16 March-5 June 2005. Guttuso (1911-1987) was born in the Sicilian town of Bagheria, known for its 18th-century villa inhabited by gnomish odd grotesque statues that intrigued Grand Tour travellers including Goethe. Once, in a Rome gallery, when Josef Beuys was painstakingly outlining his political theories on a blackboard, I saw the Sicilian painter make impatient gestures, then bluster up and draw right over Beuys drawing. Lets go eat! he cried, seemingly good-natured.
There is something grotesque and also stubborn and overweening in this indefatigable painters output. Here you can see that from the beginning his hand was incisive and energetic, but also that it became increasingly heavy. From post-Cubism he went to outright social realism but in all styles painting Sicilian vegetables in stark outline, or serious but anonymous workmen, portraits of friends, or elaborate allegories, the illustrational drive always dominates. The impact was always in what was said, not in how it was said. Guttuso had a tin ear for sensitivity. The work was of a fierce liveliness but the story was never subtle. Nor did he ever have much use for abstraction. He had a grudge against it. Abstraction is not for the people, proclaimed the communist senator who was married to a countess.
That the internal make-up of a picture, its armature, its composition, is its base and harmony, which can give pleasure as melodious as music, was of no interest to him. His role model was Picasso, but the only thing the two painters had in common was an excess of productivity.
His steady sturdy procedure, his relentless muscular attack, his stringy toiling brush strokes, his fun with humdrum, obvious daily detail, his tireless productivity, endears him and earns him the respect of those who are not schooled in art and have little intention to sit down and try to get schooled.
A drawing of a mechanic under a car; a portrait of painter Giulio Turcato with his cat Molotov; a Flight to Egypt with Joseph looking like an Arab with his gear; you can still find some amusing narrative pictures here. But some late and huge extravaganzas, canvases filled with half-naked women in sloppy underwear behaving like women on late-night television, are crude images that only a man would fantasise about, and they are too blatantly and unamusingly macho. Edith Schloss
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Renato Guttuso. Opere 1931-1986.
Chiostro del Bramante, Via della Pace, tel. 0668809035.