Critical Anthology

It is in this equilibrium, continues Gaston Bachelard, that the feverish vivacity of the artist’s hand is enlivened. A hand that, as it occurs for Carlo Zauli, I would say, with tectonic vigour, exceeds what Jean Paul Richter considers the captivity and passiveness of its touch and, thanks to the imagination of the depths of the substance, possesses the poetics of the “raw” quality of the material. Overcoming “tactileness” means denying the pure and simple “utilisation” of the materials in order to literally listen to the almost abysmal and arcane “breathing” of the materials, bringing to the surface, thanks to a “deep porosity”, the structure of that raw material that is the earth and its ideal doughs. But it must be said that in Zauli’s research there is an often disturbing radicality: the exploration of the relationship between the artist’s imagination and the imagination of matter as regards the specific qualitative articulations of the various substances. A survey that we could consider almost “scientific”, “experimental”, demonstrating non-passivity and the creative non-inertia of the matter itself with its docility or resistance; but the need to find the openings or, better, “a portal of access” to its “other” dimensions, to arouse its potential for existence, “[…] to grasp the invisible natural forms that breathe and intend to come to the surface and want to exist” (Carlo Zauli). He adds: “[…] I am a man who loves a “clump” of clay and who wants to vitalise it, slowly give it shape, more life, exalting and reordering its infinite rhythms and its mysterious tensions that are hidden within it.”



Even to the most uninitiated newcomer, it is evident that his ‘sculpture’ in grès, regardless of the outcomes and coatings of enamel that he decides to adopt, is basically conceived through ‘folds’, ‘fractures’, ‘deformations’, ‘accumulations’ and ‘ juxtapositions’ in which the ’empty’ and the ‘shadows’ look like elements of dramatisation of form and indispensable vehicles of spatiality.
If one wonders about the reasons, as some have felt the need to do, the Japanese interest in Zauli art and vice versa, as to what – along with the many trips, the exhibitions in major Japanese museums, the awards received and the presence among important Asian collections – is a timely clue, it is not difficult to assume that this attraction derives precisely from the formal essentiality derived from elaborate gestures, not absent of bold decisions prior to the firing of the material, or the consideration of the ’empty’ within the aspect of ‘fracture’ or other aspects during the final conception of the work.



A beautiful photograph by Antonio Masotti shows Zauli, in 1975, sitting on a heap of clay, deep in thought, looking longingly at the ground.  This is, beyond any intellectual tangent, the very point.  The artist and his material, his earth in the whole spectrum of meaning of the expression, one and the same, not conventionally united by an indissoluble identity.  Art is the distilled manifestation of this identity.  Zauli is able to accept dealing with this new condition of design blindness, of practicality that is discovered only during the making, precisely because the technical premises of the discipline are firm, very firm.  In other words, the fact that he is able to choose to have faith in the experiential completeness of the process is because he never risks making himself a prisoner of it or being subjugated by it.  And he discovers, much he discovers in these years: the Sconvolti (‘Distorted’), the Flessuosità (‘Sinuosity’), the Zolle (‘Clods’), all emblematic titles.  In these the spectrum of further possible models seems to unfold, those that he explores over the following years.  Through expressive gambles and decantation, through intuition and reflection, Zauli comes to understand that matter demands a shape, and these shapes are the children of his intimate behaviours.



Fortunately, something has changed in recent years, not among the younger generation.  Especially as regards the art-nature relationship, the primary one of Zauli, even if today it is often with accents of reciprocal hostility, absent in the very sculptures of the artist from Faenza (the Burst Dice, the Distorted Vases, from the second half of the 1970s) in which primitive formal control is agitated, violated, yet not entirely suppressed. It remains underlying, in harmony with the natural order, not only always idyllic and serene, but, ever since, oft tormented, agitated, in a precisely natural dimension, which is then that of Man, of his feelings, of his destiny.



Zauli’s sculpture is visceral. It is perceived from within. To such a point that we feel a need to trust the artist and to surrender to him. Its powerful and wide volumes interact with the eyes and the mind, releasing a wide range of sensual pleasures to the viewer, which come from the dance that the viewer performs together with the objects, while the eye moves over their complex forms. (…) In doing so, Zauli manages to give order to time and space.



Zauli does not ask himself which artistic form is appropriate to introduce to the world, but rather which world to create from different forms, or at least which form to give to the world. In relation to which, the categorical and cultural hierarchies disappear, all representative hypotheses fade, and the mythology of the object subsides. Among its singular and poignant simplicity only the events of life remain, the life of Man and his inexhaustible will to build his own world with earth, with water and with fire. In space and along the fragile border that separates light from dark.



It is in the laborious creation of the work, between the material itself, the project and the technical process, that decides its identity as a significant plastic object. That which confirms the way Zauli remains faithful to the history of sculpture and interprets current events within this historical vision. Once again, therefore, it is the connection between nature and history, or between nature and culture, that constitutes the cause. The constitutive principle, the unelusive reference of the plastic work. Thus, determined by precise planning and at the same time also magnetised by a mythical vision of nature, Zauli’s sculpture insists on a dialectic, so to speak, of opposites that represent one of the recurring themes of our century (…) And it is as though, in this plastic narrative, Zauli has re-founded in a modern formal destiny and in a complex symbolic investiture, the mythical nature of the material and the sacredness of the gestures and rituals of the ancient potter.



