Selected critical reviews of Luca Leonelli

About life and death in the drawings of Luca Leonelli

by Arturo Schwarz

One of the most frequent themes in both sacred and profane iconography is the association of woman with death. As with all archetypical values, both assume an antithetical allegorical power as a symbol. Particularly, in esoteric traditions and myths, the maiden and death often personify the Great Initiator, who brings extatic happiness and salvation with the light of knowledge.

Or otherwise, and this is an exception still largely perpetuated by the monotheist religions, woman and death stand for all that is pernicious: they bring pain, perdition, ruin.

To me it seems that in this cycle of drawings, Luca Leonelli has succeeded in representing not so much the conflict between Eros and Thanatos as their complementary nature, and has thus highlighted their positive potencies. We find a classical example of the ambivalence of the Woman-Death pair in the compulsion to regressus ad uterum. The return to the maternal belly signifies in many esoteric systems as well as the alchemist tradition both death and rebirth.

In most antique systems, and foremost the Orphic and Pythagorean systems, death is always surrounded by symbols of resurrection, while the woman appears as the supreme initiator into the mysteries of sexuality and hence of life. It is not by chance that death is intimately connected with orgasm.

In many languages this is called “the little death”. The Latin poet Propertius, describing the “First delights of love” by Gallus, wrote: “I see you die in her arms/ Then after a long pause breath again” (Elegies I-10).

Leonelli overturns the significance of the fundamental Christian iconography, bent on mortifying the flesh and provoking guilt in those that “give in” to the pleasures of the senses. The Dance with Death becomes with our artist an unbridled ballet, the Triumph of Death becomes an exaltation of Life, and the fearful encounter of the living with Death who reminds by-the-by that “I was what you are now, you will be what I am now”, turns into an amorous tussle.

Ultimate and non-negligible detail, the woman involved in these passionate encounters is always corpulent. In the erotic immaginarium there is always a close connection between the pleasures of sex and food. It suffices to think of the feast at the wedding of Emma in Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Or on the double meaning of “eating you out”, where not only in English the verb can stand for cunnilingus.

In the poetry of Baudelaire dedicated to the young giantess, corpulence is linked to the fullness and intensity of the amplexus, as if to sanction the Great Refusal that love can oppose to the inevitable end of existence.

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Arturo Schwarz, Milan, October 1992

Love and labour in the art of Luca Leonelli

by Arturo Schwarz

Luca is a dear friend, not one so easy to come across. There are ever fewer people around who still know how to love. To love and respect a woman or the beauty that surrounds us. I believe meeting someone like that means finding an alter ego. That which leads Luca to be a part of the Whole is his natural, innate gift, that overarching need which draws out of him the mystery and transcendence of existence with the enormous passion and yet enormous precision which may be found, for example, in a Vermeer.

This undeniable inner existence makes Luca a classic artist and therefore an avant-garde one. Today, being avant-garde no longer means wanting to épater le bourgois. There is more art and poetry in 20 square centimetres by Paul Klee than in 20 metres of Daniel Buren’s printed canvases. Jeff Koons thinks he can shock us with works of sheer pornography; Maurizio Cattelan tries to scandalise us with his images of the Pope squashed under a meteorite or by exhibiting the lifeless forms of hanged children in a public square. The world of art is going through a period of mortal ambiguity. Hatred of all forms of art which require a certain level of manual skill is rife. Under the pretext of wanting to reject the formalism of art for art’s sake, we find ourselves faced with a form of art against art's sake. The new, self-proclaimed avant-garde has all the dreariest of academic characteristics: mindless thematic and formal repetition, a penchant for the over-the-top and the monumental stress placed on the decorative aspect, the desire to provoke outrage at all costs, and a total lack of genuine inspiration.

Furthermore, an unprecedented semantic confusion reigns supreme. Under the category “manual arts”, numerous genres are bunged in which, albeit with their own artistic dignity, have precious little to do with the manual skills required by painting, sculpture, drawing or engraving. For example, “Happenings” are simply improvised mini-theatre works (somewhat akin to jazz). I remember when I witnessed the very first Happenings in New York, 1960, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg, John Cage and Jim Dine had all agreed to define this means of expression as a “theatrical event without a fixed plot”. By the same measure, video belongs to cinematography, installations to set design, works with neon lights are nothing but interior decoration, and body art is an exasperated form of narcissism often with an S&M feel to it. At best, body art could be described as an art of the actor. All this leads me to cite a reflection made by the quietly creative Man Ray that if an artist really does want to break the rules, the first thing to do is to understand those rules, or rather, to master them.

And this reflection brings us back to Leonelli and his complete mastery of his means of expression and his own classicism. As he himself admits, “I am unable to detach myself from a kind of Renaissance vision which places the human figure at the centre of everything I paint”. The artist has clearly taken on board Protagoras’ axiom that “man is the measure of all things”. As far as Luca is concerned, the human being as well as the flora and fauna are all fragments of the divine which is not simply anthropomorphic. His holistic vision of the Whole allows him to recognise the ineffable in whatever guise it may take. A hurricane may also be the reflection of an emotional upheaval; a tree may also represent the rising thrust, and a flower may also become the most faithful and most delicate image of the female sex. The mythical, artistic and poetic qualities of these elements have always been recognised. The flower – not by chance the reproductive organ of the plant itself – is an archetypal symbol of human, and not only female, sexuality.

Luca is also a sensitive and profound poet – in keeping with the role that Sanskrit poetics attributed to poetry – because he too desires to “cast new light on visible nature so that a new universe of love may be born of his work” (Agni Purana, 334:10). The real artist has only one goal in mind: to be faithful to himself, for only by expressing his innermost self will he manage to convey the universal, if it is true that the collective sub-conscience really is shared by all humanity. Only by “examining one’s self” (Heraclitus) will he capture the emotion aroused by the meeting with the transcendent. Pierre Reverdy had clearly understood this when, asked to define poetry, he replied “poetry is an emotion”.

Of all the flowers, the orchid would appear to be that which might best reflect the beauty and complexity of the female sex. In ancient China, the orchid was associated with the celebration of springtime, with the renewal of nature. Its beauty is a symbol of perfection and purity. The etymology of the word (from the Greek orchis, testicle) underlines its complex androgenous nature, as suggested by the anatomy of a flower which reconciles the female and male element. And we know that androgeny is a feature common to divinities as it expresses the combined perfection of the male and female: an exclusively male or female godhead would be only halfway to perfection. This explains why all the gods of the most advanced mythological cultures always have a counterpart of the opposite sex. In humans, androgeny has a psychic nature. Freud and Jung both stated that every woman withholds an archetypal image of man, the animus, just as every man has that of woman: the anima.

