Valerio Dehò

The oeuvre of Giorgio Conta – a young artist from Trentino – alternates public works, also related to the world of the Church, and a ‘laic’ production, which to date has been particularly appreciated for a series of portraits of jazz players. His work proceeds on multiple levels, as a result of his personal choice to focus his efforts between painting and sculpture – a very uncommon case, for sure – and because, though his professional training might be completed, his artistic personality certainly is still evolving. A son of an artist, his father Livio Conta is one of the most renowned sculptors in Trentino. Giorgio has always looked up to his father’s example, who definitely remains a role model also in terms of complexity of themes and diverse media, while at the same time he is also a limit to overcome. In any case, this young artist has all he needs to emerge and it would not be a bad thing if he continued to pur- sue both painting and sculpture over the years, as both these media seem to help him very much in finding ideas and exploring new aspects of representation. With respect to painting, for instance, the series devoted to jazz music and jazz players provides a clear indication of his work, as the painting perfectly conveys the strength, impetuousness and dynamism of the image. While depicting jazz players, the works are devoted to single music pieces. The titles of the paintings are a sort of great anthology of jazz music, almost a collection of standards, of songs that have made his- tory: Ornithology (Charlie Parker and Benny Harris), Birdland (Weather Report), Autumn leaves (Nat King Cole), Funky blues (Johnny Hodges), My one and only love (Guy Wood), Like someone in love (Jimmy van Heusen), and others.

This seems especially crucial, since Conta wants to portray music, rather than the appearances of famous jazz players. Behind these works, there is a deep knowledge of jazz music, and the belief that music is what remains, among many images that flow through the history. It is about conveying a feeling and giving visual shape to a music piece, which is always a highly abstract medium, compared to visual arts. This is where the awareness of the artist draws the attention to the fact that playing means exactly giving substance to feelings, and in his paintings in particular the brush stroke conveys the bite of a solo, the biting sound of a saxophone or the gurgle of a trombone or the great rhythm of a double bass. Of course, this is not a mere translation: it means starting from the feeling and turning it into expression. Giorgio Conta is perfectly able to do so, and his last paintings show a great strength of persuasion and a mature level of composition. The very fact that musicians are recognisable becomes totally irrelevant, or it can be a game that follows the full enjoyment of the work. This is why the series of works devoted to jazz music has no illustrative intent whatsoever; it starts from a careful analysis of the feelings that music – that music – inspires in the soul of the listener. After all, on the one hand, jazz inherits the abstract soul of music, but on the other hand, it has a popular origin, arising from a direct sensitivity, from improvisation and there  fore from that instinct and that verve that always give rise to new variations of musical pieces. Jazz is always lively.

For this reason, Giorgio Conta’s sculpture, by working on the stiffness of matter – wood or plaster – looks for its own interpretative style in the gesture, in paying the utmost attention to the jazz player’s effort and commit- ment to his instrument. Human figures exposed to the wind of jazz music flutter like palms, the effort of bring- ing out a sound from the metallic hardness of instruments become a sort of labour of Sisyphus, which starts all over again with every song. This way of reading the relationship with music in general is very effective, as it disregards any imitative principle and achieves the con- dition of a paradigm of feelings, a sense of things that becomes art through a very intense expressive force. The best way to judge these works, as a whole yet keeping their differences in style into account, lies in the fact that you do not realise that music is not there, that your ears are not listening to anything. Then again, maybe, it is not so. Indeed, we see through our eyes, we are immersed in a synaesthesia, and we understand to what point the artist’s wishes have come true and what effort, passion and prowess have flowed into the painting or sculpture that we are watching.