The metamorphosis of the shapes in Zauli cannot be approached in any way other than the dissolution of the existential impulse and, in short, to the hyper-romantic delirium which inhabited the Informal period in such a varied way. Of course, it was unlikely that such an explicit probability of the “material” and the “brute” would forever refuse to pass through the handling of the clay, prepared to cede all of its structural virtues and to liquefy, much less wrinkle, crack, and explode in a landscape of sublime deformities.



In his work, the rhythms and morphologies of the great natural disasters are pursued more closely, transcribed or redone with great fidelity. They are geological strata that curve, flex, break, at the press of some powerful breath of endogenous volcanic energy. In all this one can even grasp a component of the “Japanese” spirit, that is, a variant of that contemplative attitude, ready to take part in the spectacles of nature, without disturbing them with coarse and importunate advances, which we are now accustomed to depicting under the label of Zen. Evidently, Zauli has always chosen to move within a macro-Zen, or to give us kinds of gigantic Haikus, rather than the few graceful verses that are usually prescribed by the strict rules of this “genre”.



While Fontana manifests his brilliant research through precise and symbolic gestures, Zauli has a different relationship with history. In recent years, for example, a series of reliefs have been fashioned in stoneware which collate together the broken or crushed entities of earth-coloured vases as if to say that a mythical duration, archaeologically full of memories, is condensed in that wall, that sculpture; Spina and the great Etruscan civilisation are at home here. The lines of Zauli’s research became more precise toward the end of the 1960s: stoneware modelled as stones rolled ashore, hollowed out and engraved, with porous surfaces, at times as smooth as the internal resistance of crystal; then, at the beginning of the following decade, the relationship between “primary forms” and tensions of almost naturalistic growth, geometric shapes and ambiguous forms allusive to the myth of sex which seems to be one of Zauli’s leitmotifs. Shells, later split-open parallelepipeds, with painted fulcrums in order to underline their symbolic value.



When Zauli manages to give life to his peculiar creations, (or creatures?) In stoneware – with soft white-pink-grey nuances – it is easy to understand that his is a sort of opus magnum where raw material is almost magically transformed into sublime matter, just as it happened (or should have happened) in the metamorphosis, metabolism, of the ancient alchemists with the transmutation of base-metals into gold. Because it is precisely from the encounter between colour and shape, between earth (in its state of clay lumps), fire (the great fire of 1200¡ as a fertilising agent) and colour, – in which the ashes, sands, and mineral powders employed are translated with incomparable subtlety – that can come to life and become lasting and perennial, that which was initially only the larva of an idea, the still impalpable image of a plastic dream.



An encounter with Carlo Zauli’s sculptures is pure visual poetry. The impact of his work affects not only the senses but invades the entire field of the psyche. His masterful and imaginative use of the ceramic medium synthesises shape, colour, texture, volume and movement in a powerful artistic expression. Although he identifies himself intimately with nature, there is never a hint of repetitiveness in him. On the contrary, he takes cues from the objects and phenomena found in nature to broaden his knowledge and awareness of nature. The shapes, geometric or organic, are always characterised by the peculiarity of Carlo Zauli’s hand. Its large shapes, square or spherical, are transformed into tender, sinuous expressions of sensuality that only clay can express.



Where does the fresh sense of material in Zauli’s art come from? In my opinion, it is due to the fact that this artist does not oppose himself to the earth, but rather adapts to it, that is to say he forms the shapes that life takes. That is, instead of compressing or distorting the earth by force, Zauli captures, rather sharply, the invisible natural form that is hidden inside, and concretises it with vivacity. Even the fact that the work, while displaying a flow of complex and baroque parts, possesses unperturbed and classic unity and order, it can nevertheless be thought to dependent upon the nature of such an operation. At first our eyes turn to the shapes of the surface, where violent roughness converges, but then we begin to feel a sense of satisfaction, like a tranquillity of the spirit, embraced in the womb of nature: this is precisely the reason why his works are always pervaded with classical serenity, despite the baroque forms deriving from the clash and complexity of multiple convoluted layers.



As always, the beginning is structural, then the colour and the heat make them rise and explode: the alchemy lies in the fact that all matter becomes a chromatic mass, even in depth. The masses grow, according to an innate law of virtuality that it carries within, just like crystal and the law of crystallography. The strange thing is that the energy compressed in the form is released in nature. These blocks of opaque and shiny ceramic (other than ornaments!) look great on lawns, outdoors: they are not afraid of nature. They remind me of the hieratic boulders stranded in the empty gardens of Kyoto: they seem to have fallen there by chance, instead their shape is formed by the transparent space in which they sail neatly like icebergs.