The androgeonous nature of the orchid stands out far more than in any other flower, remeniscent of human sacrality, a reflection of the divine. Its divine name underlies its plural aspect, one in which the notion of the double is expressed in a complementary, non-conflictual relationship. “Advaita” (ad-vaita: non-dual) is the Indian word; “Tem” for the Egyptians and “Ein-Soph” in Hebrew. These terms all express the idea of all-embracing perfection. They go beyond all pairs of opposites, all antonyms, representing the non-duality of two merely apparently opposite natures. There are countless examples of the universally divine nature of the androgyne.

In order to complete our digression from the matter in hand, we should remember that androgeny allows for the realisation of one of the longest-standing aspirations of humankind: the enjoyment of freedom. As Mircea Eliade points out, “…being no longer conditioned by a pair of opposites leads to a state of absolute freedom (Méphistophélès et l'androgyne, as published by Edizioni mediterranee, Rome 1972, p 150).

As regards the classical nature of Leonelli’s work, we must examine the means of expression adopted by our artist, as these also say a lot about his approach. He is particularly fond of his watercolours – a means which leaves precious little room for second thoughts; his drawing – meticulous to a point that only a true master of his craft is capable of; his burnished coloured aquatints – fruit of a series of complex operations which pay homage to his intimate familiarity with this ancient and intricate technique, the only one able to provide such subtle variations in shade.

I believe it to be important to list the various stages that lie beneath the fantastic illustrations found in this book. Luca starts off by engraving the image of the flower onto a zinc plate, filling it in with a homogeneous aquatint. The plate is then burninshed so as to give the light volumes and contrasts desired. The printer’s proofs are then used to choose the five or six colours to be used for each plate. The way the inking is performed and the engraved surface is cleaned call for the simultaneous application of different coloured inks during a single pressing process. Since it is impossible for the inking of one print to be identical to that of another, no two images are ever exactly alike.

As far as the typography is concerned – an art in danger of extinction – our most heartfelt thanks go to Martino Mardersteig who, following in his father’s footsteps and with the same passion and sensitivity, carries on the most highly-refined printing tradition using a hand press and a nobly-finished moveable type which bites into the paper rather than, as is the case with lithography, leaving an anonymous smear.

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Arturo Schwarz, Milan, June 2005

The crisis is real…

by Philippe Daverio

The crisis is real... I refer obviously to the crisis of the arts. And it lies in its semantic substance. The 20th century, in an outburst of apparent democracy, declared that all human beings have a right to the same dose of talent, which effectively abolished the concept of talent. The various avantgardes demanded that every language be accepted, which was understood to mean that every language is acceptable, comprehensible, equivalent. The resulting confusion is such that, today, we must struggle to understand: anything created by anyone can be taken as a work of art. Yet common sense continues to tell us that between a bowl of spaghetti with plum tomatoes and the Sistine Chapel, there needs to be an ascertainable difference.

This is precisely the premise of the debate. To the extent that no one is interested anymore in current art except for a militant and priestly core group of initiates, a few speculators with teeth as sharp as Mackie Messer’s shark, a public of moths who show up for openings and then flitter away, and lastly a handful of art magazines gasping their last breath in the absence of advertising revenue.

Great disorder under the heavens, then: the situation could not be better. In the vast dimension of an art world that thinks it is global because the Internet enables one to travel low-cost from one exhibition to another, from one Biennial to the next, there remain pockets of silent resistance, rebels determined to perpetuate a way of working not unlike that of the 9th-century scribes during the final incursions of the Hungarians and the Arabs. They are the monks of knowledge, the custodians of talent.  

Luca Leonelli belongs to this scanty gang of rebels. And he knows all too well that talent without knowledge is entirely useless. Talent must be regularly exercised through technique. But this alone is not enough to remain among the few secret sages. The science of making is not sufficient. As Rabelais said, “science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme”. The esoteric combination is as follows: talent, technical ability, density of content. This is very hard to find nowadays, such that it is completely incomprehensible to the general public.  

Yet Leonelli holds some unexpected surprises for those with eye and sensibility free of those conformist filters that opacify the brain. I saw him create a series of engravings where the delicacy of drypoint is combined with the knowledge of the most complex etching. The dimensions of these works explain even to the uninitiated the mastery of the artist when he reaches the most complex levels of virtuosity. I saw that which was once called the masterpiece - that is, the exemplary work. And these epiphanies are combined with many other works, those which I had the fortune of monitoring regularly as Leonelli developed them. He moves from playful experiments of brush, pen or watercolor, treated as daily exercises of his expressivity, just like a pianist practicing the fluidity of his scales and arpeggios before taking the stage, to consolidating them into apical works when he spreads the paint across a large canvas. He offers to those who know him, and have the silent patience to admire it, a one-of-a-kind illustrated book, a painting that summarizes and consolidates the painterly mark in existential, supra-real phantasmagorias. He indicates a path known only to a few, preparing the way for the sensibility of tomorrow.

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Philippe Daverio, 2012 (Translation: Jeff Jennings)

Painting as a conscience

by Mario De Micheli

Momentum, fervor, giddiness and intelligence: Those are the immediate impressions that strike one when faced by his canvases and pages.

Leonelli confronts you and doesn't leave you in peace. He has an energy that excites the imagination to inflammation, to enflame it with expressive potency. It is thus not a painter that lets you relax in the chromatic beauty of his compositions: He hits you and upsets you with a restless streak, problematising the human condition and enquiring upon the obscure vitality that lies in an environment that recycles itself from its own intimate resources.

This exhibition summarizes globally the last ten years of his work. Following his trajectory from image to image, one understands immediately that he has not been pacified by his personal results. The irrepressible ferment that pushes his vision is anything but satisfied. From the Lamb slaughtered in 1984 to last November's ensnaring Octopus, his line of inquiry appears fraught with questions aimed at himself rather than at the enigmas that surround us. In short, Leonelli isn't resigned to accepting the fate we feel we are sacrificed to. Rather, he's decided to hit this reality straight in the chest. That's why he doesn't stop bringing up problems, requiring adequate answers, even if he knows the difficulties we are bound to.

