Alberto Di Fabio | Picturing the Invisible: painting as spirituality

Alberto Di Fabio’s path is a mystical visual journey through the layers of reality and consciousness. His precocious curiosity for the essence of the natural world and the desire to picture the invisible, has led him over the years to delve deep into the laws that regulate the cosmos, and to investigate the extraordinary aspects of how the human mind works.

In his attractive and engaging “organic abstractions” – in his own definition- constellations, galaxies and photons, rendered in bright or fluorescent colours, appear to whirl and dance to the sound of the universe. His compositions picturing neuronal cells, atoms and synapses, suggest that the world, when scrutinised below the surface, is even more fascinating.

  Alberto Di Fabio: Sinapsi blu + Galassie
Alberto Di Fabio: Sinapsi blu + Galassie, 2010 -acrylic on canvas, 140×140 cm. | courtesy of the Artist

Born in Avezzano in 1966, Di Fabio was directed by his artist father Pasquale and his mother Delia, who has degree in natural sciences, towards a path blending art and science. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, first in Urbino then in Rome, he completed his international training in Paris, at the Cité des Arts.

In the nineties he often travelled to New York, where he exhibited extensively, finally entering the prestigious Gagosian Gallery and exhibiting in several solo shows in the gallery’s international venues. His paintings are part of the collections of foundations and museums around the world. We exchanged emails with the artist during the Covid 19 lockdown, which he spent in Rome, sharing time between his family and his studio work.

The pandemic forced the world to come to halt abruptly, albeit probably temporarily. How do you feel about this moment? What are you working on right now?

Alberto Di Fabio: It’s a very difficult, sad and unexpected time, especially for my three young children, my wife and for millions of other people. Artists and all those with a sensitive soul, have been perceiving and mourning for a long time the progressive destruction of our planet, of nature and of ourselves.

The scream of anger and sadness is described in my works on social, anthropological and environmental issues since the 1980s. We aggressive hominids are only able to consume abysses of superfluous materials, we no longer know how to suffer and forgive, we just crave for instant gain and pleasure, throwing everything else into our home garden.

I think of all the plastic discharged into the sea, the nuclear bases with their reactors for which one day we will pay a high price, of the earth’s thousand bleeding wounds and I cry, work and pray dreaming of a biological time …

 Alberto Di Fabio: Tiziana, 2012-2015
Alberto Di Fabio: Tiziana, 2012-2015, acrylic on canvas, 200x345cm | courtesy of the Artist

You have often mentioned the importance of retrieving our ‘biological time’ in the frantic time in which we live...

Alberto Di Fabio: Our lives have become hectic, we receive and process a thousand information, we are constantly anxious, focusing has become really difficult. American neurologist Jamshid Ghajar says that our neurons are now a few seconds ahead of our biological time. We are full of ambitions and dreams, never happy. It is a vortex that only stops when we breathe horizontally – as in yogic breathing – and we are satisfied with what we did during the day. I always tell people who are close to me: try to be calm, to concentrate, write a little poem.

Like Benedictine monks who pray and work, we must be calm and humble. This is how I see the figure of the artist of today, although I recognize that the art system has become quite the opposite, a funfair with permanently lit, bright lights, where the philosophy that should go along with the creative process, has been replaced by the deadlines of art fairs, by the thousand international biennials, fashion houses that cannibalize the art world with parties, foundations etc. We should still follow, reflect and expand the humanist, non- materialistic, literary philosophy. Writing tomorrow’s philosophy is hard though, almost impossible.

  Alberto Di Fabio: particella di Dio, 2009 - wall drawing at Edicola Notte, Roma
Alberto Di Fabio: particella di Dio, 2009 – wall drawing at Edicola Notte, Roma.

The physical structure of natural elements and the world of spirituality are two constant references in your work, as much as the idea of ​​an interrelation between all the elements of the cosmos. This is also the revelation of quantum physics, based on the idea that all the fundamental physical phenomena are interdependent.

