Vicolo dell’oro 1962
Olio su tela
135 × 135 cm
IX Premio Termoli 1964
Photo: Gianluca Di Ioia
by Francesco Maglione (grazie all'Archivio Gastone Novelli)

Gastone Novelli was born in Vienna in 1925 but he spent his childhood and adolescence in Rome.

After the Second World War, during which he was imprisoned for taking part in the Resistance, he left for Brazil but returned to Rome several times. He continued to travel between Europe and America even after moving back to Rome in 1954. Among the places he visited, the one that impressed him the most was Greece, where he went several times from the summer of 1961.

Probably from the exploration of this country stems the work Vicolo dell’oro. There are several works created during and after his trip to Greece that have the word “oro” [gold] in their title, either as a reference to the colour of an object or to a precious material. For example, the painting La ricerca del vello d’oro [The search for the golden fleece](1963) or the drawings Il mistero del fiore d’oro – Micene [The mystery of the gold flower-Mycenae] and Le miniere d’oro di Siphnos [Siphnos’ gold mines], both part of the series of sixty-eight drawings from the book Viaggio in Grecia [Journey to Greece] not all published by Edizioni Arco d’Alibert in 1966. It is a sort of guide to Greece, full of descriptions of landscapes, archaeological sites, cities and people he met during his repeated trips to the Balkan country.

In Vicolo dell'oro, with the predominance of white and light tones, the shapes and lines take on the appearance of geographical maps or landscapes made of hills, stretches of water, valleys and mountains that in the sinuosity of the lines seem to transfigure into female bodies or anatomical details such as bellies and breasts. It is difficult to reconstruct anything else about these realities painted by Novelli, which seem to recall children’s drawings where spatial and temporal coordinates lose their importance. This fluidity and alteration of reality is also given by the bird's eye perspectives and distorted views from above with which some of Novelli’s works from 1962 are painted, partly comparable with those created by Futurist aeropainting more than thirty years earlier.

Novelli’s great interest for space explorations undertaken by Russia and the United States in the late 1950s, which led the Soviet cosmonaut Juri Gagarin to make the first space flight around the Earth in 1961, is undoubtedly the basis of his work. In the landscape we seem to be flying over, the eye is guided by the grid drawn with thin lines similar to the meridians and parallels of the globe. This grid, already used by Novelli as an organising element, in comparison with other works (Corrispondenze terrestri, 1962; Totolettera, 1962; Omaggio al conte di St. Germain, 1962) loses its regularity, goes beyond two-dimensionality, empties itself and opens up to pictorial space. We could say that in this work the surface of the canvas regains its character as a pictorial surface, without the written page characteristic of other works. In the lightened composition, the text continues to exist but within the few squares of the checkerboard. It is a more controlled handwriting, perhaps closer to the work of Paul Klee and less of Cy Twombly, two of the most influential artists for Novelli.

Since the late 1950s he had embraced the Swiss artist’s statement: “writing and image, writing and figuration are fundamentally as one”. Between letters and signs set in grids or in chromatic checkerboards, Klee’s lesson constantly emerges. The two artists share much in their research and experimental approach. The parallelism between them can also be extended to their personal lives: like Gastone, Klee also suffered the violence of the Nazi regime and in 1937 was forced to leave Germany where his works were condemned as “degenerate art”.