Inside the (small) galaxy that today is known as “Analytical Painting”, the figure of Gianfranco Zappettini and his work are among the most radical stars. For an example of his radical stance, this artist from Liguria has always criticised a certain kind of su- gar-coated “analyticity”, one filtered through an over-indulged love of fine painting, even when this is a question of works that are apparently to be included in the category of analyticity. On the other hand, this extremism of his was also aimed against himself when, at the beginning of the 1980s, he decided to follow other paths of expression, first by employing an almost ironical figuration, and then by trying out other fields of spiri- tuality, ones distant from art, in order at last to return to art and practice it with new freshness in the 1990s.
This brief critical-biographical foreword is an introduction to some thoughts about using paper as a support and, perhaps, also about its use as a tool within his work. If, in other words, in his radical analyticity there might be some conceptual return to the use of a tool that is so traditional, and used so traditionally by almost all artists. In fact it cannot be doubted that paper – which is practically synonymous with drawing – has always been the main place for trying out ideas, and it is for this very reason that paper – like drawing – is a favoured area for collecting by refined cognoscenti, while the great majority of enthusiasts think of it as the result of a “minor” form, a kind of sketch and, therefore, something “unfinished”. This of course happens because of paper’s inherent modesty: it is always ready and waiting for a pencil to draw on it. The ease of making marks, the ease of making gestures, and the ease in using it has made paper a simple tool, and things have not changed, not even in an age of avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes (with the usual few exceptions who, at times, seem to be making a kind of “challenge” to themselves and to the system of art conventions).
In this context Zappettini uses paper in an apparently traditional way: in the choice of works on paper on show here, for example, it is possible to follow the whole evolution of his works from the early 1970s until today, and they are without any surprises, at least for those who know his work well. They range from white works – the “white on white” that earned him an invitation to Documenta in 1977 – to the “chalks on paper”, works that are visibly more difficult, and then on until the “warp and weft” works characteristic of all of his second period, one that has now lasted almost a quarter of a century. The close-up view that the paper, drawing and, in general, all the small-scale works impose, reveals small secrets, such as those about the use of a real nylon weft which gives a weightiness to the support and, so to say, “trips up” the colour that then lays down insi- de the weft, overcomes it, and overflows in an almost random way to allow a glimpse of the colour lying beneath it, generally red and blue. A critic with a sensitive disposition might even talk at length about the works’ chromatic and the more graphic aspects – above all in those of the last five or six years –, ones that exploit the minimum obstacle of the thickness of the material in order to achieve their effect of contrast and conflict between marks and colours; and without a doubt Zappettini has reached a mastery, one perhaps that is more evident in the works on paper than the canvases, that has not yet shifted from a traditional use of paper, however refined and acute.
In this way the works on paper by Zappettini correspond integrally to his “major” works: they obey the same principles and show the same intensity. For him paper is an almost indifferent tool, just as his use of canvas is indifferent, because what really counts is the conceptual process for which the tools, support, mastery, and quality are dispensable corollaries, except when they coincide with the idea. So paper, then, is the tool you have beneath your hands, the first you come across, until you become aware that that very support allows you to add something to the work: and, in the case of the superimposed sheets – as also with the series with photographic paper – these humble servants show themselves to be precious, indispensible, unique.