from Vanished Splendors, a memoir
Learn about the light's condition in the morning, after breakfast and reading the mail. This is one way to know if you will paint today, if the progress into the painting's mystery will be intense. Also, if the light in the studio will be good for penetrating inside.
Nostalgia for the mountains... helps me to move forward, to paint. That's what painting's about. I can almost say without exaggeration, that's all that it's about.
Everything incites us to be silent: powerful peaks and weighty snow enveloping us in white heaviness, simple, friendly chalets placed on mountain pastures, jingling cowbells, a punctual little railway snaking along the mountainside.
The coming day will help the painting advance, the one that has been in progress for so long. Perhaps a single touch of color, after long meditation in front of the canvas. Just that. And the hope of conquering the mystery.
The studio is a place for work. Indeed, for labor. It's a professional, essential place. I collect myself here, in this place of illumination. Everything plays out in the studio, in the fullness of time. I love the hours spend looking at the canvas, meditatiing in front of it. Hours which are incomparable in their silence.
The secret entry of forms onto the canvas is prepared, with barely sketched-in changes that topple the painting's subject into something vast and unknown.
One must know how to tame and acclimatize time, to extract meaning from it. Arriving at a possible revelation through the time that is devoted to a canvas. To live in hope of finding it, with that frame of mind and attitude. My work is always done under the influence of spirituality. That's why I expect so much from prayer. It invites you to follow the right way.
A painting is the same thing as a prayer: an innocence that is finally grasped, a moment torn from the disaster of passing time. It is immortality captured.
I have the reputation of taking perhaps a dozen years to complete a painting. I know when it's finished. That is, when it's accomplished. When no further touch or trace of color will happen to correct a world that has finally been attained, a secret space finally perceived. So ends the plentiful prayer offered silently in the studio. So ends the silent contemplation. An idea of beauty has been reached.
To paint as one prays. By doing so, to accede to silence and what is invisible in the world.
Painting has always taken care of itself. In order to reach it even slightly, I'd say it must be ritually seized. To snatch what it can offer as a form of grace. I must employ religious vocabulary as the most apt and closest to what I mean. To join with what is essential in this sacred world through a humble, modest availability that is also presented as an offering.
My eyesight does not always permit me to make out the landscape. The condition of light is enough to satisfy me. This snow-augmented transparency, dazzling apparition. To retranscribe its passing.
A balance among masses, and above all, a fluidity of air and quality of light that renders eveything more evident, with original clarity.
A responsibility to find the invisibility and spiritual secrets behind appearances and visible forms. Painting is only found in such crossings, in the passages between civilizations, in this metaphysical quest. Otherwise, there is no painting.
To preserve some primal unity, with the freshness of origins.
... openness, patience and peasantlike poverty, which must be acquired, and without which one takes on false naivete or artificial innocence. Living before the the Alps taught me that necessity. It placed me in a position to wait for this revelation, to experience the hope that it will free us.
I always begin a painting with a prayer, a ritual act that gives me a means to get across, to transcend myself. I firmly believe that painting is a way of prayer, a means of access to God.
Painting is both an interior necessity and a skill. One never repeats too often that the wanderings of contemporary painting happen because of lack of labor, and necessary silence. Painting is a lengthy process that consists of making each color, like making a note of music, connect to other colors, or collectively producing the right chord. Colors only exist in relation to other ones.
... knowledge through slow work in the studio...
Sometimes, before starting to paint, I stand for a long time in front of the canvas, meditating, trying to live inside it. A logn familiarity is acquired, sometimes with imperceptible changes. It's an unpredictable labor that winds up as a secret connivance, a mysterious encounter.
Painting has taught me to reject time's frenetic wheel. Painting lives outside time. I am trying to attain the secret of painting's quietude.
No one thinks about what painting really is, a skill like that of a laborer or farmer. It's like making a hole in the ground. A certain physical effort is needed in relation to the goal one sets for oneself. It is a discernment of secrets and illegible, deep, and distant paths that are timeless.
