by Irene Gianello
I PERIOD: Golden and azure serenity
II PERIOD: plasticity
III PERIOD: the calm and the storm
FULL ARTISTIC JOURNEY
Technique and Stylistic References
At the beginning of her career, Raffaela made an artistic choice based on a variety of stylistic directions. Out of didactic necessity, she gave a break to all the techniques she had learnt up to that time, from pencil to charcoal to oil painting, which she feels is most her own and which proves to be the first process she seriously approaches. The variety of her production makes a stylistic subdivision into periods possible, which are listed and described below. They represent real passages of artistic evolution and a corollary of vicissitudes and feelings related to her private life.
I PERIOD: GOLDEN AND AZURE SERENITY
I Period: Golden and azure serenity
Works from the early period, from 1979, date back to this phase. The tones of the first period are lukewarm and meditative, with strong components of serene blues, but always in a trend of chromatic evolution. The dark, decisive tones that reflect the artist’s seriousness and intensity immediately accompany his production as a marginal element, however, concealing a real need for identification. This includes a homage to Modigliani through whose example the colours warm up and intensify in the final messages and, as with the great master from Livorno, she studies the face not for the sake of perfection or to pursue the schematic nature of the Greek canon, but to discover something more immediate, the essence. The brushstroke becomes faster, the colour is spread with little softness and greater plasticity that leads to its later maturity.
II PERIOD: PLASTICITY
II Period: plasticity
The serenity of the beginnings is followed by a period of particularly bitter family events that greatly affects the artistic data as if to materialise a feeling. The brushstroke becomes faster, more decisive and less evocative in the unconscious desire to reflect the female temperament. This exquisitely autobiographical note accompanies much of her production, proving how art is a therapeutic phenomenon as much for the recipient as for the hand that produces it. In this phase everything becomes more physical and tangible, the colour is spread with a restrained softness that does not exceed and does not intend to declare the final result, in the aesthetic datum, because volumes are like feelings, they need to manifest themselves. Plasticity becomes the dominant element that creates that sense of concreteness and dimension, that structure that the artist most probably felt the need for.
III PERIOD: THE CALM AND THE STORM
III PERIOD: the calm and the storm
Personal events alternate moments of strong commitment with satisfaction, pain, falls and continuous rises, in all cases the common denominator is dedication. Art is reflected in a diverse style in which oil painting predominates, to which other mixed techniques such as tempera and enamels are added, not for mere experimentation, but as a tribute to a more complete art and a very clear message, the desire to give more. It is the period of BLUE – the much-loved colour that is lost in a thousand shades – Raffaela explains.
Full artistic journey of raffaela
Full artistic journey of Raffaela
In 1968, the Art Institute of Castelmassa (RO) awarded a diploma to Raffaela Quaiotti, contributing to her professional training. Learning painting, plastic and textile techniques influenced the artist’s versatility and sense of colour. Her career began as a teacher of art history and geometric drawing in the public school, but towards the end of the 1970s, Law 517 changed her life. She became a support teacher and discovered in disability an inexhaustible resource that influenced her entire production, transforming it into content painting. Her thought is summed up in the philosophy of BEING as a PERSON to be protected in all its characteristics beyond homologations and contrasts. Diversity can be a resource if experienced with intensity and respect. Imparting drawing and various decoration techniques to students with disabilities involves a step-by-step transition from essential and geometric shapes to the human figure. The choice of bright colours and the decomposition of shapes and volumes sees its gestation in this teaching process where the catchment area has very particular needs. Bright colours and a clear structural and dimensional definition help the disabled person to assimilate the concept of art more easily. These elements remain common denominators in the artist who, unconsciously or not, has retained and developed them throughout her production.
Many of Raffaela’s works represent bottles within spaces shaped by shapes and colours. The subdivision of volumes is proposed by colour combinations that are sometimes coherent, sometimes bold. In the yellow/blue pairings, the choice of blues has variations that impose themselves with measured progression. In an attempt to clarify an evolution of forms and colour gradations, here are two works compared that are stylistically and chronologically distant. The scale of the monochromes intelligently fades in the work ‘BOTTIGLIE IN BLU’ executed around 1992. In a composition in which essentiality tells of a pleasing exercise in style, light plays a deceptive role by irradiating the scene from several directions with the aim of conferring dignity and consciousness on the portrayed subject. The artist wants to illuminate from within to demonstrate essentiality and not its boundaries. Part of the light comes from the left, clearing ‘the bellies’ of these jugs, while another source proceeds from the right. The most important role is played by the ray that originates from the inside to assign centrality to the scene, giving the sense of a concentric light. This directional ‘oxymoron’ becomes complementary to the choice of the ‘gradual monochrome’ that the artist occasionally employs with the much-loved ultramarine blue.
