Updated: Mar 1, 2020
By: Megan Sanchez
On an August afternoon, I was strolling in the city center of Perugia, Italy, when my eyes were caught by some enticing words on a poster: “Being in Existence”.
Behind the poster, there were some paintings hanging on the walls of a long corridor. Some looked almost three dimensional, dripping out of their own frames.
Left intrigued, I stepped into the art space at Chiesa della Misericordia and began a journey where I’d be invited to reflect upon the Self, the essence of being, and the cosmos.
As I stepped into the exhibition, a curly haired man wearing his glasses on a chain around his neck, welcomed me and shook my hand.
“Being in existence” he said to me, is to many typical humans synonymous with permanence... Many may argue, ‘I exist, therefore I am’.”
I giggled a little and kept listening, as Romeo Battisti, the artist of the exhibition, went on saying:
“We are stardust in the sense that, if we can go beyond the immediate appearance of our names, our profession and so on, we can, through meditation, reach a fuller knowledge of living... and so becoming, by that process, a part of the whole universe...”
I nodded and reminisced about my philosophy and psychology studies, remembering some great names like Plato and Socrates, Nietzsche and Freud, Derrida, Edward Said and Alan Watts, some of which came to my mind when Romeo would talk about his philosophical concepts.
Curiously, I asked Romeo where his philosophical ideas were inspired from.
Mr. Battisti replied, “I didn’t officially study philosophy in school or anything of the kind. My wife is a psychologist, and these questions of being and the universe have been omnipresent questions in all my painting years”
“My works are very ‘oriental inspired,” but hopefully can go beyond expressing ‘any type of ideology,’ he said.
What Romeo seemed to be doing with his exhibition was to make people explore their deepest inner Self, and to then make them transcend outside of the Self, to explore a greater cosmos.
Citing Socrates, Romeo told me: “First you arrive at the stage of knowing not to know, and then you reach the further stage of knowing yourself”.
He pointed to the first group of his paintings and said:
“We are so much more than just our names or our profession”.
The first group of paintings - The Blindfolded People:
The blindfolded people represent those who cannot “see” themselves nor the world. These people lead their lives without posing questions.
They do not yearn to gain a fuller knowledge of themselves and the world and therefore a fuller life.
The “blindfolded people” may be compared to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where, in order to reach enlightenment, one must step out of the cave and look at the world beyond one’s own vision.
Similarly, the subjects in the “blindfolded people” are blindly living their lives, and must remove their blindfold in order to reach ‘enlightenment’.
The subject matter of this group of paintings reminds observers of oriental fighters.
Some subjects may look like Samurai-inspired individuals or even Mongolian warriors.
Battisti says he was definitely inspired by some Eastern philosophy and that it affected his expression in art.
In one of the paintings of the group “blindfolded people,” as seen below, the brain almost appears to be separated from the head.
Although Battisti claims he did not do this with any specific intention and that he simply tried to visually recreate the feelings and shapes associated with being blind, the cranium really does seem to depart from the rest of the head. Below, the painting here described.
The second group of paintings – Meditation
The second group of works represents what should occur after blindness, meditation, that is.
“Meditation” represents reflecting on the Self, your surroundings, and the greater world.
It is a place of mixed emotions where grief, excitement, and uncertainty alternate and exchange each other back and forth, but that ultimately, will balance and culminate in discovery.
Below is one of the many paintings chosen from the ‘meditation’ art cycle.
The figure seems to be androgynous – creating a yin yang effect of male and female energy.
The entity seems that it may or may not exist on this planet.
The figure seems to constantly reflect on the infinite and the universe, in the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.
In fact, the subject’s hair seems to scintillate – indicating light, intellectualism, and to an extent, ‘divinity’.
The head has an elongated shape stretching upwards, again suggesting a deep bond with the cosmos.
The second painting from the “Meditation cycle” was chosen in order to shed light on other aspects of what meditation could visually look like.