For centuries, this thought has also been the basis of Eastern mysticism, which in its many forms always underlines the unity of the universe, a thought in which science, philosophy and spirituality are never seen as antagonists. Was it your encounter with quantum theory that brought you closer to Eastern mystical thinking, or did you develop your interest for both in parallel?

Alberto di Fabio: The mind lies to us and the soul connects with the quantum universe. Meditation through the act of painting, halting the mind to achieve enlightenment, are very renowned practices in the East. Like the knowledge of a Shaman, in the brush-bearer elegance and harmony are combined with instinct and intuition, which is by definition something indeterminate and indefinable, at once an observational and visionary cosmology.

The pictorial gesture is spiritual, necessary to grasp the cosmic and divine breath that is the basis of the never-ending origin of life.

Quantum physics, the physical state of Matter and Atoms, along with biology, chemistry and magnetic forces, are energies that have been in motion for thousands of years, traveling in the cosmo’s sidereal space. Distant interstellar fusions have given birth to solid, gaseous and liquid forms, which are the base of earthly life; at the same time, the whole has always been related to a luminous body, to the spiritual side of matter.

I have dedicated myself to show in my work how biological or solid matter becomes astral matter, a source of light. A painting can be akin to a prayer, a prayer is like a scientific formula that conveys our magnetic neurons to connect with celestial spaces.

 Alberto Di Fabio: Cosmo rosa, 2017 - acrylic on canvas
Alberto Di Fabio: Cosmo rosa, 2017 – acrylic on canvas, 200 x 309cm | courtesy of the Artist

Lets’ stay on the topic of quantum physics. The famous physicist Fritjof Capra in his 1975 best-seller essay ‘The Tao of Physics’ wrote: “As far as we go into matter, nature … appears rather to us as a complex network of relationships between the various parts of the whole. These relations also always include the observer “. Can a parallel be made between the latter concept and your desire, as you recently wrote “to create magnetic portals so that the work and the gallery become a spaceship for a journey to distant parallel worlds in space and time”?

Alberto Di Fabio: Matter and antimatter, quantum physics, as the Theory of relativity, are, like a beautiful surrealist painting or a Taoist prayer, all part of a universal magnetic network perceived by each of us at different frequencies.

How can one illuminate the viewer and make him/her dream in front of an artwork? I see and compose my paintings by trying to create magnetic portals. The artwork, like the exhibition in the gallery, becomes a spaceship for a journey in space and time to distant worlds. The work as an expressive medium to narrate a dream, and the dream as an ideal state to explore the unknown universe from another viewpoint, a thin red thread that connects art, science and spirituality.

Alberto Di Fabio: Paesaggi della mente, 2017- wall painting at Tagliacozzo  (AQ)
Alberto Di Fabio: Paesaggi della mente, 2017- wall painting at Tagliacozzo (AQ) | courtesy of the Artist

In 2010, you were given an award by Astrophysicist Remo Ruffini, in the context of the National Painting Prize F.P. Michetti, in Abruzzo. You were rewarded for having foreseen, two years in advance, the shape of a galaxy photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope with your painting “The breath of the Universe” (2008). How do you explain this ‘premonition’? What was the reaction of the physicists?

Alberto Di Fabio: The perception and dream of seeing parallel worlds has defined my research since when, as a child, I began drawing and painting infinite mountainous landscapes. I was born and raised in the Abruzzo region, mountains represent for me the ascent from the earthly world, an image of purity and an unviolated divinity necessary for the elevation of the spirit.

Later, I devoted myself to reading my mother’s science books, she used to be a teacher of science and mathematics, as well as my sister’s, a student of medicine. I copied cells and other illustrations from biology, chemistry and astrophysics. Through the landscape and visions of the macrocosm, I was introduced to ‘magma’. I became interested in mining fusions, the composition of silica, quartz, gas and the DNA.