Five years later, in 1997, another work declares an evolution in terms of colour and compositional synthesis. I GIOCHI DELLA LUCE (BLU)’ is executed with the same intent of measured composition, but the rhythm, the choice of colour, the structure of the background, the position-overlapping of the objects has a stylistic character of greater awareness. The subject of the work is a rose inside a blue vase that undergoes a reversed protagonism compared to that granted to the earlier compositions. The flower enjoys a distant centrality given by the stratification of the scenic levels and its importance is rendered by the luminous degradation that the painting reserves for it with respect to the other subjects that are excessively illuminated by choice. The transparencies that the artist indulges in have a symbolic meaning as the desire to abandon the somewhat anonymous softness of her early compositions towards more geometrically articulated and decisive forms. In many of Raffaela’s works, the preference falls on the object-bottle, a solution that conveys an allegorical intent, a part for the whole that sublimates a message. This repeated artefact fixed in her imagination stands for a more committed idea, a hypothesis of symbolic painting that one gets used to by studying the artist. Her jugs are humble objects, they draw on the everyday and recall the inalienable principle of usability, but in this context they are enriched by metaphor. In her compositions, the profiles of the objects intertwine as if they were individuals at a banquet, all suffering from too much appetite, meeting and clashing while maintaining their own hieratic individuality given by the vertical element that composes it. And so randomness becomes design and the unconscious becomes consciousness. In a geometric-affective reading, the lines become the profiles of an individual who yearns to get out, but remains caged by his own boundary. This repetition of planes and colours have a distant echo in Futurist experiments and if on the one hand they wink at the transversality of Giacomo Balla in that aesthetic welding of chromatic frequencies in geometric volumes, in painting, furniture and fashion, on the other hand they make use of a somewhat composed and frontal Cubism that does not want to dismember the form at all costs, but prefers to dismantle the load-bearing lines of the space that hosts it in the superimposition of planes and in the chromatic quarrels that accompany them. Another sensibility dresses the artist in fantastic episodes: metaphysics. The dreamlike settings are well matched with acid or chromatically mixed tones in which ultramarine blue returns as the salvific element of an unreal dimensional solution. Her squares like the background architecture are isolated and distant theatrical backdrops that echo the silent narration of decadent images.
The role of women in Raffaela’s production is complex and strongly autobiographical in tone. Her first female work dates back to 1977, a reproduction of a Hispanic woman entitled ‘LA DAMA SOGNANTE’. The painting of this period is still young and immature, but not without a certain determination and pride that will accompany the woman behind the artist throughout her life. The solemn setting of the subject is suggested by deliberately irregular proportions, the outstretched torso culminating in a very long neck and an abundant and dilated décolleté wrapped in sumptuous clothing with a Renaissance flavour in the sumptuous sleeves and in a stylised and unreal ruff. The jewellery enriches a composed, gentle but self-conscious femininity, the refined hairstyle tells of a Mediterranean sweetness even if the algid presence might recall a northern beauty. Colours play a fundamental role, we are in the midst of Raffaela’s artistic development, it is her first experiment and one of the most successful, and precise tones already impose themselves. In an unconscious descriptive reminiscence this subject is compared with the sacred female image par excellence that the history of art usually reports in which the Virgin is dressed in flesh (red) and cloaked in sacredness (blue). And the blue here is there and has wide colour fields, giving a solid foundation in the marble setting of the subject as if it were a calling card of the hand that portrays it. Replacing red as the colour of the earth, of suffering, of the tangible, is a shade very dear to the artist and recurrent in her work. Raffaela’s yellows are never total or absolute, but often fade into burnt tones that decay into browns. Ochre is a reassuring hue that does not involve useless and unconventional ‘shimmering’, it recalls the value of the everyday and of harmony, but also a principle of rationality and conscience because it is a meditative, controlled, earthy and material colour, like sienna and all the shades of those orange tints between the warm and the indefinite that make Raffaela’s painting a ‘temperate’ art. The choice of presenting a disjointed figure in a chromatic dialogue with the background of the composition, perfectly combines the sense of unfinishedness of the work that we rarely find, but which in this case declares an authentic artistic vocation. The face of this girl is still young and relaxed, showing no signs of suffering, but rather a measured approach, and the red lips declare an intent of well-being in a barely noticeable grimace of a smile. Throughout her vast production, Raffaela reports many female faces, each with its own history and dignity; the techniques are as varied as their intertwining in the desire for experimentation.
