Bruno Liberatore in Saint Petersburg

Enrico Crispolti

I have known Bruno Liberatore since he was a student and assistant of Pericle Fazzini at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, where I also taught (on the art history side) in the late sixties. I have thus been able to follow the way his plastic art has evolved step by step since the end of the seventies till today. And the changes in his work have all been very coherent, reflecting his steadfast desire to stick to what is an extremely personal, indeed increasingly personal, approach. After some thirty years of exploration and in-depth study into his heritage of image references and of plastic techniques, it is now undoubtedly easy to recognize Liberatore as one of the most original and independent artists on the Italian sculpture scene in the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century.
There are several reasons why I admire his originality. The first, which I would say is the most fundamental reason, is that over the thirty years of his work he has evolved in an extremely coherent manner, substantially renewing his faith in the traditional values of sculpture, that is to say, in the validity of the plastic event, its composition and its material solidity. He has applied these values, however, not in a traditionalistic way, but with a deeply innovative approach through a constant dialectic in terms both of structure and of materials. That dialectic has taken Liberatore to a phase that has marked his work more or less of the last ten years in which he has ventured out, embarked on a deep-rooted revision and begun questioning the way those values should be handed down.

In other words, Liberatore’s plastic art is embedded in a profound awareness of the classical methods used in sculpture. And yet he allows such awareness to bear fruits by continuously venturing out sculpturally in terms both of his structures and the way they balance in space, and in his provocatively disparate choice of materials, including iron, bronze, terracotta used within the same context (as in the more recent sculptures), and also in terms of his emphatically matterist treatment of his surfaces (especially in the spontaneous way he works his terracotta chips). What emerges is a variety of plastic artworks all completely unexpected, unpredictable, totally free and aimed at evoking multiple images of his own native world. This is the second reason why I admire the original identity Liberatore’s sculpture has conquered on the current Italian sculpture scene. It is an identity he has conquered silently, working steadfastly to establish his own personal image basis. That ability to comply with an authentic tradition of sculpture, while at the same time placing it continuously in question, laying it open to innovative risk, does not come from a desire to indulge in any kind of experimentation, but from a need to get ever closer and give voice to his telluric imprinting, to a nucleus of mountain or Appenine images (Bruno Liberatore was born in the ancient town of Penne, on one of the highest slopes of the Apennines, the mountain range that runs along the Italian peninsula). In other words, Liberatore’s sculptural transgressions, with his seemingly endless variations and his structural, material and matteristical inventivity, especially in his recent works, are all motivated by and dependent on a quest for an ever more intimate, convincing and inventive connection to his heritage of ancestral and territorially very well defined reference.

The third reason why I admire his originality is again for reasons peculiar to him. One could even say exclusive to him in that he juxtaposes materials – bronze, iron and terracotta – in an utterly unusual and surprising way and builds up the material texture of his surfaces plastically, piece by piece, manually, impulsively, producing masses, bumps and bulges, especially his treatment of terracotta, which in his recent works has become much more intense and nigh-on taken over. It is therefore easy to state that Liberatore’s plastic art is currently developing in the sense of complete spontaneity and unpredictability both structurally and in his treatment of matter, towards cavernous concavities and almost organic protrusions. Overall, the originality that distinguishes Liberatore as a sculptor seems perhaps comparable to me, historically, in Italy only to that great sculptor and leading figure of the Art Informel movement, namely Edgardo Mannucci, a matterist famous since the early fifties for his direct welding technique of metal fragments (including molten cut-offs), and his structural and spatial calligraphic marks. He came from the Marches area, but was based in Rome, near to the Umbria-born Burri, the matter ‘painter’ who used sacks, burlaps and material concretions soaked in vinavil, and was another leading figure in the European Art Informel movement.

