(First notes after a meeting in Monticchiello 8 December 1998)
Graphics can have all the characteristics to establish themselves as art in the most different forms. But there are also graphic designers who carry out an independent activity of artists, that is, they paint, model, engrave using mixed techniques etc. This is the case of Alfredo de Santis. On the other hand, if we consider how his graphic products are born, we avoid the misunderstanding of believing that he decides to allow himself the pleasure of switching to painting and other forms of expression within art, without there being an intrinsic reason. The fact is that the substance of de Santis' graphic activity is already artistic in a direction that is not only of painting. Therefore there is no crossing, no transition from graphics to independent artistic forms. This does not mean that in strictly graphic work there are new problems to be solved in order to correspond to a specific client. What does it mean that de Santis acts as a non-graphic artist in his activity as a graphic designer? Graphics is art, but here I want to highlight de Santis' particular way of practising it, which takes him to roads not usually covered. Many times he creates an object manually in which the symbols that strike him acquire stylistic originality. The products can be shapes (figures or things) cut out of lead sheets or engraved clay or lead tiles or assemblies of various materials that create micro scenographic: wire, twine, stone, cloth, lead and even painted parts. This artistic realization, which has its own autonomy, can be used to correspond, with necessary changes, to a particular client. The transposition into a graphic product takes place in various ways, depending on the needs: a sign, a poster, a logo. The cover of a book can use the photograph of an artistic object, to preserve the character and obtain effects not otherwise achievable. If the graphic solution requires an object made of a specific material, with a specific compositional physiognomy in which relationships of various elements and various dimensions enter, de Santis can only follow the path of manual construction. For this reason, the matrix of the painter and the graphic designer is the same and manual skills coexist with the use of advanced technologies. Perhaps “Mary's armchair”, a work marker on paper from 1974 can be considered the beginning of a history of symbols and a stylistic characterization. Not less interesting, of the same year, is “Armchair with cushion”, project of a large painting, of a mural. The design-graphic form introduces the pictorial solution. “Painter with cushion” from 1975 thanks to the reductionism of colour with the mysterious association of the image. The cushion, like the armchair, comes out of its representative determination and becomes a symbol in the 1980 Landscape Cushion. More specifically, in 1980/81 de Santis contradicts the certainty of skill and craft with painting tests. He focuses on that mysterious and revealing something that is the colour on the canvas from which an image is formed and whose meanings prove to go beyond representation. It is as if the artist wanted to experiment with very elementary forms an expressive occupation of space, involving both nature and a casual object and the tools of painting the painter outdoors in the gesture of painting. The artist presents, as if it were, a "program". In the first direction: Landscape with a tree, The red roof 1981; in the second direction: Armchair with tree 1981 and in the third, as if to underline the operating character, three works entitled Disegno dal vero 1981, in which the tools of painting are drawn, and also from 1981, Painter and landscape. It is the research for an attitude towards painting, in a situation that is somewhat discouraging if we consider, as de Santis himself says, that it is difficult to free oneself from the feeling that everything has been done in painting. He feels he has to start from the beginning. A story of painting as a method, highlighting its materials and tools, the drafting of colour. A non-linear story to capture essential aspects of reality. The ambition to bring clues to reality on the canvas is faced with a series of ambiguities: between nature and painting, between painter and painting, between inside and outside, between the limited space of the studio and the open without limits. In 1982 it seems that the image found an evident organization: the canvas-landscape is dominated by the gesture of the painter who, however, leaves no representative trace on the canvas. But absence has a weight. On the other hand, it makes no sense for de Santis to show off all the skills of the painter's trade. Therefore he avoids the shots that improve details, colour on colour that embellishes with variations and glazes, not to abandon himself to an ease of execution but to give prevalence to a long incubation of forms that are symbols that return. And it is as if painting could continue to live and define itself further without any intervention by the artist. Waiting for the painting to be fulfilled. "I too am amazed of how shapes and colours emerge". Sometimes the wonder seems to arise from a negative situation, when the painter is present even if in the landscape there are only large canvases and the tools of painting. Because painting is present. The title is essential to terminate the work even if very often the titles are common, they have nothing of Duchamp's objective irony or Klee's particular surrealism. In the works of 1982/84, the brushstroke, regardless of the width, comes from the sign. De Santis does not need to hide his being graphic when he paints. The morphology and anatomy of the paintings is controlled by the gesture, but it is a gesture-sign. The ambiguity is truly such if it remains inexplicable. The large canvas stretched out in the landscape is a canvas that becomes a tent or even a camp. To strengthen its presence in nature or not rather to avoid escaping, in seclusion and protection, the disturbing confrontation with nature? Another development of ambiguity. The painter does not aim to privileges, he is simply a man, he himself becomes a model subject, but he is on the canvas, absorbed by it. And the armchair that has been recurring since 1974 with the most diverse chromatic and compositional solutions? Character-object whose presence is not understood: in an interior that is equivalent to the outside or next to a tree or, later, complicated like other objects, with the sling symbol. Minimalism regarding the objects of painting allows them to be represented only by a rag with confused colours and a tube that has no more colour to give. Other times a zoom brings up details that are not waiting to be completed. The adventure of a humble slingshot, born from the artist's material construction, begins in 1987. An unassuming challenge against the terrible technological complications. The sling expands everywhere: Character and sling, Armchair with sling, Tiber and sling, all works from 1987. The sling is a personal presence on nature, on things. Later high persistent symbol, Pandora's Box; or rather a set of contrasting symbols that take on the form of myth. In 1988/89 a sort of regression intertwined (the series of First Steps) almost a beginning of learning and a marked interest in the contemporary that becomes a story. The interest for the story produces changes in the pictorial procedures and in the same conception of painting. The colour is more summary and simple. The Carrier emerges, a symbol of moving, of going to a place, or to communicate. But what and where? Determination would be against the typical way of being of de Santis's expressions as anchored to reality as they are open to the imagination, to the dreamlike, to inexplicable yet necessary events. "Dream in Val d'Orcia", in the dream that is freed, one sweeps away but also one feels suffering. The works follow one another as a sequence of an animated film, they build storyboards that collect symbols out of the dream. The daily routine expands to great themes and great tragedies of our time. In 1990 "Signs on the Wall", a response to the fall of the Berlin Wall. A need to narrate that tries to overcome the way of graffiti and to find signs in which there are not only history but also human emotions. As in Surgery 1991, the horrendous operation of the Gulf War. The non-irreversible departure from painting is complete when de Santis uses shapes cut out of lead to give greater weight to the "found" material. In 1996 he was Interno Italiano; 1997 Carrier (symbol that returns and gets complicated), Ties, T-shirt, Parade. In the same years de Santis creates works in which lead is added to other found materials (wires, stones, rags) with results unrelated to a new Dadaism. The result is micro-scenographic that are landscapes, interiors, the mysterious being together of symbols in an indeterminate place. But the most interesting aspect is that the connection with reality remains dominant even though he keeps away from realism. A reality with respect to which the artist takes a position, which is a necessity for the very stylistic physiognomy of his works.