Even the portrayal of mountains reveals not only the obsession for a theme such as landscape, but also a fixed idea for a problem: how to paint the same subject in different ways. Moreover, it is evident that, for Conta, this is also about trying to find a form of emancipation from what is in his genes and makes up his everyday perception. We also know that Cezanne often painted the Sainte-Victoire Mountain. Every time he did so, his painting made a leap forward, going in the direction where his research was taking him. Something similar happens with this artist from Trentino, not only because the landscape and especially the mountain changes so much depending on the season, its stillness is only an illusion. Actually, the light reveals or evens out volumes continuously; the artist’s sensitivity is able to seize its infinite variations and conveys them on paper or canvas. Giorgio Conta prefers a strong stroke, something that digs into the pictorial surface in the same way as gouge and chisel do with wood. This act of engraving is important because – on a symbolic level – it means bringing out, sculpting the two-dimensional surface to bring not only the subject’s potential, but also past mem- ories to light. Unlikely Cezanne, who devoted countless masterpieces to the mountain in Provence, the case of Conta has not only poetical and stylistic implications, but also personal ones. His studies on lights, shapes, on the blinding white of the snow, on the iridescent colour of the rock are not an exercise in style for its own sake; rather, he aims at deeply investigating the substance of mind. It is also a way of trying to overcome the limit that the mountain represents, to go beyond: free art, turn- ing an obstacle into a door. Sironi tried to do something similar in the 1950s: his palette reminds of this stiffness, this ability to penetrate the elements. The same running paint highlights a dynamic perception of the mountain groups; the tendency to dig and the liquid touches give the idea of a continuously evolving work. There are amazing hints of liquidity, clues of an unexpected thaw or of a contemplation of the landscape behind a glass sheet streaked by the rain. Everything is so beautiful and unusual when the balance is not questioned by a composition that is too regular. After all, this reminds to some extent of what we said about jazz music: Giorgio Conta is interested in the feeling and in the instability between physical perception and his internal resonance, as Kandinsky would say. For this reason, his mountains are enchanted like a Romantic landscape, understood as an ongoing visual conflict, as the dense relationship between seeing and hearing. Rather than downright tragic, they are slightly disturbing, like de Chirico’s mus- es. Of course, they are never stereotypical or banal; on the contrary, they are as intense as an idea from which you cannot get away. They are moods and earthly forces with which you have to deal all the time, enter into a respectful dialogue, recognising them as peers. “I want to see my mountains,” is the famous quote by Seganti- ni on his deathbed, but a contemporary interpretation such as Giorgio Conta’s one does not celebrate an affec- tion, a mood providing the ultimate definition for the theme of origins. It is an attempt to go beyond and turn the mountains into an expanding – rather than closed – universe, an origin that is the expanded border and the chance to finally look at your own landscape as some- thing unknown and different.

His recent sculptures represent a phase of refinement of his oeuvre, with reference to both the composition of the human body and the attempt to continuously break the surface to create bends, holes, contrasts that amplify the smoothness of the central figure. It seems as if the artist feels a strong need to grow beyond the canons of art and go his own way, an original way, with more urgency than he has done so far. The solemnity of figures, on the one hand, comes from his attendance of the Ortisei art school, with young masters such as Walter Moroder, Peter Demetz or the younger Gehard Demetz, who have become internationally renowned sculptors, and on the other hand from his experience and exercise in the world of sacred art. This remains an important school, because it is a public client and also because in any case it requires the artist to deal with tradition and well-established patterns. However, even from this perspective, Giorgio Conta aims at his own expressiveness by highlighting the details about which he cares the most, such as hands and feet, thus creating real metonymies. The celebration of the figure in sacred art too is not only essential to the narrative; it also meets the expected purposes. However, for instance, in Madonna con Bambino (Madonna and Child), the man- tle that opens up like a breach in the rock and wraps up the Child Jesus becomes a reference to some works that we call profane, such as Ragazza con Accappatoio (Girl with bathrobe). This means that, in spite of the differ- ent clients and unavoidable influences in works to be displayed in consecrated spaces, Conta always works to enhance his way of painting and sculpting, he does not let others influence him. After all – to make some very high comparisons – Caravaggio or Guido Reni definitely did not feel degraded when they worked on commis- sion. Indeed, the client and the rules concerning com- missions have always emphasised the skills of artists, they are evidences of performance skills and creativity. Namely, Giorgio Conta’s sculpture, also with that fragmentation of some parts put back together in certainly not typical and natural situations, is an attempt to ana- lyse and constantly put the sculpture back together as a language. The very fact that some details are perfectly sculpted or moulded, while other areas are left in a state of potential shapes, not only reveals remarkable analysis skills, but also his attempt to reach a threshold, a balance between gesture and shape, figure and informal, naturalism and non-iconicity.

This is an essential process for sculpture, which he man- ages very well. Indeed, he has never given up on stylisation, and has often dealt with complex sculptures, real groups. His stand-alone sculptures always reveal his search for a religious silence, an absolutely private form that fits art devoted to sacred occasions very well. The female body of a girl with a bathrobe in some versions made of wood (or terracotta) and plaster gives a special meaning to his ability to encapsulate the smoothness of the female body, the proportion of its parts, its slim limbs, with the mantle/bathrobe that wraps it up and uncovers it at the same time. The effect of combining the nude with the dress that becomes a place, a setting for the appearance of beauty, is perfect. The outcomes of this perfectly harmonised contrast are definitely important. However, there are works with a balanced composition, such as Insieme (Together), in which the characters are placed in an open gate, almost an arch that draws the space as if it were devoted to that specific action. In other sculptures too, the artist arranges a contrast, a background formed by vertical segments that make shapes dynamic, with a view to almost nullifying the difference between painting and sculpture.

These are all paths, phases of transition towards an increasingly more personal style, towards the ability to recognise and make others recognise his own style, which is what marks the maturity of any artist worth the name.