Our lives are filled with good and -unfortunately- sad events, of taken and not taken roads. Events imprint movements, trajectories, derailments and choices. They force us to embrace changes, to consider new perspectives, to seek new directions, to discover new landscapes, to take into account new points of view and to expand our awareness. For an artist, whose personal life is inevitably bound together with his/her own artistic research, the twists and the turns of life mark those changes that the community of art historians and art critics define as “periods”. Think, for example, to Picasso’s Blue and Pink periods or about the importance of the visit to the Park Güell for Niki de Saint-Phalle…
Each “artistic period” is a fundamental mark along the path of artistic research: it is a point of no return for personal research and yet, a starting point able to provide new sources of inspirations for what will come after.
So, there are always a “before” and an “after”…and a “beyond”.
As regards the works of Gigi Mariani, we can retrace seminal moments in his artistic career as a goldsmith which marked sensibly his oeuvre. The workshop on niello followed in 2009 under Maria Rosa Franzin e Graziano Visintin of the Padua School of Art Jewellery traced a fundamental turning point in his career as a goldsmith. What came after that workshop gave him the opportunity to expand his skills and knowledge on niello opening a rich, creative season where “black” was the leit-motiv of his works. Moreover, his past as a painter traced a new twist on surfaces covered with niello. The light radiating from the precious metals of his jewels acquired a new depth; the rugged surfaces showed a new, pictorial sensitivity. The “black matter” of niello, often cracked, refined with precious stones or with gold, speckled with gold traces and granules gave birth to a personal language as well as a distinctive signature witnessing the fact that great things never come from comfort zones, but only embracing change and its consequent, inevitable awareness.
On November, the 20th, a new solo exhibition of Gigi Mariani at Hannah Gallery in Barcelona will display a new series of works of the Italian goldsmith. “BEYOND THE BLACK by Gigi Mariani” marks another step after his “niello season”. Thanks to Hannah Gallery, I had the opportunity to have a talk with Gigi Mariani about what lies “before”, “after” and “beyond” black.
Gigi, your forthcoming solo exhibition at Hannah Gallery has a “statement” title “Beyond the Black”. Can you tell us how you decided for this title and why?
I wanted to synthesize more my work as a goldsmith, to create jewels, even in agreement with Hannah Gallery, that stood out from my usual work and to follow the desire to obtain a jewel that which could be interesting and intriguing without resorting to the black of niello.
I absolutely do not want to deny black, which for me remains the fundamental color to give expressive power to my works, but the will is to reclaim the essentiality of the materials, which have always characterized my work.
As it can be seen, black is always present, but deeply embedded and when it is present in its entirety, as in the brooch Black Mirrors, it is a black obtained with a different technique from niello.
What lies after niello and beyond black?
Beyond black, there is the desire to explore contemporary jewellery with a different approach, a moment of personal reflection about my work and the desire to reclaim my origins as a goldsmith.
You have been always fascinated by the French painter Pierre Soulages1, who devoted almost his entire life to the colour black and to find a light into black. What are, according to you, your connections with Soulages and the differences?
Once again, as regards Pierre Soulages, he once said: “C’est ce que je fais qui m’apprend ce que je cherche” (It is what I do that teaches me what I am looking for): to me, this sentence matches perfectly with your new brooch “Black Mirrors”. The squares of vitreous enamel are different one from the other and the light that emerges from the surface traces a sort of path.
How was working with this technique? How about Soulages’ sentence: is it the same also for you?
Well, in the works of Soulages, in his blacks, I’ve always seen so much light, and this has always been a source of inspiration.
The only connection that can be made with P.Soulages is the use of black colour.
I have to say that there is a difference between painting -with plenty of space to express yourself- and the practice of goldsmithing, where you have to put your own ideas and emotions in a small space.
I agree perfectly with Soulages’ statement because it is often the studio practice and your own research which takes you in a direction that you might not have considered at the beginning.
The brooch “Black Mirrors” can be an example: a different black, a different technique and therefore another type of research, and all this has opened me up to new future ideas.
