The Art of
Gaetano Giuffrè                                                 

You ask me to write about it. Again? I've done it once. I've told you what I felt about a particular body of your work. The one related, indeed, to the body. That in your production is usually missing. You do not sculpt the body: you sculpt heads, disembodied.
        Once, though, you went through a period of limbs, torsos and abdomens. Beheaded. The two things do not come together: that's already a statement of sort. Of which sort I don't know. Should I search for an answer?

The dichotomy is obvious in our education. Ours: we come from the same family, same country, same era. From a culture still splitting the spiritual from the mundane (frivolous), the divine from the animal (or bestial), the intellectual from the manual (and menial). We grew up in a world still decapitated, sufficiently bourgeois to determine what should be displayed (the persona) and what hidden (the shameful, instinctual self).
        This is obvious, I said: too obvious, I bet. Chances are it won't work.
        Let me try.


Look at your heads, first. You made tons of them - establishing yourself, maybe, as a portrait artist? I could understand this kind of obsession. But your heads don't portray anyone. Though, sometimes, you draw inspiration from pictures, soon your imagination takes the lead. Your heads are invented: not less strikingly real. Real but not realistic, if that makes sense.
        Should I infer that - since they portray no one - these are reiterated attempts at self-portraits, metaphorical as you wish? Not at all. These are not replicas of yourself. Whose are these heads, then? Whom do they resemble? If the portrayed subjects are abstractions, where does the abstraction lie? Is it a social commentary? Does it tackle race? Is it, indeed, an ethical or psychological search? Do the faces express feelings, emotions?

Let me address this last one. Most faces are impassive. Some hint - barely - at things so initial, so seedy, I must think they are joking.  I believe I spotted a shade of worry here, a halo of authority there. But they are unconvincing poses, promptly denied by the next head - that goes back to the generic features characterizing them all.
        Well… they are not characters either. No, not even those who grew a bit from the neck down, sporting clothes suggesting a context, an affiliation. Working overalls for example. Or a bow tie. A turtleneck, a dark suit. Even those, I swear, are not characters. Their expression is a mixture of thoughtfulness and astonishment. It's a kind of serenity, so vague it becomes melancholia. It's a dullness that can pass for wisdom - an awareness so discrete, it can pass for naivety.

If one thinks this uniformity creates boredom, one his wrong. It doesn't. First of all, the lack of individuality brings nuances in focus. The diffuse similarity (this plain, understated wonderment) exasperates variations. Through the subtle changes - between a face and the next - we are compelled to track a plot, a development. Leading to a secret's final revelation.
        That's hopeless. The secret is there, of course, but well kept. All of these folks are mute. How do I know? Aren't all statues mute, by the way? No. Look at their lips. Many of them - by classic, romantic, by impressionist or expressionist artists - breath. Open or close, they betray the passage of air: that means sound, that you hear it or not. That means language. While these folks have very tight lips. Either sealed (I believe so), or inert, unused to articulation. These lips have given up, long ago.

Well, I could infer they say nothing for they have nothing to say. They express nothing for they feel nothing. Nothing happens to them. False. Look closely. Stare at those nuances of non-expression. There's another label for them: they are perfectly stoical.
        They know how to self-control: they do it naturally. Or professionally. Naturally: they must have learned self-possession, self-containment, apparent indifference since the crib.
        Something is occurring to them, though… Only, it's under the belt - where you cannot see, and where all the tricky blows are delivered.


Now look at the bodies. They tell an entirely different story. It must be why they don't come along. Such heads would need orderly bodies. Limbs capable of composure. Arms hung laterally, fingers brushing tights, palms distended. Feet aligned in parallel, side to side. Shoulders relaxed, chest open, straight back. All symmetrical, you would expect, judging by the facial features you acquainted by the hundreds.
        Well, the bodies portrayed do not match the heads. They have a life of their own like mice partying when the cat sleeps.
        It's an orgy more than a party, though a lonely one. Since those bodies are alone - and not only. They are also incomplete. Always severed, not only from their tops. They additionally lack a limb or two, at least part of it. These are bodies in fieri, in progress, attempting to formulate themselves but without a map: things weren't dictated too well from above. Or, indeed, instructions were ignored or lost.

Still the struggle isn't hopeless.
        Here, no doubt, there are emotions at stake. Those limbs feel and make us feel. Enthusiasm, to begin with: they truly are trying. To stand up, though they can get it right sometimes, ending upside down. Confused, but not even too much. Ready to start over, seeking balance on one leg only, or between disparaged kinds of support. Amputated, mutilated: still twirling around like contortionists - aiming towards the light as plants do. In fact, what they mostly recall are the trunks of olive trees: bent by wind, still resisting. Their roots digging deep, far, to sip water among rocks and sand.

To think of these bodies as maimed, wounded, curtailed, deprived of parts, is erroneous. The association with quartering and slaughter-houses is most inappropriate. Clearly, what these creatures miss, still, is burgeoning: it is about to sprout. I can see not the potentiality, but the happening.  We aren't witnessing remnants, spoils, leftovers, but embryos maturing towards their definite form. Obviously unaware of what it will be, and unworried about it. The outcome doesn't matter: the impetus does.
        We could also be tempted to see a metamorphosis occurring. Not a classical one, as in Greek mythology - humans morphing into something else because of some hubris-and-punishment, ordered to a lower form by capricious divinities. No: if there's a mutation, here, something tries to become human. And - I swear - it will get there. Only a matter of minutes.

Most bodies have mouths. Without heads? Exactly. They are experimenting with such device, attaching it wherever fits. Wherever they arrived at: the stump of a neck, a wrist, a knee, an elbow, why not? Those mouths aren't tight-lipped. No.

        Now I have proof you can depict a mouth in the slightest detail. Disclosed, open, wide-open. With all teeth in view, a pallet, and especially a tongue. Sticking out: I'm not sure why. It could be for speaking purposes, could it? All those things the heads didn't want (or had been forbidden) to say, overflow now, spill over. Here, at limbs level, all is abruptly poured out.

Though I'm not sure. These bodies have a tendency towards the discursive, the narrative, yes. They understand communication is needed, they don't shy away. They are not contemplative, have no time for meditation: they urge for contact. But did they master language? Probably not. With their tongue, maybe, they are just tasting life: a taste long forgotten.
        They are tasting, more than all, the pungency of fresh air. They are experiencing breathing: such skill is not given. Not to all. Not entirely.


Some of your last sculptures have stories. That is new. They have a background where other things are shown. Other things that might design a past, allude to a temporality previously denied. Both to the heads - smoothly ageless, suspended into an eternity of present, stilled like Sleeping Beauty and her entourage - and the bodies, just born, eagerly thrusting themselves forwards. Building future with each ticking second. No past.

Some of your recent pieces have backgrounds. They have a ground in their back: solid matter of some kind, anchoring them, telling things they still can't express. Sketched memories: the texture of a wall - a building - the ornate paper of a drawing room or a bedroom - maybe a desk - the tiles of a kitchen or a swimming pool - a flower - a bug - the open wings of a butterfly.
        This last is surprising. It immediately brings to mind a Richard Bach's quote, not less beautiful because so much heard of. Not less true. "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly". Or this slight paraphrase: "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly".

The quote comes about, I'm sure, because of those struggling bodies I so like - with their Baconian echoes, clumsy and slightly embarrassing as they are. They remind me of chrysalides: of antennas painstackingly unfolding, obtuse but persistent fingertips. Chrysalides, peeling their husks away in sweat and blood, getting rid of old bandages glued to their skin. 
        Then, they'll fly.