De Leo is grace.
Poor by artistic and civil choice.
To take it further: Not grace in the sense of that gracious module out of which fragile champions of aesthetics such as Treccani or, on the contrary, intelligent creators like Munari, have made their fortune.
Inevitably, drastically: grace as a state of grace.
A state of grace which draws on an extraordinary inner spirituality that materialises in work created with poor materials.
Poor because grace is already a form of richness and therefore De Leo needs minimal materials (but he is not a minimalist!) to make it explode.
He finds the materials on the streets, in the trash, in fields, in offices and in the rejects of that industrial-postindustrial-electronic-computer civilisation which in the light of the heart he refutes and then “accredits”, recognising the value of its rejects.
That this state of grace should touch a man like De Leo is almost a miracle.
De Leo comes from the poor south, from the violent factory of the north, from suffocating bedsits, from savagely Americanised music. He would have every right to “protest” by using hard, strong, demagogic artistic materials.
Instead, his poor state of grace leads him to illuminate himself or others with enchanting poetry which delves deep without offending the eyes or the eardrums.
He too being in some sense an industrial reject, uses this as his starting point in order to avoid other rejects, to make sure that the miracle of art becomes the miracle of life (spiritual and social).
More accurately a reject of the record industry (because he dared to seek Italian roots when others were becoming intoxicated with easy exoticisms and consumerism), De Leo again proposes his fresh musicalness in the rather surreal-futuristic fugues of selected mechanical materials.
Beware however. Not materials on the run, that is gratuitous.
Musicalness is necessary for art, which is never definable within a mould, to escape.
But not musicalness on the run as an “exotic phenomenon” (although there is a touch of exoticism in De Leo) or resembling the earlier graciousness. This is rather the magical rhythm of the state of grace.
A rhythm which is never pre-set or repeated but which springs from the self-taught awareness of the artist, the artist who knows he is “chosen”.
An irregular rhythm therefore. In music we would say not tonal.
That is: De Leo does not follow aesthetic canons-codes which are pre-established or defined by dully talented masters or academics.
In his state of grace De Leo interrupts the rhythm in the irregularity of something incomplete”, in the sense – if we can say this – of what Pasolini called the “unexpressed”.
The state of grace might draw him to Arte Povera (it is no coincidence that he loves Zorio) but the irregularity and the unexpressed estrange him.
The work of Zorio and company is always perfect. De Leo’s isn’t.
And it is the imperfection (that which is unfinished or never finished, nobody knows why) which makes the poetic current flow and perks up the rather monotonous rhythm of perfection.
Not that De Leo is incapable of classically complete works (he is extremely capable, and has wonderful artistic talent) but leaving the work uncompleted is a basic choice of his.
Incompleteness and imperfection must not however be understood in the literal sense of the words but in their poetic sense.
De Leo is never banal, perfect and linear (following a method)
He is incomplete, like that water from the mountains which is neither river, stream or canal but leaps and jumps, creating unpredictable rhythms.
De Leo does not follow the canal because the straightforward route vexes him. He left the herd some time ago and will not go back.
However, a route which is not straightforward does not mean something crooked or hard or complicated.
De Leo has another merit. He is simple. He also possesses a straightforward grace which simple souls are able to understand immediately. He deals with sophisticated instruments like the computer or electronic by-products with the poetic and wise soul of the farmer who sees the earth as miracle-bread-mother and welcomes the helicopter (or the television) as a “marvellous” adventure, a positive innovation (the television not programmed merely for consumerist aims is also a bringer of innovation).
Picasso would have loved an artist like De Leo, who paints constantly but hardly ever exhibits. (Is it a coincidence that he called his son Pablo?). Not for his style or way of working but for his creative and sunny innocence, always lying in ambush in his works as well as in his eyes, and all the more resplendent when juxtaposed with the tortuosity of others or even the exhausted romanticism of damned artists.
If possible De Leo is a blessed artist (He is not a religious man).
An artist who the world needs in order to see itself in his pure poetry, to be reminded that men are not always wolves.
Better still. Men have often been wolves to De Leo but the wolves have not been able to eat the lamb.
They have stripped him of his skin and his money and locked him in a box. But he has managed to survive and achieve his dream of being an artist. A dream which the man never forgets and which
blinds the wolf with broadsides of grace and sunshine.
Did the wolves try to nail him to the assembly line and the claustrophobia of 30 square metres in which to breathe, eat, sleep, work, enjoy? Fine. De Leo dreams of wonderful architectures where you can ignore the dull regulations, where it is finally the imagination that rules.
He dreams of structures which go against the imbecilic laws of those who surrender to easy ready-made solutions, to the comfortably industrialised module.
So. Poor choices and materials on one hand but a pregnant tale on the other.
Minimal gestures but Mediterranean colours brimming with feeling.
Radiance and the abandon of a soul which does not reject “weakness”, once a woman’s prerogative but now, perhaps, a virtue of free men, who have become aware of more intimate values and are not ashamed to cry, if necessary.
Looking at his works means plunging into clear waters ruffled by the rhythm of irregular creativity: waters which, even when they appear to bowl you over (hard to believe, De Leo can be tough as well!), never sweep you away. They will take you to another place, speaking to you of important and essential things, but they won’t shipwreck you in tedium or in a storm.
In a context of dull or lumbering talents, De Leo seems to be a miracle. Let’s not spoil him straightaway. Let’s not demand too much of him. Let’s no ask him too many questions about the completeness of a work or the canonised codes of the history of art. Let’s not trap him in stupid or wrong situations. Let’s not suffocate him by forcing him into another bed-sit without light or air.
De Leo is able to produce intelligent works without any specific forerunner or culture. He can do this because he creates and because he evolves as he creates. Spontaneously. If this is true, who is he?
He might be Rousseau or Ligabue, Gauguin or Picasso, Kandisky or Klee, Moreni or Zorio, Balla or Calder, Melotti or Pescador.
And so? Do we have to label him?
Conceptual thanks to his alert ideas? A relation of Arte Povera? A gentle neoexpressionist? A neofuturist in the computerised age? Light Informal?
Informal – perhaps – in his use of materials. But there is no informality here.
In order to understand him you have to return to the state of grace, to the moment – that is – which associates all universal artists, whether they be irregular or regular.
So, it comes naturally to say that De Leo feels the need for a delicate construction within a free gestural expressiveness, strengthened by sudden bursts of energy. It is natural to say that he feels the need to fly in space with his pyramidal architectures.
If Fontana entered space with his slashed canvases, De Leo enters space by slashing its existence.
The space is also entered by the earth, the sea, the factory, the amazing watercolours released by his clever hand, lost dreams and dreams that mustn’t be lost.
The most significant dream seems to be the dream of politically-humanly repossessing the rejects of the electronic industry and the consumer “Civilisation”.
Therefore, here we have the vent window of a car or a worn record, broken Plexiglas, abandoned plastic, broken windows, a soundless television or the bit bit of a defunct computer which has frozen on a sheet of paper.
Materials which, in a final and sublime gesture, De Leo would like to launch into space, showing in other worlds the value or the weakness or the disgustingness of a civilisation which no longer exists but which will always exist if – in this world – man can learn (from De Leo too) to be less of a wolf and more of a lamb.
Another Utopia? Thank goodness!
Milan, November 1986.