Before being a goldsmith, you were (and are) a painter. How your past influenced your work?
I practiced painting in a free and non-professional way and it is present in the final result of my works, with the informal and pictorial aspect obtained with the use of niello.
After several years in expanding and mastering the niello technique, you created your first white brooch “Albedo” in 2017. Can you tell us how that brooch came to life and how is it today working with different lights?
The brooch “Albedo” was a challenge, a turning point in my work. The personal pleasure of having created a work that excites me without using black. I think that, in general, I surprised the observer, who thinks about the body of my works that is generally all in black.
As the fundamental concept of the exhibition “The Alchemical Egg” held at Hannah Gallery in 2017 was the alchemical process, I can say that this metamorphosis has positively influenced the course of my personal work.
For this exhibition, the “sizes” and the “colours” of your works changed. Except for your iconic bracelet “Crack”, all the volumes are considerably reduced. White and yellow gold now radiate their glare through different surfaces and shapes and light and shadow play an important role on your surfaces and in your volumes. How was working in this new direction? Which roles light and shadow had and have in you works?
Lights and shadows are fundamental in my work, in particular for this collection I adopted overlapping slabs, repetitions of elements to obtain the result that I usually achieve through the use of niello.
I am particularly fascinated by the three gold brooches that form a singular triptych: the brooch “Look Inside” and the two brooches “Flow” in white and yellow gold [insert pictures]. Beyond the pureness of lines, this “triptych” is carefully built on a common, formal element, which is then declined in different shades and glares. These pieces reveal and hide at the same time. Can you tell us what lies beyond that delicate “hem”?
The flap you are talking about, obtained by folding a non-welded slab, is the detail that characterizes this series of works.
It is s raised edge, a sort of opening that -as the title of brooch “Look Inside” tells- invites you to look inside and to ask questions about the essence of the work, which is never empty or an end in itself.
We talked before about lights and shadows: what are, according to you, the lights and shadow hovering upon the world of contemporary jewellery? Nowadays, it seems that the place for “pure goldsmiths” is carefully “forgotten” (if not sometimes deliberately removed) from the stage under the vault of contemporary jewellery. Unless great exceptions, it seems that goldsmiths are not considered within contemporary jewellery community: how do you see yourself –both as artist and goldsmith- in this delicate, yet jammed landscape?
I think that the world of contemporary jewellery is “transversal” and expanded as regards techniques and materials and that there is a great need for clarity in order to accustom the public and make it grow.
I think a transformation is now underway in the world of jewellery: years ago, when one talked about jewellery you suddenly thought about precious metals and stones, now the offer of jewelry with different materials is great and consequently, I think that sometimes the goldsmiths’ work is read as too classic.
I think it also depends on the geographical areas and the different cultural heritage that characterizes each of them. For example, Italians have had excellent craft traditions that have been handed down for centuries and perhaps for this reason we are more inclined to use metal.
What is quality for you?
Quality is not linked to materials, but to the final result, which must be the result of study and research and must not be improvised. And then, talking about jewellery, I believe that we should never lose sight of wearability: a jewel must be functional to the body and therefore wearable, if it does not respect all this, perhaps we speak of other forms of art.
Mirella Cisotto Nalon (ed.), Tracce nella Materia. Gioielli di Gigi Mariani, catalogo della mostra, Padova, 9 giugno – 15 luglio 2018, Comune di Padova, 2018.
Gigi Mariani, Something Alchemical, catalogo personale, 2018.
Pierre Encrevé – Alfred Pacquement (eds.), Soulages, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Centre Pompidou-Musée National d’Art Moderne, 14 October 2009- 8 March 2010, Paris, Editions du Centre Pompidou, 2015.
Pierre Soulages website: https://www.pierre-soulages.com/ (last access 08/9/2019).
Arild Andersen – Vassilis Tsabropoulos – John Marshall, The Triangle, ECM Records 2004.
1 As regards the life and works of the French painter Pierre Soulages (Rodez, 1909) see: https://www.pierre-soulages.com/ (last access 01/9/2019).