Enrico Benaglia

(by  Francesco Perfetti  - 2012)

The fervent, fermenting and magical atmosphere of the Roman Artistical Life of the '60 was the background of training and, at the same time, the inspiration of the poetry of Enrico Benaglia.

That Rome, overcome the crisis is of the postwar period and the difficult period of reconstruction, was bringing within itself, in the midst of economic miracle, the sign of the moral collapse of the war and the spiritual wounds of the 'loss of center "or the eclipse of traditional values, but at the same time, just in the arts, showed a great vitality: abstraction, informalism, surrealistic suggestions and existential realism coexisted with the magical realism and the followers of the so-called the 'Roman school'.
On one hand - looking at certain places become mythical ideal meeting place of study or artistic circles, as Via Margutta or Via Giulia - we could say, a little bit exaggerating, that the Rome of that time held the same function as a stimulus to the arts that had been the prerogative for Paris in the early twentieth century.
Precisely in this context, rather than attending schools or studios of artists, Enrico Benaglia did his apprenticeship. The time spent in the studio of the painter Antonio Achilli and the meetings and conversations with artists of great personalities like Pericle Fazzini and Luigi Montanari and, later, Balthus and Giovanni Stradone undoubtedly left its mark on his personality and his future artistical life and expressive results. They left him, this sign, not so much in terms of an adherence to a specific "school" of art, or his acceptance of a well-defined poetic vision, but rather in the habit for a continuous search of technical solutions before than aesthetic styles. In other words Benaglia lived an "handicraftsman" experience that led him to discover to practice in sketching, playing with "chiaroscuro" and looking for special effects, that led him to perfect a technique of engraving as the culmination of the graphical virtuosity that from the paper goes to the metal plate: and it is no coincidence that he soon became, technically, an undisputed master in the field of graphics and creating individual works and collections of singular beauty and strong emotional impact. The "handicraftsman" approach of Benaglia concerns, however, another dimension: the discovery of the potentials of the paper and the cardboard that became not only a support for the work of the artist or the objects to be used for drawing or sketching or the note chart etc., but rather were perceived as raw material to mold and make living. Thus, through a game of bends and through the use of scissors and glue, the sheets become autonomous figures that summarize or express an idea, a story, an emotion.
In some cases, they merely perform the function of models, or supports of the design on canvas, or inserts/elements of the same pictorial construction through the use of the technique of collage. In any case, those jagged wings of the angels, those stems and petals of flowers, those individuals, men and women, alone and dreaming, or twisted in private talks, born to a virtuoso workings of scissors and glue are not just "drafts", but constitute themselves a parallel world to the real one, through which their way of expressing the creative sensibility of Benaglia and his poetic, personal and unique.
A world that will be soon populated by all those elements - toys, toy soldiers, animals, puppets and so on - that recall the lightness and joyfulness but also wonder, sometimes sad or angry, assumed childhood, paradigmatically, as a open window on the mystery of the existence.
When Benaglia, now at the height of his artistic maturity, permanently moved to paint on the canvas, his poetry - which was expressed in a painting mythical, symbolic and allusive - was widely and could be a fundamental support in the approach "craft" of the origins , in the preparation and utilization of matter, in a skilful and dramatic composition, in the research of the "inserts" and in an exceptional and almost magical use of color, never too strong or sharp, but always calibrated, pasty, and warm: in a word, "personal". The technical virtuosity of Benaglia was (and still is), however, its sublimation in the distillate of a profound artistic culture and not commonly performed in a manner that reflects a strong right in that atmosphere and that atmosphere that he had "sniffed" or assimilated in Roman artistic circles. While it is not possible, nor, all things considered, Benaglia proper place within a specific artistic movement is no doubt that his work is in a position of contiguity or continuity with the 'Roman school' and his followers, but also with the "magic realism" and the necessity to include the subjects treated in the atmosphere, to be precise "magic" and, in some ways, "metaphysics" and crossed by veins of existential anxiety. In one way or another, the lesson of many artists is, in a personal reworking, in its production. It is at the level of suggestion or emotional appeal, never being mentioned. To make some examples, Names as Antonio Donghi, Franco Gentilini, Riccardo Francalancia or Giovanni Stradone are, at the level of formal solutions or themes, are certainly evoked together with those of large foreign artists like Balthus and René Magritte that intended the painting as a means of knowledge or the exploration of a world is inseparable from its mystery.
These characteristics are evident in the great thematical cycles of Benaglia's paintings: the series devoted to "The districts of the soul", the "The Secret Garden" or that one that introduced to the fabulous and imaginative circus world presented with the title "Benaglia's Circus".
Despite the diversity of the subjects covered by the brush, it's possible to note the same sensitivity and the same emotional approach together with the mysterious and evocative ability of Benaglia to create a silent atmospheres, attenuate and disturbing, that the wonder of the artist, in front of the mystery and the dream, turn from imaginary into real.
The "Districts of the soul" offer perspectives of streets, squares, intersections, paved streets, balconies, parks, fountains, ponds an urban reality certainly true but transfigured by the exceptional ability of a visionary sensibility, able to grasp and to seize the 'arcane secrets of the soul and charm of the great city that lives and can live without its inhabitants, and independently of them: probably, this is the reason why in the paintings of this cycle - characterized by the use of colors suffused and calibrated in their softness and able to generate effects and chromatic illusions similar to those of the pastel or fresco - the human presence is mediated by the depiction, for example, of a toy airplane or barchettas of paper inside, or at the edges, of some fountain. The paintings of the cycle of the "Secret Garden" develop "The Districts of the soul." These fabulous gardens - the grass well-coiffed, the flower beds elegantly designed, planters, some bench - are gardens or urban parks. They are an appendix, almost, of the city or of the districts loved by Benaglia. They are, in a sense, a completion vain and intriguing where people are there, but as shown by the presence allusive shapes that reproduce stylized figurines created with paper or cardboard, creating situations and playful dream in which cross fantasy and dream, symbolism and reality. The railings, fences and statues, even the circus world (in "Benaglia's Circus") is part of the same discourse. It is a further stage of the artist's sentimental journey to discover the mystery and the unknowable because "The Districts of the soul" and the "Secret Garden" are always present, often in the backgrounds. The circus - a subject that is, for this time, full characters with colorful clothes and toys in move - comes in the streets of urban districts or in the open spaces of the gardens and animates them with amazing magic exercises, games, and illusionism.

The world of Benaglia is an "other" world, but it's real and retrieves the most intimate secret of the individual: the ability to dream, play, stupefy, illude but also reflect, with a bit of anxiety, the great mystery of existence. Benaglia builds his world, a little at a time, with a continuous discovery, fascinating paintings made with an exceptional research of the story, with a sensitivity and imaginative scenic out of the ordinary, with a deep perception of the "color speech" with a manic attention to details, but never skipping into the traps of a calligraphic virtuosity.

Francesco Perfetti

Enrico Benaglia biography

(by  Riccardo M. Cucciolla)