THEY WROTE ABOUT HIM:
Kazuo Akiyoshi, Dalmazio Ambrosioni, Laura Basso, Anna Caterina Bellati, Carol Damian, Raffaele De Grada, Mimmo Di Marzio, Giovanni Faccenda, Paolo Levi, Luigi Meneghelli, Daniela Pronestì, Paolo Rizzi, Giovanni Serafini, Vittorio Sgarbi, Maurizio Vanni
THE NEWFOUND BEAUTY - Daniela Pronestì
The artist of the future will find the beautiful forms
To depict disorder and chaos as well.
It is a long way from the times when John Keats marked the Ode on a Grecian Urn with the famous phrase «Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty». In 1819, contemplating the friezes of the Parthenon, he experienced an admiration very similar to ecstasy, which inspired him one of his most famous poems. Today, we are hardly likely to live an aesthetic experience with just as much transport, immersed as we are in a constant state of visual addiction. Nor would we be prepared to refer to beauty by providing it, as is the case in Keats, an ethical function. In a society where images generate a simulated, almost hyperreal world, without any distinction between true and false, beauty becomes fiction, empty appearance.
Yet, another way is possible, and it comes from art. Pier Toffoletti, always attentive to beauty as a style choice, and as a form of rebellion as well, has pointed it out quite clearly. He is firmly convinced that standing by without reacting against the ugliness, the horror, the grossness, is equivalent to being an accomplice to a cultural crisis, which now is extended to art as well. Instead, it is necessary to rebel, making the question of beauty the central objective of the artistic debate. An act of responsibility based, in his case, on the aesthetic reshaping of media images, or on the overturning of visual stereotypes by means of artistic intervention.
The faces portrayed in the series Face Splash intercept female patterns, which belong to the imagery of fashion and advertising, and then fields where aesthetic guidelines, as well as being unattainable, are constantly being destroyed and reconstituted. Projected in a timeless dimension, deprived of spatial connotations, the women painted by Toffoletti lead to a reflection, which goes beyond the theme of vanitas, the transience inherent to the human condition. The fate of a new fragility, more fearsome and dramatic, that of a beauty, which the present time corrupts and consumes quickly, like an asset or a slogan, weighs heavy on their faces. A moonlight stretches like a veil over such faces, making them look like relics of a distant past, shadows returned by time as sudden appearances. It is the essential law of beauty - Walter Benjamin would say -, which only reveals itself in what is veiled. The artist is well aware of it, thus giving a livid, shady quality to painting, due to the predominance of gray colors and metallic tones. A chromatic range, which owes so much to black-and-white photography, as well as photography leads to the technical expediency of the blurring.
Such effect, discoloring, and sometimes erasing the edges of the images, introduces an allusion to the eternity of the remains of the past, as well as to their inevitable victory on the flow of time. Thus, it is like saying that beauty resists the forces of centuries.
Yet, Toffoletti tests such “resistance”, pushing it to the limit of visual de-structuration, bursting into the figurative plot with a gesture, which is sometimes unconcerned. A movement showed off, fluid, rich in signs that act on the surface without, however, neglecting the depth of the image. It is a leap in color abstraction, distributed with passages of tonal gradation, rectangular or square backgrounds, drops of color, and informal taches. Again, large coatings and short touches of pure colors, in a continuous alternation of dilution and color concentration. He does not aim at contrasting the steadiness of the faces with the dynamism of pictorial action, thus admitting the presence of a text and a subtext of the work, but rather at achieving a disappearance - fusion of the figure in color, and vice versa. Obviously impervious to every classification, Toffoletti resolves, with a stroke of genius, the old discussion, which has compared the figurative to the abstract for over a century, still evident today. The speed and transience of human events, which are increasingly fragmented and discontinuous, threaten the perpetual face of beauty. Art, with its schizophrenia, offers a relevant contribution to the aesthetic disorientation of current society. However, if it is true, as stated by Auguste Renoir, that pain passes and beauty remains, then let us sit on the bank of the river, waiting until time takes its revenge on so many unnecessary provocations. That is where we will meet Pier Toffoletti.
Pier Toffoletti. SPLASH! - Maurizio Vanni
The term splash signi_es a splotch, a drop, a spot but it also means to highlight something through a gush of a substance to underscore the arrival of an astonishing event.
Tffoletti’s workshops, his live performances, his actions spurred and marked by percussions of a tribal matrix, allow us to share a creative moment that takes shape right before our eyes like something mystical and almost magical. His hands search for the color by compressing it, completing a work that actually takes shape by de_agrating the shape itself, appearing as a positive negation, as a rebirth from the ashes of what is left of pure existence, as a dimensional passage that goes beyond the theater of our lives.
Nothing to do with dripping or with Pollock’s action painting. Indeed, in this case the apparent randomness is governed by the profession and the broad academic knowledge with the mental parameters that Toffoletti imposes on himself – the choice of the size of the canvas, the selection of colors and a basic composition that is often morphologically recognizable. The most mysterious and relatively new part, instead, is the epilogue, that we could de_ne as the epiphany of form. The lucidly excited, desperately animated quest becomes more cerebral and meditated with the discovery of a female body – or better, with the rediscovery of the spirit of an organism. The performing action becomes deeper, slower and almost meditative in conferring consistency to something impalpable. In that moment, Toffoletti complies with the call of the spirit that asks to be dressed, to have a material semblance. Many are the spirits that the painter from Friuli must research and cover with color, exalting an almost otherworldly light.
venustas et materia by Giovanni Serafini
I prefer to paint people’s eyes rather than cathedrals,
because there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedrals
Vincent Van Gogh
When admiring a genuine work of art, it should not be important to know the artist’s biography. The Dying Gaul, the Riace Bronzes and the Venus de Milo are works by unknown artists. It would add little or nothing to their excellence if we knew more about their creators’ lives.
