shoulders evoking the surfaces that he pushes and pulls. It is seeing the power and the grace of a body in action evoking contrasts, transparencies, opacities, ruptures, edges and the empty spaces in his paintings.
Pippo Lionni lives his painting. It animates and electrifies him in a timeless trance to the rhythmic modulations of music. He sings, vibrates, inscribes ruptures, accelerations, silences, and respirations on his surfaces, with his energy, his vitality, his force.

He is immersed body and soul.

With this engagement of the soul, the painting also invades, crushes and eludes him. He loves this battle of opposing forces, the tension, loosing himself in the fusion, the complicity. Periodically he breaks away in order to return, to repossess, to see and talk to the painting differently, to be surprised by the accidents, by the unexpected.
In the solitude of the studio, day after day, he exults in extreme freedom, in the pleasure of being carried away by a loss of bearing, by the danger. Pippo Lionni never emerges unscathed but his painting remains, present, imposing, a witness to his ecstasy, his rebounds, his abandonment.

Valérie Grondin, Paris 2014



FRACTURED SPACE

"Because the jazz acquires its own vitality through improvisation on traditional themes, the jazz musician must lose his identity while discovering it." Ralph Ellison

"I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." Morpheus in “Matrix”

To step outside oneself is to acquire the constant and repeated awareness of one’s own otherness. "Car je est un autre," Rimbaud wrote in his letter to Paul Demeny in 1871, many years before the birth of psychoanalysis. "I don’t recognize the work I did the day before, I see myself outside myself and it's not me," is something that Pippo Lionni experiences every time he sets foot in the studio, escaping anticipated image in a kind of trance, induced by incessant music that accompanies his every gesture, which leads him not to recognize the work done the day before. Music, especially jazz, but also the poetic and haunting tones of Laurie Anderson, creates tension, and upon those pressing rhythms are born large geometric structures, in which the iconic signs that fracture the space, manifest and recreate it, thanks to pictorial weaving in which density of the matter thickens, or instead, thins till transparency in an overlapping stratification, where the lines applied with metal spackle knives, curve and intersect, slightly scraping the surface of the paper, giving life and an impression of subtle vibration of plans, (which canvas would not permit), which came to a sudden stop because the surface ends and our minds are unable to follow their escape to a somewhere else.

Lionni’s works, that spring from ample gestures performed with dance like movements, bear the imprint of the profound vitality of American painting of the Abstract Expressionism years: a style which, while on the one hand indebted to the epic sweep of the great nineteenth century landscapes of Thomas Church and Thomas Cole, was on the other hand an essential phase in the development of performing style the decades that followed. New Yorker by birth, French by adoption, and with strong ties to Italy, where he also has a study in Tuscany, Lionni certainly carries in his DNA the imprint of this American vein, further confirmed by his interest in shamanism, rites of which, as is known, also attracted Jackson Pollock.

The painful existential dimension - intricate, aware of the relativity of the moment, following the profound traumas of World War II - which is present in the drip paintings of Pollock and the canvases of Franz Kline, appears to be filtered and re-thought by Lionni, transformed by visions and a sensibility that are contemporary, by traces which, notwithstanding their eruptive appearance, yet reveal in the background of their haphazard trajectories and obsessive vibrations a more essential matrix, and one profoundly anchored in the present. In fact, if at first sight the drips remain along the lines in Lionni’s paintings might recall those present in the works of Color Field painting (for example, in Morris Louis’s work or smears of the line in Barnett Newman’s Onement, silent pauses after the frenzy of Action Painting), a sense of greater precession guides us to another source, possibly evoking the random trajectories of the cursor – albeit guided by numbers - that filled the screen of the computer in the nineties when idle, but also the numerical sequences that fell like rain in some scenes of the film the Matrix (1999).

Hence, Lionni’s forms posses a symbolic essentiality that has its origins outside painting, and reveal the artist's familiarity with the world of graphic design, animation and the digital realm, fields he has widely explored and experimented with numerous projects executed in earlier years, intended to explore the symbolism associated with the language of signs, to return to archetypal languages, to work as well on the most elementary icons of contemporary society (for example, the signs that indicate the masculine and feminine in public places), to understand how simple signs can allude to diverse meanings, and consequently introducing in his research that interest in semantics characteristic of French culture, to which Lionni was certainly sensitive.

