‘I, the world, things, life, we are situations of energy and the important thing is precisely not to crystallize these situations, but keep them open and alive in terms of our living. Since all manners of thinking or being must correspond to a manner of behaving, my works are really the physification [sic] of the force behind an action, of the energy of a situation or event etc. and not its experience in terms of annotated signs, or just still life.’ (Giovanni Anselmo, ‘I, The World, Things, Life’ in G. Celant, Arte Povera, New York, 1969, p. 109)
Executed between 1982 and 1983, Grigi che si alleggeriscono verso oltremare (Greys which become lighter in the direction of ‘oltremare’ (Ultramarine)) is one of a series of memorable works begun in 1979 in which Giovanni Anselmo expanded the elemental aesthetic of his work of the arte povera years of the late 1960s and early ‘70s into the realm of painting. Invoking the idea of infinity and taking the form of installations comprised of a combination of dense, heavy blocks of rough hewn granite and rectangles of radiant, light, ultramarine pigment, these ‘oltremare’ or ‘ultramarine’ works opened up conventional ideas about perception, colour and pictorial reality to the raw, elemental aesthetics that Anselmo had embraced ever since his famous moment of epiphany and artistic genesis on Mount Stromboli in 1965.
This was the moment when, walking down the volcano in the early morning light, and seeing the sun rise below him, Anselmo had suddenly come to understand that the volcano, himself and the sun, which, on rising beneath him and effectively casting his shadow upwards into the infinity of the sky behind him, had all for one, specific moment in time entered into a fascinating and meaningful correlation. It was upon such universal forces of light, earth and energy that Anselmo subsequently founded his art. His Grigi che si alleggeriscono verso oltremare works, such as the present example are an extension of these principles into a realm that propounds a new take on the idea of painting. As Anselmo has written of this series:‘ Normally a stone lies on the ground. In this case, however, it is suspended high up. Thanks to gravity, the slipknot holds the stone. Paradoxically we can therefore say that the stone remains suspended thanks to gravity. The stone is lighter. Everything becomes lighter when it is moved farther from the centre of the earth. If we think in painterly concepts and want to make grey lighter, we add a bit of white to it. I make the grey of the stones lighter by suspending them on the wall. This is a way of regarding the stone as a colour (just as painting, which consists of pigments, can be regarded as stone), not only in relation to the tone of its colour, but also with respect to its mass. If one understands colour in this sense, one can see the traditional painterly categories in relation to gravity and the earth.’ (Giovanni Anselmo, quoted in Giovanni Anselmo, exh. cat, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2004, p. 126).
In this way colour, light, earth and the unseen forces, such as gravity and time, that permeate the world are all shown to be integrally related to one another. Metaphorically too, the stones have become light by being suspended while the light (i.e. less weightier) pigment of the ultramarine has become, paradoxically, heavier, by being grounded in the form of a painted rectangle. The powdered stone or pigment of ultramarine is indicative of both the rich radiant blue of the Mediterranean Sea that surrounds Stromboli and, through both its name and the resonant nature of its colour-wavelength, of the invisible, ethereal, unseen infinite beyond that is also ever-present within all matter. ‘The term ultramarine’ Anselmo once explained, ‘comes from an indefinite place of origin, that is to say, like a ‘colour brought from the ultra-marine (beyond the sea)’. The stimulus that it offers is not only visual but also mental. It indicates a place beyond the walls of the gallery towards which works and spectators move together. It is a place that exists, because wherever you go there is always a further ultramarine.’ (Giovanni Anselmo, quoted in Arte Povera in Collection, exh. cat., Turin, 2001, p. 112).
Therefore as Anne Rorimer has written, Anselmo’s ultramarine rectangles ‘signal the idea of a verifiable beyond and an extant reality which, although invisible to the eye, is accessible to the mind. The specific hue of the pigment ultramarine, combined with its linguistic appellation, imbue the installation with its fullest meaning...If ultramarine, made from lapis lazuli, is a colour of a particular wavelength presenting itself to the eye as an intense shade of blue, it also embodies the notion of somewhere overseas... As word and hue combined, the ultramarine... both empirically and linguistically serves... to carry the eye beyond the line of sight. It thereby reinforces the thrust of a work whose mission is to stimulate contemplation of the immediate surroundings of the material world while taking account of the all encompassing solar system.’ (Anne Rorimer, Giovanni Anselmo exh. cat Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2005, pp. 109-110).