In the case of Pier Toffoletti, however, his experience as an explorer who has travelled to the ends of the earth, to its centre and into his own inner soul; his desire to penetrate the puzzles that surround us; and his multi-faceted creativity – ranging from advertising to directing, sculpture, painting, yoga, caving, radio programmes and roaming desolate regions – are all closely bound up with the forms of expression and stages of development of his art, which for some time has been fervently focused on painting.
Pier Toffoletti has learned the hopeless futility of the ultimate search of man, a creature bereft of awareness and an ephemeral container of energy. But Toffoletti is as tireless an investigator as he is fearless. He finds satisfaction in his perilous incursions into the bowels of the planet, and into the ability of his soul to detach itself from the earth. He is able to imbue the grainy impastos of marble powder and sand on his panels with an aura of transcendence in the air-light charm of his painted figures. At first, Toffoletti covered the rough surfaces of his panels with images that vividly echoed classical models in rusty shades that privileged oxides, ochres, sepia and sinopia. Then he turned to an elegant, infinite extension of greys and paler tonalities. These in turn gave way to emerald greens and blue-greens that were themselves assailed by allusively aggressive cobalt blue and scarlet. In more recent works, tones have darkened into tar-black backdrops harking evocatively back to the terrifying, age-old caves where sable stares crudely at white, light faces darkness and human likenesses endure the silence of the shadows.
Pier Toffoletti’s talent for painting was a precocious one. He was not yet thirteen when he set about copying works by Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters. He has a sincere desire to find out who we are, what there actually is around and inside us, what is hidden in the abysses of the sea and what lurks in the depths of a cave, despite the savage hostility these environments emanate. Gradually, his inner feelings, knowledge and emotions have sedimented and stratified, subsequently embedding themselves in the wide-ranging, highly cultured paintings Toffoletti has produced over time. Swiftly, this output was swallowed up by a still-vibrant market for art of quality that extends from Europe to America and reaches refined, ultra-demanding Japan.
His nomadism is instinctive, physiological and intimist (“I feel that the body is a garment and within us there is something larger which cannot die”). A constant searching for knowledge, a self-confessed love of beauty and inborn talent are Pier Toffoletti’s qualities that lend solemnity to the ambivalent lightheartedness of living as he regales us with unwonted flashes of consolation.
We could add to this our intrigued astonishment at such effective, well defined results in Toffoletti’s figurative art, which is utterly contemporary in the classical sobriety of its approach. It is the miracle of an uncompromising contemporaneity expressed with the descriptive elegance of a universal, eternal language, whatever detractors with an axe to grind might have to say. On approaching the panels covered in a sort of rough, abrasive intonaco and sprinkled with barely perceptible hieroglyphs, we perceive the few broad, fluid strokes, sometimes even executed with a flat brush, and the indistinct clutches of eye-deceiving colour. As the viewer moves back, these regroup into perfect faces, soft flesh and silky hair, never distinct from a backdrop veined with melancholy, dissimulation and constrained anguish. Perhaps they represent, albeit without insistence, the ephemerality of a moment when we were happy, now lost like a song in the wind.
At the edge of light - PAOLO LEVI
For Pier Toffoletti, painting is an act of liberation and inner growth. The canvas for him is a treasure trove of emotion.
Pier Toffoletti is an example from art of a soul searching of answers, which is why you are prompted to think of Jung and his studies of the unconscious with its intriguing, often arcane symbols.
For Toffoletti, composing images – which I would call impromptu products of the soul – means exploring the nooks and crannies of the preconscious to tease out its wonders in mysterious figurative notions with a conclusion left, as it were, suspended on a visual level.
Toffoletti’s most recent production has abandoned the spells cast by his sinuously, self-justifyingly beautiful feminine figures, where shadow appeared to triumph over light. Today, that situation has been turned on its head and the current source of Toffoletti’s inspiration prefers a whiteness that reveals an intimist stage of unsettled expression, recognisable in its spiritual premise. What seems to have begun is a profound, productive discourse between the artist and his own soul: a dialogue of Ego and Self.
Toffoletti expounds an appearance of images, as human, natural situations, and a chaotic, non-random abstraction from the depths of a superbly executed informality.
Seeking, Toffoletti finds: experiment alone would be a never-ending task. In this case, there rises to the surface an elsewhere that he names according to the message he propounds on each occasion: Luminescent Figures and Arboreal Luminescences. These are phenomena of the imagination that Toffoletti tackles and that affect him according to the inner nook from which they emerge. But there is an unbreakable bond that unifies these two distinct themes. For the female figures with their arcanely ritualistic poses, and for the tree transformed in great tension of expression, luminescence is the common denominator transfiguring the visible into elusive essence.
Representations change from painting to painting as if they were pieces of music or the counterpoints of dialogue, expertly crafted by an artist who knows how to draw and handle a palette. These are visual mutations, triumphs of feminine loveliness or arboreal nature embodying moments of rituality that deliberately deceive visual perception with fleeting instants of light from Toffoletti’s inner soul, where they live as essence-presences.
These are watershed moments in the art of Pier Toffoletti, a traveller in dreamspace. The imposing trees present themselves as symbols of nature with their own soul, interweaving where branches are shapeless forms depicted as flashes of electricity. The female figures, in contrast, convey fascinating moments of enchantment in a timeless, history-free dimension of apparition where the background is tinged with white by its secret source. Perhaps this is matter clothing events from legend, inventions or bodies that demand space for themselves in a specific perspective. But these different aspects actually depict the voluntary experience of a restless painter with wide-ranging interests in culture and fantasy, in an active, radiant world on the edge of what we call the ethereal, a world of objects and events connected with the need to reconcile and maintain a balance between figurative art and abstraction.
