‘I like your anxieties, your researches, your paintings, which are so deeply black, red, white; they signal your through, your fear. I can do no other than wish you a happy career, and remember to be humble, very humble. In time, we are nothing’ (L. Fontana, Lettera a Paolo Scheggi, in Paolo Scheggi Merlini. Per una situazione, exh. cat., Bologna, Il Cancello Gallery, from 8 December 1962).
Against a vibrant monochromatic red surface, two sensuously curved openings reveal the multi-layered contours of stacked, superimposed canvases in Paolo Scheggi’s Rosso. Executed in 1963, Rosso was created early in the artist’s tragically short career, as he was beginning to gain international recognition. It was this year that the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome acquired two of the artist’s works for its collection. Having recently arrived in Milan, one of Europe’s most progressive centres of art at this time, the young artist had almost immediately become involved with the central figures of the contemporary art world who were radically re-shaping the landscape of Post-War Italian art, reconceiving the concept of the traditional oil and canvas that had formed the basis of Italian art for the previous centuries. Like his contemporaries, Enrico Castellani, Piero Manzoni, Agostino Bonalumi and Dadamaino, as well as Lucio Fontana before him, Scheggi abandoned representation and instead sought to focus on the material qualities of the canvas itself. In this way, Scheggi, whom Fontana, a great admirer of his work, described as a ‘man of his time’, maintained a key position within the avant-garde art world. With its elegant sculptural and multi-faceted monochrome surface, Rosso demonstrates the significant contribution Scheggi made to the development of post-war art in the 1960s.
Devising a specific technique in order to cut and fold the canvases, Scheggi combined in his works multiple layers that create a variety of shapes and sculptural reliefs, and a real sense of depth, as exemplified by Rosso. The overlapping elliptical openings give rise to gracefully curving shadows and partial eclipses in each hole, creating a visual rhythm across the pristine red monochrome surface. The modification of the surface of the canvas itself had been pioneered by Fontana just a decade previously. By piercing, puncturing and cutting through the flat, two-dimensional surface of the canvas, Fontana radically revised the concept of the picture plane, shunning an illusionistic and perspectival sense of depth and instead incorporating real space into the work itself. Similarly, Scheggi, in a work such as Rosso, has expanded the spatial and perceptual parameters of the art object.
Devoid of references to figurative or representational sources, Rosso shows no trace of the artist’s hand, recalling Manzoni’s Achromes of the preceding years (Manzoni died in 1963, the year Rosso was executed). In 1966, Italian art critic, Gillo Dorfles coined the term, ‘Pittura Oggetto’, ‘objectual painting’ or ‘the painting as object’, to describe the work of Scheggi, as well as Bonalumi and Castellani. These artists, Dorfles believed, had gone beyond both representation and abstraction in order to embrace and expand the notion of the artwork as an autonomous object. Existing somewhere between sculpture and painting, Rosso is an independent, distinct object, self-referential and autonomous with an intriguing and dynamic play of light, depth and colour; the quintessence of Scheggi’s mature artistic output.