Claudio Viscardi Landscapes Of Vision

Landscape painting is not much in favour in contemporary art. The work of many leading artists of our day is inspired by life in the great urban complexes of our time and the human anguish they engender - one thinks of Bacon, Freud and Auerbach. The contrasting schools of abstract painting, dominated by the awesome colour-field painting of Newman and Rothko, derive their inspiration from the search for meaning in an industrial world estranged from nature (even if they have developed out of the colossal landscapes of Church and his contempories). However one might relate to the craftily recorded perceptions of the impressionists, the moody heart searching of the expressionists, the intellectual stimulation of the abstractionists or the limitless possibility of artists' ingenuity in recent decades, landscapes will always have their appeal because there will always be men who experience the wonders of nature and respond to it.

We are fortunate in that wherever we live in Ireland we are within easy reach of the green fields, the ocean shores and the hills or mountains. No matter how careworn we may be, how taken up with daily drudgery, however deeply entrenched in the gutter we are we can still look up at the stars. Our cities have parks, trees, flowers and birds.

We can catch “this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his ridingOf the rolling level underneath him steady air” (Gerald Manley Hopkins).

Our streets open to the skies. Our children still know that their milk comes from cows and their eggs from hens.

Claudio Viscardi bucks the trends of contemporary art. He paints landscapes, vast landscapes which breathe wonder. The mountains are vertiginous, the panoramas vast, the scene is awesome. It is no accident. He lives on the Beara Peninsula and the drama of that glorious setting has inspired his art. He captures in his paintings its vast, unspoilt extent of mountain, water and sky, as he himself says, “mountains or islands afloat in a swelling Atlantic ocean, mysterious ebbing, its depths unimaginable and powerful”. The disjointed subsections of his compositions entice the eye to move across the canvas to form and reform the image, to actively engage in registering and reassembling it and appreciating its complexity and extent. He speaks of his fascination with the “Notturno”, the landscape by night, the aura of moonlight on the countryside, its shimmer on the water's surface.

Claudio Viscardi also bucks the trend of our day in his reference to classical themes. At a time when we are forgetting, if we have not already forgotten, the classical and biblical underpinning of our European traditions, he recalls the heroes and heroines of the myths of Greek and Latin literature, of Ovid, Homer and Virgil: Odysseus, Ulysses, Helen and Paris, the Lapiths and the Centaurs are his familiars and they live out the passions and ambitions of us all, our concerns and preoccupations. In reflecting on them we come “to care and not to care, to sit still”. Through them he deftly inspires us to deeper and more profound reflection.

Two great maritime cities, Venice and New York, figure in the current exhibition, both endowed with extraordinarily beautiful island settings and both inspirational capitals of commerce and culture. Visits to both in the past year occasioned the association in his mind, their distant memory suggesting a vision of Atlantis. The Beara Peninsula joins them in providing the inspiration for these paintings and the location for some classical reference.

In “Passage to the New Arcadia” Manhattan and Central Park are depicted in darkness while dawn is breaking on the Beara Peninsula. Does not the park's sweeping arch in the foreground recall the memorable curve of the Rialto bridging the Grand Canal in Venice? That New York and West Cork are only hours apart might be suggested.

The “Fall of Phaeton” might suggest that the efforts of the artist in his studio compare to the grand design of the son of Helios, the Sun-God, to take control of the solar chariot's immortal horses. The artist's purpose is indeed ambitious and hazardous! He must be wary of Zeus's thunderbolt.

But these are paintings and the themes are developed visually with striking and delightful effect.

The artist's lush colours, those sensuous deeply hued blue and subtle greens and warm earthy browns with highlights of effervescent whites pleasure the eye. They are colours we are familiar and comfortable with but they are heightened here to an unfamiliar level of brilliance which intoxicates the senses and holds us spell bound. I love them and enjoy their sublime richness. He goes to great trouble to achieve his palette, mixing his own colours, crushing real Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, Malachite from the Urals and Marble from Carrara.

His perspectives intrigue and capture attention as we work our way through their labyrinthine passes. Landscape in his hands goes beyond the impression of a passing moment to take up in an ingenious and novel way the tradition of the great landscape painters of the past such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. This he does by breaking down the vast panorama into segments, adjoining panels which we reassemble. In this reassembling we are further engaged and stimulated.

The countryside has always had its appeal for me. I enjoy being out there, climbing the hills, walking the sea's edge. There nature casts its spell. It affects me, touches me deeply. It does more, much more. It gives me pleasure, it excites, it enraptures. It leads me well beyond my reach, lures me into hidden places, entices me to scale heights, calls me beyond the here and now to acknowledge a presence deep within me and utterly beyond, close to me and completely other. It is a presence that disturbs and comforts.

Wherever we find traces of man we find that he has marked out special places and called them sacred; Delphi, Delos, Kyoto, Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat, Glendalough, Skellig Rock, Clonmacnoise. Countless peoples, diverse nationalities of different culture and faith have found and still find in nature solace, repose, and delight; in its silence they have found an awesome presence. Our own valleys and hills are studded with dolmens and marked by crosses, chapels and towers.

So too, painted landscapes have a special appeal for me. Most of us can point to our favourites, the background of an altarpiece by Memeling or Van Eyck, a lush woodland by Van Ruysdael, Ashford, Gainsborough or Constable, by Yeats or McSweeney. Records of real-estate, souvenirs of adventure, discovery or pilgrimage, expressions of local pride, faith or joy, so they were in the past and are in the present for the painter, patron or the viewer. They invite us to wander and to wonder. The open seas extend our horizons; the open skies raise our roof-tops. Our troubles are dwarfed, our fears calmed. We find new courage, we sail on for the distant horizon, and we climb onwards for the summit. The wonder of a landscape is that it can transport us from the confinement of our homes to other realms, to that other realm of the Other, the Sublime. We find the peace, the quiet, the repose that intimations of immortality bring.

Claudio Viscardi's paintings have that power. The light filled horizons which that luminous white portrays suggest it to me. Those blue, deep blue skies aglow with mystery and delight with those vast landscapes, images of everywhere and nowhere where great events take place are places of struggle and contemplation and illumination inducing quiet, repose and solace. They leave us the richer for their encounter.

Frank X. Buckley

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Detail of Venice Notturno -