Pressione initially appears to show some strange, abstract, swirling mass of gestures reminiscent of Action Painting. And yet this is in fact an intensely figurative work, a drawing of the patterns of a section of skin of the artist, Giuseppe Penone, executed in 1982. In order to create this work, Penone applied the pressure of the title twice: first in pressing pigment, adhesive tape and flesh together, and then, when he projected the resultant image against the picture surface, in pressing the charcoal against the paper, following the strange patterns that criss-cross this insanely magnified segment of skin.
Penone's earliest works had often concerned themselves with man's interface with Nature. Gradually, the artist's own body became increasingly central to the works, resulting in Svolgere la propria pelle, executed in 1970 and shown at Documenta 5. This work consisted of segmented images of the entirety of Penone's body surface being developed photographically onto the glass of a window. This strange, modern stained glass window showed Penone's skin essentially at life size; in the Pressione works, he introduced a new distance through the projection process, allowing him to magnify the impressions. In some spaces, he would draw directly on the walls of the gallery, meaning that the viewers were enveloped by the web-like image of his skin. They were thus invited into his world as he created a more universal zone of experience. Similarly, when Pressione was shown at Documenta 7 in 1982, this effect was created by discrete 'pictures' on the walls.
For Penone, the skin is the boundary between each individual and the world. It is a unique surface behind which lurks each unique personality. It is the wall that separates us from the universe around us, containing us within our own subjective experiences. At the same time, it is the point of collision between worlds, the domain in which so much of our experience of the world is felt. And, like the trees that have been such recurring touchstones for the artist, skin bears the traces of our experiences, of our growth, of our accidents, becoming a micro-terrain defined by our own personal histories. Skin, and the way that the world comes into contact with it and leaves its trace, whether briefly or in the form of a scar, is a narrative in itself, a surface that developes, like a photograph, but reacting not only to light but to every other element with which we come into contact. 'The animal image, the imprint is involuntary culture,' Penone explained.
'It has the intelligence of the material, a universal intelligence, an intelligence of the flesh of the material of man. The imprint of the whole epidermis of one's body, a leap into the air, a plunge into water, the body covered with earth. Developing one's skin against the air, water, earth, rock, walls, trees, dogs, handrails, windows, roads, hair, hats, handles, wings, doors, seats, stairs, clothes, books, eyes, sheep, mushrooms, grass, skin...' (G. Penone, quoted in Giuseppe Penone: Sculture di linfa, exh. cat., Venice 2007, p. 222).