Art is Battle. Xante – Gazzetta del Sud


By John

The one hundred works that make up the anthological exhibition set up in Pavia, now his adopted city together with Milan, are significant of an artistic journey that is always “anti” and “against”, not out of bias, but as an expression of a convinced journey towards the essence of art. Against painting as mere decoration, even when it is of undoubted beauty, because according to him art must always have a meaning in order to bear witness to its time and exercise an inalienable right of social criticism. Xante Battaglia, 81 years old in excellent health, tied to his beloved Calabria (he was born in Gioia Tauro, his father was a citrus fruit merchant) at the opening of the exhibition he always appears combative and ready to contest, almost as if his well-known post-consumerism has continued its journey towards post-post-consumerism to point out how the human society of which we are part tends to get sicker and sicker rather than heal.
Hat on his head and bright self-designed tie, he is the demonstration of the versatility of his being an artist (as well as a teacher) and of a career, in the conceptual figurative field, which has seen important international stages. The opportunity is inviting for a conversation with him.

From veiled women to slashes, from erasures to cubes, from binary works to cans and the recycling of pizza and egg containers: a long journey “against”, questioning art as decoration and as a market. Before examining the individual “periods”, can you explain the constant essence of your path?

«I would say the odi et amo of the Latins. Hatred that aspires to love with the post-archaic figure, mirrored and opposed to what is only fashion. I have always proposed values ​​and with the conceptual I demystify all powers.”

Let's start with veiled women. Someone saw the Muslim women of today, but in reality she had left from her Calabria.

«Yes, the veiled women come from the black widows of Calabria, on the other hand newspapers and politicians have speculated».

Let's move on to the glimpses. Many were impressed by the one regarding Paul VI: it was not fashionable to desecrate the Popes. Where did he want to take those who looked at his works?

«The painted gashes or scars wanted to lead man to find himself beyond modern myths. The one on Paul VI, in 1968, preceded the other by Cattelan on John Paul II hit by the meteorite”.

So the cubes: six faces for a single meaning?

«Cubes or iconocubes are a syntactic process, a union of many means: painting, photography, three-dimensionality. I exhibited them at the Venice Biennale in '76 and at the Bonino Gallery in New York in '77.”

The works of binary code: a detail to better explain everything.

« “Xante Battaglia, a talent through a style”, so wrote Pierre Restany in 1977 about the “Binary Discovery of Particulars”, seeing it as an open code of polyidentity. The Binaria comes after the painted scar having the same content but more subtle, as Restany always wrote. Next to a whole figure I extrapolated a significant detail.”

Cans and now cardboard recycling. Isn't this a topic that many people engage in?

«I rely on another critic, Carmelo Strano, who on the occasion of this exhibition in Pavia wrote: “Battaglia, through his style of recycling containers, which starts from '78 and reaches today, is innovative because it synthesizes the ethics with aesthetics”.

You used photography a lot, considering it an art form suited to our time. For this reason he has often been compared to Andy Warhol. But his path is very far from pop art. Do you want to explain why?

«The medium of the photo is the new current “painting”, mine is a post-pop and post-consumerism discourse. I have always been against pop-art, demystifying consumption, contrary to what the Americans and provincial Italians have done.”

About Warhol: She met him during his exhibitions in New York and the famous critic Gregory Battcock (who wrote about her many times) arranged a cross-interview between her and Warhol. How do you remember that experience?

«The interview “Battaglia-Warhol, Reconciliation of painting 76-77” anticipated the transavantgarde; then Bonito Oliva speculated negatively on it as a disaster in contemporary art. I have to add something, even if I'm a little ashamed to say it: Battcock wrote that my art is more valid and ahead of Wahrol's, while Wahrol maintained that I should have added “strokes of red”».

She often returns to Calabria. How do you dream of the future of your homeland?

«In Gioia Tauro I have a house museum and a studio gallery in the centre. Following Neruda's example, I choose my residence in my homeland, that is, in Calabria. Unfortunately it is a land without a future… Calabria is wonderful and magical, but it is a victim of the generosity, egocentrism and self-harm of its inhabitants.”

You have taught in various academies, in particular you held the first chair of Painting in Brera; What characteristics should art teaching have today?

«I have been a teacher in seven academies including Brera. Today they are distorted, teaching should be in relation to science with the most contemporary means: photography, computers, holograms, digital art, artificial intelligence. The machine must be used to obtain more precision and cleanerness.”

If you can, briefly tell us three curiosities. The first concerns his RollsRoyce, transformed into a work of art. Did he have it in exchange for his works? How did he go?

«My “RollsRoyce Cornice”, painted by me little by little over twenty years, has become a legend, I obtained it in exchange for a Porsche Carrera, with which I had been compensated for a few paintings».

The second concerns his artist's book “A man without qualities” on Bettino Craxi, published on the occasion of an exhibition. Is it true that he created dislikes and various problems for her?

«It preceded the ManiPulite scandal by ten years and Italian political history up until today. Of course “offensive” art creates problems! Then Milan was entirely socialist, you can imagine.”

The latest concerns the work in which she inserted a large phallus between the photos of Pope Ratzinger and his secretary and which earned her a conviction for contempt of the Catholic religion. Would you do it again?

«Yes, I would do it again, because, as a critic wrote in Art Tribune in my defense, it was not aimed at people but it was a specific artistic gesture against pedophilia».