Pier Toffoletti doesn’t paint; he embroiders. When you observe one of his slowly executed chromatic passages, you should read and acknowledge it as the meditation of a painter who leaves nothing to chance; the artist is aware of the infinite potential for variation that the canvas has on the essence of apparent truth. In reality, the thrust of Pier Toffoletti’s explorations is to present to observers flashes of light from his unconscious that are transformed into magma and the identifiable signs of moments of allure, brilliance, amazement and illusory essences: the restless outpourings of an inner world.
LUMINESCENCES - Dott.ssa Laura Basso
Pier Toffoletti’s bodies cross the borders of discrete analytical knowledge to take shape as a space where the intrinsic unity of matter and spirit is reaffirmed. In his new figurative art, imbued with precise scientific, mystical and philosophical knowledge whose shared elements he retraces, Toffoletti identifies in humanity’s inner energy the means to achieve ecstatic liberation.
As the American doctor, Leonard Laskow, writes: “It has been proved scientifically that the body produces energy from chemical reactions, commonly measured using technology: magnetic resonance, electroencephalograms, electrocardiograms, ultrasound [...]. This is the same energy that is called aura, or spiritual, scalar or ultrafine energy”. For instance, in Ritratto Luminare, a woman looking downwards is executed with a predominance of natural colours, only partially encroached upon by shades of green and pink. In contrast, the huddled bodies in Pensiero a Tesla or Pensiero a Kirliam are completely awash in these two colours, which also invade all the surrounding space. In various saturations, the same colours are present in all the other works, together with the blues and reds into which they often mingle to produce, among other tones, the purples of Ricerca del Contatto Luminare. One symbolic interpretation makes green and pink the colours of love, red the colour of matter and blue the colour of the divine. This metaphorical connotation, the fleeting glances and the poses of the bodies enable us to interpret what is going on in these paintings. The subjects are isolating their perceptions from the outside world to concentrate and liberate their own inner-generated energy, which fills the environment and unites with divine energy. The movement of that energy is made visible by the artist with a well-defined brushstroke of white that allows us to pinpoint its origin either in a specific part of the body, describing an upward movement, or at some external point, before it descends towards the subject. Whatever the initial point of propagation, the two energies reinforce each other to enable the human spirit to communicate with the divine in a dialogue of love.
As is well documented in the literature concerning great mystics in thrall to divine ecstasy, it is necessary to overcome the resistance of the material body to unite with this ideal state of perception. Pier Toffoletti shows us how difficult it is in works like those in the series Scala Energetica, where the body, at a more advanced stage of the process with respect to the preceding paintings, appears to be experiencing a seizure, as if it were a battlefield upon which one force is laboriously overcoming another. In Altra Densità and Protesa in Spazio Alternativo, victory is almost within grasp, as can be seen from the erect bodies that now move more easily. Denial of matter is illustrated in works like Altro Spazio, in which a woman challenges us with a direct gaze as she smilingly advances, moving assuredly, or in Immersione nell’Etere, where the artist seems to describe a new birth. The subject could be immersed in amniotic liquid, in other words it may belong to another being from which it is nonetheless distinct, ready to re-emerge/be reborn into a dimension that, as the word Etere (Ether) suggests, will be virtual (spiritual), not tangible.
The final painting is part of a diptych representing the same subject in a mirror image and two different colours. Many of the works conform to this dynamic and in Doppio Eterico, the artist highlights its significance in the title: one of the subjects represents the physical body while the other is the etheric body, the hologram of our energies.
There emerges from these works a conception of humanity that for the speculative convenience of separate knowledge alone (symbolised by the artist in indecipherable writings on the skin) has been packaged into separate dimensions, and has forgotten over time that it is the fruit of the intercommunicating union of spirit and matter. Yet sometimes we encounter someone who still remembers our ambivalence and may, like Pier Toffoletti, speak about it in art works of refined technique and formal elaboration, conveying in the beauty of their surfaces a concept that is fundamental to our nature. Indeed, this insight is so crucial that Michelangelo dedicated to it the centre of the vault of the Sistine Chapel, painting God who, having created Adam from the “matter” of clay, joins His index finger to that of our forebear, giving him the energy of life.
Modernity and Its Fathers - Dalmazio Ambrosioni - 2006
From the point of view of his painting, Pier Toffoletti can be considered a historian of modernity. Apart from his obvious talent, his distinctively, richly physical, brushwork and shrewd, accessible lines, Toffoletti also manages to make the inner-directed gaze of modern art his own. He understands that painting, as much as – and more than – the other arts, teaches that history has both weight and lightness. Not that it was a no man’s land before, but by placing himself beyond the narrows of description and the endless flatlands of abstraction, Toffoletti has shifted the focus back to the signs of history but whether contemporary painting notices this and takes it into account is another matter entirely.
At the end of the day, in his paintings and the overall development of his progressive, vehement and occasionally percussive opus, Toffoletti deplores the unsustainability of the historic process that places the present in a trajectory with no past, heading for a future as utopian and triumphal as it is realistically uncertain. He counters this in his figuration with now urgent demands to recover the past, both near and distant, of modern art and of the great eras of the past, above all the Renaissance. Further back and further down, he retrieves the primary reference, the anthropological memory in which are set the archetypes and original models of things. It is a kind of imprinting to be sought and investigated more in the hearts of men – in the sense of the human race – than in the logic of events.
At the sources of great painting
Toffoletti’s painting evinces a stylistic allure and a gestural expression that sum up the seasons of modernity. These are acquired, clarified, elaborated, masticated, digested and physiologically incorporated into his pictorial DNA. He has made them the premise on which to build his progressive development. This is the workshop where Toffoletti finds the tools – a vehicle, a key – to negotiate the hairpin bends of time made history, and open rooms waiting to be painted in a new language that speaks to today.
