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From "Sgarbi's Judgements"


Franco Anselmi is an artist who has two gifts - distinctiveness of brushwork and a playful bent which elicits jocosity and amusement. His brushwork here is not random, it is the result of a far-sighted instinctiveness, an ability to plan which nonetheless leaves the hand free for the whim of the moment. All too often contemporary art justifies its existence by sending out messages of engagement. Franco Anselmi, on the contrary, communicates the playful seriousness of childhood through his capacity to evoke fairy-story images and give concrete form to dreams.
Anselmi distinguishes himself on the contemporary painting scene by the courage he shows in rejecting the temptation to engage in philosophy or sociology, unlike too many of his fellows. His pictures take us into the world of animals - diverting warrior cats, tipsy one-eyed cats sitting in front of a bottle to drown who knows what sorrows, various cheery, inoffensive owls. Franco Anselmi's amusing zoo is a stage for animals great but not gross - elephants are contrasted with dotty-looking horses. His universe is also populated by thirties-style moustachioed jugglers, hat-wearing ladies and even Madonnas with child, intertwined in pseudo-cubist imagery. Anselmi is a poet of the everyday who looks at the world surrounding him and rewrites it in poetry, as if it were the vision of someone internally recapitulating the alphabet of life.
Whether his impossible landscapes are populated by animals or jugglers, he manages to pull us gently by the hand into a highly coloured two-dimensional world. The common feature in the human and animal figures created by the artist is that almost all of them are one-eyed. Only his owls are spared semi-blindness, perhaps because their nocturnal wakefulness puts them closer to the dreamworld. For the others - women, men, horses, cats, tortoises and iguanas - the single eye is a gentle wink, perhaps the mirror of our own inability to tell truth from falsehood.
Anselmi's is an arcane and archaic world with the power to bewitch us - in its silent, metaphysical medieval villages fairy-tale is intertwined with history. Some of his pictures re-evoke ancient Egyptian stylemes and Aztec symbolism. The archaeological discoveries thus evoked enable Anselmi smoothly to assemble an overall setting which is lively and explosive. His works are developed on a deliberate lack of depth. Following evident study of the lack of perspective in medieval art, his work bears the marks - apart from the obvious irony that leaps from his compositions, like a warning not to take him too seriously - of a careful revisiting of its grotesque expressions and a culture with deep roots in the pre-Renaissance Italian tradition of the fresco. The echo of Byzantine art seems to have imposed a kind of block on Anselmi's images, freezing the gestures of the figures depicted. I would say that this highly knowledgeable artist has also raided Oriental art, from which some of his graphic and calligraphic modes derive. In his abhorrence of a vacuum, which allows him to leave not the slightest empty space on the frescoed surface of his works, in the substance of his garish colours, we find the intriguing personality of an artist of great dexterity and considerable intelligence.

Vittorio Sgarbi

From "Sgarbi's Judgements", published by Mondadori

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