On Bruno Liberatore’s Works

Serghei Androsov

20th century art is marked by a change of direction towards the search for a new concept of form. Developing rapidly at the turn of the century, this quest gave rise to non-figurative images. But unlike painting, which as early as the 1910s saw the first abstract compositions by Vassily Kandinsky and, in 1915, Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, sculpture was slower to undergo a similar evolution. Most avant-garde sculptors, including such prominent artists as Alexander Archipenko, Constantin Brancusi and slightly later Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti, continued to draw their inspiration above all from the human form, which they each reshaped, stylized and transformed according to their own vision of the world.

It was only during the inter-war period that a flat rejection of all forms of anthropomorphism came about. An example of this is the work of Hans Arp, whose sculptures were to signal a ‘new plastic reality’ and whose artistic value lay in the originality of their forms and volumes. In the second half of the twentieth century the exploration of new forms in the field of sculpture became international and universal, enlisting followers in Italy too, including sculptors trained upon the traditional tenets of figurative art.
One of the leading figures of this trend in Italian art is Pietro Consagra, who had a one-man exhibition at the Hermitage back in 1991. This sculptor’s individual style was marked by his skillful use of colour added to a plastic image, often rather simple. He liked to exploit the heterogeneous composition of the stones, which he would often embellish with different materials, giving his work a particularly intense impact upon the urban environment. Consagra’s sculptures grace the streets of various Italian cities, including Rome itself.

Bruno Liberatore was born in 1947 in Penne, in the Abruzzi region. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, where he was a student of Pericle Fazzini, and has taught sculpture in Milan and Florence. Currently a professor at the Fine Arts Academy in Rome, he can be considered a member of the generation of Italian sculptors that followed Consagra’s. His artistic principles are, however, very different from those of his predecessors. He does not stop at simple figures, but tends rather to devise new forms and volumes that can rarely be labelled figurative plastic art.
It is not easy to interpret Liberatore’s compositions: more than anything they call upon associative thinking or indeed upon the viewer’s subconscious. Curved and smooth forms suggest calm and harmony, while corners and sharp edged planes create a feeling of ruggedness and tension.

Pyramids are in themselves stable, perfect shapes. The sculptor, however, often deforms them, sometimes cutting them diagonally and sometimes extending them vertically and leaving them empty inside. Thus reshaped, the forms that emerge from the original pyramid create a dramatic effect. It is unlikely that this is the premeditated intention of the sculptor, who lets himself be carried along, rather, by his imagination, improvising and devising new forms in the process. One distinct group of Liberatore’s work includes sculptures carved from shapes that are quite simple, known since ancient times. These are, as I said, regular pyramids, truncated pyramids and closed surfaces. Such forms can be alternated or repeated within the same work, reminiscent at times of mountain ranges (Cordilleras, bronze, 1981) and at other times of walls (Wall, bronze, 1972–1975). It is possible that these sculptures represent far off echoes of the artist’s childhood impressions. A native of the Abruzzi region, famous for its mountains, many of which are crowned by ancient castles and fortresses, Liberatore draws obvious aesthetic pleasure from a smooth shiny surface and wishes to share that pleasure with the viewer. Or else, he punches holes in the metal and creates concave areas that break up the specular smoothness, and again the result is pleasing to the artist who entitles his work Sick Wall (bronze, 1976). Some of these structures acquire a monumental character such as the composition of four pyramids Mountain Passes (iron and terracotta, 1988–1994) in the Museum of Contemporary Art Ca’ la Ghironda in Zola Predosa, near Bologna.

No matter how unusual they are, Liberatore creates his sculptures using traditional time-honoured techniques. He starts by making several sketches, in a fairly large format. When he has come up with a design that looks right, the artist then moulds small clay maquettes, the best of which will be then cast in bronze or in another metal, in the size desired by the artist. At this point, the sculptor focuses particular attention on the surfaces, sometimes polishing them, sometimes gilding them or coating them in an opaque patina. Liberatore’s most successful works are given, as we have seen, monumental proportions, often larger than man. By combining forms and volumes, the sculptor draws viewers into a game, as if inviting them to touch the bronze with their hands in order to confirm their visual impression with tactile contact and to walk around the work to see it from all sides, and to pass in between the elements of a composition or perhaps, albeit with difficulty, among the elements of a sculpted volume. It is a game that seems intended for children but which may tempt even an adult public, if nothing else because it would be unthinkable in a museum among works by the old masters. At the current exhibition, one can see some such creations by Liberatore on display in the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace where they relate not so much to the baroque of the Russian tsars’ residence with the statues and vases on the roof, as to the island of trees in the central part of the courtyard.

Since the 1990s, Liberatore’s art has moved increasingly towards more complicated forms of his own invention. As a result, the surfaces of his compositions have become more and more complex and ornate. The artist takes passionate care in building up his surfaces. Unlike in those of Henry Moore, there are no human figures to be gleaned in the works of this series. They refer instead to certain fundamental concepts: the inanimate nature of matter; the Earth; the fury of the elements. The evocation of the Earth can be felt above all in his clay maquettes, which he creates with particular care. A part of that Earth that is a fundamental element in the whole of creation, clay, acquires in the hands of the artist, a life and soul (as it did in Arthur Conan Doyle’s humouristic short story When the World Screamed). The sculptor seeks to express through the plastic form the various moods of ‘Mother Earth’. Sometimes it seems that she is benevolent to mankind and prepared to bear forth her fruit. At other times, she turns against Man and opposes the violence he occasions and, resembling a volcano, she casts out lava (Eruption II, bronze, 1994–1996).
Liberatore’s models belonging to this group of works are, in our opinion, of special artistic value. They are made (in appearance ‘pieced together’) using slithers of clay that look like small leaves or flower petals. They cling to each other in such a way as to create a precise rhythm, indeed a kind of ornamentation. When cast in bronze, these petals lose their quivering nature, appearing rather mechanical, but they acquire in exchange, a new decorative effect due to the tonal gradations of the bronze that is either gilded or patinated. In some cases, the sculptor juxtaposes two materials, clay and bronze, to very original effect. He sometimes adds iron to terracotta and bronze, thereby enhancing its smoothness (Corner and Contraforce, 1999–2001).

As I said, man is not present in Liberatore’s sculptures, as he prefers to evoke nature as a whole, creating stereometric forms reminiscent of natural structures. For this reason, the artist’s works are more suited – in our opinion – to a natural landscape, such as a plateau with solitary trees, than to an urban environment. For that same reason, the artist attributes great importance to the location of the work in specific sites that determine its proportions. Reaching at times remarkable dimensions, Liberatore’s works become monumental. Unusual as they are, they evoke various moods: for example the peace of nature at rest (Island, bronze, 1989–1992); or the opposite, deep disruptions of the ideal and physical space (Terrestrial City and Celestial City, bronze, 1996–1998).
Abandoning himself to the creative process, Bruno Liberatore creates a world all of his own in which the abstract form dominates. The latter takes on the appearance, depending on the work in question, either of simple natural forms or of strange flights of fancy. In all of them, however, the artist remains authentic in his art and takes spontaneous pleasure in the play of forms and volumes. It remains to be seen if the public of St. Petersburg has enjoyed this game. Whatever the case, it will find in Bruno Liberatore an original artist in continuous pursuit.