What Liberatore (who was from the Abruzzi region, that is to say, central Italy too) has in common with Mannucci is an instinct to explore very freely while bending all the results of his dialectic to an avant-garde quest to found his artistic expression on the poetic roots he has inherited, thereby coming up with sculptures that are spatially, structurally and materially original to him. Another aspect the two sculptors share is the functionality of the plastic art they create, each one according to a highly pronounced communicative and evocative instinct through which he aims intensely at exploring and sharing the images from his universe of reference. In Mannucci’s case, this translated as a perception of the material’s intrinsic energy, with the newly acquired knowledge about nuclear fission, an energy triggered by projecting the material onto a cosmic level (from microcosm to the macrocosm). And in Liberatore’s case, it is his endless referrals to his childhood imprinting of a mountainous, Apennine universe, that be- comes a world to its own.
Fantastic landscapes to walk into and out of, open forms, divided, and offered as fragments, scraps of memories of a primary, ancestral nature reproduced on a psychological dimension. Utterly free, unpredictable forms, inviting the viewer to touch them. Mysterious, mountain peaks and ruggedness, the bowels and bodies of the mountain, of the earth. These are the boundless journeys Liberatore invites us to make as if it is the ultimate connection with mother earth, the generator, the beginning and the end. And in his large scale environmental sculptures, it is in fact possible to walk in and around them as if on a journey of revelation, of initiation almost. Liberatore’s plastic art has long been marked by two distinct periods, quite different from each other. In his early works, a certain structural crispness made for sculptures whose polished surfaces helped define evidence of archetypal memorial reference. Then, throughout the seventies, the structural system of his sculptures was modulated to produce sculptures echoing the “façades”, “gates”, and “walls”, of a more remote anthropomorphic archetype, in which there was an implicit dynamic call to enter into them, and walk around them.

Later, the expressiveness of the sculptural material itself (which was then always bronze) became more important than the structure, until it took over with new imaginative motives. Throughout the eighties, his works began to be structured no longer vertically but above all horizontally, with sculptures that were no longer single units but consisted of several elements, prefiguring sculptural ensembles, or environmental elements that one could walk around, verita- ble environmental contexts (these were large scale projects, some of which were in fact built between the eighties and the nineties). Liberatore imagined his sculptures as a setting one could travel through, mysteriously entering a landscape made entirely of sculptures, belonging geometrically, metaphysically and futuristically to “another world” (albeit of a remotely archetypal configuration).
Landscape then in fact became his new imaginative “topos”. On the one hand, there were landscapes that correspond to a childhood and adolescent imprinting of the slopes of Italy’s Gran Sasso mountain. On the other, there were more futuristic landscapes, which took him to new worlds, with mysteriously strong geometrical shapes, angular and mechanical. But since the end of the eighties and throughout the nineties, Liberatore’s plastic art has become more complex. One aspect of his work consists of ‘landscapes’ in the form of definitive sized pyramidal shapes in iron designed specifically for display in the outdoor environment and large enough for viewers to enter and move about in. Another consists instead of large bronzes whose shape and texture are such that they suggest a kind of incompressible germination or onset of matter as a decidedly expansive telluric force. And they are always remotely reminiscent of mountain landscapes. But then Liberatore resorts also to terracotta, which he uses in a dialectic relationship with iron and with bronze. The emphasis Liberatore placed on the expressivity of the material he used for his sculptures, which became increasingly freely formed upon and reminiscent of telluric impulses, led him in turn to an unpredictable, almost organic spatial balance that marked his works of between the late nineties and the first decade of the year two thousand. It was then, by dint among other things of his spontaneous, manual and matterist use of terracotta that the sculptor became able to work in total freedom, in terms both of his structural inventions and the emphasis he placed on the materials, pushing his archetypical telluric frame of reference to the dimension of episodes of his own cosmogonic imagination. And this is the new, the most recent phase he has reached. It is one that is absolutely original to a sculptor who is working intensely and independently but whose “solitude” allows him to reassert something profoundly new and authentic, corresponding to the most secret, territorially and ancestrally deep-rooted aspect of contemporary Italian art.