A conversation with Enzo Cucchi
Enzo Cucchi is interviewed by Agostina Bevilacqua
Enzo Cucchi is one of the most prolific and eclectic contemporary Italian artists. His works are famous and in demand all over the world. Originally from Marche but Roman by adoption, his self-taught training is a consequence of his personal need to make art, to be an artist. Conventionally linked to the name of the Italian Transavanguardia, Cucchi’s art is multifaceted. He uses sculpture, drawing, painting and places them in space in an always original way. His range of work is varied from huge canvases to small sculptures. In the same way as the large strokes of blinding color leave room for detailed drawings. Drawings that take shape through words. The large, small, ancestral or ultramodern sculptures take shape from the matter as if they were prisoners from Michelangelo’s time though they want to tell us about the present time, the time of art. There are no conventions or convictions. Cucchi’s works confront us with the only truth which is that the only way to make art is to be an artist.
Let’s start from the beginning, from the word, or rather from poetry. In the first poetry collections published (“Head is an extension of the mind” from 1973 or “The poison was lifted and transported” from 1977) you write that you favour total illiteracy and you are against the language. Language becomes a mediator, a filter through which we transform an idea that by its nature cannot be “fixed”. Words and language change the meaning transforming it into something else. Rimbaud (which you very much love and present in your works), struggled in search of the meaning as the true essence trying to transform the word into pure matter and sound. A utopian and romantic struggle where the medium remains the alphabet. It would seem that you wanted to tear the pages of poetry in a less utopian way, naturally landing in the field of painting and art. If the meaning of the word is the sound, then the sign and the drawing becomes also a meaning. “…Painting is only that of legends, which really happened, because painting is real. They are not things that are told. Here in Acitrezza the cyclops threw the stones into the sea and that is true: here I see the stones where they landed.” (Enzo Cucchi 1979). The words tell a story, but that is a representation and is not enough, painting is reality. In your poems there are always drawings in the middle of words, they’re like children eager to walk with their own legs. Do you remember if there was a moment, a place, a vision, an illuminating thought where the word gave way to art? When the word/sound became sign/painting. Was it a moment of reflection or was it a natural and necessary process? A redemption perhaps for the poet Rimbaud who died in the hope of transforming the word into existence.
I never said I was a poet. If I wrote some texts, I did it out of necessity, like writing a letter to my girlfriend. There was no redemption between sound and painting, there was not even a passage, I have always done only what was necessary for me. Rimbaud did not want to transform the word into matter, Rimbaud wanted the word no longer to change the matter, he therefore wanted to be able to create a material that was “impenetrable” to the word, or he dreamed of enunciating words, sounds free from matter and that would not influence it. Rimbaud investigated, through this research, the temporal crossroads, the parallel universes. If Rimbaud has ever managed to produce a sound whose echo has not influenced the external matter, we will never know it in this timeline of events.
AB: Art is spiritual and conceptual matter that is expressed in tangible and physical artifacts. The idea is shaped by the action and the artistic artifact is the result of it. Having started making art during the period in which many artists used their body as an expressive medium (Acconci, Burden, Oppenheim, Pane, to name a few) were you involved or attracted to any of these actions? Artaud wrote in his letter to the Balinese: “I am a body / a mass, / a weight / a surface / a volume / a dimension / a side / a slope / a facade / a wall / a laterality /…” declaring the importance of the materiality of the body as opposed to the metaphysical vision of the body as a mere ‘prison’ of the spirit. And again he writes in his final work “Ideas do not move forward without limbs, and then they are no longer ideas but limbs, limbs at war with each other” where the release of the gesture is the ultimate goal of the artistic expression. Do you agree? How much are your ideas connected to the body and how are they filtered and modified by it? What is the relationship with your body, hands, legs, eyes? For your works you used many media, paper, canvas, marble, plastic, have you ever thought of using your own body or someone else’s as a medium?
EC: Artaud was one of the greats, his writing in images always moves me. But I don’t think that artistic expression has any purpose (release of the gesture? And from what? From the limits of the body that allowed that gesture to be true? These are frustrations typical of John Baldessari). A purpose is the result of a calculation, performing calculations is stuff for engineers, I decided to be an artist just to not have to deal with engineering. The matter regarding the body is a problem that does not exist. It is the result of a spoiled and luxurious society. The body is what it is. It is an applied and modeled mass serving various functions. Using the body as a medium… I am not a tattoo artist, everything that looks even vaguely medical disgusts me. Furthermore, in a unitary vision of reality, doesn’t holding a pencil and drawing on a sheet of paper mean that my hand, as a part of my body, is in itself the medium, together with paper and pencil, of that drawing? Drawing, together with sex, is the most powerful act that humanity can ever do. With sex, pleasure is elevated with the (potential) act of creating new life. With the drawing, I make the material plane and the conceptual plane interact in the most direct and faithful way possible. That of drawing is a two-stage act: – first I mark the mind with the thought, then I mark the paper with the pencil.
AB: Let’s move on to the last moving work on display at the MAXXI in Rome, on display in the spaces of the Gian Ferrari gallery. A cherub made of black marble peers through the hand making the gesture of the telescope, seeing his own big toe with a scorpion clinging behind it. A work full of iconographic references that run throughout the history of art and mythology. Here the scorpion is peacefully resting behind the big toe and the child does not seem to be terrified but intrigued. What does the scorpion symbolize for the artist Enzo Cucchi? In biological terms it is one of the oldest animals which has remained almost unchanged in evolutionary terms. As for the symbolic and mythological aspect, the scorpion has represented a multitude of meanings related to the concept of death and rebirth. Symbol of heresy during the Christian Middle Ages. Agrippa in the human body associates it with the genitals and with Mars, his passion and his generating force. It is also your zodiac sign, does it have any meaning or is it just a coincidence?
EC: How do you know that the cherub was initially meant to be black!? It is carved in gray bardiglio, but the initial idea was to take black marble, which then I didn’t find. The scorpion looks like an ant, it doesn’t symbolize shit.
AB: One last question. You are a self-taught artist. Outside the academic frameworks. What, if any, are the rules you follow? In your drawings and in life.
EC: What rules… I don’t know. The method is important, as in everything. The method derives from everyday life. Drawing every day, even when (especially when) the head is completely empty, it is necessary.