In his work, flora and fauna are just a metaphor for the stuff we're embroiled in by life, but it's certainly never just an abstract symbol. On the contrary, it's always a palpable truth of life that he wants to represent in its true substance. Look at the tangled “turnip greens”. It's hard not to think they allude to the dark forces that preside over each organic transformation in nature, and hence of the profound dynamism implicit in all matter. What I want to say is that his images always have a hidden philosophical meaning, even if their truth is never separated from the immediate truth of the subject it represents. It's what happens to his timid orangutans, so curious to understand the sparrows they hold in their hands. What else does their image express, if not the mysterious bond that unites all creatures by a chain of affinity, to each other, and to our existence itself?

The animal world is a terrestrial world, as is the world of man. Our lot is hence shared. Leonelli absolutely does not want to proclaim a hierarchy of values. His vision has a generalizing dimension: It's the world in which we live our experiences, that has a sole and hermetic destiny to which we should pose our demands. But mind you: In the forest that hides one of his arboreal orangutans in a confusion of leaves, now appears a new and curious character: The figure of a Dalmatian intellectual from antiquity, to whom the first Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible is due &emdash; the remote church father Saint Jerome.

One questions why this apparition, and it's certainly not easy to answer this. Maybe Leonelli chose him as he represents the interpeter par excellence, that is, him that was the first to try to translate for us the “mystery”, the “enigmas”, the “secret words” pronounced by God. Old and bearded, he represents the wisdom we have lost but should recover. He wears an old cardinal's hat, which actually resembles those worn by Jews of unshaken faith. Sometimes he paints him naked and skin over bone, as he was painted by the old artists from Leonardo to Titian. Maybe he also got some suggestions from their examples. In the Vatican's Leonardo, the traditional saint has disappeared. Jerome isn't the ascete before God anymore, he's just an anatomy of muscles and sinews, a character stripped of his humanity; For Titian, meanwhile, a penitent Jerome is beating his naked chest with a rock… It's in these and other ways that Leonelli, following his own inspiration, wants to represent and represents Jerome. Indeed, it seems he ants to study him in each particular, painting numerous separate details of him like hands and legs, all the way to an attempt to not only make up his adult physique but also his first infantile likeness.

There's an almost obsessive quality in this need of his, something that lights up his might to a conflagration. It's an internal tension he cannot resist for long. To continue his project of translating in images his own emotions, it is necessary to find a calmer rhythm again. That is exactly the premise of a series of works, that Leonelli finally approaches, with a broad setup and more serene vision. It's the moment in which he evokes the enchantments of his first childhood encounters with the animal and vegetable world. Thus the old poetic root of our existence seduces him as if a kind of terrestrial gravity acts in him, forcefully, keeping him intimately bound to the truth of his storytelling. It's a moment of grace. In the works of this period it's as if he, leaving his unrest behind, makes his peace again with our quotidian mythologies. Now Jerome seems happy: He meets up with his friends, encounters the familiar zoo to which childhood personages from popular cinematic cartoons add themselves, like Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and Warner Bros' Bugs Bunny.

It's at this point that he can look around without other worries, and observe what happens in teeming nature, also in its more unobtrusive manifestations, whether it's a caterpillar, ant or mosquito, as it all strikes him as marvellous, as a precious motive of the visible universe, offshoot of the invisible one that goes beyond the cortex of our knowledge and digs its roots deep into the earth. Hence Leonelli isn't just reflecting on his own emotions, but on the innumerable forest of unsolved problems we are faced with. He does this through the image of Jerome, of the great interpreter, begging him if he cannot give reliable answers, then at least for a believable hypothesis. Recently a critic exalted the “festive irresponsibility of disengagement”. Well, Leonelli is at the opposite end of such an exaltation. It's an artist that doesn't want to turn his back on problems. On the contrary, he poses these problems with obstinate coherence, trying to disentangle and articulate, in his imaginative language, a possible path to knowledge.

This is why Jerome takes notes, incessantly writes down observations page after page. Look at the paintings and drawings Leonelli puts before your eyes: There's a thick web of notes following every path. Jerome would like to know, seeks to analyze, records the results he comes to. But he's actually never satisfied. Doubts remain, including whether there truly is an answer…
… Hence it's a long journey, a real razzia through the years and the days, that Leonelli proposes to be a memorial to his and our adventures. Of this we should always be mindful, when watching his paintings and drawings. He invites us to realise that the episodes of our lives have and give meaning, but without prejudice and with even less ex cathedra moralising. Hence his discourse is a most humane one, with all the trembling and fear of hazard. A few years ago, in 1989, Leonelli painted a canvas that may be the key to reading the entire sequence of works that hang of the walls of this room. It is a composition with a skinned lamb, head down, emblematic victim of the tragedies perpetrated by people on our planet. Below, however, he has painted his self-portrait, the polar opposite of all narcissism. In fact, this self-portrait is a grotesque and deformed image of his own body: a wrapped-up homunculus, bearded and sly, fruit of a merciless irony about himself. It seems like he says, “And what should we be proud and happy about, if we can't solve any of the problems that besiege us in the situations we live through?”.

In the painting next to such a self-portrait, however, there's a bucket full with a mop and broom. Here we have a brutal and peremptory invitation to those that finally decide to clean up, to erase guilt and betrayal in order to restore man in his dignity. So, maybe, Leonelli's undertaking is but a pedagogical one: It doesn't seem to me that he should fear words. Anyway, it's certain that it's an undertaking brought to its conclusion with all the proper credentials to be called a true painter, an assured inventor of images, and &emdash; God willing &emdash; above all, an artist that gives back to art the worth of persuasion, beyond the vicissitudes of taste.

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Mario De Micheli, December 1993

The perverted lovers

by Mario De Micheli

The Big Margot, the Fat Margot, the Chubby Margot, in short the abundant and lardy Margot, has now turned her Villon into but a satyr-like skeleton, by dint of her frenetic incontinences.

See her here, with her lover's flesh stripped off, continuing her perennial erotic acrobaties with him as if he weren't dead. By comparison her corpulence seems even more overwhelming, while Villon, actually pared back to the bone, contorts himself with amatory possibilities never seen before.

See the embraces of the insatiable couple, madam of a brothel by intimate vocation, above all to open-mindedly polemicise against the respectability of the false moralists, which are by the way frequent houses of ill repute or tend to similar practices. peraltro assidui frequentatori di lupanari o ben disposti a pratiche affini. Leonelli nimbly chases his own images across blank pages, winking with provocative pique: “So who's afraid of the Big Margot and the poor François?”. A cheerful mood cancels any macabre sense of guilt and the innocence of the transgressive couple triumphs over the mandatory laws of guilt.

