Guiseppe “Beppe” Serafini

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The world of Beppe Serafini is a very distant world; it is a series of images of a rural Italian past which has vanished almost everywhere. His work is infused with timeless simplicity; the figures are painfully distorted. For Beppe Serafini, life represents the only reality, the only sure truth. He challenges society’s solidity and balance. His work assaults normalcy.

Serafini pursues a relationship with forms of the past, even a distant past, which he infuses with his own personal experiences. The majesty of his work, thanks to his respect for tradition, creates situations which are far from current realities as well as current strains of thought. Beppe uses his iconographic sources because of their evocative strength, regardless of their detachment from the present.

Serafini reached 20 in 1935, in the midst of the triumphant exultation of Fascism in Italy. Major attempts were made to redesign society infusing life with discipline, so alien to the Italian mentality. Ten years later, in 1945 at the age of 30, Serafini found himself in a world turned upside down and destroyed. He was surrounded by material and moral ruin, a world in which bombs, hunger and fear exposed man to misery and simultaneously exposed his heroic capabilities.

His art has sometimes been described as a personal form of impressionism. Despite its stylistic peculiarity, similarities with other Italian artists of his generation can be detected. These post-war artists favored the depiction of a popular, distorted, almost grotesque vision of everyday life. Perhaps this may be called social expressionism.

Serafini’s paintings continually show men and their problems as the paintings’ focal point. Everything appears humanized and somehow transfigured. These depictions disrupt and thrill the viewer simultaneously; they capture the inner echo of man’s emotions. Serafini claimed, “I consider myself in a dimension between magic and tragedy.”

Serfini’s humanity, as much as his vision of the world, is reflected in his art. The desperation emanating from his work exposes a contradiction between composition and expression, as if those few, deep values which he portrays could surface. Serafini’s artistic orientation is toward the primary elements of life.

Figure representations are often captured in the privacy of their homes or countryside, as though they were clumsy snapshots. The figures seem to be facing a traveling photographer where people decide to stop their daily activities for a while, curious about the eye of the camera that is watching them.

For Serafini, the individual, through the simple everyday life, shared with other individuals, becomes society and reestablishes contact with the world. His deeply political values find expression in the eyes of his characters. These eyes are shaded by a veil of sadness, but are extremely deep and conscious. This is an act of faith in humanity which is forced to strip itself of all rhetoric and come to grips with itself. Thus the archaism of his subjects must be interpreted, not as nostalgia for the old world which is on the verge of extinction - a feeling deeply shared by artists and thinkers of his generation – but as an ideal setting for moral aspiration.

Serafini uses color as a major element of his work, though never in its pure state. His colors do not spurt from normal tubes, but they are the printing-inks he had once tried by pure chance – perhaps in a moment of financial straits – and never forsook. It is as if he had tried to develop his own shades that seem to produce the same results nature imparts to its creatures.

Colors, even black and white, take on a new existence in his work and are raised to a superior dimension. Blues, yellows, and reds, all become lively: they can be hot and hellish, or cold and pious. A pale light, which develops inside them, underlines something mysterious hiding behind both characters and objects.

The outlines of Serafini’s figures are literally engraved in convulsively tight lines. His characters express, with revolutionary force, the customs and habits of daily life in a small provincial village.

The inner depth of Serafini’s “humble beings,” appears to express the nameless figures in a series of medieval murals, a poor man’s bible, in which basic humanity supplants or matches transcendence. Such figures stare you straight in the eye and remind you that all that has occurred, still occurs and may well occur again.

Serafini died unaware that his work would touch so many souls. He strove to place man in a setting that would provide him dignity, peace, and an opportunity to obtain the permanent things of life.

--Maurizio Vanni
Alessandro Coppellotti