The operation is characteristic of Toffoletti’s more than decade-long opus, and to accomplish it he has chosen not to imitate the past, as is so often the case with “new figuration”, but to explore. This he does in radical fashion, deciphering the language of painting to investigate its vocabulary and so bring it up to date. Implicit in this flight of fancy from present to past is the idea of travel. But where to? To the sources of great painting, the frescoes of Romanesque art, the altarpieces of the Renaissance, a world admired and exalted but often left on the shelf of figurative culture. Toffoletti reprises their pictorial and cultural atmospheres, taking due account of the many subsequent seasons of modern art. As he studies and assimilates, he creates his own painting of the present.
Recovering an updated version of the past is one of the keystones of the most modern figurative culture, and its outcome depends on an ability to capture the essential and the significant. Toffoletti produces painting whose rich, thick strokes enfold the rhythms of passing time, the colours of the seasons, the echoes of shadows and light, the materiality of nature – he uses powdered marble, clay and sand – and the mysterious lightness of the in-between times when the journey is over and has yet to be. His painting is apparently instinctive, but actually meditated. Colours and shapes intersect and interweave in a succession of tones and shades that find resolution in full, explicit expanses.
Toffeletti retraces the territory of history and feels he is – like Marguerite Yourcenar in her novel – a “pilgrim and stranger” before the dizzying memories of the past. Rebelling against this alienation, he is certain that painters and poets all need a great country, the country of their dreams. Tenaciously, he strives to verify present reality in painting that combines dream and visionary surreality, spilling in turn into the metaphysical to find answers that the present cannot provide. Always on the move, Toffoletti is intent on crossing the ridge of psychological extraneousness beyond which may lie the sense of what he seeks. It may be even further away, so the restless search cannot stop.
Images of the modern
On an enterprise of this nature, you need good travel companions. Pier Toffoletti finds them in the great paintings of the pasts, especially in the astonishing Venetian tradition of figurative and landscape art. But he also draws on images from modernity, such as posters, graffiti and the provocations of current affairs. He needs only a tiny stimulus to go to the root, where things are not yet in existence and are coming into being: it could be a rush of recall, or a smidgeon of memory. All Toffoletti needs is an image of nature. All he needs is his trees, to draw like Mondrian’s.
Toffoletti’s trees and figures do not start from description, appearance or even context, landscape or season. They emerge from a multitude of voices overlaid until they form a vocabulary on which the artist structures his language, founded on classic syntax. The natural and organic are not absorbed as separate elements, or details of a whole, or tesserae of a mosaic, but as the perspective of a stage on which is played out the inspirational spectacle of life. What bursts voraciously onto this stage is light and colour.
Nature, trees and figures that have taken on an identity and become personalities are all proposed as elements of spiritual and emotional life precisely because they have been interiorized, perceived and relived. They are alive insofar as they are part of the existential dimension. The trees are figures, human beings, us. In the same way, the personality-figures are an integral part of nature; they are themselves nature: clay casts, earth, rock, landscape and territories. In Toffoletti, nature is no longer, as it was for much of the twentieth century, a metaphorical reference to be used for the purposes of communication. It is absorbed with an existential, not naturalistic, measure. Existence as reality and memory, presence and estrangement, past and present.
Searching for significance
Pier Toffoletti’s painting is shot through with apparent contradictions. It is an open dialectic, a duel still under way in which, in dramatic terms, opposites clash in a struggle to overcome each other and prevail. Throughout this confrontation, which is a ceaseless search for meaning, Toffoletti’s painting can abandon expanses of at times stunning colour, impoverished to the point of monochrome in a search that is more tonal than colour-based. And it may even eschew Toffoletti’s distinctively elegant brushwork. This means that the artist has taken a stance beyond the tools and rules of painting, which he has nevertheless mastered in such a fluent manner as to appear instinctive, preferring a tenacious determination to understand, to search for meaning and to respond through painting to existential issues. In the course of this comparative search, Toffoletti uses a range of well-coordinated tools to produce a series of stratifications. In this way, every painting takes on its own operational and material story.
It should be noted that this splendidly rich variety of pictorial elements seeks and finds a benchmark in geometry, “which is the purest white in that it is without taint of error and most certain in itself and in its handmaid, who is called Perspective”, as Dante says in The Banquet. It is in fact perspective that triggers an acceleration in Toffoletti’s paintings to expands volumes – nature, the figures – in space, and indicate other spaces of a symbolic kind.
In this open perspective, not even the figurative elements are self-sufficient so they have to be disposed otherwise by mirror-image duplication in which the mirror on the one hand reverses the order of things, and on the other accentuates the dimension of appearance. We are back to the dialectic of opposites through which Toffoletti exalts the drama of the present. The world of objects and affections, images of nature and urban reality collide with a remote – history resurfaces in memory – existential melancholy, and with searches for significance, identity and belonging. Fleeing from their own selves, figures and natures actually replicate, obsessively searching for themselves in a photography-like modularity.
Toffoletti climbs the slopes of this allusive figuration at a pace dictated by the quality of a sedimented painting in which the stroke is historicized and over time becomes a symbolic element. Finally, the work becomes a thing, an object, and is self-contextualized, for the circle of Toffoletti’s dialectic always closes in new departures.
A single, great theme
Pier Toffoletti is interested in a single, vast theme: the human condition. He puts the search for the meaning of history into relation with the subject in which it resonates – the human person – in images of the present projected onto a historical dimension. This is his benchmark, his central element that returns like a shadow. The human condition, received and almost sheltered by nature (the trees), is the trajectory of the flight of fancy that links the distant roots, the original elements of a history that is studied as it unfolds, to the symbols, to present reality, or rather to the sometimes unnatural perception of today’s humanity.