After all, it's clear that nobody will ever go to hell for crimes of love.

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Mario De Micheli, September 1992

Dialogue with the artist

by Franco Loi

The science and philosophy of every period compels us to an awareness of a reality that eludes our presumption to understand it. This is why Einstein wrote, “There is no logical path to universal laws, only intuition”, and Planck observed, “Every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being”. And these premises, necessary for any kind of scientific research, enabled Hölderlin to rebut Hegel by saying that “logic cannot make us understand the divine, but art can make us feel it”. An observation that offers us an opportunity to reiterate that any pretense of rationalizing or cataloguing a work of art should not make us forget the traditional criteria of observation and judgment, taking into account the way in which every image presents itself to our gaze, to our sensibility, and how our being is affected by it. I will now list a few short quotes and considerations suggested to me by the art of Luca Leonelli and the richness of his touch.

I will start from a statement that critic Mario De Micheli made in 1993 to introduce an exhibition by Leonelli: “Impulse, fervor, dizziness, intelligence: this is the impression one immediately gets in front of his canvases and prints. Leonelli assaults you and doesn’t let go. There is an energy in him that excites the imagination”. And I should add that, along with the power of this expressivity, there is often irony, sometimes self-irony, that muffles or dilates the violent aspects and renders the lyrical ones effective. There are many images and emotions in this show as well: swarms of insects, crowds of heads in diverse contexts (theaters, town squares, conference rooms), and then there is the child of the self-portrait, the false prophet, the oracle, the walking pig (the title of which is Allegretto o Andante), Adam, Eve…

Let us look for a moment at the various ‘swarms’ or ‘crowds’. There is invariably something that traverses them and pulls them, whether in the form of a flowing hair, voices and gestures, or simply the contiguity of crania. The artists’ mastery gives his touch the intensity of a gust of wind that sweeps everything away, as if wanting to upset destiny. Sabina Leonelli rightly observed in one of her writings that “the misadventures of the swarm disturb the mind, drawing it as much into the violence of pointless revolt as into the irony of fragile calm”. However, in representing the obsessive action of the swarms, Leonelli avoids reducing men to “masses”. Indeed, authentic individuality is often present in the movement: one notices, for example, the many eyes and postures of the heads at odds with the wave that washes over them. And here not only irony comes into play, but the consideration that the artist feels for humans and their resources: one looks over his shoulder, another observes curiously, another tries to get away — sometimes the number of eyes doubles in a single head.

Hands are often featured in his images, which confirms that gestuality which is part of the character of the Mediterranean peoples, particularly the Italians. Behold the politician, who makes the gesture almost into a ritual, using his hands to emphasize the rhetoric of certain assertions, or attempts at coercion. The drool that hangs from his mouth is thus transformed into a black line: it is there for a technical reason, for sure, but it also conveys the darkness that descends upon the listeners.

The False Prophet (mezzotint and drypoint) emanates a darkness while also enveloping the subject, his eyes covered by his own swarming hair. The fate of those who preach nothingness and those who listen to it is always the same in the case of recurring false prophecy, since the word means not only foreseeing a given future for the masses who are subject to it, but for those who believe they can dominate or provoke it. One thinks of the fates of heads of state or “revolutionaries” in various historical periods. It is often said that “revolution eats its own children”, but the same holds true for false prophets and statesmen.

It is only the word of great art that, as Karl Marx wrote, “is always the thermometer of time”, insofar as it reflects the human condition over time, or as Laozi put it, “it is the discovery of the eternal present within every history”, adding that “the vast and distant and profound understanding of not-knowing is the most concrete approach to the incessant flow of things and prophecies”. Indeed, the false prophet will always postpone the reality right before our eyes to the future, whether speaking of country or theology or any other ideology — he relies on “the light of the future” and “progressive destinies”.

We’ve already talked about it, but I would like to re-examine this other aspect of Leonelli’s process: humor, his way of looking at so-called “human seriousness”, rendered all the more evident by the “knowledge and penetration of the individual and social soul which can sometimes push itself toward commiseration” — i.e. the self-portraits.

Let us pause for moment before Oracle (burnished etching and aquatint). A black bird of prey darkens a lighted space — above, an oval volume suspended by a wire — below and to the side, a lightly sketched audience turning its backs to these images. Why? What does the hanging oval represent? A meteor, an egg about to bring forth new life? Or is it just a frivolity?

Then there’s the extraordinary drypoint Childhood Memories, Portrait at Two Years Old. The body of the child with two faces: the one projecting its gaze externally seems intent on discovering and learning about the world. This brings to mind Jung when he talks about the “archetypes” that lie deep within all of us, and the inscription on the Temple of Delphos, in the Latin “Nosce te ispsum”, and every cultural tradition that invites man to “know thyself”. But why add a second, blindfolded face to that body, apparently drawing attention to the first, or discouraging it from the propensity to embrace that which lies without? This image may allude to the need that, from the first moments of life, compels us to observe and seek to understand the world; or perhaps the blindfolded eyes allude to the not yet pressing, still unformed interior life of a child. That blindfold may be telling us that we, as adults, must turn outward, that maturity consists in the constant balance between external and internal knowledge, and if this rule is not followed, the greatest risk is madness and the most common one is being absorbed into a swarm or into the slavery of an ideology. The two heads — which seem to want to merge — must at least interact in order to give the child a single one.

Self-Portrait at Fourty-two Years Old (drypoint). This is certainly the most ironic piece in the show. Again, exiting from his mouth is a swarm which is partly lost in the void (empty chatter?), but partly re-enters the subject, enveloping him. In what? His own art, or his own words, now aware? Or the interior ear that his Self loudly implores? Perhaps it is the artist’s own consciousness that wants to reclaim the not fully understood swarm?

I would now like discuss three other prints on display: two depict Adam and Eve, while the third is a large figure seated on a chair in the forest. Adam seems to me to belong to the series of self-portraits. Not that there is a resemblance to the artist, but I see there one of the less recognized aspects of his character: sweetness, along with the ability to look and understand, to gently accept the ineluctable flow of events and judgments. This does not diminish his “capacity to assault” that De Micheli mentions in another part of his essay. Adam is, as described in Genesis, a man who finds himself naked and covers himself. Not because he is afraid, I would add, but because he feels helpless before his immense responsibility.

The image of Eve, on the other hand, is imposing. Again from Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper as his complement”. Look carefully at this figure — her sensuality is most evident in her loins and bosom, while her legs are strong, sturdy. Such energy bursts forth from this image that the delicacy of the pubic hair is barely enough to soften it. “How beautiful you are, my beloved / without stain or blemish…” (Song of Solomon IV).

