Gianni Scupola, even though gifted of remarkable culture – is a final year student in modern literature- as for art he is a self-taught person. His education shows clear signs of a late Egyptian artistic suggestion. The bas-rileifs do not reveal an imitation, but an hyperreflection of a non-interrupted historic world, which has a kind of nemesis in the recreation of a nearly bucolic simplicity. His style- that of style we have to talk about, even if his training is just started – points out, in a strict plasticity, the lines of an happy exercise, through stages of acquisition and resumption, to the control of a tecnique, or if you prefer, of a metodology. Forms are one with contents which fraternize with the social image thought and everted towards realistic outcomes. The constitutive elements of the body of the artistic object are not perceptible other than in a totalizing context, such as in a gestalt analysis. His art programme consist of images and figures collocation in a dynamic scenario which changes with the dialectic of life’s pattern. Talk about chromatic use or abuse, proportion or disproportion of anatomical dimensions ( model subject matter the War Memorial in Specchia) is like to divert the speech from the artistic personality of Gianni Scupola.
I asked Giovanni Scupola to tell me what he felt was the soil where he has cultivated, and continues to cultivate, his pictorial quest. Shy, like every artist afraid to go out of the borders of his specific abilities, nevertheless Scupola has offered me the exact code of his art: talking about soil, the leccese land, which goes from the dolmen and menhir prehistory of Melendugno and of Acaia to the “truddi” of the Salentine internal plains, to the flamboyant Renaissance of Santa Croce in Lecce. There is no doubt that the first soul of his sculpture, the same choice of poor materials, is born really from the attention, or, better still, from the anxiety of the sensitive soul of an artist in front of the constant work of the sea at “Poesia” caves, at the infinite embroderies of San Foca and Roca Li Posti cliffs: natural baroque embroideries that the leccese tuff, which hardens by the air, reproduces in the façades of the many ancient churches of the salentine shelf, from Lecce to Otranto from Gallipoli to Soleto. Or the basins, the cold flows sheer to the sea from the eastern coasts between Santa Maria di Leuca to Porto Badisco and the windy peculiarity of the Zinzolusa. Almost digging into his past of young boy following the building father of those art and nature wonders, the dry walls, that even today separate the gardens of Salento, Scupola finds out the mystery of the plastic form in the clear air of the deep South, among the red of the fertile earth, the deep blue sky and the blue emerald of the sea. A discovery which takes place with feeling, in the intelligence of knowledge: then in the end, or at the beginning, of his first story, Scupola finds out the Italic antiquity, that studies at the University of Lecce, Faculty of Letter, but he discovers also the primitive art of the masters of the western twentieth century: Arp, Brancusi, Laurentis, Moore. No contradictions: indeed, an exemplary continuity that is realized in a distance, still under way, which cannot be what it has been, as for the premises. A way which sounds ancients and at the same time modern. The South of Italy has always demonstrated an instinctive, natural fondness for the full solidity of forms, and this solidity cannot linger in the shade obstructions: here is the neatness and the smoothness of Scupola’s marbles. But this native instinctiveness is not enough to explain the soft line, his women's erotic sinuosity, the sentimental abandon of his faces: there is still something else. And this something I believe it is the meeting with a great European sculptor that any careful and sensitive artist knows, loves and from whom one is irresistibly attracted: Arturo Martini. Also for Scupola, I really believe that, before Arp, Brancusi, Laurens, Moore, comes the big lesson of Arturo Martini and his bold conjugation of the last Wildt’s Decò with the northern Expressionism and the classical Plasticism. My reflection on Scupola’s art moves from these preambles, not only to present the legibility, which seems easy to me, pleasant; indeed, sometimes even too much winning; but rather to warn who observes him thinking that it is all easy, everything expected into this sculpture from the gentle strokes. Nothing more superficial: Scupola’s sculpture has the art complexity that is born mature in a refined context, intertwined with thousand routes, which the fabric of Salento is and in this weaving, the sun, the sky and the sea play an important role. His Woman's Busts, his Motherhoods, the Women’s Nudes either the Bathers or the Lovers slip out of Leccese limestone, of the pumice stone or of the stone of Carovigno with the smoothness of a dance gesture: they taste of a puff of wind and they are not heavy. However, if you pause with more attention, you will find out that Scupola’s plastic contains an internal drama, a secret rush that