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Critical signs

The following critics were interested: Paolo Rizzi, Enrico Buda, Enzo De Martino, Giorgio Pilla, Gabriella Niero, Francesca Catalano, Scott Davison, Adelinda Allegretti.

Sergio Boldrin
Venice, a Place of the Soul

Colours incisively applied as dynamic segments turn the profiles of Venetian architectures into monumental façades. The spasmodic rhythm of the brush strokes shakes the giddy heights of the buildings with their dark windows, tracing the shaky profile of walls testifying to a remote and glorious past.

Spare surfaces waver against the sky. Beyond them is a glimpse of the void, giving a disquieting feel. A jester acts as a silent onlooker in this unusual urban context – a great mocking mask with a grotesque expression that follows Venice as it inexorably dissolves. This shift of colours is an immediately perceivable feature of Sergio Boldrin's painting. The viewer will be stunned and captivated by the artist's very personal take on the city, his city. There is no rhetoric here, no aesthetic complacency – only the genuineness of an enchanted place that is losing its historical reference points over time. Within this process of decline, Boldrin's art may be seen to express a sincere awareness, in the form of a mood, a poetic engagement which serves to interpret local malaise.

The marked gestural component of Boldrin's art and its expressive figuration also evoke images of the past. This is the case, for instance, with his revisiting of Canaletto's Campiello dei Tajapiera in his painting with the big jester showing himself behind the scene defined by the great vedutista; it is also the case with his homage to Modigliani at San Sebastiano, where the quayside extends like a spacious arena before the monumental presence of a green buffoon who plastically mirrors the elegant nudes by the Livorno-born artist.

What instead exclusively belongs to Sergio Boldrin's style is the intensity of its contents, which expand through his airy atmospheres of Fauve-Expressionist inspiration. The artist is on an ongoing quest for those traces that have changed the very life of the city in its development and decline. If we turn to Boldrin's curious spatial distortions, if we manage to emotionally grasp the resigned gaze of his buffoon, we shall immediately be captivated by the artist's narrative.

Urban architectures blend with one another and boldly intertwine on the surface of the paintings, creating vast monumental settings. It becomes difficult to detect any eastern styles or influences here, as all we can make out are mysterious, dream-like buildings which show an upside-down perspective in their interiors. It as if we were gazing at a vast papier mâché theatre resting on the fragile soil of the lagoon, gradually transcending it as it moves upwards. Like trees, the old palaces turn to the sky, stretching their roots for one last time towards the unstable surface they originated from. Boldrin's painting, therefore, expresses a reality which emerges through observation, blending reason and feelings. His is a sophisticated research, which often crosses the threshold of dreams (or possibly nightmares), yet without ever losing touch with genuine reality. People who know and love Venice today see it as a melancholy city that has been stripped of its inhabitants, a city caught between its apparent existence and the soul which has made it so magnificent over time. Ruin, decay and the indifference of the majority speak of a lifeless city for Boldrin. Regrettably, Venice is losing not just its beauty, but also its identity. The jester's knowing gaze and his grotesque and melancholy mask conceal the conscious feelings of a Venetian. Painting manifestly becomes an intimate pursuit, a form of expressionism that is not merely formal, but which has been fully assimilated and redeveloped according to parameters based on complete emotional engagement – even of a visceral kind in certain paintings. The lines and visual impact of the subjects reveal a marked primitivism almost reminiscent of sculptures in the smoothness of the artist's fields of colour – as best illustrated by his melancholy white buffoon, with its stern and highly contemporary style.

The artist launches a sensory enquiry into the milieu of Venice by expressing visual impressions or extemporaneous images: in his pictorial rendering, he symbolically translates the reflections of known data by following the protean development of his subjects, the endless change of a decadent reflection on the lagoon. Refined and harmonious decorations give way to dense brush strokes; earth colours covered in blues simulate an architecture mottled by time; the shadows of an interior are depicted with dreamy melancholy. Boldrin thus attains his lyrical expression by structuring his images into various levels, using a different colour to define each phase. His images expand or grow denser from one level to the next. They mirror the reflections of an atmospheric crystal. They show the fleeting and precarious beauty of things. Possibly this is why the artist's brush strokes stand out like lacerations, congealing the veins of old marble as if they were deep wounds.