 My love for science in relation to the spirit was born out of this set of things. In 2010, the astrophysicist Remo Ruffini rewarded my work because he found many similarities with the world of contemporary quantum astrophysics, centered on the discovery of antimatter and the Higgs boson. Many of my cosmological paintings on galaxies are similar to photographs taken by NASA’s Hubble telescope.

 Alberto Di Fabio: Visioni da Hubble, fusioni minerarie, 1992
Alberto Di Fabio: Visioni da Hubble, fusioni minerarie, 1992 – tempera on paper, 100×74.5cm. | courtesy of the Atist

In 2014, I received an invitation from CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, for a personal exhibition and a scientific-philosophical conference. This appointment, a wish come true, realised the virtual dialogue that I had established ideally between the international study center and my studio, many years before.

Some of CERN’s mathematicians and astrophysicists are interested in different aspects of my research: firstly, in the attention I devote to the magnetism of synapses with their connecting power; secondly, in the visual rendering of the images formed in the oneiric part of our mind, from a description of the hemisphere of fantasy and spirituality, to the perception of the invisible.

Fantasy, creativity, and dreams are complex functions of our mind, in fact we never get to develop enough that part of the brain.

During the conference at CERN, an important astrophysicist explained to me that we only know 4% of what is outside of us. He said: “Alberto, we invited you here to hear things that mathematicians can’t see.” Einstein always said that when approaching the truth of a mathematical formula, one always finds it veiled by a new enigma. The hemisphere of the rational mind cannot solve the formula on its own. It was a very fascinating experience, I am still in touch with several researchers, with whom we exchange ‘magical’ information.

  Alberto Di Fabio: State of Matter, 2019
Alberto Di Fabio: State of Matter, 2019, – acrylic on canvas, 100x100cm. | courtesy of the Artist

Your paintings, both murals and works on canvas, are created with complex techniques, layering different veils of paint, modulating the drips, density and viscosity of the medium. They range from the extremely detailed to total abstraction. You said you often work horizontally laying the canvas on the floor, because this modus operandi leads to certain physical phenomena that foster a high degree of mental concentration…

Alberto Di Fabio: I often paint in a horizontal position, as if I was making mandalas. In this way, I attempt to gather all the emotions of spirituality, science and art, three constant elements, for a prayer that lasts as long as the creation of the work itself. They are similar to elevation and permutation, which are exercises for the knowledge and revelation of absolute dogma. For me color- matter is alive, I hear it dance through the photons of light that illuminate it. The brush flowing on paper or canvas, the ripples of watercolors dissolving in other glazes, remind me of the movement of the earth, of rivers and neuronal synapses.

Alberto Di Fabio: Corpo Astrale in Oro, 2016
Alberto Di Fabio: Corpo Astrale in Oro, 2016 – acrylic on canvas, 60x60cm. | courtesy Luca Tommasi.

Part of the charm of your work consists in the way you use color, super-bright in your fluorescent and psychedelic ‘cosmic dances’, sometimes more meditative in the compositions that tend to monochrome. What inspires your choices?

Alberto Di Fabio: My dream is to create a controlled visual chaos, a kinetic sensorial painting that involves the viewer in a progressive loss of self-awareness, through a pure organic abstract art with a thousand chromatic veils and subtle geometric dynamics between the single elements. A sort of visual trance traveling to unknown worlds, closer to the quantum essence of the Universe. The perception of hearing and seeing a cosmic dance.

Matter becomes evanescent and the mind finds a possible conjunction with the astral substance. There is a change of state, from the physical to the ethereal, a sort of permutation and elevation of the soul. My works are like prayers, mantras repeated endlessly. In fact, I often repeat the same formulas to reach, through the concept of cosmic dance, an absolute meditative state within which we are atoms and at the same time Gods.

  Alberto Di Fabio: Montagne, 1994 , GNAM
Alberto Di Fabio: Montagne, 1994 – acrylic on canvas paper, 130x90cm. | courtesy GNAM Roma, Galleria 5.

