The merging of image and music into a single work of art is a distinctive gesture that defines Stefano Ughi’s personality. His first works played a decorative role. After all at the time his professional career was focused on architecture. The style of his works was linked to an aesthetic taste which could be defined as minimal. Music was not yet included in his aesthetic representations; visual art and music were travelling on parallel paths, but one did not interfere with each other.
The “visual” works at the time were monochrome surfaces made up of panels sliced into many parts and framed in steel. However, the crucial work that prompted him to follow this artistic bent and carried him towards evolution that is clear to see in his latest works was his “Deep Red” creation. This work is made up of a steel frame with sheets of the same metal glued onto a wooden panel. The main idea behind these first experiments is linked to his interest in the monochromatic interplay that is brought about each time there is communication between colour and its visual effects, tangibly experienced in the meeting of light and the unavoidable shadows and also in the reverberations offered by colour laid on different material surfaces such as wood, steel and laminated plastic elements.
- The “figurative” inspiration was the art of Robert Ryman (an American artist connected to minimalism and conceptual art) whose last works consisted of white canvases painted with various techniques and paints but only with that colour. In essence, a white page;
- while the musical element is owed to John Cage (composer, writer, American artist) and his piece entitled “Silent”, in which «the stave is exclusively filled with musical pauses, hence with “non sound”, as Ughi tells us – “so the small Ensemble performed something that never actually began!».
When he was twenty, towards the end of 1975, Ughi found himself staying as a guest in Cage’s loft in New York thanks to the contacts he’d had with Art Dealer Leo Castelli through his friend Giuseppe Panza di Biumo who he’d accompanied to New York (one of the most important Italian collectors of American Contemporary Art). Therefore, on this “mythical” occasion, Cage, having found out about Ughi’s passion for architecture and music, had said: «Visual art can be represented as water in the liquid state; architecture an be compared to a block of ice and music, which is the most intangibly mystical of the three, resembles water in the form of vapour. “Well, if you can combine ice and steam together (without passing through the liquid state); you certainly shall invent something new; but really new!” Ughi thus begun to build a world of his own based on the links between architecture and music. These two works, Cage’s Silence and Ryman’s white page actually represented a milestone for him which he took as a starting points for new experimentation.
As a provocation, Ughi thought he’d return to figurative subjects and he implemented this in his creations. «I’ve always been fascinated by both ancient figurative art and contemporary abstract art, where the instinctive gesture prevails over the form. I’m a particularly fond of Italian Renassiance art and the music of pretty much the same period, that is to say Baroque and proto-Baroque, like the compositions of Pier Luigi da Palestrina, Gesualdo da Venosa and Antonio Vivaldi. I’m also very interested in conceptual, minimalist art, which gives you the most with the least; Mies van Der Rohe used to say: “The less is more”.
“We have to start mixing sytems”, Ughi underlines “we have to go back to figurative expression, having however understood and digested the other abstract forms of this century”. To do this I even chose to use photography”.
Ughi’s work starts out from here, from the moment the artist decided to replace landscapes with monochrome and geometrical backgrounds of a minimal kind and the figures in the foreground with photographs of live models, whose identification was very much part of the artistic process: at this point, the creative action of the author consisted in combining a few historical figures such as Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder, against pink or blue backgrounds and relief geometrical shapes reminiscent of the artist Ettore Spalletti. Thus the pink of the skin of Adam and Eve’s naked bodies, the leaf over the intimate parts and the apple in Eve’s hand all stand out. The figure outlines also maintaing a black halo, as a throwback to the old painting by Cranach.
Ughi’s works can be termed paintings, but in the end they become sculptures seeing as the painted surface is rounded, a bit like a niche. This play of forms – paintings / curved sculptures – recreates the emotion one feels when entering certain Baroque buildings where the frescoes crowd the vaults and the statues stand niches and the visual effect is accompanied by the sound of music and singing. For the artist the main thing is that the audience is enveloped in the work as much as possible with all five senses and becomes an integral part of the work itself.
Seeing as Ughi’s work, in many pieces, is a meeting of music and visual art the critical position brings to light the importance of sight and hearing in the approach to a work of art. Therefore when considering how Ughi relates to his art from a critical standpoint one realises that his works and the means of expression he uses to create them undoubtedly belong to that sensory realm that is capable of conceptualizing them.
The primary material used by the artist for his works is wood, particularly for its sound qualities. These are different sized curved wood surfaces capable of reflecting (concave surface) or refracting (convex surface) the sound and the light at the same time, so they are spread out into space better and their visual and sound effects are focused more precisely.
And it is this synthesis between the different forms of artistic and technical expression which link Ughi’s artistic personality to the Renaissance. He is imbued with artistic knowldge of painting, sculpture and music. He can also rely on many more technical and scientific skills, such as architecture, acoustics, photography and lighting design, making him a fairly unique, even Leonardesque kind of artist.