For Sergio Boldrin, each mark or colour influences his will to get to know the present dimension of an object, as if to seize control of its inner development. Painting here reveals the genuine identity of existence. Through a rhythm punctuated by gestural touches, the artist searches for that suspended moment which emerges as the genuine soul of the city. Meanwhile,the jester looks on, enabling the viewer to enter into direct communication with the artist and his reality: the arcane presence of the tragic mask envelops us in boundless pathos.

June 2012, Gabriella Niero

Sergio Boldrin
or the soul in a mask

Entering the world of SERGIO BOLDRIN is like embarking on a journey into the subconscious, an adventure whose visible traces you recognise even though you haven’t the slightest idea where the road will lead. We believe that the real imaginative strength of this Venetian painter lies in the fact that he has focused all his creative energy upon the task of showing what each one of us holds within our own invisible “double”.

He paints MASKS that have nothing to do with the ludic representation to which tradition has accustomed us. His works are a revelation, like the other side of the moon, the more tragic, grotesque and desperate side, ambiguous in its solitude, the projection of all our feelings, our fears and our pains. He presents those emotions that we are unable to express through modesty or bashfulness, all the waste-matter that accumulates within us as we struggle to adapt ourselves to a society that can be distant or even ferocious towards those who do not have the strength to resist, and which thus impacts on the daily life of the spiritually defenceless.

This is why his icons may appear “ugly”, even grotesque; the Artist clearly wishes to emphasise an interior specular condition, expressed with a pictorial idiom that leaves nothing to the imagination since every subject is described with the penetrative power of psychological introspection. Boldrin adopts an expressionist style that allows him to represent his characters without any academic aestheticism, achieving a physiognomic accuracy that acts as the point of contact between the human being and his oneiric projection in a tragic/ludic key.

This also helps to explain our doubts with regard to these paintings, since we are unable to distinguish the dream from reality, frightened by the notion that we might be faced with a vision that imitates our own selves, one that reveals our own defects; the risk is that we might discover that the masks are us and not just portraits of melancholy characters who belong to a performance projected in the time/space of our memory. And it is only by agreeing to do it that we can take into consideration the fact that BOLDRIN is satirising our society, poetically denouncing the existential anxiety, the disquiet and apprehension that afflict us daily, forcing our subconscious to take refuge in the form of a “mask” offered to us by the Author (see LA MASCHERA È SERVITA -HERE IS YOUR DISGUISE-). At that moment, we enter into osmosis with the Artist, becoming subjects of his psychic research, at the risk of being vivisected and exposing our innermost, uncontrollable EGO; we assume the burden of the fiction (the great WHITE MASK hanging around the neck of the JESTER), and are thus projected into that oneiric world where everything is simulation, or a bitter occult reality, that we have no wish to discover.

However, as we know BOLDRIN well, his intelligence as a man and artist, his great sensitivity of spirit, his love for his city, we cannot expel a nagging doubt: could he have been playing with us, offering this playful representation of a world that has disappeared (18th-century Venice, tired and decadent, with its vices and (few) virtues, described so well by the great GOLDONI and GOZZI), or using the fascination of the “ugly” as a ruse to reach the “beautiful” that may well be concealed inside each one of us?

This would explain the joyful irony of his self-portraits, arrayed in rich vestments which enfold him in Venetian visions, or those paintings of his wife’s face hidden beneath a white mask, and mantled with a blue cloud, or those portraits of his two daughters, seen with the loving eye of a father, able to interpret their character and moods.

Why else would he, in his latest works, place his masked jesters in a typically Venetian setting, which enfolds them like an embrace, almost as if, by leaving them afloat in the void of an existential limbo, he had deprived them of their natural cultural roots, thus minimising their importance as representatives of a society carefully located in time and space – a society that can still be set up as an example for what it has bequeathed (both for good and for bad) to all those who intend to relish to the full all the happy moments of life, but also to face all its asperities with the necessary sense of humour?

