Exhibition visit: Cesare Lucchini “Quel che rimane”

Today I went to the exhibition of the Bellinzona (Ticino) born artist Cesare Lucchini (b. 1941) at the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts) Bern, Switzerland (23 Sep 2016 – 08 Jan 2017). Available from: http://kunstmuseumbern.ch/en/see/today/585-lwhat-remainsr–120.html [accessed 01 Nov 2016]

Cesare Lucchini studied, worked and lived in Milan till 1988. Followed by residence in  Düsseldorf and Cologne, he lives and works today in Lugarno, Switzerland.  The artist’s extensive body of work remained mostly hidden to the public eye and the show at the Kunstmuseum brings is a kind of retrospective from the last two decades. Lucchini’s paintings are rather abstract works that allude ambiguous perception of his imaginative compositions. He investigates the subject matter through the materiality of the paint as a process of experimentation an searching.

His stimulus for a painting usually arises from the observation of daily news (public or private) Perhaps pressing issues or an image in a journal that makes triggers his thought process and his strong emotional response (Robbini, 2008) Lucchini sees his approach as a craft and a dialogue between the act of painting and the constant reflection of it.

Pressing issues like the tragedy of boat people from NorthAfrica landing on the island of Lampedusa and the migrant crisis in Europe (2010-2016) or the ecological disaster of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by the BP (2010) are subject matters that were visually present at the exhibition with large scale paintings.

I was quite interested to learn how he tackles those pressing issues and how he comes to his visualisations. As I started in the OCA student form a thread on objectification and subjectification I got some feedback from fellow students about reception theory alongside my tutor’s feedback after assignment 3 on inter-subjectivity. So my question was: Does he go on those sites and talk with the people? Or is he working from his comfortable studio and let his subjective emotional response and thought process alone be the driving force for the paintings?

I researched more and learned that Lucchini went 2015 to the island of Lampedusa to get front experience. There is also talked with the filmmaker Gianfranco Rosa who won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 2016 for his film ‘Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea)‘, 2016

He confronts the self with those urgent issues and asks himself questions that may be those of the people suffering from humiliation and who would have a right to be angry and enraged.  Compared with the media publications Lucchini is rather restrained in his response. His personal investigation of those realities find its visualisation in painting between multiple layers of paint and at times collage. The paintings are an articulation of the vulnerable though poetic world. He paints without pre drawing or underpainting.

His serial painting do have titles as Quasi una testa (Like a Head), Qualcosa si muove (Something is Moving) or Quel che rimane (What Remains), the latter inspired for the title of the exhibition.

Lucchini made various paintings since 2010 as his emotional and subjective response on the Lampedusa tragedy.
The older one ‘Quel che rimane – Lampedusa‘, 2010 (Oil on canvas, 284 x 250,5 cm) is an appropriation of the painting by Alfred BoecklinIsland of the Dead‘, 1880 (Oil on wood, 73.7 x 121.9 cm – 2nd version), one of the famous paintings of Symbolism with a standing person in a boat reaching for the burial island. Lucchini changes the narrative as the standing person is on the island, the boat with other people inside leaving the island. There is ambiguity in Lucchini’s painting as on the one hand the boat people are leaving the ‘island of the death’ for a hopeful future and on the other hand the person on the island is left behind. It is up to the observer to reflect further on this symbolic narrative.

Lucchini adds symbolic meaning to his paintings especially in his later series. As the mountain motif that is visible in many of his paintings as in  ‘Quel che rimane – Lampedusa‘, 2016 (Oil on canvas, 192 x 328 cm). The mountain depicted by him in his earliest paintings as a view out of a window acts as a elements for inside and outside. In the above painting though it becomes more of a symbol for a visionary and unattainable future (with fallen people in the front)
In another series like the paintings with an armchair and an imaginary head as  ‘Quel che rimane–apparizione‘,  2007 (Oil on canvas,228 x 201 cm) shows how a painting has its own reality.  The armchair works as a representation of an armchair only on the painting in a dialogue with the surrounding space and the imaginary head. The head acts as a representational aspect of the artist or the observer. For me this painting did not resonate much with me. I felt it too overworked and too conceptual. For me something to keep better in mind when working on conceptual or narrative ideas in my own work.