In this fundamental perspective of perception, there returns a constant element in Toffoletti’s painting: a sense of the sacred. It is not so much a subject as a climate that translates into a strong individual awareness of the human condition and human dignity. As he hints at, and occasionally announces, the outcome, Toffoletti keeps the work’s tension high. Each painting is a question, or perhaps a prayer. Like those who despite everything invest in an existence that is veined by Montale’s malaise, a subtle weave of desperation, pointlessness and inadequacy just at the moment when – and this is the drama – it seeks a future, perspectives, energy and hope.
In the meantime, as tragedy looms, he holds onto the crumb of freedom that nurtures existence.
"Luminescences" - Mimmo Di Marzio - 2006
The great German painter Gerhard Richter, the father and forerunner of contemporary figuration, maintained that art should create a new visual language but should also maintain its own freedom of action and avoid categorization. According to Richter, “art, in the proper sense of the term, exists in spite of everything... (...), has always existed and continues to exist as supreme aspiration to truth... (...). Art is the most perfect form of our humanity”. It was perhaps no coincidence that these words should be pronounced by a great late twentieth-century artist who, in an age that witnessed the proliferation of artistic media and a widespread vocation for conceptualism, managed to rescue painting from an impending crisis of identity. Since then, painting has renewed itself, learning to converse on equal terms with the languages of contemporary culture, from photography to video and even internet, while maintaining its own alchemical abilities intact and continuing to draw on the stratification of humanity’s aesthetic memory.
The Friulian artist Pier Toffoletti is one of the many contemporary artists who have absorbed this lesson, enhancing it with the peculiarly Italian predilection for the categories of the classical universe that make our country’s figurative art so distinctive anywhere in the world even today. Evident in Toffoletti’s work is the heritage of what has been called medialism, an approach to painting that borrows from the universe of mediology connotations that are ever more mental and analytical, and looks not so much to a materially conceived work as to a collocation of languages, codes and signs of a wider universe.
In his artistic brew, Toffoletti opts to mix ingredients from tradition with others that belong to his own existential and collective patrimony. Reigning supreme at the centre of the work is the human body, experienced as an instrument for freeing the soul. Toffoletti’s bodies are suspended in their magical hyperrealism in an atemporal space like creatures that are archetypal and yet at the same time utterly commonplace. References to the female universe take on a sacred quality that seems to dissolve into essential icons and, through the colour of their material, fade into reminiscences of a distant world and a reality lost before it could be enjoyed.
Colour passes through a range of acid monochromes with which the figure mingles and into which it partially dissolves, augmenting the sense of displacement and atemporality, while cold, artificial light pervades the vision. The figures are photographed in the wake of a dream like solarized Polaroids, fluctuating in space. They look like human luminescences held in the ecstasy of a momentary movement that always seems to hint at universal messages.
In this new stage of Toffoletti’s artistic progress, engagement with photographic media is not unrelated to a highly pictorial value of composition, beyond any reference to an archaeology of the present performed with scratched signs and the introduction of contrasting materials. In his faceless nudes, the body is again presented as a preferred instrument of exploration in which light and brushstroke underline the shape-enhancing qualities of a formalism that draws on Caravaggio. The anonymity and symbolism of gesture constantly reveal an intention to exalt the body more and more as a container for emotions and a location that generates unconscious relationships between human beings and inanimate objects.
In these sacred transfigurations, the bodies seem to fuse with an ideal nature, transported into unattainable starry spaces. It could be woodland at night bathed in light emerging from impenetrable depths or a nocturnal meadow covered in enormous phosphorescent bushes.
Toffoletti’s shrewd use of medial materials breathes life into painting that is always evocative and on occasion metaphysical. The carefully researched synthesis of his representation is such as to suggest the presence of another world that is not definable by the use of photography alone, but whose lyricism is fully expressed by an absolutely traditional technique – painting.
The recurring, albeit perhaps not always conscious, symbols of Toffoletti’s work include the mirror, in other words the specularity of the female form that appears in his compositions as an essentially gnostic and contemplative element. In any case, the legend of Narcissus reflects the artist’s drama and the impossibility of communicating or corresponding; or rather, it is the institution of multiple forms of specularity that do not imply communication – symmetry, mirror images and correspondence. But as Titus Burckhardt maintains, the mirror is also the most direct symbol of spiritual vision, of contemplatio and in general of gnosis “since through [the mirror] the vicinity of subject and object is made concrete”. In Toffoletti, too, the double artistic subject has an additional value, which is to testify to an important characteristic of contemporary sensibility about self-perception. In contemporary society, the individual perceives him or herself as a double entity of body and soul, detached and subsequently fitted together again like the tiles of a vast mosaic.
Raffaele De Grada 2005
A while back and not too long ago when an artist appeared it seemed indispensible to ascertain his formation in the tendencies of his youth.
Today the rules have changed somewhat, and it may happen as in the case of Pier Toffoletti that we find ourselves in front of a mature artist whose first steps before these ten years of total dedication to painting were in the world of advertising art with which he gained a certain recognition.
Though slowly our world has passed from a craftsmen type condition , to a complex industrial society, where the figurative arts were meant to rouse the sentiments of the single individual, today they are destined to move the masses with the means that modern technology has to offer. All this in the ephemeral emotion of the moment without pretenses of eternity in art.
We therfore must observe with objective spirit Toffoletti’s
passage from the adevertising art world to the painting world.
As a first ascertainment we see that Toffoletti has not carried over his experience and capacity from the advertisng field directly to his painting as imagery of purpose, but he has devoloped an imagery destined to evoke a sentiment, which in him has grown in harmony with his pictorial vision.