The contamination of idioms and expressive areas that Pippo unfolds, even if transcended in the violence of the pictorial gesture, appears clearer if his paintings are confronted with the Barhan series of Andreas Gursky, who in his deconstruction of photographs of automated themes and in their digital re-elaboration recreates images inspired by the stylistic principles of painting, achieving an aesthetic abstraction of reality. Nevertheless, Lionni does not relinquish the turbulent and eruptive vitality of the creative act, in which one senses his struggle against the tedium, apathy and lack of dignity of our contemporary world. Despite its "loss of innocence," and therefore lacking the uncontrolled and overflowing impulse of Action Painting, Lionni’s work continues to express values of revolt against a society which, instead of evolving, seems to regress to the law of the survival of the strongest, following presumed ethical values, contrary to the primary desires of humanity, and of beauty.

An artist’s proximity "Could be a pain in the ass, as well as a mess," affirms Lionni, and reminds us that in Sweden, where he painted in recent months, using it as a studio Fredrik and Marie Westin’s cellar in Gustavsberg, the word for "artist" is "konstnär", a term quite close to "konstigt": confusion. From the studio his works inundated the whole house in a unified project.

The exhibition in a large space in Prato brings together recent works, created in his Tuscany studio, near Radda in Chianti; an area that has nothing picturesque, but tends on the contrary, in its majestic beauty, to the formal abstraction that was dear to the ancient masters and is now entirely consonant to accompany the monumentality toward which is directed Lionni’s search. Dominated here by the color black which the artist exploits, thanks to the pressure of the spackle knife on the paper, the thousand variations in tones, from the coldest gray to the most intense opaque black, deeply polished and aggressive, which evokes fresh bitumen and highlights the relationship of those works to an industrial object. In addition to the large sheets are other smaller, longer and very narrow paintings, in which black in accompanied by orange, green or even white. But those diagrams as phrases, which grow horizontally, similar to musical scores are often broken, troubled, disturbed by other more subtle signs, such as scratches, created using a pieces of wood soaked in color, to accentuate the manual element always present in Lionni’s art, in an aggressive but contrasting co-existence with the suggestion of the industrial and the digital.

Because in fact, as Walter Benjamin wrote, "Art means to comb against the grain of the fur," and is perhaps the only way of salvation for overcoming demonizing forms of chronic depression, and stemming that self-destructive folly inherent in the many offenses against the life of our planet ceaselessly perpetrated by contemporary man.

Laura Lombardi, Firenze 2014



RE-ANIMATION

Pippo Lionni has been showing his « Facts of Life » series since 1998. Whatever the medium, a collection of small fluorescent booklets, installations in art galleries, prints and animations, he operates a “reappropriation” in the use of pictograms, bringing them to life through a critical satire of our social existence. By means of an unceasing narrative and playful coming and going, his use of animation offers a new level of comprehension. « I usually work on site-specific installations modulating the temporality of confrontation in a given context. I use animation as a means to play with the duality between the abstract and figurative. From a distance one perceives a visual dynamic of moving forms; when up close, one deciphers the autonomous life cycle of the symbols, dependent on random, combinational and organic algorithms. This time/distance relation confers a new dimension to the « Facts of Life » series. With animation, one always wonders, « what is next? » says Lionni.

What else can these pictograms reveal? As a universal and normalized form of language, they land mark our daily life – to be perceived and understood by all without ambiguity. Representing the power of symbolic language, they are a schematic graphical representation, a stylized figurative drawing, functioning like a written sign language, which cannot be transcribed into oral language. Usually used in public signage, they are an alternative to multilingual text to describe a situation, to prescribe a particular behaviour or indicate potential danger. These symbols are published in the « Journal Officiel » as regulation. This visual language, which normally contributes to pragmatic submissiveness, is suddenly disrupted and makes apparent “the obvious” through carefully chosen stereotypes, and thus addresses diversity and enigma. As a graphic and industrial Designer, Pippo Lionni masters the tools and methods of communication in the framework of commissioned projects. As an Artist, Lionni plays with these tools and creates his body of work as a parallel universe, populated with signs and shapes and articulated by a two layered grammar, which cleverly takes us into his own repertoire of semiotics by a mirror effect.