has an ancient taste. To illustrate my point: compare Woman's Figure (leccese stone 1991) with certain Italic warrior's bronzes with wide hats; or put side by side Crouched Figure (leccese stone, 1994) with the players figures of the Ludovisi Throne. They are not impossible comparisons; it is to understand that Scupola’s creative feeling lets itself willingly touch from the sweetnesses of sinuosities and fullness of the bodies. Then our dissatisfaction cuts takes over and so his mind turns to Brancuso and Laurens, then Arp and Moore: through the classical simplification of their plastic he recovers a gesture now done more of silences and interruptions: ellipsis of a completely lyric speech, which rings. Yes, in certain sculptures it seems to hear a sound: Woman’s Figure (bronze, 1988), Lovers (leccese stone, 1993) and others. It is the same sound which comes with Moore’s majestic monumentality and Arp’s preciousness. In this polyphony, Scupola’s symphony enjoys a thin key, light, almost touched on the tip of a bow. There: I would really like to talk about the musicality of this sculptor, because in the end, I think this is his most significant feature. A completely twentieth-century feature, which distinguish himself from his informal and abstract contemporaries and brings him back within a search context with aspects related either to the Surrealism of Picasso’s origins (he knows the bronzes of Muse Gardens and Picasso at Paris) or to the most audacious solutions of Max Bill’s consonances. Clear and woven ways: even in this a perfect contemporary, at ease among the endless melodies of the modern Circes.
Giuseppe Maria Ricchiuto
I met the sculptor Giovanni Scupola by chance back in 1974. I came with my family on holiday in Specchia, my native land; a little town in the South of Salento, famous for the climate and art wonders. Walking by a small, tree-lined square, surrounded by scaffolding, I heard the chink of mallet and chisels. One day I stopped to peep what they were doing and thus I noticed a boy, nearly twenty years old, busy at rough-hew a monolith of about four meters. At the beginning I did not want to disturb him but I liked to see him working, afterwards I made myself noticeable and I asked him what he was doing and he answered that he was working to execute a Memorial to the fallen in war and at work. However I was not able to point out any figure which had a minimum reference to war events, I only noticed naked figures which were embracing each other. I asked clarifications in regard and he explained to me that, really, he had no intention to portray militaristic images, typical of all war memorial. He wanted to dedicate this monument to love, especially to the family, brick of every civilization. The war, he explained to me, is wanted by few bad people and mostly greedy for power and so he did not want to do a monument which praised these principles, but the opposite. Since that day I did not lose sight of that boy and have followed with interest his artistic development. I was impressed by his first exhibition in Verona, in Lucerna, Switzerland and his first bronze monument. Today at more than twenty years distance, I have never stopped being enthusiastic about his works, either of small or big dimensions. He usually prefers to sculpt on stones of little value, even if sometimes he has realized sculptures in precious marbles and bronze. One day, in his workshop, he explained to me that his inspiration sources are the images of the archaich cultures, full of deep religious feeling to which the contemporary artistic experiences mix to as in a hotchpot; the result is a typically Scupola-esque style of art, which is easy to recognize and identify. The central theme is the woman’s figure, archetype from which we all comes from, seen in all his plastic - expressive facets. Sometimes it is represented, emptied by a few corporeal elements, sometimes the volumes fill, clearly eluding to the theme of the motherhood; in both cases, however, the image is represented full of meanings and of vital energy, in the interplay of plenums and voids that give the idea of a structure tied up to the Mother Earth, but that at the same time, like a spring, frees himself in the air. There are not prearranged reasonings in his plastic forms, such to make them artful and cold, but instinct, cleaned up from the superfluous, finishing every single detail off to the extreme technical expertise. Lately and I conclude, my thought for the Artist Scupola, has approached, under certain appearances, to the eastern cultures, to draw from them what western people has forgotten: the spirituality, the love for the next one and all that which surrounds us, the positive attitude towards life lived with simplicity and generosity. Some sculptures,in fact, represent figures in yoga position (discipline that he practises), in such works is clearly highlighted this last aspect of the sculptor. I consider this writing of mine a simple and sincere thought, that for a long time I wanted to express towards a great artist who honours me with his friendship, and not a critical quotation.
