Observations made by Jürgen Raap

Individual signs or signals only assume concrete form as a structure or a system with an overriding meaning when they are multiplied or distributed in groups, like traffic lights or other traffic signals spread over a particular area. The isolated musical note only achieves its true status within a music score. A crowd is not simply a large collection of individuals,  but also achieves the celebration of some stereotype: the participants at church services, party conferences, sporting events, large fairs etc. are united by a common interest, which give rise to quite distinct rituals and conventions to which the individual adapts. That is how we experience the typical politician these days as an expression of modesty, the football fan covered in his team emblems or the punk or skinhead using his own particular symbols as someone who demonstrates primarily membership of a group. Faces do not fill the role of human countenances in Alfio Giuffrida’s pictures as in they do in classical portraiture; they are also hardly suited to identification purposes in a criminal investigation.

Alfio Giuffrida unfolds his current pictorial language in the form of horizontally layered, that is linear distributed dots and blots. The rhythmic repetition of a basic pattern conjures up movement and it appears as though there no longer exist any fixed points in this world out of which the varied relationships of beings and things may be defined and classified. The sequence of mask-like faces which are only slightly modified is not simply a reproduction of that which is very similar but rather of that which is identical. Thus this view of identity is not aimed at that which is original in individual existence but rather at that which conforms to the pattern of human expression, as if mankind were a model of creation produced in batches with only variations from the prototype.

There exist differing styles in art in which form and content refer back to each other and to the pictorial level of the other, frequently in the form of a hierarchic conception in which one is give priority over the other. Colour has for Alfio Giuffrida its own individual value in the equilibrium between the two; he is concerned with pure painting as such, but always within a framework of relationships which is defined by the principle of shape distributed in series.  The artist, who was born in Catania in 1953 had his artistic training in his place of birth and in Rome and given this biographical background the links to traditional Italian art are unmistakeable. To this is added in the case of Guiffrida a subtle undertone of the fantastic: stories are told but the concentration of their story-telling elements and of the information in the individual form to virtually ornamental sequences leaves the plot of these stories in the realm of the esoteric.

Chaos is not permitted to withstand order. Concreteness here signifies that, in spite of all tendencies towards a simplification of the form, no separation from the corporeal is pursued and in no sense is spontaneity celebrated. Consequences and series as in mathematical thought patterns are not however visualised with the same smoothness as was typical in the “ars accurata” art form around 1970, but Giuffrida permits, for instance, within this system of series also gradual concave and convex distortions of the figurative. The starting point in developing the picture is for him always his conceptual mind-set and not spontaneous experimentation with shapes. Even the rhythmic interplay of colour nuances with all its sensitivity is not without a certain rational and mathematical element and results in a  virtually orchestral  co-ordination in the picture as a whole.

The principle of the linear nature of the picture can be traced as a leitmotif throughout several phases of the artist’s work. It is to be found equally in his tempera works on paper with the neatly-arranged stripes of print traces showing through as in an x-ray picture done in 1987 as  in the series of heads done as a relief of plastic casts in 1988. This linearity also determines the small-format pictures, above all a series of works created in 1992. The faces ultimately become more and more abstracted or distorted into grotesqueness and combined with tectonic forms, resembling curved bulges or an ornamented profile. Gaps in the pictorial structure are also visible in the most recent works; they make one think of the outlines of maps, the human hand or temples in antiquity and project themselves forward out of the structural fabric. The syntactic structure of the picture emphasises uniformity but at the same time a visualisation of individual signs occurs in which they detach themselves from the semantic structure and stand alone.
In composing the picture the centre is frequently chosen as its main element, both optically and spiritually, which then determines its adjacent areas with their connections of structures and sub-structures. The different horizontal lines are piled one on top of the other like the floors in the façade of a building; interruptions and particular points of emphasis then occur in the centre, but not just there. They fulfil the role of adding drama which assists in making the pictures comprehensible, knowing full well how we in our own cultural environment apply the reading habits used in literature and textual material in looking at a picture, first taking in the whole of the picture and then drawing meaning from left to right and from top to bottom, whereby, as is generally known, the psychological centre of gravity is not located at the same point as the geometric centre. Art students learn all about the basic principles of architectural history in their classes, but equally that in describing the façade they should start with the area of the entrance, which in all the great building periods of representative architecture of cathedrals and palaces was commonly accepted as being the centre of the building. Giuffrida does not however elevate the laws of symmetry to a dogma in his pictures.

In his most recent group of works he uses the technique of covering layers of oil paint with tempera, which leads to a curious pearling effect. In this way shapes are hidden behind diffuse layers, only penetrate the picture vaguely and shimmer sometimes in a way which is almost impressionistic. He also applies a white, curtain-like transparent layer of material to some pictures , the materiality of which gives the grey-violet rays a particularly sensual effect. The forms are not abstracted here through the tools of painting but by the process of covering. Another series of works consists of  wooden backgrounds covered in gold leaf; these works with their hieroglyphic-like carvings remind one of the gravestones of ancient civilisations. Thus the characteristics which refer to the massiveness of an existence tied to a metropolis do not have a momentary character; they span the ages and do not define for example fleeting spots and slogans but form a conglomerate, the rhythm of which conveys expansion both of time and of space. The characteristic style of the painting is combined here with graphical tools, and this shows itself in a similar way also in those pictures in which, in faces shown from the front and in profile, the contours and the areas in shade are emphasised above all.

Giuffrida’s creative artistic work is carried out independently of, but simultaneously with, his drafts of stage sets, but nevertheless the knowledge of his stage sets can contribute to an understanding of the artistic language. His autonomous sculptures which constitute a third area of activity in addition to painting and stage sets show simple, incisive architectural forms on pillars, whose column-like character essentially shows an affinity with the series of different levels piled one on top of the other in his pictures.

The autonomy of these creative works is based on the fact that the stage sets always use as its starting point the model for the vision of a concrete field of activity, whilst the pictures and sculptures are manifestations of ideas in a  “direct” dimension and are not initially reduced in size. The stage sets, particularly those Guiffrida created for the Dance Forum in Cologne, consistently dispense with backdrops in the classical sense of the word: the colourfulness of an area and its sculptural fittings are made up chiefly of light, whilst in painting colour pigments constitute a material of their own.


Cologne,  October 1995