Let’s take a step back. Your father Pasquale Di Fabio, was a well-known abstract painter and sculptor linked to neo-futurism, an influence that surfaces in some of your geometric pieces. In his work, your father often made connections between light and spirituality. Although you render this relationship to light and the spiritual life in a very different way, according to contemporary scientific parameters, this relationship is also one of the cornerstones of your art practice. How did your father’s closeness affect your personal path towards abstract-organic art?

Alberto Di Fabio: Thank you for mentioning my father, a pure, uncontaminated Artist, who through a rigorous abstract painting has always focused, with an obsessive search, on representing light, a source of life and the only energy to be worshiped. I was born of a mother who taught mathematics and science and my father repeated to me every day that Mondrian and Malevich are our contemporary Gods. It is therefore normal that my work is an uninterrupted path through two sources of light, to foster a form of symbiosis to be handed down for the future.

The large wall-painting that you exhibited last February, just before the lockdown in Milan, in “Landscapes of an invisible matter” at Galleria Luca Tommasi, is at once a cosmic and a religious symbols, the circle as an eternal movement of the spirit. In 2019, in the exhibition “Transcendence” at the Gaggenau DesignElementi Hub in Milan, you used the color gold, a metaphor for light and spirituality. Are you charmed by sacred art, and if so, which period in particular you feel attracted to?

  Alberto Di Fabio: Illuminazione, Paesaggi di una materia invisibile, 2020 - wall painting - galleria Luca Tommasi, Milano
Alberto Di Fabio: Illuminazione, Paesaggi di una materia invisibile, 2020 – wall painting at galleria Luca Tommasi | courtesy Luca Tommasi, Milano

Alberto Di Fabio: In both occasions, at the galleria Luca Tommasi and at Gaggenau DesignElementi Hub, I transformed the exhibiting space into a large canvas, relating an invisible landscape to the vastness of the universe, and a dialogue with an interior landscape.

At Luca Tommasi’s the walls were completely covered with vibrant signs and colors, the solidity of the color dissolving into tiny gaseous particles, atoms and photons of light continually mutating in the subtle drippings. This work means to illustrate the moment of transition between solid, liquid and gaseous matter, something impalpable, a vision that human perception alone will never be able to grasp: it’s the evocation of something we feel, but that we don’t see.

At Gaggenau DesignElementi Hub I chose works with gold color along with several canvases that had originally been conceived for a chapel, devoting great attention not only to sacred art, but to the sacredness for and of art. I have always been fascinated by Giotto and many other Old Masters who, through a pure and symbolic painting, created true vehicles of consciousness.

Alberto Di Fabio: Sinapsi in oro, 2007
Alberto Di Fabio: Sinapsi in oro, 2007 – 107x97cm |courtesy of the Artist.

You are one of the most international Italian artists, you have exhibited all over the world. In 1989, at the beginning of your artistic career in Rome, you met Alighiero Boetti at a collective curated by Alessandra Bonomo, who advised you to leave Italy for Paris, where you met with many other prominent art figures. Then, after an exhibition at Lucio Amelio’s gallery in Paris, in 1991 you moved to New York…

Alberto Di Fabio: Yes, I lived in New York for many years, I remember that since my first trip to the States, I was struck by the way American artists work. I was 21 years old and, like many colleagues, I dreamt of working with some important gallery in New York. It was the 80s / 90s, I hang about the world of art meeting extraordinary characters such as Roy Lichtenstein, Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend.

You talked about how in the USA you refined your working method, you learned to archive it, and with great artists, finally joining Larry Gagosian’s gallery. I also read that you also encountered several obstacles and resistances. Is there any anecdote from that time that you would like to share, that for better or worse influenced your path?

