‘I like your anxieties, your researches, your paintings, which are so deeply black, red, white, I cannot but wish you a happy career and to remind you to be humble’ (L. Fontana, in Paolo Scheggi. Per una situazione, exh. cat., Bologna, 1962).
In Paolo Scheggi’s Intersuperficie curva bianca, a perfect rectangular grid of fifty-five circular openings reveal an underlying geometry of superimposed canvases. In the layered recesses of each cavity, a complex calligraphy of partial eclipses and luminous reliefs writes itself across the strict arrangement of apertures. Executed in 1966, at the height of the artist’s career, it represents a pristine and immaculately-structured example of the Intersuperfici that form the core of his practice. Replacing the illusionistic depth espoused by traditional easel painting with tangible models of receding space, Scheggi’s Intersuperfci played an important role within the landscape of post-War Italian art. Together with Agostino Bonalumi and Enrico Castellani, Scheggi was acknowledged by the Italian art critic Gillo Dorfles as a key exponent of ‘Pittura Oggetto’, or ‘objectual painting’. Going beyond figurative and abstract concepts in order to interrogate the notion of artwork as object, Scheggi and his contemporaries aimed to challenge the dynamics of perception with their revolutionary shaped canvases. With its sculptural, near-architectural surface, Intersuperficie curva bianca demonstrates an intellectual and aesthetic rigour that recalls the Achromes of his Piero Manzoni. At the same time, this calculated approach is playfully disrupted by the way in which the exposed layers jostle together in an engaging counterpoint of light and shadow, depth and contour. Within each circular field, the three-dimensional echoes of shapes and planes construct a concrete, structural interplay of perspective, standing in sharp contrast to Yves Klein’s invocation of the immaterial void. Coming to prominence within the avant-garde milieu of 1960s Milan, Scheggi’s promising career was tragically cut short by a fatal heart condition in 1971, at the age of just thirty-one. As a result of this, as well as the labour-intensive nature of his production mechanisms, his works remain relatively scarce.
Intersuperficie curva bianca was created during a period when Scheggi was gaining increasing international recognition. Having moved to the city six years previously from his home in Tuscany, he had quickly become part of a thriving young group of artists who, inspired by the work of Lucio Fontana, were re-shaping the traditions that had underpinned so much of Italian painting over the previous centuries. In 1965, Scheggi had his first international show, and within a short time was involved in projects and exhibitions in a number of countries. Described by Fontana as ‘a man of his time’, his work found much in common not only with his Italian contemporaries, but with the parallel trends practiced by the Zero Group artists in Düsseldorf, and by the exponents of Op and Kinetic Art. Writing in 1966, the year of the present work, Dorfles articulated his admiration for the ‘Pittura Oggetto’. ‘On the one hand’, he wrote, ‘painting tends to invade the field of industrial design, to aim at absolute programming and processes permitting replication in series of identical items. On the other, a deep-seated desire exists – and will certainly exists for a long time to come – to preserve for visual art, as at least a sector of it, the unique and precious character that can be conferred by manual touch alone. It is the latter that informs the work of a number of young artists active in Milan and distinguished for some years now by their precise striving for compositional finesse and purity’ (G. Dorfles, ‘“Object Painting” in Milan’, 1966, reproduced in Elementi Spaziali, exh. cat., Galleria Tega, Milan, 2011, p. 62). With his perforated, three-dimensional canvas structures, inviting light and shade into their very depths, Scheggi staked a claim in the aesthetic ground zero so resolutely cultivated by the artists of his generation.