|Antonio Salemme, Sculptor and Painter, 1892-1995
Before I ever began to paint, I hung out with Antonio Salemme 1892-1995, at his home and studio. This was a period of around 2 years before I started doing art, and the doing of art was not something I had on my mind initially. I was in my late 20's and Antonio was in his late 80's. I looked at his paintings and sculpture, and when I had the nerve I would ask questions.
|The King, an environment by Antonio, terra cotta, around 18' wide
Much of the work he was doing contemporaneously, seemed rough and the opposite of sophisticated to my 'untrained' mind and eye. I had never studied art before. Much of his earlier work I saw was 'classical' and 'finished', again to my 'untrained' eye.
Like I said, I carried on this study with Antonio. It was quite a taoistic event. I hadn't signed up for any course work and everything just moved along quite naturally and spontaneously. A very profound happening. Essentially I saw great value in his more 'classical' expression and that gave me the faith and space to be open to his later work. He would say quite often how much better the work he was doing at the time, was than his earlier more formal work. He stressed the value of spontaneity and would continually lead the analytical and critical mind back to the work by saying, "look at the brushstrokes!"
I still have this awesome respect for his earlier work. It is in truth modern classicism as is all his work from every period in his output, which virtually spanned the 20th Century.
After 2 years and many hours of hanging out with Antonio in his studio. After 2 years of trying to figure out what it was about his work that was so compelling to me, I had a major breakthrough. We were looking at paintings in his studio and he put on the easel a recent work. I immediately went into an internal mode of 'here we go again...'! Here was another strange and seemingly primitive painting, all rough and childlike. It was obviously spontaneous but really??? I said to myself, "here we go, another Salemme!" Almost immediately the realization arose in me, that, that was the essential point! It was a Salemme! Here was this 88 year old Artist, who spent his life sculpting and painting in the absolutely most dedicated way. He had attained a purity of expression that made him one with the medium and because of this it was futile to pigeon hole his work, which I had been doing quite sub consciously for the last 2 years. I watched my conceptual mind crumble, and instantaneously the painting I had been looking at changed from something rough and unsophisticated to a work of sublime beauty. My value system had been turned inside out! A true satori, or enlightenment experience. What I saw at that point in terms of the art, was the art itself, not the conceptual associative storylines that had been reverberating sub consciously within my psyche for years. Where I had been judging from that conceptual space, I now could understand and appreciate from a place of direct experience. Also at that point I could look through history and see who had that same depth of understanding about the art and craft of painting. I had begun to understand a profound language that I really didn't know I was learning in the first place, in the same way an infant must learn their spoken language, thru cultural osmosis. And always the essential aspect of the language is the hand, heart and mind of the individual creating for the individual seeing. this the major point of a more mature seeing about art AND life. At the same time I realized I wanted to partake in that joy of self expression, so my painting practice began under Antonio's nurturing guidance. I had found a true mentor, as well as a true artist.
My art practice has been a specific series of satori experiences all grounded in what is called anubhava ie. direct experience in the yogic tradition. Art and painting as the cutting thru of conceptual mind. It is essential buddhism in that my art work represents the marriage of the absolute and the personal. In this way of understanding it also points to a new tradition of mastery in terms of the practice of art. A practice that is an integral conscious part of the spiritual path, not unlike the Indian practice of raga/music. A mastery built upon the artist's inner voice and intuition, built through a dedication to the conscious understanding of life energy/prana and its relationship to the medium. Modernism.
|a photo of a view of Antonio's studio