In the end, however one may choose to read his works, there is no denying the pleasure that BOLDRIN’s art offers those who study his paintings, the chromatic ensemble, with its sudden mysterious light that cuts across the scene, illuminating the characters from aslant, or sending its full glare on them, like actors moving centre-stage, against a backdrop of lopsided houses, mnemonic projections filled with a yearning nostalgia for a world and a city that no longer belong to them. It is as if, having himself become a mere Mask and a stock character in the work, he were striving to bid a symbolic farewell to a world that has so essentially changed that it no longer responds to his expectations as a man, as an artist and as a Venetian.

And if, by some whim of fate or just for a single moment, all his psychic research were to prove vain, we would still be left with that marvellous pictorial achievement, with which he expresses his thought on the profundity of our existence, with their mysterious alternating backgrounds, their mixture of warm earth-tones and vivid yellows bathed in that magically impalpable light, the enchanted greens alongside the vibrant whites and reds that delineate the characters; all of this would be sufficient reward for our spirit since the art already contains within itself the ability to make us understand the world around us.

But what we want to emphasise with full conviction is that fortunately SERGIO BOLDRIN is able to paint and also to read our innermost selves, penetrating beyond those outward guises that robe us temporarily, and eternally fixing for our descendants what will remain of our PERSONALITY.

Venice, April 2006, Giorgio Pilla

"I dress up as a jester and play with a mask," says Sergio Boldrin. And he adds: "I become a mask myself." It is a striking form of identification, that between the artist and the mask. Naturally one needs to know that Boldrin is a mascheraio: he has been making masks for about twenty years. He is a top-ranking professional, who has worked in cinema with great directors (Kubrick) and for the theatre has created masks that have become famous, for both Shakespeare and Pirandello. He is extremely well-known abroad, almost more so than in his own Venice. He has an expansive and communicative character: he is full of vitality. But he feels, more than anyone else, the weight of the mask that he has emblematically worn and which he does not want (or is not able?) to take off.

A psychologist might say that the mask has become a complex for him. He is morbidly attracted to it even now that he devotes himself constantly and seriously to the art of painting, which has been the case for some years now. " I've travelled with masks and now I'm travelling in the world of painting," he says again. But we must be careful here: he is not interested in the standard carnival mask that has become a mere cliché or trite mannerism. He wants to go beyond not just the merely playful taste for masquerade and disguise, but also (and this is far more difficult) all the psychological and sociological clutter that has grown up around these rites. Are we "more real" when we wear a mask? Is the mask itself truly the manifestation of our own personality? Or rather: is the playful moment the moment of self-identification?

Maybe. But Boldrin is not content with this. He "lives" the mask that he himself creates. The mask is a frame of mind, an expressive moment, a stage of the "journey". One moment the mood may be bitter, acerbic, often grotesque, almost as if it expressed a refusal or a sense of nausea; and then it is superseded by a desire to communicate, by emotionality and joy; and the "jester" really has fun. And so the harsh, acid timbres give way to well-orchestrated modalities. The mask, which was beginning to assume connotations that were even frightening, settles into a smile, a gentle gesture. Boldrin sometimes says: "The party's over;" and the painting becomes symbolically resentful. But then he changes tack: "I enjoy being a clown;" and he suddenly feels like dancing. The mask is the go-between for a split temperament, in which troughs of depression alternate with peaks of excitement.

That is where pictorial creativity lurks, in these moments of alteration, these shifts which may last no more than an instant. Boldrin – and this is clear – is never still. His mood changes. "When the mask makes its appearance" – these are his own words – "the mask is mine." He creates it in his daily work as a mascheraio, but recreates it above all when he stands before the easel to paint. We could ask ourselves, observing his paintings which range from the tender and moving to the pungently grotesque and the magically enchanted: which is the real Boldrin? And where does the style of his art come from? Here we are truly faced with an enigma. We can identify an expressive trend that goes from Giandomenico Tiepolo to Ensor, and perhaps arrives as far as Tomea. It is a predominantly northern – and thus expressionistic - tendency, with strong Flemish overtones. But in the end we realise that Boldrin sidesteps (and disregards) the possible derivations. He is himself, always himself. "The mask is mine," he repeats.