Alberto Di Fabio: More than once, when I met Larry Gagosian in New York, I  invited him to visit my studio and he replied: “Alberto, I don’t often visit the studios of young artists, otherwise I would have to run around all day. When you have your first solo show in New York, I will visit you. ” And this is how it went. After 7 years in 1998 – it took me that long – I exhibited at Alexandre de Folin. Larry came two hours before the opening, and bought four of my paintings. He told me that he liked the work, that he had heard about my technique and my subjects from other artists. With those four paintings, he furnished a room in his house in the Hamptons.

Alberto Di Fabio: Spazio Luce numero 2, 2010 –  acrylic and lacquer on canvas, diptych 120x120cm | courtesy Gagosian Gallery

In the following months, also with the help of a friend of mine who had become the director of Gagosian’s venue in London, I started working with the gallery. They have always appreciated not only my paintings but also my way of working, my passion and seriousness.

As you mentioned, there are several difficulties in our work, everywhere and at any time: there are people, friends, colleagues, who love you and value your work, but many others who work against you…often after one has attained success and the goals dreamed of for years. Then you feel lonely, empty, nobody calls you for days … you feel guilty with yourself for the work you presented … it’s a dark feeling, a dead end, but it’s enough to think that we are privileged people, we shouldn’t complain but rather look forward, believing absolutely in what we do.

Alberto Di Fabio:  Stanze dei sogni, Wall Painting, Galleria Umberto Di Marino, Napoli  2017
Alberto Di Fabio: Stanze dei sogni, 2017 – Wall Painting, Galleria Umberto Di Marino, Napoli | photo Danilo Donzelli.

I read about your beautiful project on the island of Ponza, which in a Beuysian way shows that art is also awareness and responsibility. In 2004, you purchased a property to create a sort of “School of Athens” dedicated to the philosophy of the future, and a botanical garden on the island, planting 400 plants around a valley.  You told me that you carry on your ‘green guerrilla’ by planting trees even around the city … Is the school of philosophy still ongoing?

Alberto Di Fabio: On the island of Ponza I developed a literary-cultural project together with my writer sister, we tried to create a home for artists friends, a cenacle for the development of new philosophies. The contemporary consumerism has flattened out and devoured our minds. If Democritus and Anaximander in ancient Greece talked about eons, atoms, galaxies, we contemporaries are atrophied by an illusory well-being. Our dream was to recreate a kind of School of Athens: even if one life will not be enough for this, I want to try, and plant the first seed.

When I was living on the island, I noticed a very polluting illegal rubbish-dump located in a beautiful valley called ‘the panoramic’. I took charge of the problem and started the “Re-planting” project, planting nature where man had eradicated it. Also inspired by the work of Joseph Beuys, I planted many trees around the landfill, and managed to have it shut down after a few years.

I thought that such action would be stronger if it strayed beyond a conceptual work of art. With the gallery owner Umberto Di Marino, in 2004 in Naples we launched an exhibition titled ‘Ri-impianto’, then we projected slides in schools, in exhibitions, concerts and events, trying to raise awareness of the environmental issue. It’s a way to make a work more “social” through real action. The bond is love for our planet and the will to do something to save it, beyond the usual rhetoric of ecology.

Alberto Di Fabio
Alberto Di Fabio | Photo Skino Ricci

To wrap-up this interview, let’s go back to the starting point, the present. We are at a crossroads, we can act for a change of direction by learning from this tragedy, or resume our race faster than before.Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Alberto Di Fabio: We will not easily forget this present, which has sunk deep into us.

I suffered a lot for the sick people, I cried for the dead and for those bad politicians who in the past years have spent a lot of public money closing hundreds of hospitals all over the country, and now keep us locked in. I suffered a lot for these things!!

I suffered less for the restrictions to my freedom, I continue to read and work, life never stops, never. Ora et labora, this is the Whole.

SOURCES AND INSIGHTS

- artist's website
- Gagosian Gallery
- Galleria Umberto Di Marino
- Galleria Luca Tommasi

Alessandra Alliata Nobili

Alessandra Alliata Nobili

Founder e Redazione | Milano
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