Lastly, the extraordinary drypoint Figure in the Woods. A large figure slouched in a chair, an exhausted face that looks without looking. What he sees can be intuited. The forest, masterfully rendered, is behind him. You will forgive me if I’ve given much space to the content of several prints that seem to me among the most significant exemplars of Leonelli’s art without paying much attention to his exceptional technical ability, enriched by experience and culture, but I take his manual skill as a given. Eugenio Tomiolo, painter, engraver, poet and great friend, wrote, “Technique is not enough to create a work of art, but can only free us to the possibilities of the material and our way of using it”.

I am convinced that, since everyone has their own way of looking and thinking, or incorporating what they see into their own knowledge, and that, since the role of true art is to stimulate even our unconscious memories, discussion of the intentions and various aspects of an image can be useful to everyone, myself included.

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Franco Loi, 2012 (Translation: Jeff Jennings)


by Antonello Negri

In the series of paintings on the theme of Saint Jerome — Doctor of the Latin Church and therefore an intellectual, but also a hermit which the iconographic tradition displays as immersed in a rugged landscape among the wild beasts — Leonelli dealt with the theme of man who thinks, apparently separate from the world but surrounded by nature and fauna. In the painting that opens this exhibition, ideas take the shape of cigarette smoke coming from the head; behind the smoker a dog and a forest are reminiscent of the classic attributes of the saint and, at the same time, suggest a continuity with the specific past of Leonelli’s painting through the figure of the animal, that was at the heart of a consistent sequence of works.

The new series presented on this occasion focuses on the idea of the herm. In Greek and later Roman antiquity, herms — square pillars originally supporting a head, and later a male bust, with a phallic attribute symbolising fertility and also useful to deflect malefic influences, sometimes enriched by moralising inscriptions,  — were located along the streets, at crossroads, to denote boundaries, by referring to the positive presence of a god: Hermes, from whom their name derives, was (also) the protector of roads, of “paths”. A sort of binding tie between the figure of Saint Jerome, with all he signifies, and the these Leonelli has worked on now, could be represented by another hermit, Saint Simeon Stylites, who has been handed down in iconography as appearing as a living herm in fact. Leonelli uses the image of the herm to give form to the idea of a relationship between man and world, severely limited by immobility (the herm is planted in the ground, is made of stone, undergoes the aggressions of the organic world), governed by a “divided self” and agitated by the irrepressible instinct — when the faculties of thought and smell are exercised, intellect and passions, — to break this immobility, to step out of oneself.

In these herms the body isn’t made of stone anymore, but of flesh. The head isn’t there, but the flow of ideas — reprising the idea of the cigarette smoke from the self-portrait as Saint Jerome, — is substantiated in an eruption of colours that replaces the head, sweeping the world. The push for action, for interrupting the immobility,  isn’t purely mental: To the blocked torso of the herm/body an arm is added, or maybe a hand, developments of the original stumps of extremities on ancient herms, that tend to invade the real space outside the canvas, the space of the onlookers.

The painting that closes the exhibition presents a man that can find his own naturalness. He isn’t blocked like a herm anymore; his nudity in fact emphasises now a state of liberty and physical movement — he’s walking, — and it intertwines a whirl of ideas, more volcanic than ever, expansive, bound to the utopia of a golden age, of happy integration between thought and nature. Such considerations relate to the “what”.  It has been discussed before, “why is the what more important than the how. And from what is the how developed!”.

This statement by Otto Dix — taken from a short essay from 1927 entitled It’s the object that counts — seems well suited to the work of Leonelli, and to suggest a key to reading it also from the point of view of the “how”, that is to say, of the painterly manner (or graphic manner, in case of the aquarels he chose to present, to minimally evoke the path from conception to creation of the image). It is certainly no coincidence that Leonelli has exhibited in Berlin and is preparing a new exhibition in the German capital. Berlin is the 20th century artistic centre that has historically countered the formalisms and the decorative pleasures of the axis Paris–New York with an often hard, sour graphicism build around the human figure and the representation of things, and principally interested in affirming and communicating ideas. It is certainly not a matter of style; on the other hand, only in Berlin could the first Triennale of Realism be born, in 1993. For Leonelli  — as for all the contemporary figurative culture, mostly not Italian, for a large part German in fact, with which he finds significant consonance — the notion of realism doesn’t have to be naturally understood in phenomenological terms, that is to say as vulgar painting-to-imitate.  On the contrary, that notion coincides with the project of raising and discussing real problems, independently of the chosen language, and beyond the lightness of the images and virtuality that tend to occupy all spaces nowadays.

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Antonello Negri, April 2000

The paradox of flight

by Giorgio Celli

Lessing’s notion, expressed in his essay on Laocoon, was that – unlike poetry, which requires a certain reading time – painting allows for a simultaneous, overall perception. Obviously, he was wrong. As the Russian psychologist Jarbus demonstrated during the recently concluded century, the viewer’s eye travels along a genuine perceptive path across the painting, passing over the same details time and time again, making it fully appropriate to speak of reading also in this case and hence of a reading time. Recently Castel, in a series of his brilliant conferences, considered the work of art, the painting, from a physiognomical point of view, examining the gestures and facial expressions of the figures represented as narrative elements of a story which runs alongside the more strictly aesthetic perception of the work.

I think we are thus dealing here with a reformulation the interrelationship between the renowned perception/interpretation couple made up of iconography on one hand (which is simply that which can be seen in the picture) and iconology on the other (which complements that which can be seen with that which is known). This coupling often leads not only to a broadening of empathy, but also to our assessment of the work being turned on its head. Thus, it seems clear to me that iconology always tends to suggest a story: while the abstract painting tells its own story, the non-abstract narrates a story, one which has a before and after – if you will excuse the over-simplistic terminology.

