In search of truth, between art and science, in the works of Enrico Magnani

I met Enrico Magnani at Frame Ars Artes, the Neapolitan gallery of Paola Pozzi, where, until November 27, 2022, there is “Totem and Tao”, a personal exhibition of his. I met an extraordinary person, one of the most interesting I’ve ever met. In appearance he looks much younger than I suppose he is, considering his copious activity. He has the slim, agile figure of a boy and his black eyes sparkle with an undying vitality.

With the precise style of a scientist, he tells me about himself, starting with his degree in nuclear engineering, which crowned his desire to investigate the material world and its mechanisms. He was in Milan, in the university college where he studied, when he realized that current science is channeled in a single direction and has a single practicable way, since it must draw information on the physical world, which comes from many different sources ; therefore it has reached the point where free individual research, the one to which Magnani tended, is materially impossible. So he gives up on it. While he is taken by another passion, painting, an art that he has been cultivating since he was a child.

He becomes a figurative painter: he paints hybrid bodies, monsters, strange figures but he is not satisfied with them. In the meantime, while searching for the True, he came across oriental wisdom. He confides in me, some time ago, he is very young, he ran into what he calls “a sentimental accident”: a bitter disappointment in love. He is desperate. But someone gives him a little book. These are oriental prayers, mantras to be recited. Thus Magnani discovers the East.

He resumes the brushes and the figures, initially monstrous, of a tragic expressionism to understand each other, naturally soften in more sweet cadences. Then, gradually, they go on to represent mystical bodies and symbols. Finally, even the symbols are eliminated from his representations and the suggestion that they inspired remains, the one that the works on display at FrameArsArtes now also have.

They demonstrate an accurate realization, embellished by a refined style and by the colors of blue, gold, fuchsia, black, the favorites of the engineer Magnani. That speaks to me about colors and, mentioning the particular blue of Yves Klein, how they belong to this or that artist, how they have and express a particular personality. And then he reminds me of the thaumaturgical virtue of figurative art, quoting Arthur Schopenhauerthe philosopher who obtained a respite from his constant tormenting anxiety, using the contemplation of the work of art.

Here it is important to remember the title of the exhibition at the FrameArsArtes gallery: “Totem and Tao”. To roughly clarify that the Totems, in this case, are objects that have a supernatural meaning and the Tao is the metaphysical order of Nature. We admire the works exhibited at Frame on the walls all around. They are totems, made of tar, clay, stone, gold leaf and are placed on paper, canvas or velvet. They are generally of contained proportions and each represent a single object, so they clearly cannot represent a movement with respect to another element depicted.

Yet they do not express static nature, it is as if they have an intimate driving force within them, an intimate movement. Magnani clarifies: «I tried to materialize a gesture». Which, in the titles of his works, indicates something like a slide, or an overflow, a fulfillment, a return. A sort of coin is often represented in the picture: it is the magical object used to ask the oracle for an answer. Precisely each work is associated with a response from the I-Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle, an integral part of the tradition of the Tao.

Enrico Magnani, whom I had mistakenly believed to be a rookie, is instead a scientist, a science popularizer and an artist who enjoys international fame and esteem, obtained with his conferences, with his books, personal exhibitions held in Italy (Cagliari, Bologna , L’Aquila, Rome, Reggio Emilia, Milan, Turin and now in Naples) and abroad (Switzerland, USA, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium). And also with the countless group exhibitions created all over the world. There would be so much more to say but I will limit myself to mentioning a recent exhibition by him. It is “Light in the dark”, the interactive exhibition which talked about the wonders of Physics, in the Enzo Biagi auditorium, in Bologna, in July of this year, and which, between the real and the digital, conveyed, with fluorescence, phosphorescence and ultraviolet lights, the complex concepts of our universe through the aesthetics of art.

In search of truth, between art and science, in the works of Enrico Magnani