Pier Toffoletti’s paintings around the year 2000 give the impression that this mature artist has awaken to painting as though to collect the pale traces of a cancelled period, that of a figurative painting which surfaces from a program of two layers, one apparent of the frontal representation of the femmenine image, and below the impasto of marble dust and oxidizing elements and substances.
But the impact with the female figure in the painting entitled “Pensando aMusic”at page.? Confirms a more stable progress of Toffoletti’s painting.
Let us not forget that Toffoletti is a venetian and as such the images which he creates in negative form using modern techniques remind us of when religious images of Madonnas where painted directly on the walls of fourteenth century homes and palaces by painters like Jacopo di Montagnana and other painters of the period.
Let us not create a misunderstanding, even though in their escense they are a carry over from a painting of the past, these are not sacred images, but worldly and mundane. (
These are images of attractive women, and the name of fashion designers like Armani comes to mind such as in the painting entitled “Reperto Armani” page?.
It would be nice to see these paintings inserted in an enviornment all together, as in a parade as was done with religious icons back in the fourteenth century, which were so dear to the noble families of that time and period such as the Sforza.
But then Toffoletti in order of time gives his figures movement, and this is an expression of his modern taste, as in the example of the painting entitled “Caricamento” page?.
The images reproduced here are only of the last four years 2000 2004 (for the preceding works another catalog is available,
publisher’s note)Even though in a brief period of time like four years we are able to see a certain mutation, the femmenine images appear always less static, not posed, but with passionate gestures, the beauty of the bodies is no no longer just contemplated but discovered,such as the paintings entitled “Entroterra” and “Arreco” page ?.
As if the artist wanted to discover the innermost sense of what makes a person different from the next.
In this antitheoretical desire to diversify one model from the next in opposite form from a mannieristic classicism we discover a hym to beauty and youth who are made to love and enjoy the one and only life.
What I do enjoy of Toffoletti’s painting is his non formalistic encounter with the figure, and I do recognize in this still young painter his non denial of the escense of life, unlike other numerous
painters who hide behind complicated intellectualisms.
To resist in the vision of beauty and to maintain oneself faithfull to the the ideal one one has chosen, the artist must feel its mutation and not feel the subject as a static idol.
Toffoletti is aware, and other than sensual nudes he has started to paint non figurative works consisting of informal forms in free compositions. Is this one must ask a weakness or simply an expressive exercise which concedes him more commitment in his major figurative work, and therfore avoiding repetition?
Already in his figurative work we averted this need to shake the image such as the paintings entitled “Elettrica” and “Confronto” page ?
We critics and consumed historians who take in the artists of the newer generations know very well in the profound what agitates inside the soul of these young artists, and what is left inside of them regarding our ideals and principles.
We have lived through a period of growth with all its atrocious contradictions of an industrial society that now with the technological developments and progress is lightening itself of all the human elements which have composed it.
How do the new generations react to these facts? And how do we recognize it in their art ? If we do not confront these problems, our writings become useless writings of comfort and convenience.
Speaking of a growing artist like Pier Toffoletti we must think of how Pier perceives these problems as an operating force in a perspective to come , and not simply as a sanction of the past.
If we observe Toffoletti’s beautifull women, as the painter friends, Ennio Morlotti or Giuseppe Migneco who grew up with us, might have seen them, it does not take long to realize that we are in another world, and we are led to believe that there is a great return to the past.
Artists like Toffoletti are brought to reconstruct that which Baudelaire called “ the artificial paradise” as “the triumph of artificial nature” that which must satisfy today’s man, his eyes tired of lifes brutal realism.
Toffoletti’s women sprinkled in white, and wrapped in atractive clothing have lost all the naturalness which grew from the painter Manet onward in all painting of impressionist origin.
They live in beautifull greenhouses where painters of Austro- German origin had placed them. These painters needed to create a stage, a ficticious rhetoric.
Today Toffoletti limits himself to envelop his forms in a polymaterial veil which renders them precious and dreamlike.
Is this a reactionary return?
No, Toffoletti with all his dissolves, with all the mystery of the earth which sweeten the visibility with an exotic element, mixes in a fascinating way cries and agitations, giving us back a figure with all its vitality.
Who observes these images must make the effort to place one image next to the other and see a sort of story appear, similar to those bysantine images fixed to the walls of the churches of Ravenna when once freed of the Gauls they wanted t to pay tribute to this new found freedom with emblematic images.
I know very well that historical confrontations are dangerous, nor do I illude myself that Toffoletti’s women can compete with the frontal figures of San Vitale or with the Chartres cathedral.
But the principle is the same, after the distruction of the human figure, we try to recompose it, observing it head on, and it suggests virtue and wonder, the beauty of the color, the pose, the attitude, the body makes us love once again what was before mistreated and offended.
Pier Toffoletti is capable with his venetian grace, an origin he has never forgotten from the times of Lorenzo Veneziano onwards to give a sweetness to our human nature.
B .But then Tofoletti in order of time moves the figure, and this is a concession to modern taste such as in the painting “Caricamento”.
Portraits as the mirror of the soul by Giovanni Faccenda, August 2005
Pier Toffoletti's art has always steadfastly trod the high road of classical beauty, but in its most recent period, it has come up against the mysterious disquiet of a contemporary ethos drunk on dark misgivings. A brushstroke, or more often a patina of black, submerges those figures apparently, perennially, waiting for something that is destined to remain undisclosed even to their own imagination. Toffoletti's women evince an inner apprehension. It is as if an inexplicable something, lodged in their everyday lives, had intervened to provoke some secret parturition, or agonized, intimate cogitation.
What is striking about this mute misfortune, tinged at times with tenebrous torment, is the suppressed and unconfessed outburst of someone who sees all reason for hope snuffed out in tomorrow. A crescendo of fears, anxieties, and arcane forebodings points to a reality that is increasingly evil and hostile to the more sensitive members of humankind.