With his paranoid swarm, whose portentous flight unfolds over some 30 metres of paper, Luca Leonelli has clearly opted for one approach: to peremptorily offer up a form of painting which takes on the peripatetic nature of a fully-fledged epic. As I looked at this rather special work, the analogy with an entomological Via Crucis sprung to mind. The strip brings together the feel of some story-teller who might have been found once upon a time in a market square; a scientific illustration from the zoology textbook of an imaginary planet; lastly, and most importantly, the description of a journey through forms, the convulsionary diagrams of an extraordinary metamorphosis. Because this swarm of fantastical animals – be they ghosts of ants or bees flying over meadows and marshes, turning into a crowd within the crowd – is presented as a natural event translated into painting, it therefore aspires to break through the canonical boundaries of painting as it runs along its dithyrambic course. Which finishes, I might say, falling like Alice into a black hole which comes out on the other side of the looking-glass – behind the painting itself, in other words! Yet this also makes it clear once and for all that the paranoia of flight is, in actual fact, a critical paranoia and – as such – conceals a sardonic conceptual operation. This is a painting which charges along the walls like a raging river of colour: overstepping and overflowing, hinting at a possibly infinite progression. A work which is not only but perhaps more than anything else… a gesture!

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Giorgio Celli, October 2004

Luca Leonelli, in the company of insects

by Giorgio Celli

If it's true that all humans have a totem, an animal or plant they often unknowingly have consacrated in their hearts, then artist reveal these predilections in their works, with few embellishments. Hogarth loved dogs, and Klee idolised cats, and it's easy to imagine how one would prefer these pets; Luca Leonelli on the other hand, although he has also painted dogs (though often monstruous ones), shows truly singular preferences: He loves insects above all. And of this innumerable tribe, he doesn't prefer at all the butterflies that burst into the most vivacious colours under the sun, and not even that laborious alchemist of honey, the bee. Leonelli has dedicated himself to painting the little flies that rise like cold lava from the grape most vapours, the flies that visit our houses, the humble ant we threaten to squash at every step. These minuscule creatures are to him shape jugglers, microscopic Proteuses that show their structures, amazing survival machinery, and often horribly beautiful, at the limits of visibility. From a certain point of view, Leonelli traces the map of his submerged entomological Atlantis, which he doesn't represent but renders visible, if we may paraphrase an aphorism of Klee.

His insects are natural and culturally whole, I would say, chimerical figures mixed with words, and placed against besieged and eroded geometrical structures, almost metaphors of the order perennially imposed against chaos. Leonelli explores unknown lands, where creatures live that you find everywhere yet nobody sees. His poetry as a painter living in his time points to the alien, the faraway, the strange. And in that however remote sense, there seems to persist in his biological fantasies the ghost of a certain surrealism, closer to Rostand than to Breton. But his intent is not to make us feel uncanny and surprised: With a painting made from chromatic slashes and explosively expanding macrocosms, he wants to remind us that often that what seems most dissimilar actually is part of us, and that our humanity grows through a love of diversity. In that sense, the insect is a mentor!

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Giorgio Celli, April 2004

With the swarm in his eyes

by Claudio Cerritelli

The great surprise which Luca Leonelli has in store for the visitors to this exhibition is that a technique such as water colour, almost always adopted to make small pools of colour on an immaculate sheet, might be used to narrate an uninterrupted voyage across over 30 metres of paper, like a flight with the swarm in one’s eyes.

Faced with this flood of chromatic sensations, the ‘reader’ is forced to get to grips with the paradoxical situations which take shape on the sheet right from the very first appearance of the swarm: its birth – both formless and figurative – up until its final exit through a hole in the wall. A point not chosen at random: a hypothetical opening which calls on our imagination to carry on beyond the wall itself, perhaps to start over again, in the pictorial flow of a great human assembly, in an endless repetition of flight. Yet it could never be the same journey again. No repetition is possible, other adventures will take the swarm towards the unknown, engulfing the visible and the invisible together in a single movement which toys with the infinite prospective of the void.

Being used to conceiving art as a pictorial fable set on the crossover between natural symbols and allegories, Leonelli puts the fluidity of colour to the test as he broadens and narrows, expands and contracts, thickens and lightens to give a true sense of convulsion, constantly renewing the unspeakable thrill associated with flight. In this swarm, which buzzes around itself and unfurls into the changing environment without a second thought, the artist outlines a vision of existence as an unforeseeable experience. We are faced with a restless state which resembles the mayhem of external reality, and yet one which will not accept any form of limitation nor provocation: only analogies with the most contrasting vicissitudes of nature. Visible moods and feelings are treated with impulses of colour provided by multiple strokes of the brush: the impulses of air which becomes a vortex, the impulses of water which look more like liquefied matter, the impulses of fire which move like flickering tongues, without forgetting the secret impulses of the earth – seemingly overlooked by the path of the swarm, yet an underlying reference in each transformation of the flying image. This swarm of chromatic impulses feeds on an urge to rush at great speed towards its goal: an urge which an artist with such a strong imagination like Leonelli is fascinated by. In other words, towards the furious spectacle of the ‘light-wave’, within the dynamism of the figures propagated as far as the eye can see, beyond the vortex of nature which draws one’s gaze into its own relentless flow.

If we follow the linear development of this visual and verbal scripture, we get the feeling that the painter might have started from any point at all, such is the way for the originary shapes to enter the scene: shapeless and mysterious, bare-faced yet secretive, thrust into the crucible of existence to face its intermittent, inescapable cycles of commotion. Leonelli sees the swarm as a metaphor of social space, crowded out by beings who always seem to have an over-the-top way of relating to others, making it an overflowing, deformed space, shaken by rapid movements which leave no room for meditation, only the torrential rhythms and the mindless rush onward. It does not matter where; the only thing that counts is that nothing should be left in its wake, and that the path of the journey should lead towards the other side of the world. On the other hand, was the artist able to foresee the direction the creative act would take, how long it would take, and how one image would turn into another? Might he really have been aware of everything that this ambitious project would entail, or even that the journey through reality would never stop but merely mutate in its pattern of occurrences and recurrences?

In the light of this impossibility to foresee the unforeseeable, the flight is undertaken with the use of paradox, insofar as its truth is always elsewhere with regard to the painted image, it is made up of figures fleeing into a wayward flow of colour, in the vibrant movement which engulfs the enormous roll of paper with its shower of symbols, handwriting and voluptuous Baroque curves. These partial glimpses each beat out the contagious rhythm of the swarm; their varying articulation of the overall tension of the flight spreads through the environment under a dominant hue of red. After representing the birth and development stages of the swarm, we find ourselves almost halfway through the tale, faced with the sidelong doubled image of a face: perhaps a self-portrait of the artist at the mercy of his own creative turmoil. Then comes a small skull poking out from a crowd of wandering bodies: the oscillation of human destiny on the verge of opposing prospectives – the individual and the group, life and death, violence and pain, and above all the desire to comply with the excesses of the mind and body.

