Alberto Sughi: On Painting

In 1991 the Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena (an Italian Bank) acquired for its own art collection the large painting of Alberto Sughi “Theatre of Italy”. The same year to celebrate the acquisition the Bank produced the volume “Theatre of Italy and On Painting, an interview with Alberto Sughi”.  Alberto Sughi has recently completed a new edition of that interview now published for its first time in English. The following text is extracted from this last edition.


Biagio Maraldi   It is often said that an artist's work is a "mirror", a reflection of the man and his life. In other words, can you tell me whether you feel that the development of your painting has followed the story of your inner life: of your passions and ideals, loneliness and pessimism? 

Alberto Sughi   There are, obviously, biographical references. But I prefer to regard my paintings as having a life of their own, which is not always connected with my own personal history. 

One day, when exhibited, other people will be viewing my works. They will translate the images captured by the artist into thoughts, according to their own intuitions and cultural background. Then, perhaps, my paintings will become the "mirror" of those observing them. But "mirror" is an unforgiving word, and I prefer not to use it myself.

BM   One of the constant characteristics of your paintings seems to be a pessimistic view of the world. The figures in your paintings are almost always enveloped in a tragic atmosphere that seems to portray your relationship with reality and your fellow men

AS   The feeling of sadness and loneliness expressed by a work of art does not necessarily reflect the sadness and loneliness of the artist. In my paintings, I suppose I have tried to gain a greater knowledge of the contradictions that man has always burdened himself with, up to the present, to post-modern Man. For instance, I have tried to determine how difficult it is to establish strong communicative relationships within a society that has made communication the most banal aspect of its own identity. 

BM   I would like you to talk about your relationship with your own work and, more generally, about painting and the work of a painter. 

 AS   Painting is a kind of translation: what was thought, reflection, and conceptual analysis is transferred into image.  

To tell the truth, we shouldn't even regard it as translation, as if the painter's creations already pre-existed in some other form of expression. Painting is nothing more than an autonomous way of confronting reality. It is true that art, whatever form it takes, always alludes to something else. However, the object on which a painter works, and the way he expresses his art, means that he is under no obligation to bear this in mind. 

BM   How do you get the idea for a painting, and what mental processes are involved in its development? 

AS   A painting is created from all those that you have painted previously, and from what you have already learned about painting; but, above all, it is created from a wish to explore the world, to discover what continues to escape you... 

BM   In the past, the relationship between art and ideology was a great subject of debate in Italy. What kind of feelings do you now have about that period? 

AS   Years pass, people settle down, and only the quality of a work of art remains as a really useful point of reference. So I give little importance to declarations of ideological commitment, or detachment, which really determined part of the negative attitude towards our work in those days. 

I don't know whether critics today are more reliable. However, I believe that we can probably foresee that tomorrow many critical judgements will count for less, just as much of the painting in favour today will soon be forgotten.

As far as loneliness is concerned, artists are generally resigned to this condition, so it cannot be viewed as unusual, or be seen as a reason for frustration. 

BM   Can we trace the history of your artistic education? On other occasions you have mentioned some influences………  

AS   The various influences in my work have suffered a process of sedimentation over time, so that I now find it difficult to pin down what has had the greatest influence on my work. 

As a painter, you are under no obligation to be faithful to, or to religiously respect, the work of other artists. You simply capture something within it that serves to enhance your own original expression.

BM Your art has, naturally, undergone changes and variations over the years, as we have already said. I don't believe that you have ever been part of the "Abstract" or "Informal" schools of painting. Was this choice ideological, or was it a question of your art, poetics and style?

AS If you look carefully at my work, as some already have, you will see that I have observed and absorbed many elements from Abstract and Informal art, and that my work does contain traces and references to prove it. Working within a cultural climate that emphasised the importance of these elements, it seems entirely natural to me that I would become interested in them, even if I cannot claim to have had any real involvement.

On the other hand, one has to remember that the Abstract movement did not set out to be a trend in contemporary art. It intended, above all, to express a revolutionary and fascinating aesthetic theory: art, free from every moral, illustrative or didactic constraint, would finally be able to disclose its vital essence. No longer obliged to represent the world, but only to reflect itself, painting could finally champion the cause of "Art for art's sake".

Many artists expected to achieve new purity, a beauty never previously attained. But this theory seems to be part of the many illusions nurtured by a blind faith in progress that permeated every walk of life at the beginning of our century.

The suspicion, at least a suspicion, that this might not be true, prevented me from embracing this vision.

From 1 May 2005 the entire interview can be read at 

Alberto Sughi was born in Cesena in 1928 but has been living in Rome for some time. One of the main exponents of the figurative pictorial era in which "Existential Realism" was spoken about, his work quickly attracted the attention of art critics, causing a significant convergence of eminent scholars and essayists, even though of diverse orientations, and was presented in the most important collections of Contemporary Art, from the Rome Quadriennale to the Venice Biennale, as well as in many other exhibitions, showing to other countries abroad what was happening in Italian Art from the Sixties until now

Titles of the attached images

# 59

Alberto Sughi

To go Where?, Oil on canvas, 140x140cm, 1991,

# 60

Alberto Sughi

To go Where?, Oil on canvas, 160x160cm, 1991

# 122

Alberto Sughi

To go Where?, Oil on canvas, 150X200cm, 1991

# 307

Alberto Sughi

Portrait of Alberto Sughi, (photograph) 1994

# 333

Alberto Sughi

Cover of the volume with the first edition of Theater of Italy, On Painting, Interview with Alberto Sughi published by the Cassa di Risparmio (1991)