Between the driving force of Cavalli and the technical power of Fornara stands the madman, the joker, the truly unclassifiable artist, insufferable for some, pure genius, and therefore voluntarily misunderstood: Lorenzo Peretti Junior. The man himself, with all his eccentricities consecrated to the extreme and his anxious and unambiguous desire to get to the bottom of things, bursting with iconoclastic violence (he "kills", though never repudiates, his master Cavalli and his confrère Fornara) and histrionic nobility; that Lorenzo Peretti Junior, the one portrayed as a wild painter, a crazy monk, the artist from Val Vigezzo: brilliant, irascible, persistently and perpetually hostile to the claustrophobic, self-satisfied art world. Coming to the study of Fornara through the publications of Dario Gnemmi, I identified the year 1922 (which coincides with Fornara's official exit from the art clubs of Italy in favour of a life of luminous solitude, with no gallerist vultures or promotional bandwagons or political camps) as an aesthetically and ethically prodigious and promising moment: his choice of austere seclusion, in its way inevitable, added lustre and distinction to Fornara's genius. The light of that choice illuminated the artist's works, making them more genuine, authentic, personal. Yet, turning from Fornara to the contemplative quiet of Ciolina and the reassuring grace of Rastellini, I slammed brutally into Lorenzo Peretti Junior. A brusque, deliberately difficult painter, vigilant and presumptuous - because of the techniques he used and his outrageous decision to hide his works, from the very beginning, from the late nineteenth century onwards (after his apprenticeship at the Rossetti Valentini art school and the canonical trip to France, and perhaps after watching his friend Fornara fall into the clutches of Divisionism), almost all of which live in the timeless realm of the "undated", like the wall carvings of a primordial master, like excavations that speak to us from the unnerving past or from a future formed of rare survivors - Lorenzo is an artist who risks being barely noticed.
I remember I was fascinated by this critical insight of Gnemmi's, decisive for any artistic strategy: "If an artist can work for himself, defying the limits of his knowledge or the boundaries set by critics and the inevitable judgements, sometimes harsh, sometimes hasty, made by a public in many cases devoid of education and information; if an artist is content to make discoveries and, with no need to sell, does not exhibit his work or show it to anyone; if an artist is so cultured that he has discovered the very essence of his potential creative will and wants to translate it into acting in complete freedom from the bonds of a common poetics or collective interventions, then that artist, at the cost of being labelled a misanthropist, will have perhaps discovered the principle of his equilibrium."
This is a stern and crucial concept: art has its origins in the memorable solitude of the individual to then turn to address an other - without that other it is defeated, irremediably altered. Lorenzo Peretti Junior seems to have disintegrated the referent of his work, and so his paintings are like medical reports from a world swept away: hints of a pagan and lost Arcadia (the enchanting Woods of the Druids [Bosco dei druidi], apparent also in the peaceful Undergrowth [Sottobosco] where trees, river and bushes are like creatures in motion: wild boar, hawks or extra-terrestrial jaguars), the entrails of ruined villages, undone by neglect and greed, as in the magnificent Oratory [Oratorio] where a small white church, perfect as the Heavenly Jerusalem, shimmers above denuded yellow fields that resemble a desert, and trees reduced to tangled black threads of iron that nail heaven to its sins.
Then there is the legend of Lorenzo Peretti Junior, a painter so sure of his greatness that he allowed himself or even wanted to be considered less a painter than a madman and a layabout. There are no images of Lorenzo. We know him from a portrait made of him by Fornara in 1890: nineteen years old, hair parted in the middle, big unkempt moustache and a violent gaze, eyes slanted and narrowed, like an outlaw who challenges weaklings to a duel for money then seduces - and frightens - their women. There is also a photograph: it shows Giovanni Battista Ciolina, standing, his wife, kneeling, and their little daughter; Lorenzo is seated next to the little girl, we see his hat, his moustache and beard, but the face in the photo has corroded away and the eyes cannot be seen, like an ambiguous sign of blindness (eyes not adapted to this earth).
There is also his pervasive cultural anarchism: Lorenzo Peretti Junior pursued an artistic path all his own, corroborated by sinister, complex readings. His library, recently dismembered - seriously compromising the reconstruction of his aesthetic journey - is one of the most impressive and bizarre in the Val Vigezzo, the locus of his "...encounter with the thought of Steiner and with Kardec, his reading of Eliphas Levi and the Buddhist and yogic texts, and his exploration of the non-systematic Western philosophies [which] led the artist to an inner freedom ultimately devoid of rationalistic constraints and expressed as pure insight" (Gnemmi). The publication and partial interpretation of his "Spiritual Testament" provided another key to understanding this brilliant and mysterious artist who is like a literary creation of Jorge Luis Borges, decidedly different from his father Bernardino, very elegant, well-groomed and severe, from a photograph of whom his son, in 1894, exercised his skills in a vivid portrait that made his parent seem more benevolent and less self-possessed.
This is the reason why, without entering into their merit, the Vase of Flowers [Vaso di fiori] by Lorenzo Peretti Junior is drastically different from the ones depicted by Cavalli and Fornara. His vase stands in a rough grey setting, encircled by fruit, while sticks, branches and flowers that look like bronze circles emerge from its innards. It is as though we are observing the scene in a mirror scorched by time, whose glass is beginning to melt from the inside, warping a clear and accurate view. Consequently the image seems remote, or a prophecy of a time still to come; consequently it is not so much eternity that vanquishes us, but something harsher and more difficult to paint. Lorenzo Peretti Junior found the point of fusion between past and future, discovered the timelessness of memory and prediction. What has been merges with what will come to be, and above the immense waterfall of time the painter erected his kingdom, his immaculate refuge.
In the same way, the glimpses of nature - always grim and livid, captured in an instant of complete awareness inside a vortex of mania and madness, like Grey Landscape [Paesaggio grigio] or the analogous Landscape [Paesaggio], devoid of melancholy or valedictory violence - show the proud vibrant form of things: the mountains look like the back of a galloping horse, the lanes like the fangs of an invincible tiger. Peretti Junior discovered that there is no boundary between things, only an exchange of forms, that time is a bizarre notion created by man, which will last as long as man does, that death has already happened and already been defeated. So there is no need to hope for resurrection, because ultimately we are all already the risen from the dead, the unquiet survivors. It is an extreme artistic achievement, which only seclusion permits, and only in rare cases, that carries the works of Peretti Junior into areas beyond the confines of art: they must be learned, properly, like scripture.
Text by Davide Brullo
Taken from Passionate Incompetence. The First Fifty Years of the Poscio Collection
Volume edited by Marcovinicio, M.me Webb Editore, Domodossola 2011