Only in the second half of the journey, as if gratified by its own image, does the swarm spread out into a reverie of lush greenness crossed by spasms of grey and ripples and bounces full of light and shade which slide and shatter across the sheet, almost noisily. At the same time, man rediscovers his natural roots, the movement of the swarm takes on an almost cosmic attitude, and the shapes of the bodies are identified with the dynamism of visionary thought which carries on unhaltingly, at times over-dramatic and irritated by its own ferocity.

For Leonelli, imagining flight means continually finding new solutions to the same dynamic impulses; it means shaking the space available until it reveals new points of contact between man and nature; invisible yet ongoing. This is because the generative function of nature is such that it represents the indescribable condition in which he rediscovers his own origins deep in the labyrinths of matter, not in another world. Even when he painstakingly depicts the sea and its inhabitants, the rapid movements of the frogs, the artist is clearly gripped by an expressive urge which turns the descriptive aspect into visions that lie beyond his fixed reference points: the eyes sink into the waves, the bodies take on the look of deformed animals, the hands are blurred by the speed of the lines, the heads look like an army marching into the waves. The ‘reader’ cannot but look on amazed in the face of these events which occur without reference points in the infinite 30-metre long space, 1.15 metres high. Within this ever-fermenting swarm, something takes place which no other painting space can provide, insofar as it is prey only to the temptations of colour, to that instinct which pushes Leonelli to fight against the currents of air, the blasts of wind, the streams which connect one point to another until they are turned inside out and back to front only to lurch forward once more.

In these times of blind faith in immaterial forms of technology, the pleasure in seeing colour used not as yet another instrument which leaves man and his inventions behind is something which Leonelli’s enveloping work makes seem ever more important. And it is a pleasure which is rooted in the complex working method of the painter, in his reflections both on the aggressive nature of man and even more so on the imaginative freedom of his incredible story, using a language which draws on various disciplines from art to anthropology. At the end of the day, this is the real cognitive and aesthetic value on which Leonelli bases his visionary notion of the social swarm: representing the heady adventure of flight as a general metaphor for existence through the endless flow of pictorial thought.

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Claudio Cerritelli, 2004

Searching for Ulysses

by Sabina Leonelli

The great Dinosaurs had long since perished when their ships entered the solar system,
after a voyage that had already lasted thousands of years
—S. Kubrick and A.C. Clarke, “2001: A Space Odyssey” screenplay

To follow the flight. Years of post-modern individualism and digital technology, in which the possibility to generate and distribute countless images continually distracts us from questioning the sense and purpose of each one, trained us to mistrust such a shamelessly Renaissance notion. How arrogant a proposal, how presumptuous an attempt is to sketch a universal vision of humanity, when the context is our all-encompassing Present of a thousand identical faces!

Yet, the vicissitudes of the swarm immediately grab our attention. They disturb and attract, by virtue of violent revolts that come to nothing as much as through the irony of the delicate peace among the frogs - without mentioning the final escape into the ‘Hole of Judgement’. What fascinates is the sense of a story, Our History as well as a point of view, a challenge to human reason and to the need to be critical despite the absence of illusions.

In fact, nothing is systematic in the flight if not a hint of doubt, which, unlike the Cartesian cogito, leaves nothing out, embracing all forms of matter and enveloping every element of its continuous evolution. Is there any sense to the individual existence in history? Is there a protagonist, a (preferably sentient) thread guiding and structuring the spasmodic and inexorable activity called life?

The question can only be posed, frequently, forcefully, in a number of forms. It is a baffling, dramatic homage to human rationality, whose wings cannot melt for there is no Icarus beating them in a death-defying challenge, but rather a tyrannical Throng bound by the laws of Nature and History, according to which neither the will nor the mere existence of the Individual may determine anything more than a flick of the painter’s brush.

The very act of generating flight, or even that of simply imagining it finished on the paper, entails firstly the need to abandon any attempt at imposing wholeness, coherence or unity of perspective. The only thing certain is that of the paradox itself: there may be no global reflection or general perception if not via the relinquishment of a view of the whole. What is the whole, Luca seems to ask, if not an experience of movement? The endless transformations of the swarm cannot but be seen in movement, be it that of the insects and frogs, be it that of the painter poised above the paper, or the visitor who moves along, steps back, turns around and walks back towards the images in the so vain yet so human hope of capturing a single essence of the swarm.

In flight, the paradoxes multiply and interplay to form a endless stream of unsatisfactory answers. Tracing out a sign means both taking and refusing a stance: a dynamic, unstoppable reflection, ever-present in the conscious intent of the work. The swarm throbs with the ineffable tension between comprehension and action: the former an inevitably simplifying, limiting, local force by virtue of its being individual; the latter a relentless process of continuous, extenuating, illogical transformation. Homo sapiens lives in the time and space of the very nature which defines the boundaries of her animal existence. The human is thus unavoidably defined by the horde. However, there is no love, nor any significant social relation, least of all a purpose to be witnessed in the flight: just the ceaseless drone of tumultuous passions, an incessant journey which is a guarantee of survival as vital as it is mysterious.

The question is multifaceted, both prescriptive and descriptive at once. It withholds the seeds of many answers but offers no solution, no decision – as can be the privilege of thought in images. Any written answer will inevitably reduce the complex range of perspectives present in the work. Nevertheless, Luca still makes use of words. He is fascinated by language to the point that he inserts it as a separate element with its own voice along the path beaten by the images. The artist is all too aware of the impossibility to separate the worlds of the body, verbal analysis and that of the finished image. We can almost make out the movements of the single, living, thinking and doubting body at work. Everything in the image is action: the tiniest stroke of the brush, watercolour appearing both harsh and slight on the sheet. Everything in action is thought: a commentary as fragmented as the experience which produces it, and therefore rightly expressed through a blend of impulsive exclamations, long-pondered reflections and natural yet knee-jerk reactions to the march of history.

It almost goes without saying that the most evident and important paradox of flight is that my father believes in Man. More than a matter of faith, his is a desire, a wish without great expectations but with a deep-seated and overwhelming sense of justice. There is no hope to be found in the throng of insects all intent on their aimless swirling. Despite this, the action carries on, along with the oft-frenetic series of events which are at times cyclical, rarely stable, but always provocative. Human livelihood ploughs on through the flow, through the continuous transformation which leaves nothing in a fixed, permanent state, not even in the moment of Judgement – this too is merely a passage. Thus, in this evolutionary process (where ‘evolutionary’ indicates the continuous self-constitution of the biological, rather than a rational aspiration to a progression), the human animal writhes along his search for individual freedom as longed for as it is seemingly unobtainable.