Between the ‘Lampedusa’ paintings were the sculpture ‘Into One Another IV to P.P.P.‘ by the Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere (b. 1964) – reclining headless figures side by side similar to ‘Into one another‘, 2010 (wax, epoxy, metal, wood, glass). This series of work by De Bruyckere is dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini. The sculpture conveys an eerie realism with pale though luminous surface colour. There is a suggestion of terror and pain.

More sculpture were placed in the space between Lucchini’s paintings. I find this a great approach of artistic dialogue. Quite in the sense of inter-subjectivity.

In the exhibition space with the series Quasi una testa (Like a Head) the paintings were joined with sculptures by the swiss artist Hans Josephsohn. An intimate dialogue of the large facial paintings craving for space and the rather deformed, distorted, faceless figurative sculptures. Like ‘Untitled, 1990 (Brass, 153 x 93 x 70 cm). A kind of transition phase between creating and being.



Lucchini’s paintings are made with rather muted colours, only at times with addition of a few brighter coloured areas. He applies a lot of white and greyish areas. Those are distorting through additional layer in part of the image as in ‘Quel che rimane – Lampedusa‘, 2016. I felt more attracted to the paintings that work around a narrative with blurred and fuzzy forms. The more abstract works did not resonate so much. I felt the symbolic meaning of some elements as the mountain an interesting aspect that works at times well with the composition. But I do struggle still with symbolic load of a painting, not sure yet how I would work around this in my own work. Also I found some compositions too deprived and not enough balanced. I was wondering about some additional outlines illustrating partly the contour of a human form. How would be the visual perception without those lines? They give visual depth but are they too illustrative perhaps?

I find the painting ‘Nella polvere – resti’, 2015 (Oil on canvas, 195 x 240 cm) exciting as the composition works with several visual spaces, ambiguous depiction of form and a combination  of line and tone that for me works quite well.

Another interesting aspect of Lucchini’s painting process is that he paints on unstretched canvas wth tape around the edges to hold it to the wall and acting as a frame. At the end he removes the tape and the canvas is been stapled to a wooden frame. For him the removal of the tape and looking at the white ‘frame’ is always a surprise and at times he considers this as successful and at times not.

The painting ‘Il Giorno della Memoria‘, 2012 (Oil and collage on canvas, 145 x 100 cm) illustrates his approach: Canvas and wallpaper (?) glued on a canvas support, Wide tape strips surrounding the picture planes, in the lower half even rolled tape parts glued on the surface. Multiple layers of meaning and painterly reality.

His interior paintings from the 1980s are convincing by the multi layers of paint and layers of reality ‘Atelier‘, 1984-1985 (Oil on canvas, 176 x 262 cm). Mostly his interiors are without figures. Although a stark human presence is perceivable what reminds me of the painting ‘A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris’, 1907-09 by Gwen John. In the right part of the painting is the development of a human torso visible, depicted with bold bright color patches.

I left the exhibition intrigued and inspired. I especially liked the layering, the materiality approach, and how Lucchini sources stimuli and translates those into at times quite poetic visual images. Ambiguous, at times mystic, and often related to dramatic and shocking events.


  4 comments for “Exhibition visit: Cesare Lucchini “Quel che rimane”

  1. November 3, 2016 at 8:17 am

    An interesting review Stefan – I didn’t know this artist before. I like the way that you have considered the exhibition in relation to the recent forum discussions (reception theory in particular). I’m going to research Lucchini further as I can see similarities between his way of working and my own although, from the examples of his work that you have included, some tend towards illustration as you said.

    • Stefan
      November 3, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Hi Scottie, thanks for your feedback. Good to see how reactions from others. Find it more and more helpful to ‘use’ the student forum working for me. Still need to bring in more my own work, learning from you as well. I tend now to see exhibitions and shows in a wider sense, looking at how I see and perceive and how the artist sees and how he/she investigated his/her subject matter. I am thinking even to schedule my gallery and museums visits to those days when the artist is present – to have a dialogue, deeper insight in the making etc. Do you have that chance of talking with the exhibiting artist at the show? Thanks again tefan

  2. November 3, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    No problem – it’s a pleasure to read your blog. You are right about the value of the forums; It took me a long time to properly engage with them and that was my loss. I hope the transition to the new format goes OK.
    I have managed to talk to exhibiting artists but that tends to be at smaller galleries and more by luck than planning. I have been to some ‘open studio’ events and these can be particularly beneficial.

    • Stefan
      November 4, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Thanks. Looking forward to meeting you in the new forum format

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