Thus it is that Toffoletti's current expression echoes in its accentuated tones the existential realism that continues to glow under the ashes of a creative effort striving to bring to the surface, in the magical paradox of figurative elegance, the least reassuring part of what lurks hidden in humanity: an accumulation of moods swinging between acquiescence and resignation.
It is no surprise that musings of this nature should have recourse to beautiful, alluring women who only rarely look at us directly, perhaps to deny us what we might discover if only we could catch their eye.
The malady of living has attacked the very root of beauty. Herein lies the explanation for Toffoletti's invincible urgency, and his insistence on venturing beyond the slope where painting contemplates a certain human restiveness.
From Le Scelte di Sgarbi (Sgarbi's Choices), Editoriale Giorgio Mondadori
We cannot help noticing the central importance in the works of Pier Toffoletti of drawing, in which the artist reveals a magisterial, innately agile expressiveness of gesture that pervades the intimate essence of his painting. It is through drawing that Toffoletti rediscovers the aesthetic search for harmony of proportion, and the precise compositional study of figures. Working from the recovery of the canons of classical art and the promptings of the Renaissance, Toffoletti also views his figures through the filter of a highly original personal interpretation that sees this imposing heritage through absolutely modern eyes. He sets the figures' atemporal perfection against a background that, quite deliberately, is itself imperfect. It is tortured by shadows and graffiti, complicated by the superimposition of layers of scratched colour, and carved with the enigmatic letters of Toffoletti's personal stylistic alphabet, which wraps the delicate female silhouettes in a subtle radiance of mystery and arcane, suspended allure.
From this complex background, which is treated like a fresco, skilful chiaroscuro shadows draw forth the soft plasticity of the figures as if from a mist of dreams. Incredibly beautiful girls with inscrutable expressions, absorbed in their own thoughts and interior dialogues, stroll dispassionately towards the observer, as if the mere act of looking at the figures could materialise them in the present. But just when it seems that we are about to touch them, we realise that our hand has passed straight through the transparent folds of their robes and their diaphanous limbs, returning the images to the world they belong to, the magical dimension of artistic sublimation. It is a world that brings us a real, concrete object which for that very reason is destined to be transformed and touch the eternal life of the soul, which Toffoletti captures with astonishing sensuality in his works. The girls, then, live in the ephemeral evanescence of their manifestation, emphasised by dynamic brushstrokes. In the swift notes of ochre, tan, pink and pale blue used to enhance and give colour to the figure, the brushwork recalls the impressionist taste for taking a snapshot of a single, fleeting moment. Yet in the very instant that the artist paints them, fixing them on the canvas, the solid force of their personality and the tangible persistence of their spirit transforms what might have been a momentary vision into a dazzling shard of eternity.
Prof. CAROL DAMIAN from Dipartimento di Storia dell'Arte of FIU Florida Iternational University
The interrelationship of surface textures and figuration also occours in the paintings of Pier Toffoletti. His works are based on the fragmentary and illusive elements of time and place, and speak more of his italian heritage with its ancient frescoes and memorable descriptions of gods and goddesses who once presided over life in the temples and villas. Often he references the classical past. However, Toffoletti's imagery is decidedly modern, as is his sensibility to the marks and scratches and textural processes that complete each work. Using a mixture of cement and paint to create unique surfaces for his subjects. Toffoletti moves beyond mere description to an entire visual experience. Sensual images emerge from the depths of these surface techniques as appealing complements to the rough and tactile backgrounds.
Professor PAOLO RIZZI - Art critic - Venice - August 2000
The meeting/clash is disturbing, but also persuasive. Here are some girls who are coming towards us: they are more or less the same ones we see in the street as they board a bus or walk into a boutique. Their gait, light make-up and fashionable clothes - even their self-assured air - comply with the aesthetic standards of today. They are the daughters of the "media". But at the same time their appearance seems timeless. They move forward as if they were coming out of an ancient fresco, maybe by Raffaello: a wall that is cracked and all mottled with unintelligible signs. We are surprised, and wonder whether those girls can be both of yesterday and of today. Their ambiguity fascinates us. We are strangely drawn to them.
In actual fact, the figures that Pier Toffoletti presents to us - "his" girls, who look at us pensively while they are drinking a cup of coffee or dressing near their bed - fit perfectly into the most up-to-date culture. They are ancient, because our culture cannot help turning increasingly to antiquity, also in order to come out of the bewilderment and neurosis which have hit us; but they are also modern, because they cannot absolutely help being in the present, living in the present, tackling the present. This is the chief quality of our beginning-of-the-millennium atmosphere, that sociologists call "blended" or "composite". Fashion, we know, no longer has a direction: it moves forward, but also looks backward. All the things that surround us are within the technological system, but also out of it, that is to say within the nostalgia for a bygone period. For this reason revivals are so successful, both in the fields of fiction and cinema and in that of painting.
Pier Toffoletti, this Friulian artist who is young but already mature, is quite aware of how the painting of today, and above all that of tomorrow, must be: outstretched toward the most up-to-date styles, but also nourished by the feeling of the past. This is why we are so enchanted when we look at his frescoes (technically they are not frescoes, but we may call them this way), where the vibrant earthiness of silence reflects present-day vitalism in a dimension pertaining to classical beauty. Undoubtedly the girls (and as a rule the young people) who are depicted even in groups in Pier's paintings possess an elegance, a harmony of behaviour - almost a nobility that is inward no less than outward - a perfect structural consistency that strike us as projections of a twilight past: a timeless time where Phidias is continued by Raffaello, on the basis of a model where truth and beauty merge platonically. Cannot these two "fragments" of divine perfection - truth and beauty - unite once more? The teaching of art proposes this to us, as an antidote to the banality and vulgarity of the years in which we are living.
