A “technological peasant” is how he defines himself. A self-portrait in a nutshell. But when talking to him a kind of poetry emerges. The equation is summed up in the concept of “peasant” deeply rooted in the ground and the meaning of “technology” as a historical process. The technological peasant metaphor indicates a genetically nourished soul straining towards a reading of the world in a topical dimension. Tracing the past to understand the flow of the present in order to advance into the future. The apparent contradiction between the warmth of humanity and the cold rigour of science is tempered in dynamic osmosis, aimed at asserting intelligence and sensitivity, leading the paternity of scientific discovery to the wilful emotiveness of knowledge. Tracing the poetry in the thing, in reality and in intellectual projection, is a moral imperative in the work of Mario De Leo. It is the logical thread which weaves together his life and leads him from his first steps to the future. From the abandonment of his land of golden clay and silent olive trees, stone walls and passages of antiquity, to the factory, the precarious balance between business productivity and existential unproductiveness. From the revival of the musical tradition of a region rich in civilisation to the revitalisation of ethnic values in an age of global cross-pollution. From a trip into the past with the portrait of primordial man, entitled “Amazonian figure” yet symbolically universal, to the illustration of time in his interpretation of the computer age and the mutations of language. De Leo’s stories, spontaneous expressions of free dialogue, are also evidence of the retrieval and protection of sleeping truths, of apparently anachronistic yet distinct memories, like milestones in history. Man is the crux of De Leo’s attention, in his writings, in his cultural legacy, in his voice which has cherished tradition over the centuries. The marks etched on his paintings are signals of the landscape and human presence, tombstones, inscriptions, warnings. They are ancient and encrypted writings, forerunners of computer systems. They are tablets of laws and civil codes consolidating thousands of years of history. A document of communication and certificate of incommunicability. As we find in reality and in time, on the pages of the world, from the source of the present. Sometimes a primordial figure appears in his writing, which surfaces like the negation of any form of change, as if to say that, despite everything, everything remains the same in terms of rights and abuses, expectations and denials. As though to give voice to that wise and ancient motto which says that the world changes but man doesn’t. And yet Mario de Leo still believes in and seeks out man. His faith is recorded in his work, which becomes his life choice and motif. His tablets of writing offer words, dialogue, just as his songs, performed or composed, are an invitation to gather and talk and participate in those notes which reverberate from the guitar to the heartstrings. His reading of time reveals shared roots and De Leo proposes a decoding of his tablets in order for us to recognise ourselves, plurally and collectively, in the values of humanity, partly dissipated and partly full of potential like the fifty percent of the brain about which we know very little. The language, in respect of individual freedom of intention, is composed and civil There is no imposition or impetuosity but an expressive purity of rhythm and grace and of restraint and delicacy of composition. A proposal, an invitation entrusted to poetic dignity, a voice but never a shout. The tone was more peremptory in the early days, when age and the dazzle of discovery prevailed over the rationality of analysis. An almost surrealist style led to the transfiguration of obsolete instruments and the personification of new entities. The overall view was no different. It was always about retrieving and rereading the past, whether remote or recent, transforming an object into an immediate image. A more emotive and stagy modus operandi than his current way of working, necessary however for defining a goal and tracing its path. The outcast, the wreck, the abandoned item, almost offensive in its worthlessness, was instead once again given an identity, a new life, a metaphor of the energetic reconversion and usefulness of the past. Another leading motif in De Leo’s work, rooted in an interpretation of experience and teaching, tradition and origin, primary sources of the consequentiality which determines progress. This form of expression had a playful edge, fuelled by reference and provocation, pulsating with the memory of Dadaism, freeing the hand and showing a taste for the physical. Some works were then put in display cabinets and containers, almost exhibits from the future, a relentlessly cyclical image and premonition. Flashes of immediacy which, maturing over time, have created a place for reflection and favoured a literary, poetic treatment supported by more extensive works of art. Now, with the background of layered materials and the variation in colour used to suggest time, the painting expands to include signs, connections, unknown presences, separated by their uniqueness. The electrode blends with the graffito, the means with the end, the instrument with the word. To eventually gel in a text which rings out like a symphony and projects sentiment from its unanimity.
Back to Ithaca
A journey around man. A central and constant theme, the clue to a life balanced between moderation and art. Knowing very well that “around” is literary language and does not delimit external appearance but points “towards” and “inside”. Humanity is the epicentre of Mario De Leo’s interest. He has enormous respect for origins, tradition, the roots concealed in the earth. Without any narrative the trace of man and his mark on history is revealed. Once, in the sixties, it was writing, signs of an universal alphabet, letters or hieroglyphics, anyway testimony. Distant from visual poetry it was still an awareness of spontaneous poetics and the sedimentation of language. The word as affirmation and communication between peoples, an instrument of civilisation. The word inscribed in the context of the painting, almost backing the image, an inalienable background for reasoning beyond. Music too is made up of signs and De Leo the musician is conscious of this when delineating the note in the score, the accent in the metrics and the break in the rhythm. Music and painting are placed in parallel, combined and complementary in a single sentiment. The figure, an evocation of antiquity, primordial symbol of uncontaminated humanity, came in the eighties to belong in a different context, sharing signs which, with the metaphor of arcane decoration, alluded to technological systems which were turning from electricity to electronics. In asserting that man never changes, proof of which we see in chronicles and newsreels, De Leo painted habitat and context in terms of the rapid and dizzying evolution of our times. And the tattoos and ornaments of the primordial figure became electrodes, circuits and integrated systems. Until he excluded the figure in the nineties when the reference to technology prevails and hints at the annulment of any humanism in giving in to other values. But, due to a survival instinct or indomitable genetics, the writing returned, the trace re-emerged, the idea came back to life to sing again of art and philosophy. In the meantime De Leo never stopped playing pieces on his guitar, describing months and days on his lengthy journey. And in those notes he linked times and peoples, memory and nostalgia. Just as he portrays the tribal Amazon in his painting so does he recall his people’s tradition of the land and the sun in music. There may be a prominent horizon delineated by an electronic trace but the absence of the figure invokes and implies humanity. Ready to get back its voice, its right to speak, its strength of sentiment. His landscapes are apparently cold and technologically soulless yet an intransigent architecture fuelled with taste and restraint, rules out fortuitousness and reinstates man as father of history and society. In the new world’s vast spaces you can lose your bearings or go around in aesthetic circles but a symbol of rationality, the cone, leads you once more to the geometry of life. And the vitality of the figure reappears in recent works, decreeing new projects like Return to Ithaca, once more the supreme protagonist. In time the brushstroke has become more final, self-confident and firm. It hints at rather than narrates and determines that feeling of movement which represents another constant in De Leo’s work. Sometimes swirling, other times happy like a dance, now taking on the rhythm fired by faint inscriptions, almost archaeological finds, which are glimpsed and alluded to and lead to other suggestions. The idea of the trace expands and is transformed into a sentiment of history understood as home and product of humanity, almost a manmade secular divinity, mosaic of heroic acts and poetic facts, synergy of vigour and intelligence, an universal landscape where you can find your roots. Every one of De Leo’s paintings is a page of history. A torn sheet which has become text. A passage of figurative character, animated by the dignity of time and destiny. Rigorous as well as apparently simple, the structure of the work is intransigent and the rule of order generates its linear reading. So the description of a journey can become a logbook. Or the score of a bard who sings of his origins.