The studio of sculptor Pino di Gennaro is located in a charming and unexpected corner of countryside in the middle of the city: a green oasis that the height of the surrounding tower buildings seem to want to protect. An ideal scenery for the magical work of this extraordinary sculptor, Pugliese by birth but based in Milan, man of intellect and culture as much as creativity and technical prowess. In an atmosphere suspended between the real and the fantastic, the bulky shapes of the surrounding buildings interact with the vegetation that embraces the garden and with the impressive, soaring biomorphic figures, molded in papier-mâché, that occupy the rooms of the workshop. A fine game of visual and mental references, a labyrinth of images where to lose oneself, to slow down and think, to catch breath during the hasty daily rush. In this idillic frame one can here the voice of Pino Di Gennaro’s creatures, a lively, enveloping voice, that charms but does not cheat, and narrates of a universe made of sky, earth, air and water, a world similar to ours if it wasn’t for that sense of peace, of cultural exchange, of cosmic harmony it belongs to. This would be the place to start to relate the human and artistic journey of Pino Di Gennaro: the message behold by these objects, that can suggest us important elements to reflect upon.
For Pino Di Gennaro art should have a public dimension. A work of art should not only be a charming furniture peace, not only possess a decorative, aesthetic value, it cannot be the complacent reflection of its creator’s ego.
Sculpture in particular can and should have a social role, it should occupy the public space, talk to people, open up to those who aren’t interested in art, those who don’t know about art, and finally to those who wouldn’t come close to art otherwise. Sculpture can help add value to enhance quality of life in a street, square, district, town, city… not just as urban decor, but because it is able to bring strangers together, generate debates, promote moments of interaction and dialogue. Thus Di Gennaro’s highest aspiration is for his artworks to become public, out of the door and into the streets, break free from the idillic green corner where it was conceived, and get out to fulfill its real duty. And it is surprising to see how Di Gennaro’s work occupies the public space. Gazing at the sculptures outdoors, as they are immersed in the texture of the city, we learn of their real nature. Thinking for example to the Monumento alla Pace (Monument to Peace), made in 1997 and installed in Piazza San Secondino at Troia, his hometown, or, better even, to the two monolithic columns soaring by the entrance of the juvenile court in Sassari, Sardinia. All his work is conceived as site-specific. Their meaning is partly represented by their collective function, by the dialogue they will be able to initiate with the surrounding environment, in how they would relate with visitors and by-passers.
There is something unusual in this concept of ‘public artwork’: something that takes back to an idea of citizenship too often trampled upon in modern society, which brings back to the role of art in ancient cultures, when urban decor, public space, monuments were considered a sign of good government, precious tools of power and promotion, but also instrumental to the education of people and to the historical/philosophical debate. Di Gennaro’s works, let us make that clear, do not want to impose a meaning. They do not have any ideological connotation. They want, rather, to stimulate dialogue and give thoughts, to awake that sense of citizenship we mentioned before. In order to fulfill that objective, they speak a universal language, formed by elements that constitute mankind’s identity: the animal, vegetal and mineral universes, the intellectual sphere, fantasy and history. The etchings on its surfaces behold the memories of mankind as a whole. At times they can remind of rolls of scriptures or ancient Mesopotamian seals, elsewhere they resemble etched columns, monolithic presences that silently take over the space, or, moreover, they become globes, sorts of mysterious celestial bodies… They transform, take different shapes, but maintaining their whole extraordinary character, that bridge between sky and earth, between the realm of the real and that of ideas.
Although Pino Di Gennaro’s sculpture retain the charm and flavour of ancient times, it still escapes the classification of time. They talk about our times, yet do not seem to belong to it, as if coming from an Eden far away, a dimension where no language or culture barrier, no race or religion discrimination (yet?) exist. Part of their charm consists of this dual essence of archaism and modernity, presence and absence, physicality and spiritual tension, stillness and dynamism. A dichotomy that strikes the perfect balance, creating harmony instead of contradiction. Di Gennaro’s sculptures rather thrive upon these juxtapositions, and within them they find their balance: an active element always correspond to a passive one, a dynamic line is always followed by a static one, the volatile lightness of a shape is contrasted by the motionless physicality of the next. Here, it is clear, the consummate skill of an artist that has worked with these materials for years. An artist that not only knows the secrets of technique and how to employ them with skill, uprightness and discipline (a rare quality) but also loves his trade deeply. His choice of materials is also extraordinarily diverse, materials he treats with both conventional and innovative techniques, preferably in his studio, even when it comes to complex procedures such as bronze casting. It is not by chance that he matches more conventional materials (bronze for example) to unexpected ones: especially papier-mâché, instrumental to most of the artist’s production. A ductile and chromatically versatile material, papier-mâché is, in my opinion, the material of choice for Pino Di Gennaro. Thinking about it, it is really a ‘sustainable’ material, thus coherent with the artist’s ideals: besides its evident aesthetic virtues (its sensual organicity for instance, compared to the static coldness of metal), in fact it also has low production cost, allowing lower pricing and consequently a wider circulation of his artworks. In terms of outcomes, one could look at the Pilastri del Cielo (Pillars of the Sky) series to get proof of its prowess: a universe, suspended between sky and sea, charming and mysterious yet never frightening, but rather welcoming, as a familiar dream, a shelter for the soul. Lively, dynamic shapes that seem to bloom, wave, breathe… That seem to appease the soul and stimulate tact: it is difficult to refrain from touching them, as if they could react to our fingers. The sensory involvement that his work is able to awake can be testified when looking at the two Sculture per Ciechi (Sculptures for the blind) made for the cities of Gallarate and Alghero, extraordinary, symbolic examples of the possibility to overcome a physical boundary to the perception of a work of art.
In Di Gennaro’s work one can see the influence of Boccioni of course, even Balla, I would say, with his imaginative and colourful Futurist flowers and its blooming springs, and Fontana, with his Nature and its locations, and Alik Cavaliere, who Di Gennaro knew and respected. But it is mainly the character and personality of an artist who made of his practice much more than a trade: a mission almost if one takes into account the care Di Gennaro put into teaching, into divulgation and didactics, to the artistic practice as therapy, psychological help to overcome extreme conditions (for example the artist contribution to the psychological rehabilitation of victims of bullies is extraordinary and well known). And there it is, once again, social commitment as a primary objective of the artistic practice.
That of Pino Di Gennaro is a long, complex journey, tiresome at times, but always sustained by the enthusiasm and the conviction of ‘acting good’. The dream of peace, unity, sharing that the work of Pino Di Gennario carries is a message for both sky and earth. It’s an idea that concerns all of us.