Giuseppe Appella

I want to express a great volume
with the minimum material
Kenneth Armitage

The Roman rendezvous with Giuliano Giuliani’s works in travertine immediately draws us into a journey that might revolve around that time-tested construction material: from the Flavian amphitheater to the theater of Marcellus, from the Trevi Fountain to S. Luigi dei Francesi to the colonnade of San Pietro, all recently restored and thus clearly showing the variations in their natural coloring, from subtle nuances of yellow to milk-white to walnut. It is equally opportune to look to the artist’s relationship with the historic town center of Ascoli Piceno and to realize that, despite his long experience, nothing has

ever managed to convince Giuliani to vary the material he uses for his sculptures, although this continuity has never compromised the expansion of the spectrum of his formal and expressive interests. His desire to descend, like a speleologist, into the heart of travertine and its potential energy has remained intact; he strives to absorb its centuries of stratifications, recalling prehistoric architectures or geological concretions in which the various parts support or conflict Presepe, chiesa rupestre Madonna delle Virtù, Matera, 2004. with one another in the space, while the structural component suggests a pattern and leads towards a result. He seeks the pleasure of continuing to probe, amid the folds of its fragile seams, for some obscure reason to explore further, extending edges and detaching shapes that protrude as if mysterious and indomitable forces had shifted them slightly off-kilter, and polishing the stone without making it lose its thick, porous, epidermis-like grain.

A stone as sturdy as it is pliable, subject to industrial working methods so sophisticated as to push Giuliani towards a manual approach concerned solely with the demands of his own interior language and content. In fact, he is constantly preoccupied with erasing the ready-made nature of the material, the marks of damage and disuse the indicate its direct-from-the-quarry origins. The fragment, sprung from the original block or mass, once cut, sharpened, gouged, assembled and rounded off, without interrupting the totality of the mass but protruding into space, takes on new life and emanates revitalized energies in a hieratic, ritual atmosphere. So the predilection is quite clear, for two reasons. Firstly, it is due to the completeness and tension that travertine lends, a sort of stripping-down that creates its own laws, rather than any intrinsic quality of the material, and for which breakage is a method of a plastic morphology, the seat of mystery, the sudden and recurring wonder of being transformed into something new before one’s eyes, something never-before seen or imagined. Secondly, travertine is and has always been there, not only owing to the accessibility of quarries, but because it yields, better than any other substrate, to the whims of the hand or the tool that shapes it, making the volumes partake of incisions, almost as if to hold together the mental schemas underpinning the sculptural element (cf. Separè, 2015) – declaring a constant equilibrium between intellect and senses, reason and instinct.

It is a sculptural-architectural synthesis, all original rhythms and forms, interwoven volumes and planes, barely-traced carvings and dynamic reliefs, lines and geometric motifs reflecting an irrefutable contemplative sensibility and a solemn monumentality. The idea takes shape and develops as the artist works, at the very moment he cuts the stone, with a consequentiality that is transmitted from sculpture to sculpture. They maintain an extraordinary verve, owing both to the simplicity of their lines and the clarity with which the artist reveals their internal structure. In all of this, one would search in vain for the tiniest naturalistic detail, the likeness of an echo of something that happens in nature. In vain, even though the hollowed, shifting surfaces, the traces of pores as in a living material, the acceptance of accidental qualities, of justhinted- at color, of veining, roughness and cracks are all there, testifying to ideas derived from vegetal and mineral forms. In vain, despite the constant suggestion of works born out in the open and yearning to return to the open so that air and light can circulate freely around them. In fact, sticking up to stridently lacerate the air, their forms and the space together form compositions or amalgamations that suggest lightness and momentum even in the gaunt profiles of their sculpted surfaces. Viewed frontally, they have a rigorous symmetry, but when one walks around them they appear animated, in a constant process of becoming. Giuliani is drawn to the problem of content and needs that arise in the creative process. In fact, he approaches the structuring of sculptural levels almost as if the travertine were a sheet of paper to be embossed, introduces proportions as expressive elements, animates the role of composition stimulated by the play of light and shadow and the counterpoint of solids and voids. He exploits all the potential energy of a block of stone with no fear whatsoever of the anthropomorphic allusions it proffers, especially when the sculpture rises up like a pure limestone concretion that his manual intervention seems to have freed – as wind or water erosion might – from the gangue that imprisoned it.

And yet, Giuliano neither describes nor illustrates nor narrates. His sculpture is the expression of a mental schema, an idea translated into a lyrical symbol, an absolute principle made visible. The compact block of travertine, articulated and animated by quick gashes, sudden break ages and vertical and oblique cuts, is reduced to elementary, geometric forms of vast symbolic significance which, if referred to aspects of nature, can be understood in a liturgical sense. Nor can we exclude a reference to Zen philosophy, almost as if the forms have been separated from the matrix in an eternal and irreparable detachment. In many of the artist’s later works – from Oiram to Cuore (2007) to the Mattezzina series (2007-2013); from the Annunciazione (2008) to the Fonte battesimale for the Church of San Pietro Martire in Ascoli Piceno (2008-2009) and L’Angelo (2009) for the Vatican Museums; from Monte II (2010), which mimics a piece of a mountain, to Nicchia (2011-2012), which that mountain makes into a lacerated wall, to Caravaggio (2012), which the mountain lays out like a shell open to the light, to the three flags (2008-2011) wrapped around themselves, imaginary figure-architectures stripped down to their bare bones, free of any accessory element, intimately penetrated and marked by a remote, archaic simplicity that simultaneously gives the impression of empty space and volumes that fill space –, movement is no longer determined by an interior impulse, but through the modulation of profiles and layering used to obtain a slow rhythm that is constantly carried along by the surrounding air and light, not unlike Arturo Martini’s Donna che nuota sott’acqua. The sculptural forms, now pure emotion generated by the artist’s inner spirit and powers of poetic expression, interweave without losing themselves. Their contours remain precise and linear in their relationship with the surrounding space, designing impeccable rhythms and recuperating a humanity and a vitality that links archaic vestiges to the original magic of a modern vision of the world.