Pippo Lionni scores a bull’s eye with the screening in Amsterdam, as his work finds its way back to the general public. Beyond moving the exhibition into a non-art context, the selection of Lionni’s 8 animations could well make everything tip-over. The Artist has his back against the wall. Which of the two will take over, the graphic Designer or the visual Arts Artist? Re-animation… to be re-animated is to be between life and death, at the doors of the purgatory, asking for a second chance, a second life. These animations are subject to traditional commercial programming, to the randomness of passers-by, to the uncertainty of life. If placed in the usual exhibition spaces of Contemporary Art, the shift would happen naturally, but confronted to public space, ambiguity shows its face… Finally! To the duality of his nature of being both a visual Artist and a graphic Designer, echoes a dialectic which confronts abstraction and figuration, macro and microcosm, identity and otherness, innate and acquired, passivity and activism, determinism and free will, commissioned and freely created work... Following the example of Hegel for whom “something is living insofar as it contains contradiction, which provides it with self-movement », Lionni is somewhat provocative, using the opponent’s weapons to destroy an undetermined, « thus perverted » thought generating bomb. Operating as an anti- propaganda act at the heart of the city, this Re-animation makes the political beat of his Art even stronger.

Whilst playing with the reversible aspect of images and the polysemy of these “ready-made” codes, he calls for introspection, for an ode to human condition and places himself as an Artist of truth –may it be Hegelian-, in the form of a cerebral pirouette. Not so distant from Street Art motivations and objectives, Pippo Lionni calls out to “Find the truth that lies within our-selves!”

(1. Official government publication of laws and regulations.)

Sarah Carrière-Chardon, curator & editor, contact@sarahcc.com, 2009



FACTS OF LIFE 5

Pippo Lionni's “Facts of Afterlife” just doesn’t leave one indifferent. The brilliant visual communication in the last 3 volumes caught us off guard, but here, instead of just aggressing us on the surface, we are bombed to the depths of our beings, of our unconscious. The worse part of it is, Pippo Lionni's banalized symbolic language - this designated modality of regulation - pushes us to dimensions charged with caustic humor, emotion, poetry... when it doesn't push us to dissidence. Terribly provoking, ironic and nasty beings reveal distinctly human qualities. As their author contends: "Each of these beings resembles us, The Robot suggesting our fascination for automation, The Pixel, virtualization, and Fragment, our orgasmic tendency toward self destruction. Their demise, their faults is their identity. We are as much the sum of our weaknesses (desire to kill, to play with fire, to destroy our environment, to destroy our selves, to age...) as we are the sum of our attributes (to love, give life, explore, survive, create, to fight for justice...). Like us, they are weak, vulnerable, containing in themselves life experience, subjugated by the trauma of memory. In perpetrating their acts they are the messengers of our history and of our humanity.

So how does one avoid damning this new "Facts of Afterlife,” that throws our weaknesses so blatantly into our faces? How can we avoid being seduced when they are so embellished? It’s all contradiction, the rational becomes crazy, our perfect world falls apart, and the cruel becomes tender. Immorality becomes touching, the destroyed becomes aesthetic, and the impure mutate turns into a new beast – accumulators of defect who resemble us, undermining our syrupy hopes and dreams of a better world. How can one bear that this "after apocalypse" doesn't give us a chance for redemption, no hope of improvement? We realize that this "end of the world" is here to stay, forever. That these scenes, portrayed as in the grand tradition, mark the aesthetic ecstasy of battle, that they are treated with the simple monochrome graphics, void of brush stroke or sweat is revolting. How can such emotion emanate from these simplistic beings, from these pencil-less drawings? Some of those drawings, so heavily loaded, infested with lost creatures, dismembered puppets, monsters from hell, risk reminding us of a "Last Judgment", domain where only masters such as Jerome Bosch have dared to tread.

So who does Pippo Lionni think he is? What right does he have to flirt with such a slippery thing as human representation, without the corniness (of many of his contemporaries), or superficial vulgarity (of advertising)? In his own words, “in adding detail, we explode the absolute divinity of the archetypal superheroes, like all of us, gain humanity through idiosyncrasy. And in the process of humanization the icon looses all its force of suggestion. And maybe, this is exactly what Pippo Lionni is doing: he points his finger and hits the bull’s-eye.