This is Toffoletti's "ideal line". It is not merely a series of quotations or anachronisms, according to the formulas of a criticism that by now seems outdated to us; nor is it a series of photographic derivations that have been skilfully composed and elaborated. Painting revives, after having been obscured for almost a century; it emerges into the light, like Proserpina after the punishment of hell. Yes, nowadays it is possible - indeed it is only right - to paint this way: with this overwhelming sense of the present wrapped up in a mellow yearning for the past. The fact that Pier recovers some typical patterns of the media system should no longer be regarded as a limit. From the magmatic backgrounds (marble powders, sand, glue, oxides obtained with an almost alchemistic procedure), true painting emerges irresistibly, sometimes loose and diluted like Pompeiian lava. It dresses the elegant figures that have come out of the samples of magazines, photographs, films and videos; it ennobles them, raises them to a sphere of artistic recreation, causes them to quiver, move and breathe.
Now that the artist has given up a certain emphatic "antiquing", giving us back fresh air in which to live, the result is even more appealing. The quest for Renaissance perfection has discarded stylistic schematisation and has become a psychological analysis, an emotional impulse, a sensitive reception - in other words, a life that lives within the present, not an artificially resurrected life. We also appreciate the fineness of the chromatic relationships, where, above the reddish dominant hue of the background, there stand out ochre and sepia tones, gentle shades of brown, and some muted touches of violet and dusty light blue. Moreover, we are bewitched by that speckling, those scratches and those incised marks of an alphabet that we cannot understand. How unfathomable the human soul is!
The girls pass in front of us, with their impudent or gloomy air. They move away with quick little steps. But we do not forget them. In their wake, we still perceive their fragrance: the fragrance of yesterday and of today. They are not ghosts.
ANGELA FELICE - Art critic - Udine - 2000
You have to look slowly, more than once and for a long time at Pier's works in order to try to penetrate the whole range of possible suggestions and to go beyond the first impression of glossy visual pleasantness. You have to let your gaze (the gaze of your thrilled mind, one might say even before your eyes) dwell upon surfaces which are in a way unsettling, moved by impalpable backgrounds and shades of evanescent colour, so earthy that you are almost compelled to touch them and caress them with your hand. They are placed in the pagination so that the edges have the same relief as the central, more focused areas and their immediate surroundings. What, for example, should you consider more important, in accordance with an ideal hierarchy of figurative values and meanings? The tortured walls of the background, engraved by claws and drifts, splinters and obscure writings, graffiti of metropolitan disease as much as hieroglyphics coming from the darkness of a forgotten history? Or more recognizable figures, standing out from that background, crossed by the mystery of its meaning? The latter are human presences, looming inside almost protective frames, bringing to light a plastic evidence. They organize themselves in fixed postures of classic and post-classic attitude, which emphasize their physical dimension, the softness of their flesh and the aesthetic harmony of their body. A sort of languishing sensuality, chaste and intense, muffles the feminine evocations, which prevail upon the masculine ones, caught in quiet gestures, almost in withdrawn moments of lonely introspection. The clothes, if any, are little more than a piece of fabric, which is merely a precarious and informal wrapping offered to the chiaroscuro of the folds. Rather than an actual dress, that are suited to the visual game of covering, uncovering and revealing the secret language of the corporeal nakedness and its disclosed chastity. Free from decorative complacency, Pier's women are also free from the greed of possession of others and by others. On the contrary, they are concentrated in a sort of time and space suspension and in a neutral zone of intimate loneliness. All they offer to the viewer are their shoulders, the oblique face bent or lifted up - the profile or the evasive, indirect cut of the eyes, which do not look at those who contemplate their intimacy but gaze elsewhere. They look inside themselves, or at a vague "outside", to which the viewer too is invited to turn. It is therefore in this game of the eyes, which avoid looking and being looked at, that you discover that the printings show intermittent flashes of visions and signs of elusive beauty. They are burdened by echoes wisely filtered by much artistic tradition of the past, but already about to lose themselves; to vanish, to annihilate forever. You can also discover that the wounded and wrecked backgrounds are the necessary equipment of the discreet epiphany of beauty on the brink of its precipice and against the brutish wall of a vulgar present. At the end, Pier's paintings, after one has looked at them over and over to find the mirror-like links between the tragicalness of the backgrounds and the opaline grace of the human figures in the foreground, leave an ultimate, decisive emotion. They leave it also to those who, like the writer, can only rely on their own sensitivity and not on a false presumption of technical knowledge. The emotion they leave is the echo of a melting melancholy, that of someone who understands the obsoleteness of the idea and can only admire its fragile apparition in lonely moments of inward concentration.
PAOLO LEVI, art critic - 1999
A painter whose essential quality is that of being able to draw. Pier Toffoletti uses this very ancient art to carry onto the scenery of his canvas the beauty of the feminine body in all its mystery. Let us examine the painting Figure e panneggi ("Figures and drapery"). In this case, he takes pleasure in "drawing", with a subtle pictorial style, the attitude of the faces of the two figures, which mirror the infinite possibilities of expression of the feminine soul.
KAZUO AKIYOSHI (Cultural Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Sezon, Japan) - 1998
Even if someone talking about the works of Pier Toffoletti were to say that they are those of a Renaissance painter, nobody would have doubts. Human representation that can also reveal spirituality by means of superlative sketches. Decorativeness and emotion whose effect reminds us of frescoes on materials such as sand, and of marble powder thickly applied. It astonishes me to hear that all this comes from a recreation and pastime of Pier Toffoletti, who is the manager of an advertisement firm and also a director of television commercials; he was born in 1957, so he is only 41. I take off my hat to the infinite depth and broadness of the world of Italian art, which can produce an artist like him.
It seems to me very natural that he and his works are noticed all over the world.