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From paper to skin, Enzo Mari's pictorial frottage transfers the trace of events from the world of nature to the world of man

Enzo Mari has always made his painting finto a sort of meaningful metaphor about his way of tackling life and the world. As a sportsman and nature-lover in intimate arbitration with the concreteness of things, he has always gathered the most vital and metamorphic aspects of his relationship with the world and life. It is significant that this metamorphic threshold should be located principally in the manufactured element of paper and in the nature of skin, in a gradual contrary move from the environment to objects and man; that is, from the dimension of space to that of time, or, in the final analysis, from nature to history. We can safely say that ali of this materialised in the pictorial frottage which, for the artist, was almost a metaphor for painting, rather than a simple technique. Out of ali this came a renewed sense of matter which, overstepping the informal phase, became a sort of pregnant and spectacular visual tactility in counterpoint to the cold perfection of images produced by modern means of communication.

Enzo Mari trained at the Istituto Statale d'Arte in Trieste just at the time when the school offered reflection on material painting, both figurative (landscapes and figures) and allusively abstract. Using allusion and materials, the artist paid particular attention to the rendering of the Carso, threatened by ecological catastrophe. However, instead of producing a dramatically desolate vision, he succeeded in investing this subject with a softly trustful chromatic luminarism which led to a sense of calm hope.
The following phase (during which he met his colleagues of Gruppo &) was the passage from the generalised to the particular. The artist found himself irritatedly gathering up a piece of paper discarded in the Carso by a thoughtless Sunday tripper. After an initial bout of ecological indignation, the paper was observed in terms of its originai nature and the incidents connected to its manipulations, and was found to reveal its history through what had been naturally or artificially impressed upon it.Thus, the paper became the place where the humours and traces of nature and artifice could be gathered.
The spectacular sense of relief was rendered on a fiat surface through the technique of pictorial frottage which provides a means or translating to a fiat surface (and thus in a virtual dimension) the true corporeity of a relief, as though the skin had been removed and transported elsewhere; a little as happens when a fresco is detached from its support, in which, once the top layer has gone, lies revealed the trace of the sinopia. In the same way, frottage leaves the originai relief unchanged. The technique consiste of this: the artist prepares a bas-relief in a material which can be moulded and covers it with something (canvas. paper or similar) which he sprays with paint.The coloured surface, torn from the relief upon which it was formed. thus becomes the painted work which bears upon it the mark and memory of the sculpted-pictorial operation.
The paper picked up in the Carso, investigated in terms of its strident colour using the frottage technique, becomes the metaphorical home of memory where the ecological indignation is transformed into a sorrowful nostalgic memory of an encounter between earth, grass and stone in the sign of a renewed communion with nature.

At the beginning of the eighties, (the experience was documented at the Bibione Biennale), Enzo Mari felt the need to take the paper back to the nature whence it came via a series of installations and conceptual events, amongst which some special experiments such as the noise-making paper, which produced a sound rather like the rumble of distant thunder and the metal paper exhibited at the Rassegna Internazionale del Ferro Battuto (International Exhibition of Wrought Iron) in San Marino.
The conceptual study led to a meditation assisted by the setting and together with his colleagues on Gruppo & of the so-called “Colonna Postmoderna” (“Post-modern column''), presented in 1985 at the Malcanton gallery in Trieste. This meditation led to a continuation of the use of frottage, passing from paper to skin; that is, from an inanimate site of incidents to an animated one, which beneath enclosed the workings of humanity.
Just after the mid-eighties, there are some works entitled “cartapelle” (“paperskin") in which the passage from paper to skin is so natural that there is a sort of identification. From the start, the skin, just as the paper, became a sort of detail of that special landscape of the face, which to the external world is the physiognomy. In this way the skin becomes the point at which the inner psychic pulses and the influences of the outside world meet, bringing with them the trace of events which have influenced the appearance of the skin itself.
From this, the skin of the face takes on the significance of a sort of holy shroud, an idea which was successfully used for some exhibitions of religious art. Of course, in the beginning the shroud was associated with an individual, clearly delineated face, but through time, it became a sort of spectacular icon of historical memory for the recovery of both religious and - indeed mainly - cultural themes. The shroud thus took on the appearance and form of a standard, in which the theme of the cultural, historical memory became even clearer.

With the spread of the technique in a more wide-ranging vision of frottage, Enzo Mari's most recent work presents the concepts of skin, shroud and standard all in the same work, unifying through an ambiguous, worrying truth, particular and generalised episodes, that is, both individual and historical dimensions.