Anne Ferrer, Paris, 2006



FACTS OF LIFE 4

In his Facts of Life series, Pippo Lionni has created a repertoire of graphic icons to visually address subjects ranging from the most specific – you are what you watch on television – to the most universal – life and death, love and hate. His ability to go back and forth between the two frames of reference is sometimes startling, often funny, occasionally mind-shattering. The deceptively-simple “headball” in Facts of Life – 4 is both specific and universal at once: an iconic headless white figure, who is kicking his detached soccer-ball-like white head around on the ground, is placed against an abstract black background. The result is an existential conundrum.

Facts of Life – 4 opens with a series of striking mandalas inspired by the daily news. They deftly capture Lionni’s cosmic paradox: how to introduce the jarring realities of modern technological life into Buddhist circular evocations of the universe, the mandala patterns meant to aid meditation? For example, “compheadmanda” masterfully evokes the speed, panic, and heart-breaking destruction of media-dominated mankind whirling around into an eventual Zeus-like unplugging and escape into a transcendent, energized center.

Much less abstract are the tableaux portraying ways that modern man successfully interacts with technology – eating dinner with children wearing headphones, exercising virtually via television, or tossing the laptop in the trash. But when the technology is for waging war, Lionni’s iconic people are victimized, both virtually, via the media, and in reality. In “fleebombs” his running-man icons appear to be ants as they try to evade tiny airborne missiles. There is a foreboding anonymity. In “tanked3head” the heads on Lionni’s basic standing-man icons are being knocked off to bounce like balls along the ground. The size and shape of the symbols is crucial to the feeling of helplessness. Also victimized, but not by war, is the iconic duo (untitled, on pages 108-109) who are gradually obliterated by a dancing rioting crowd invading their space – all of this miraculously accomplished with multiples of only two icons plus a set of parentheses.

Now that Lionni has developed his array of icons beyond the basic man, woman, and child to include robots, pixelmen, fragmen, treeheads, eyeheads, televisionheads, handheads, and cellphoneheads, he is able to put them together into Brueghal-like crowd scenes where they interact and perhaps mutate. The precision of their visual symbolism allows or even demands viewer participation. A large crowd (untitled, pages 130-131), gathered around a mandala-like circle more or less in its center, seems familiar yet strange, with an exhilarating intensity and a sense of the simultaneity of past, present, and future. With Lionni, we don’t know yet if the future will be apocalyptic or ecstatic.

Penny Allen, 2006



A NEW LANGUAGE TO WRITE THE WORLD

If artists have the capacity to reveal the truth, it is through their inventions and transformations. In a world that we perceive more and more as image, reality as an idea has become inseparable from its omnipresent representations.

Pippo Lionni reflects on this state of things, on this endless slippery game of substitutions. His realm is the language of industrial symbols. As icons, humanity is reduced to abstraction : computer icons, digital codes and road signs... In reaction to the standardization of visual messages, he acts as a "sampler" to produce new trajectories for symbolization that determine the modality of our contemporary lives. Through quotation, association, opposition, recuperation, and never ever being satisfied with a unique interpretation, he plays the attraction and repulsion enacted by the "empire des signes". He appropriates a language - while at the same time reinventing it - based on logic of complexity and contradiction. He amplifies or hybridizes the symbols while emptying them of their immediate functionality.

His work could be described as minimalist or conceptual, if there didn't persist a narrative level, literary and critical, a "content" which completes and superposes in a particular way the technique employed. Pippo Lionni fully assumes the role of the artist as storyteller and contrasts the attitude of some of his contemporaries for whom art is a perfect and autonomous object. His work is, as many enigmas, to reestablish the meaning of image. Reassessing, questioning, wrong tracks, dead ends, are the means. Upside down flying men, toppling chairs, a hand on fire - all the laws of nature and the earth's attraction are broken. The objective is not to question the loose of meaning or purpose in our lives, but rather to reveal the obscurity that prevents us from seeing the truths in front of our eyes.

For him the aim is not to represent but to reorganize the world, and to discover new angles of approach. His pictograms illustrate, often with humor, sometimes with violence, what speech could only assess, limit, soften. If the first volume of "Facts of life" establishes the bases of his artistic vocabulary, the second proved the efficiency of his system. The third "Facts of life" shows how the artist's language has become affirmative and his attitude radical. Tackling more complex themes, pictograms are as many slogans, furtive signs, urges, desires or repression.