Later compositions of modern art were assemble by pseudo-intellectuals who neglected nature, and became blind to it. That's why I always fiercely relied on my own resources and the notion that painting is, above all, a technique, like sawing wood, or making a hole somewhere, in a wall or the ground.
I've always preferred the limpidity of great classical texts to modern poetry. Like Pascal, and above all Rousseau, whose Confessions have remained my sole bedside reading. In them I found the clarity and simplicity of language that one finds in great classical painting, the diamondlike transparency also visible in Poussin.
The idea of painting as I always conceived it, as stated above, has completely disappeared. Poetry has followed the same path, becoming intellectual, obscure, and hermetic. The clarity perceptible in Mozart, which Rilke sought, an obviousness, has been abandoned.
I've often thought that the best value and finest virtue was in keeping quiet and creating silence. I never interpreted my painting or sought to understand what they might mean. Anyway, must they necessarily mean something? That's why I so rarely discuss my life, finding it useless to describe it.
Rather than expressing myself, I've busied myself with expressing the world through painting. Besides, the moments of my life are drowned in memories of wartime; so many things almost killed me that there is something derisory and aleatory about chronicling one's life in a well-designed way. It's almost presumptuous.
Not a day without Mozart, his gravity and grace. What I admire most about him is the deliberation and haste with which he puts everything into a score simultaneously. He retains a lightness and subtle religiousness.
Painting and music merge, both speaking about the same things, seeking to reach the same vibration.
Striking the right note with an almost disarming simplicity. It is an art of offering unadorned lyrical song to the world, so knowledgeable and powerful that it cannot be seen. This kind of simplicity must be attained in painting; I've always told myself that proximity to all men and universality are esential to painting.
Spirituality must be sought and uncovered in its vast splendor amid the poverty of worldly things.
In my youth, I was able to make progress, thanks to the expertise and generosity of the great talents I encountered. By remaining modest, I was able to learn from them. At the time I was very open to the experience of others and attentive to everything. I never rebelled against their abundant advice. Surely I learned from them, that painting is an art of patience, a long story with the canvas, an angagement with it. Now, in my studio in Rossiniere, I can be satisfied with the progress and advancement of a canvas only if I meditate in front of the unfinished work. With one gesture, I add a single touch. This is slow art, in which the work continues, nonetheless. The haste of contemporary painters is atrocious insofar as it rejects the necessary craftsmanship that painting requires from those dedicated to it. Nothing can be done without a slow movement of the mind in unadorned humility, which noe must retain.
In the years 1925-1926, my habit of spending days at the Louvre copying Poussin led me into the adventure of painting. There i learned, better than in any school or academy. Boileau's advice: "Return to work a hundred times on your craft."
My advances were made in solitude, a solitude that was of course aided by the advice of masters who believed in me, and also my mother, who had great confidence in me.
These years of training -- "the uncertain years," as Rilke called them, of war, flight, exiles, and pogroms -- still retain the most emotion for me. These were years of "enthusiasm and fervor," as Gide called them.
Painting is a complete activity, which takes all of one's time, and when one isn't actually painting, one still paints anyway.
Each day that God gives us, I pray and meditate silently. This predisposition is essential to paint and escape from the world's calamities, its uncontrolled motion, and expensive noise.
I love impetuous, fiery, and mystical personalities.
I've worked, so to speak, with Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, and Fra Angelico... Their exactitude and extensive work, not always recompensed -- Masaccio died so young -- inspired me with fiery energy and convinced me to pursue my vocation. I recall the lengthy time spent with them during my bohemian years in Tuscany. I would go to rediscover them. I urgently wanted to copy them, to get as close as possible to them, to discover the secrets of their color. I spent whole afternoons before Piero della Francesca's frescoes in Arezzo's San Francesco church. No one knew the neglected painter then. To be alone with his work was almost surreal. I was plunged into the heart of painting, the heart of what I knew obscurely was the most brilliant painting. It was like uncovering the world's most sought-after secret.
My youthful years passed in these constant solitary initiations. Since then, I've kept a taste for solitude, the desire to enter alone into the mysteries of painting and fathom its depths.