Twenty-three years after the first artwork, ‘WOMAN WITH A LONG NECK’ dates back to around the year 2000, an original work that is part of the stained glass series. The distance between the two executions makes a critical synthesis necessary to define a stylistic and content path. The glass imposes a specific colouring on which Raffaela plays with undoubted casualness. The artwork depicts a woman within an apparently complex scene in a thematic path far removed from the ‘quick snapshot’ of the first exercise. The artist introduces the silent presentation of a speaking subject who, devoid of common verbalisation, leaves her long life story to her body and expression. The sounding board is rather a noisy meeting of colours that filters an imagined and rarefied reality with an abstract sensitivity of overlapping, disorganised and angular lines and volumes. The woman who populates this tiny space is described with sporadic roundness because she is afflicted by a harsh and heavy linearity in the definition of the face and in the long neck that pivots to a vertical compositional synthesis. It is a strongly symbolic painting. The slender support declares the fatigue that a mature woman must endure in the various contexts of life, the family, work, and daily relationships with the world. This woman is very different from the serene composure of the beginnings. If in the former case the face appears relaxed and the colours accompany the serenity of the portrait, now the features are strongly marked by impending concerns and the centrality of the subject emphasises this truth. The colour ochre returns, albeit with a different meaning because here it represents an essential background to the black Indian ink made necessary to define the eye, the first wrinkles and the essential features, but above all the dark circles that reveal a suffering reality. This extraordinary image suggests an autobiographical reading and a feminine ideal of deep respect beyond many words and artist’s traits, and in the ‘deafening silence’ of her hieratic pose it conquers and moves with intense sweetness.
Over time, Raffaela’s female depictions are enriched by a common denominator, the semi-rounded rhombus-shaped eye. This detail is also found in the religious subjects such as ‘MADONNA TRA SACRO E PROFANO’, a beautiful portrait of the Virgin told, already in the title, with unprecedented sensitivity. The woman portrayed carries with her the humble origins of a Jewish girl who, in the midst of her young existence, made up of ordinary dreams, sees an unexpected vocation infused when events take a divine direction. The Virgin is sumptuously dressed in the red-blue combination already anticipated and in a rich crown that at times touches the borders of the painting. The background recalls the heaviness of the decorations and the brushstroke becomes more decisive in the name of an increasingly plastic drafting. The overabundance of reds and golds meet the firm simplicity of this clean and proud face with an invitation to live one’s faith far from excesses of adoration by virtue of simplicity and prayer. In this work, silence has an incredible artistic force and Raffaela has given great proof of stylistic intelligence.
Closing this short journey through Raffaela’s vast production is a work that is worth all the others in terms of beauty, intensity and style: ‘La trilogia della Donna’, her longest running and most complete work. Executed at the height of her artistic maturity in the mid-2000s, it uses the technique of collage to clarify the different points of view that compose it and a rich narrative that curiously unfolds in reverse, from the end towards the beginning. It is a reading with an autobiographical matrix, but transversal to any female subject, be it woman, mother, daughter… The trilogy of the woman recalls the concept of the ‘three Graces’, but in disagreement with classical mythology, it takes on a completely different meaning. In these three minute rooms, symbolic of three different situations, beauty is a concept dilated and accompanied by other sentiments including love, the true and universal kind, sacrifice and dedication, proving that the catchment area of the work can be anyone. There is no model of perfection a woman should strive for, no list of qualities a perfect woman should have, it is just a story, a beautiful ordinary story to reflect on. Behind the principle of motherhood, however, lies a woman, her hopes and her youth. The first female face portrayed is absorbed in this limbo of innocence and the unfinished eyes leave room for different interpretations. The second passage is the growth of the children who must be taught a direction in life, the mother’s face is scarred but confident, a blue veil half-covering her face in a continuous debate between difficulties and feelings. Finally, the mother must show the courage to watch her children as they take their own path. Flowers conceal the face with its almost hinted features, reminding us that life is a cycle of presence-absence and what is sown creates the path of those who already travel it. The centrality of the tale remains motherhood and from here the rays that ideally and physically in the work spread that sentimental bond that illuminates the path of those one loves. This tale is steeped in autobiographical experiences that make it even more emotional and realistic. The natural element makes an unexpected appearance, but the architectural structure of the arches above the scene bring everything back to a more ordinary dimension. These unusual shades of pinks and blues mixed with the collage technique give a sense of hope and breath, interspersed only by the ever-present darks. The reading, however, remains pleasantly earthy without any moral ambitions, but with a motherly narrative sensibility aimed at preserving the true sense of giving oneself.
Raffaela’s art is colourful and full of artistic quotations, it is a painting of content that does not let loose even when dealing with ordinary objects. In colour, Raffaela relies on her own primordial sensations, opens her mind and creates; in this way, colours represent an escape from the obvious tones. In her latest production, the artist uses new shades, such as carmine, demonstrating that she skilfully mixes newfound colours. In the shapes Raffaela balances everything. Her volumes touch on different movements in art history, creating situations that are abstract and dreamlike at the same time. In the sacred subjects, the aim is to reconcile man with his beliefs and in treating femininity she uses a common and direct language. Her gentleness seems to suggest, without trial, that one must have virtuous behaviour as a guiding star so that the dignity of each individual is always defended and protected. And if it is true that art cannot always be and must not always be translated, Raffaela’s language expresses itself even when it is objectively elementary, pleasant in its absence of ambition or pretension without conceding anything to moral imposition. Her example of teaching and her total dedication to disability speak for themselves because they deal with a story of vocation. Art then becomes an instrument of aesthetic well-being and social utility. And even when her works are driven by a dimension of pain, the artist feels that the greatest value lies in sharing and that the journey within oneself is little, even if hard, considered the ultimate goal in the search for a better authenticity.