Giovanni has had once the study in Palmieri Street, a street in Lecce historical center; two beautiful big rooms with masonry vault, when masonry was art. I went to see him sometime. I have always been attached to my former pupils, particularly those who make me proud that they were at school. Entering those rooms where he was working, was like looking through the eyepiece of a kaleidoscope, such were the exhibited forms and their variability, depending on the observation point. I use the word kaleidoscope to show a lively and always surprising creativity of our sculptor, as expression of moods and appropriation of forms caught in the flow of his days. That’s because, observing a series of works, one is often led to search for stylistic references with other authors, instead of asking the reason for such variety, when one does not even refer to brand it as incapacity of formal consistency. I think, as it happens for the musician, who draws rhythmic or thematic cues, say, from the unintentionally beating of a boy on a can or from a group of voices and noises at the railway station, so who works in the visual arts field is droven by his thirst for the wind, a ruffled hair by the run, a wince of an athlete. I’m sure that explains the peculiarity and uniqueness of every single sculpture of his own; moreover it is not possible to duplicate an emotion. I like this, because it is against those rope agreements with merchants, whom often impose dimensions, subjects and quantities of works. From here, inevitably comes out the theme and formal repetitiveness, if there is not time for research, which is mistaken for stylistic inconsistency. I’ve always admired Giovanni for his sense of daring in taking the worked material to the limit of resistance, as when one gives out a very sharp cry, beyond which there is aphonia, which is the breaking of the piece. Another characteristic of his is the use of various materials, either to have particular surface yields, or to have chromatic results for the form, like some pieces obtained from blocks of calcite. But an important thing, in my opinion, is that he is taking out also our leccese stone (which I love so much). Poor material, but of big shading yields, which has allowed to give a profile to a town and which is a gift of patience of sedimentation and of anger of the abyss, that thousands of years ago has thrust from the bottom of the sea in the light of the sun. The southern sun.
After he has long investigated in the theme of the human figure and expressed through it the meaning of suffering and conditioning of life which is not possible to eliminate, Scupola opens a new chapter in his continuing and tireless artistic activity. His research is turned, now, to the realization of forms which express and develop themselves in a free and unpredictable way, through perfectly polished or just outlined surfaces, sharp edges or gently sinuous corners, broad or suddenly interrupted spaces. Sculpture, for Scupola, is no longer meant as a closed and completed work in itself, structured according to a pre-arranged order or a symmetric organization (the human figure, to be specific, to the extent that it was previously flattened or expanded), but as form which “autoproduces” itself, which develops itself in several directions according to a plan, which may appear to be, somewhat random. There is in this new experience a kind of return to the origins: from the human figure to more archaic living forms, a walk from history to nature, to the search of those mechanisms which, in continuos combinations, have produced the emergence of life.