In the next following painting, we see the visual representation of a deep contrast between ‘creation’ and ‘destruction’ – expressed both in color (dark hues vs. light hues) and in form (a quasi pointillism – dare I say some sort of ‘post-abstract pointillism’ where linear form and circular form merge into one).
The technique used in this painting has nothing to do with the pointillism technique, and you may as well wonder why I even mentioned it and why I am creating new hybrid terms in art, goodness gracious.
I will get to it.
It appears clear that many dots in the image may be the result of scraping, or burning, or melting the foreground to the background and vice versa (which of course has nothing to do with the meticulous traditional pointillism technique where many small dots are painted onto the canvas and unite to create one clear whole subject matter.)
The ‘dots’ in this work by Romeo Battisti work differently because they are not all meticulously the same size, and do not follow a quasi mathematical order to create a bigger whole.
However, the dot looking forms in this painting do create a similar effect to pointillism – in as much as they (dot by dot, empty space by whole space, unite and separate both the canvas and the subject matter in such a way that a unique whole is created).
Emptiness and wholeness, light and dark, ignorance and knowledge, creation and destruction, therefore, all seem to fight a war in order to reach an ultimate peace, balance and stability.
In Between Meditation and Transformation
This painting entitled Interior is, in a sense, the opposite of the impressionistic fluctuation of light which focused on a fleeting moment.
Here, there is a certain fixed element, which represents the eternal, perceived as opposite of the transient.
The subject matter is used to depict a transcending reality, deeper than the one we perceive at first sight.
This painting reminded me of the influence of Picasso and the great cubists, in the small but detectable geometric parts of this work.
The visage of the subject looks almost like a heart, and the head resembles geometric diamonds reflecting light and enlightenment from within.
Battisti does not like labels so he giggled at the ‘cubism/post-cubism-abstractism’ observation of mine.
He did however mention that it is inevitable that any artist, including himself, echoes and is influenced by previous artists and forms of art.
In this painting, the foreground and the background continue to merge together which is a defining aspect of this artist and his works.
It is a defining aspect not only at a technical level, but also at a spiritual level, where the foreground and background, just like the mind, soul, body and cosmos all interconnect.
And through this journey of interconnection a transformation occurs, where the past Self grows and evolves into his or her next state of Being.
The third group of paintings - Roots in the Sky
Roots in the sky is a series of paintings in which Romeo depicts a tree not with leaves and roots, but rather with roots on both of its ends.
The intention of the artist was to make the Cosmos and Earth united, not separated, as it is usually perceived in the collective imaginary.
We can argue, then, if the roots extend from the bottom (digging under-ground as a metaphor of finding knowledge within the Self) and stretch upwards to the Universe (searching for knowledge beyond our realm), that this tree may represent discovery and evolution itself.
It may as well symbolize the fixed point where meditation transforms into evolution and growth, where there is no end, but only beginnings.
A tree with only roots for nourishment.
Below is one of the paintings of the group, where Battisti commented that nature is “allusive,” we can see different elements into it. It is a sort of open book where we can add our own writing.
Romeo Battisti was born in Poggio Bustone where he still lives.
He graduated at the Art Academy of L’Aquila.
He has always been fascinated with the philosophical research of the sense of living, combining both the Western and the Eastern approach to this quest.
Reality is multifaceted and if the artist is open to its manifolds, can learn the deep essence of existence.
Painting becomes for him a continuous research of new meanings, an openness to knowledge, a willingness to make boundaries dissolve.
Battisti has studied and practiced various techniques and uses different material to express his search at its best.
He uses ink, tempera, oil, abrasions and different types of paper and various materials, he is familiar with dripping and action painting.
He has shown his art in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, France, Belgium.
In 2013 and 2014 he took part in the Spoleto Festival of Contemporary art.
NB: This article is based on the exhibition which took place in Perugia (Italy) at the Church of Misericordia Art Space (Aug. 22 to Sep. 8, 2019)