What is certain is that we, from without, recognise a strong personal connotation in Boldrin's art. Is he making a self-portrait? Is he painting his two beloved daughters? It is the mask that emerges from his sub-conscious. It reappears from the darkness of the past, as if from the rediscovered Middle Ages: thus from ceremonies, rituals and dark processions, from lively carnivals, from feasts – from a past that emerges from the artist's very chromosomes. It is something inescapable, as in Ensor (whom Boldrin actually does not know): "an inner necessity." The title of a painting reads: "The mask is served." In the banquet the mask is swallowed, digested and then expelled: we see it on the ground, abandoned in a corner.

For Boldrin the aphorism does not work. He "makes himself" into a mask; and the mask is in him. Perhaps it is suffused with a self-mockery which, at certain moments, turns into amiable emotionality. The transformation has become identification. The Fellinian clown has managed to infiltrate as an "amarcord" (nostalgic memory). On stage the masks continue to act. The stage is now the painting: seething and bitter, grotesque and over-brimming with love.

Paolo Rizzi

Sergio Boldrin
First Mask

Men and their masks, an inseparable whole, take on a leading role in the new pictorial cycle of the Venetian artist Sergio Boldrin.

The artist's proposal is an emotionally-charged pictorial reflection which, like a "slap," leads to the primordial being, thoroughly exploring its most intrinsic nature.

Such exploration, however, aims to stress men's figure rather than the mask, leaving to the latter the major task of revealing men's most obscure traits while uncovering their true identity.

Boldrin, while drawing on his enormous knowledge as a master "mascarer," a constant cause for reflection for him, managed as a painter to escape from the heap of masks that accompany his every day, succeeding in unearthing the mask's meaning for the deepest self which any human has faced since the dawn of time.

In this selection of pictorial works, in fact, the mask is not intended in the theatrical terms of the "Commedia dell'Arte" or those of Carnival, but in an intimate and spiritual way, and is seen mainly in its innate appearance as a primordial face: men, the very moment they open their eyes to the world, receive a mask they will wear to their grave.

Referring to this concept, Boldrin drew inspiration from African masks to create his works. Other artists had already taken them as a point of reference in the past, in particular various exponents of Cubism, Fauvism and Expressionism in the avant-garde period of the twentieth century.

Boldrin's vision is nonetheless entirely new and, in a strikingly original conceptual and artistic approach, invites us to look back at the early fusion of men and mask that – erected as symbols – infuse the traits of each mortal. In particular, to underline the duality of a psychological component, Boldrin refers to the anonymous work "Mask of Zaire" kept at the Royal Museum of Central Africa, from which Picasso already drew inspiration – although with a primarily geometric interest – to realise "Les Demoiselles D’Avignon."

In his works, Boldrin depicts each new-born being entrusted with a mask as a small, white figure in embryonic and evanescent form, the symbol of a pure and authentic soul at the beginning of a new life. This figure holds up the great mask ready to wear it, with ever-changing gestures, with graceful and fluttering characters, never completely defined.

Boldrin, indeed, represents diverse "natives," each poised to be unique as regards their physiognomic, psychological, personality, and behavioural features.

There are masks overtly possessed by a demonic stance, conveyed through the warm pigments of the scarlet and blood red, and whose fiery eyes express the yearnings of a tormented and tormenting soul. Others, with darker hues, full of melancholy and mystery, recall signs of suffering, struggle and war. There are some in which the idea of a more serene soul devoted to reflection and analysis prevails, while others have a dreamier inclination and connect with a dancing and philosophical world. And again, masks with earthly colours – which appear more goliardic – recall pastoral and bucolic scenes.

These works present a strong figurative component which is aptly combined with the most abstract part, reminiscent of dreams and imagination. At times, the space becomes nearly theatrical, while other times the background turns largely abstract and adorned with psychological connotations. If masks on certain works show a marked, largely geometric structure, others merge with the being behind them to the point of adopting more human traits, as if they were a second skin.

Finally, the last work, on an almost black purple background, recovers the first mask of the exhibition which now – repainted in white – offers a ghostly appearance.

This work represents the end of life, the last moment men will wear their mask and in which both will cancel out.

A reflection that is narrated in works characterised by gestural instinct and intelligent tone calibration, between contrasts designed to emphasise sensations and moods, in colours as intense as life itself.

Francesca Catalano - Critica e curatrice d’arte