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Sabina Leonelli, September 2004

Intimate rituality

by Franco Farina

Immediately Eros-Thanatos, the instincts of life and death that since forever have shaped the human vicissitudes. Then, watching carefully, a subtle blend of artfully juxtaposed “intimate rituality” and macabre eroticism, that trancend their contingent representations, trespassing into philosophy and mystical-symbolic literature.

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Franco Farina, September 1992

But is it a dream?

by Luciana Frigieri Leonelli

An agile and whimsical line that doesn't break the equilibrium of the articulation creates the will to sink into a soft shape. I'm immediately on her side (or his, the skeleton's). The stimulus is epidermal revenge against culture and the charm of mysteries, books tortured by time and accredited by dogma, bells bouncing off the living to accelerate the pact with heaven. Then, the reasoning. The “dance of death”, that imperishable spring to which everybody adapts even those that don't know the rhythms of life, has been a XVIth century nightmare, when a single vertical road was drawn from Earth to “what lies beyond”, no deviation was possible. The XVIIth preferred to find refuge in extasies and thus kick those that favoured the Absolute. The XVIIIth and XIXth have folded themselves into a reality with which they competed. The XXth century has ignited the embers of “how much am I worth?” and the channels have exploded. Let's have a look at this 1992 dance of death. She (the woman) has flesh and muscles, hairs that stretch out, eyes and ears like protective valves, and nerves at her command. She's afraid of her habits. As habits are form, habits are the look projected outward, the civilised voice. She is shape, formula, volume. Maybe she has learned something, this woman with hairs going everywhere, but in front of the skeleton that provokes her “it's a dream”, that seduces her “me the pursuer, I'm worth more than you the protagonist of this vanity”, so I say, grab that still-pawing dream, blonde. It has no voice, has no eyes, has no hearing. It asks to teach you. Then it will disintegrate, as is the destiny of every dream…

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Luciana Frigieri Leonelli, September 1992

Luca Leonelli

by Giorgio Cornia

It can be said that the painting of Leonelli is not the outcome of instinctive impulse, but a matter of feeling and emotion, a complex and always mysterious relationship; a permanent research into natural manifestations that are discovered through observation. An intrigue of turnip greens becomes a painting, each animal or natural thing around us becomes a living subject in an animalistic and human bestiary. For Leonelli, Painting is an apt means not for reproducing the evidence of things and shapes, but for searching a special identity in the complex and profound relationship between man and world beyond any representative anecdote. He crystallizes miraculously his expressive capability and reveals the degradation of humanity. His brush is a scalpel that delves into the human body, as in the numerous representations of Saint Jerome, key person of his recent work […]

This process of reduction to absence is joined by the action of searching the most intimate I of the artist, an observation of close-ups that introduce themselves as vegetable memories or sensors, softness and weight of human tissues. A plastic language follows from it, lyrical and conceptual, a progress stemming from inventing metamorphoses of stories. Of Leonelli's pictorial language, we can say it's the representation of the image […]

It's obviously impossible to unravel in the terms of this very short note the complexity and sophistication of Leonelli's pictorial language, the shapes and colours expressed, not provisory and sketchy, the painting is moved, drawn and painted by a masterly hand like the aquarel that the artist has mastered in a wonderful way, from the liquid transparence of bodies to the immediate naturalism with which he translates greenery, insects and animals into images of pure colour. The pictorial world of Leonelli has a strong poetic sensibility and a great human richness that can translate his fervent cynicism into lighting parable, and testimony to his fantasy seems suddenly different and ready to let his artistic vision excell with temperament and a strong romantic vein.

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Giorgio Cornia, La Provincia Di Modena, March 1994

Newspaper articles about the personal exhibition in gallery ADAC (Modena, 1985)

[…] I must start by saying that I liked what he paints and how he paints it. I think I have also understood that painting for Luca is a vital act, his most authentic way of holding a dialogue with us, to communicate his feelings about things in the visible realm and in the invisible but existent realm inside us, in their articulating and development between dream and reality, between past and present [...] Many works by Luca Leonelli have given me strong feelings with their modest irony, subtle and pointed, that invades and permeates and which serves as brake to inner “rage” provoked by the disappointments of human behavior in this society that never broke completely free from barbarism, but rather, turn back to it with all the “neo” and “isms” that summarize its causes [ ...] I believe that Luca Leonelli belongs to the category of those who suffer from the fall of the great ideals. It seems essential to me that Leonelli proposes through his painting a sincere reflection on the possible destiny of humanity […]

sottile e pungente che le invade e le permea e che funge da raffreno alle “rabbie” interiori suscitate dalle disillusioni dei comportamenti umani di questa società civile che mai si libera completamente dalla barbarie ma, anzi, vi ritorna con tutti i “neo” e gli “ismi” che ne sintetizzano le cause […] Credo che Luca Leonelli appartenga alla categoria di coloro che soffrono la caduta delle tensioni ideali. Mi pare preminente che con la sua pittura Leonelli ci proponga con sincerità una riflessione sull'umano destino possibile […]

Mario Cadalora, October 1985

[…] Presents himself with a figurative solidity […] it's the authority, the assuredness with which Leonelli defines his figures, cutting them forcefully from spaces; that is what makes this painting into something solid, almost strong, and at times heroic.

Carlo Federico Teodoro, L'Unità, October 1985

[…] a meditative mind that is punished by the absoluteness of a labour, that goes deep inside and gives reason to the soul and motivates existential participation, before being a plastic and graphical “product” […] Thus, when Leonelli's hand leaves you behind and extends itself beyond the dramatic and excited envelope of the human form, you find him placidly evoking running animals in recognizable poses that carry all the destructive though solitary beauty of a transfiguration that touches poetry.

Casimiro Battelli, Nostro Tempo, October 1985

[…] These figures, with a renaissance puissance about them, move between epic and irony, closer to sneering than to desperate screaming… …the images have the advantage of an autonomous expressive originality, and arouse strong emotions. […] A true artist, in short, who goes on a agitated search for himself when retelling the  story […]

Ferruccio Veronesi, Il Resto Del Carlino, October 1985

[…] If there's irony, it can only be corrosive; in the sense that it puts into relief the vanity of any certainty and the precariousness of any solid structure. In the inability of completely following, even a sensual lifestyle, man can find a space for his “suspended identity” with a “neutral field” around the figures which seemingly ask to be completed, at least by the observer's fantasy.

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Michele Fuoco, Il Giornale Nuovo, October 1985