As the experience of childhood may affect the future is difficult to measure, it is certain that the handling of the stone, already practiced as a boy in the footsteps of his father, a mason expert in the construction of dry stone walls, must have at least helped him understand what his vocation would be. It is no coincidence that he has decided at 14 years old, when choosing the type of studies, to attend the School of Art in Lecce, sculpture course. A course probably without particular weight if not in the sense of a progressive conviction of the road taken and of a first approach to technical problems-operational. There is also, I believe, another important part of its cultural formation that must have had other consequences, his historical- artistic studies at the University of Lecce, Arts Degree with a dissertation on Art History. The level and the breadth of cultural contact points in the specific matters artistic must have defined precisely during the university education. This is not of course of a component directly expressed in artistic maturity, but, of course, the awareness of critical issues has had consequences on its research and on its attitude towards contemporary artistic history. He, i.e., has had the opportunity to understand fully that today to give meaning to his own expressive choices, it is necessary to deal with the full path of contemporary sculpture. It would have been easy, for example, to connect directly to that thread of inquiry that intended to liberate expression from every bond of naturalistic figurativeness,
and by proportional, technical-operative processes, affirm the full autonomy of form,
a trend that was affirmed in 1950's Italy - an example offered by the historical masters of the avant-garde. But Scupola has chosen in a way the less easy path to prove not only to the others but also to himself that quality is the result of a significant technical-operational mastery, of knowledge of the formal fundamental principles experienced by modern sculpture and of a true creativity freedom that, only on those bases can deploy. Within the contemporary forms of expression the plastic representation of the human figure has been a significant field of experimentation, so significant that it seemed not to have exhausted its potentiality. That’s way Giovanni Scupola has done initially such a choice of field with results that reveal inevitably the limits of a preliminary approach, but which revealed immediately his potential vocations. This is shown to be true by a large group of works set between 82 and 83 and which may be considered the first mature fruit of his research on human figure on which he had devoted a consistent number of years. Maturity that can be first of all perceived in clear progressive technical-operating refinement and that can certainly be attributed to greater attention being given to expressive quality in the materials used (the abbandonment of wood in favour of stone appears to have taken place for this reason), but also for the historical study, which made him able to compare his own expressive solutions with those for example, of Moore or of Laurens. Important in this sense is the shape of a plastic conception that through figure knows how to recover a new monumentality. The works where the figure seems almost forced into a kind of isolation by its own condition and physical weight are particularly significant. What is important to stress is that the solutions he fits each time move now with great confidence around the concept of plastic volume, in its double sense of volume mass and volume vacuum, in relation to space, so it gains always more importance the shaping and its physical quality. But, it should be said and made it clear that Scupola has not assigned to the natural preciousness and refinement of materials the research for such quality. His own are almost never valuable stones, more often common materials. The virtue of the sculptor is then in its forming capacity, in his ability to adapt the specific qualities of materials to the invented form. In this sense the dexterity as direct intervention of the artist is fundamental, even if, as usually happens, enriched by the use of mechanical devices. This was fully revealed when he changes from the representation of the human figure to a "not figurative" search, a choice that has not the provisional nature of the attempts made in 80 and 81, but it seems now defined in his expressive and poetic value. All the more that he falls immediately after his major achievements to levels of plastic figurative. More broadly, the choice seems to be on the side of those oriented research to reconfirm the vitality of the sculpture, in its most authentic modern tradition, in the sense of a restoration of sculpture as plastic and structural entity. There is no doubt that many of the "abstract" works of this phase as the development of the human figure, are unquestionable potential forms in its multi-functional structural essence. The quality of the polished surfaces, outspread or deep, defined or dynamic, seems to confirm the connection of the forms to the space, and put objects in their natural world as living beings. The stones used, in their enviromental quality, for the most part, are of places visited by the artist. And in their "poverty" they seem to have led him to rediscover in a way the essence of this natural world. The points of departure are the visual signs of nature and history, that in the case of Salento are identifiable in the structural and architectural quality of its landscape, but particularly in the eye of a sculptor, in those "mysterious” documents of the archaic civilization that are Dolmens and Menhirs. Recover that primitive structure with all the symbolic charge that it is capable to bring along, in the conviction that only going into the deep roots of its own "ethnos" is possible to grasp the true meaning of one’s own nature and history, this seems to be the goal of its current research. The plastic configuration of his latest works is a consistent expression of his research, which, thanks to his gained technical - operational capacity and of the acquired lesson of the modern sculptural tradition, can now freely deploy. This is not the search for a particular archetypal identity, as the translation into tangible signs of an idea, still vitally present, of the archaic Salento. The sculpture asserts fully itself as a plastic and structural entity, whose meaning is translated from the particular formal configuration. In the formal quality of the surfaces it is not difficult to trace Arp’s lesson, but what defines originally Scupola’s sculptures of is the connection that forms maintain with space, especially where the object is divided into several elements and the constituent logic seems to be architectural. Then the theme seems to be the structural relationship between the man’s works and the natural landscape, a relationship that is exciting, just as such compositions established themselves to the observer. Such is the confidence and the mastery of Scupola’s performance in his last works, that as much awareness seems to characterize concretely the ideo-cultural wilfulness in this new signs of time:-a reminder for our time so sensitive to the historical and environmental values but also so reluctant to preserve these?