He acts more and more as an activist in the image war. His latest works, shown at the Galerie Frédéric Giroux, in the exhibition "Primetime" in June 2002, question in a frontal and brutal way the perverted effects of standardization of media images. The recent pieces offer oppositions, constant gaps between the signifier and the significant, fiction and reality. Thus setting out to highlight in a critical and incisive way this "ambiguous period of social communication history on the so-called generalization where media circulation of ideas and opinions, generally conceals the worst manipulations and underground existence of directive speeches."* On one exhibition wall "Primetime - Fuck me" is the image of a family, lazing at the dinner table, watching animated images of a couple making love on the tube. The same device is used in "Primetime - Kill me", but this time, it is the couple making love who watches a man being stabbed. Our relation to reality is endlessly disrupted by the reversibility of visual exchanges.

The work titled "Rape" symbolizes a woman whose body bears handprints. If the title were not so explicit, how would we interpret it? The hand is also a symbol for peace, the means of a caress? In "The name of God 1 and 2", the attacker is at the same time the aggressed. The artist likes to foil ready-made codes and reminds us of the plurality of meaning... titles and symbols rebounding off each other creating new connotations.

The book is a supplementary element that serves to weave meaning through installations. "Primetime" and "Facts of Life 3" show the changing complexity of an artist who, moving from one support to another, wants to shake up the world so as to draw a map of desire, to diversify identities and to increase aesthetic and existential interactions.

Whatever the medium: book, photography, installation, video... his work acts upon our faculty of representation in endless pursuit of analogy and of connection, but also upon our mental, physical and spatial perception. They explore our most intimate dimensions of the human psyche, the notions of impulses, and claim reversibility between horror and ecstasy, between violence and eroticism.

Rooted in his critical vision of reality, he accentuates, plays with and reveals hidden meaning. As such, the artistic product becomes a liberator. He ironically denounces intolerable social situations, narrow thinking and hypocrisy through the use of eloquent metaphors about any form of arbitrary conditioning which regulate our lives.

"Facts of Life" insists on the inefficiency and inaptitude of existing systems to discern the elusive "essence of existence ". Their portrayal of the human condition is scathing but not without humor.

Pippo Lionni reminds us that if art is a dispenser of emotions it is not least language and thought.

*Paul Ardenne in ? l'image corps, figures de l'humain dans l'art du XXe siècle ?, Ed. du Regard, Paris, 2001 p.377

Samantha Barroero, Paris, May 30, 2002



STUDIED PHILOSOPHY AND MATHEMATICS

Studied Philosophy and Mathematics at Portland State University and New York University. Using the universal and symbolic language of pictograms, Pippo Lionni portrays life. Through this abrupt and minimal universe, the artist shows us a mirror of the human condition. However, this political and critical work is also a humoristic vision of contemporary society. The graphic simplicity of this visual language is open-ended - leaving the spectator's imagination free to construct while never indifferent. The pieces are made of big rectangular steel plates on which pictograms play, fight and embrace, and from which emerges the essential meaning. The artist sometimes uses walls or ceilings - the pictograms then occupy the space, as if escaped from materiality. Those big installations give a physical and tangible dimension to the work.

Frédéric Giroux, 2001



...IN HIS NEW BOOK

... In his new book, Pippo went all the way - he invented a new language made of pictograms and articulates it to express the human condition. Never again will pictograms be the same for me. Now they belong to an expressed language that tells us of human relations. Now pictograms think, behave, live, love, lie and die. It reminds me of the Egyptians, with a codified set of symbols, figures, and signs to become a narrative. What I love the most in this book is the invention of a new way of telling stories to a world that is fundamentally visual, by using very well known signs and charging them with new meanings and associations - suddenly making them alive. I love them - I suddenly want them to have a name, or perhaps they should not since they are universal, above and beyond races, nationalities and context. I love the page full of question and exclamation marks, a beautiful synthesis of what life is all about, with the old pictogram fellow, cane in hand exiting from it. Or the joyful pictogram of lovemaking, the best ever done for such an intimate act.

In this book Pippo Lionni has been able to put together not only his past, but his future as well. I think the characters of the pictograms are forever and can forever articulate the aspects of the human comedy as it unrolls through time.

No longer abstractions from the Department of Transportation, these pictograms are living entities - they are us, are me, with all my doubts, my anguishes, my dreams, my fears and indeed all my joy. Pippo, thank you for having discovered us in those pictograms along the alienating corridors of endless airports and having transformed them into human beings with hearts, love, sex and babies, and an infinite desire to tell stories.

Massimo Vignelli, New York, 20/1/99