Mario Pavesi’s oeuvre reads like a long story, the origins of which are firmly rooted in a classical tradition, thus providing a solid grounding in beauty, as well as constant and concrete references to the reality of things. But there is a fundamental difference between basing a work on the substance of reality and realism. At first sight, his sculpture can seem full of classical references, imbued with many 20th-century sensibilities and painstaking technical expertise. Indeed many of his works have been executed with refined virtuosity, while avoiding the pitfalls of overblown affectedness. But to link one’s own investigations to the memory of tradition means above all – and in this case – to have a desire to recount the world, to reflect on life, to investigate an oneiric, psychic dimension.
In his sculptures the references and meaningfulness of the forms, almost as if they were archaeological finds, feeds the residue of a life-force, of a longing for a new and refined grace, for the memory of a world where the harmony of bodies has merged with hypertrophic and enlarged anatomical parts that distort the equilibrium of real forms and speak of an inevitable break with the past.
Look then at what can best be revealed, based on a more careful reflection, through a progressive process of decantation and investigation: the dimension of a sculpture that takes shape in new plastic solutions, in structures that are always complex and polyphonic, capable of making your heart leap. A background hum emanates from his work, giving life to compositions that are packed with unpredictable and unexpected solutions. A fruitful inspiration shows the significance of an expressive power that goes beyond the surface beauty of simple know-how. Because the sculptor brings to light a vitality that can intensely involve the viewer. For almost fifty years Mario has tenaciously pursued his chosen path based on his investigation of the human body in a renewed dialogue with the viewer, which goes beyond the superficial sensuality of his work.
“I have an ancient and modern idea of sculpture,” he likes to say when he mentions his desire to revitalize forms either through an investigation of the body – the imprint of human existence – or through the residual memories of the classical imagination.
But let us now look at some sculpture to better understand the meaning of this statement.
In works such as Equilibrium (2003) the artist restates how firmly anchored he is to a central classical idea of the development of sculpture, calibrated to a model of statuary that contains the epiphany of a distorted heroic body, which is archaeological and contemporaneous. What emerges here is a powerful and unstable physical dimension, while substantial contortions, unusual poses, knots and dense lumps of matter bear witness to the disquieting presence of something impulsive and original trembling below the surface of the bronze, almost as a reflection of the restless soul of the artist who meditates on the meaning of his approach to art.
In Male Torso (2008), the sculptor tries to create a synthesis between the weighty bronze, the ductile design and the development of invention. The work looks like a truncated element of a human figure, a useful element to once again seek out the poetics of the “fragment”, to establish a dialogue with the contemporary, in a post-modern context, to challenge its tendency towards restraint.
Let us now look at Male Figure (2002). Mario Pavesi has always been interested in the paradox of the end of sculpture. When he set out on his aesthetic journey in the mid-sixties, radical transformations between Abstract Expressionism and essential forms of Minimalism or of recondite Conceptualism had already been implemented in sculpture: what emerged was a sculptural language in which every formalistic implication of tradition was renounced in favour of procedures and materials that could set up a different relationship with the viewer. Sculpture had renounced its connection with celebratory/commemorative rhetoric. But it was fundamental to the artist to reflect on what remained of that “dead language” and on how the reflections/effects of art from the past may still inspire in the present.
From a young age Mario became aware of his expertise as a fluid modeller, of his capacity to give life to a creative and dynamic material that could take on many forms. His hands, like a hundred hands, moved deftly – from the start – and the clay was transformed by an energy that crystallized his ideas into works of art. But let us go back and look at his sculptures. There is a special vitality about their execution, an independent vigour and a reification that exalts the living body of the form with the freest of imaginations. The artist makes intelligent use of the sculptural fragments as a fundamental part of his own language and he reproduces the ravages of time on their surface, also using unique patinas.
Mario Pavesi’s works of art evidently do not belong to ephemeral fashions controlled by the art market. If anything they come with the weight and sentiment of an ancient identity, a plastic reflection to references which our contemporary culture seemed anxious to lose. Mario’s sculpture is therefore complex and free.
This is demonstrated in bronze sculptures such as River Deity (2006), Pomona (2009), Awakening (2009), and Meditation (2011).
What shows through in these works is the surprising amount of almost parallel research where to revisit the human figure is to make different explicit attempts to recreate it in a new way using the unexpected dimensions of synthesis and spatial relationships.
For the artist this inevitably brings to the surface memories of what he saw and learned in the late sixties, when he worked in Henry Moore’s studio.
And so from this emotional and cultural substrate emerge hieratic, solitary characters who, thoughtful and immobile, gaze towards horizons of divine eternity. Plastic archetypes are created without any hedonistic flattery: they are magical figures at one with the bronze that is treated with a straightforward resolve, which bring out the delicate malleable nature of the material. These results can only be achieved when the work is imagined ‘already’ in bronze and ‘for’ the bronze.
In these creations different solutions surface compared with the ones mentioned above, in an authentic parallel inspiration. At times the sculptor embarks on different (sometimes stridently so) stylistic paths, but he is not afraid of going beyond the clichés of reiterated recognizability. Here, Pavesi expresses his own vitality in a more essential synthesis, to transform the figures into essential anthropomorphic forms.
The light shines and glints on their elusive polished profiles generating the most delicate shadows. His Pomona, for example, recalls the smoothness of a primitive Cycladean image. An arcane lexicon combined with the merest suggestion of abstraction brings a suberb equilibrium to these pieces. Interpreting the body by reducing the anatomy to the absolute minimum, to archetypal forms contained in formal inventions of great lucidity, is the simultaneous option by which the solutions, discipline, rigour and freedom of an artist who has never wanted to abjure his skill are summarized.
It is clear that, as with many great artists of his generation, Pavesi has become increasingly aware that sculpture in the post-war years had lost its traditional references to the representation of the real and that it was necessary to acknowledge the definitive break with the anthropomorphic canon. Sculpture, as an aesthetic investigation, now only created sculpture. But Mario had learned that there was only one way to bring his works of art to life, to make sure that they also had a musicality that could touch the eyes and the heart. They had to be imbued with the barest throb of humanity so that the material did not remain inert and frozen, like stone cut from a quarry or like the cold tactile sensation of bronze. Because the ever present trap was that one could remain a prisoner to dull academicism and be unable to cultivate a poetic vocation. But that did not happen to Mario. It could be said that the poetics of lost beauty reveals the pages of the diary of a shipwrecked man, which speak of fracture, pain and isolation. It reveals the very human path taken by an artist. The works are filled with the echoes and the memories of a man who has tried to give form and meaning to a material that purposely had to be emancipated from the great emporium of the ancient world. And the poetic sentiment for that special miracle that only artists can perform has managed to throb with inconceivable regularity, up until the present.