Love in the Time of Existence
It’s a glorious spring afternoon, the sun beats down on budding crops and burnished hill tops as I speed through Italy’s picture-perfect countryside. Deep below the meandering ancient footpaths etched into her rolling landscape, the train glides through the majestic Alps; Emilia Romagna slipping into Tuscany in less than an hour. In this day and age, so ‘close’ are Bologna and Castiglion Fiorentino that one can easily forget they are two entirely different regions. I am on a journey to see a Tuscan Maestro, a unique sculptor who was born here in this remarkable part of the world. It has been almost two years since I first stood in awe, transported by his sculptures in Borgo Pignano: today I will meet their creator.
Sculpture in the distance, Borgo Pignano
We drive down into the valley of Castiglion Fiorentino, glimpsing the Maestro’s public works of art as we go, rising and falling, winding to our destination. His atelier’s gates lie open, welcoming visitors into a garden of creativity - Il Parco della Creatività - a quiet and restful place filled with flowers, trees and flagstone paths leading from one work of art to the next. In the background, the sound of a hammer working metal rings out in the air. Lying in the afternoon sun, golden-bronze spheres glint displaying their weathered textures and bronze couples lock in love’s embrace, dancing with entwined bodies melting into one another, hundreds of blue-green olive leaves adorning their outstretched arms.
Il Parco della Creatività
‘The artist's atelier forms a single entity with the park where historical pieces are on display: a simple wall keeps the exhibition area separate from the spaces devoted to creation. There, large workbenches, furnaces, shelves packed with figures at different stages of completion and all kinds of tools lay strewn about in apparent disarray, while monumental statues standing like guardians in the garden seem to watch over the work of their creator’.1 This is the Atelier and these are the words of the Italian Maestro, Andrea Roggi:
When I was young I had a dream,
to speak to people all over the world.
Because, we are all just one being, connected by a ray of light, a ray of love and creativity.
We must communicate this joy of life, its beauty, its simplicity and happiness.
But how can one person coming from a small town communicate, not knowing foreign languages and without support?
Only with Fantasy.
My dream came true through Sculpture...
The place is alive with movement, of people and ideas, a swirling centre of creativity. I see clay figures on spinning stands and countless tools splayed over surfaces, momentarily resting, waiting to be picked up. I get the feeling that my visit has momentarily suspended their creative dance in the hands of this mysterious artist. Seeing signs of drying out, Andrea lovingly mists a clay couple in clouds of water droplets, leaving their skin glistening. You have to work quickly he tells me, clay dries in a moment if left to dehydrate and then shaping it becomes almost impossible. He works initially in clay on a rotating stand because clay is an immediate and highly malleable material. I imagine him toiling in a restless fury of creative emotion and expression, spinning the sculpture around this way and that. The clay models are then transformed into bronze through a historic and now rare wax casting process. Andrea uses bronze as the defining material in his sculpture because it transmits a feeling of ‘heavyness’, possessing the ideal combination of solidity and density for a truly forceful impact on the senses; metals carry with them associations of power and timeless endurance, values which we have attached to them for generations.
‘The lost-wax casting is a process for manufacturing bronze statues that has been used since ancient times. Two lost-wax techniques exist: the direct and indirect methods. With the direct method, the artist creates a wax model, then coats it with clay to produce a mould; the mould is subsequently heated to let the wax escape and the empty cavity is filled with molten bronze. The final piece thereby obtained is solid and identical to the wax model. Conversely, with the indirect method the final piece will be hollow and the wax model is created from the mould of a first clay model. As a first step, the artist creates a clay model of the statue, from which a negative mould is obtained, nowadays made of silicone, whereas traditionally the material used was plaster. Once the silicone has hardened, the clay is removed and the mould is coated with liquid wax using a brush.The wax is allowed to set and, when solidified, reproduces the original model; the artist works on this wax replica to minutely focus on all the detailing that will be reproduced on the final statue. At this point, the wax model is fitted with tubes and supports, which will serve as runners for the molten bronze to flow through and as air vents for gases to escape…once the molten bronze is poured in, the wax melts and is therefore "lost", replaced by bronze. Bronze is a metal alloy composed of approximately 90% copper and 10% tin…the melting point varies, roughly between 880 °C and 1020°C. The molten bronze is poured into the casting mould held upside down, which, after cooling, will be opened to reveal the bronze figure. The bronze statue must now undergo an additional process, equally long and exacting, that includes the cleaning, finishing, and polishing of the surface….various processes and chemical substances are used by the artist to give bronze a wide variety of blue and green hues, while polishing is performed on parts that will take on a golden glow. As a naturally occurring process, the development of a patina results from weathering, which leads to the oxidation of the bronze surface’.2
His galactic bronze spheres each represent mother earth and the roots of his Trees of Life find their origin in these earthy mires. Inspired by the century old cypress and olive trees surrounding his atelier, the trees of life reach up to the cosmic sky, sending out branches dressed with green leaves and golden olive fruits.
‘Call me not wise unless you call all men wise. A young fruit am I, still clinging to the branch and it was only yesterday that I was a blossom. And call none among you foolish for we are neither wise nor foolish. We are green leaves upon the tree of life and surely life itself is beyond wisdom and surely beyond foolishness’.
― Kahlil Gibran, The Garden of The Prophet
Through the widespread iconography of the Tree of Life, Andrea speaks to us of heritage and belonging, and the roots of our existence. Through the new green leaves and the olive fruits that shoot from and ripen on their wirey branches, he narrates the trajectory of each individual human life upon the tree of human existence. The roots of the tree are exposed in some of his sculptures, their unearthing revealing the essence of our historical belonging to a world left to us by those gone before. Where the olive branches have been pruned, their raw tips are plated with gold; pruning away what we need to let go from the past allows new growth to be unpolluted - nourished only by the best we have to offer - both to our future selves and those we will leave the earth to. And between mother earth and the heavens Andrea’s two figures embrace, folding into the trunk of the tree of life, their bodies revealing the essence of love, not just the love between two people, but a sense of our shared belonging to each other and our native land.
Andrea: Only with love and the union of individuals that human creativity forges can the world ascend to a higher plane, without these two elements we will be unable to take the next step. Love gives meaning to life and is the connecting thread between all beings and things that appear in the world. Usually we think of the love between two people, but love is what connects everything because everything is one; ultimately at the heart of existence we are all one with one another and the whole world.
Zoë: Through your sculpture, love is immortalised as an ephemeral, spiritual and transcendental entity, as well as an earthy and tangible world presence. Can you explain your experience of love?
Andrea: When you look at my work you can see love in its duality, it’s even in the material I use…
Andrea uses various techniques; melting, carving and smoothing the final bronze phase of his sculptures making this heavy, solid substance appear weightless, elegant, liquid and in a state of constant movement and transformation.
Andrea: …my figures, people, physically embrace together as one, that’s the first thing that you notice when you see my sculpture. But inside this bodily embrace is something more spiritual because in the end, real love is exactly that. The best thing is when two people melt together, it happens, it’s difficult for those it happens to because in these times, in our world, everything is accelerated and this can cloak the spiritual depths of real love. But sometimes, you can find someone with whom you can think and be as one. And that is the best, I think, moment in this experience we call life; the moment of real love that reveals our primordial connection to everything.
Each of us, a ‘green leaf’ upon Andrea’s proverbial tree of life, are endlessly malleable and he is perennially bending and rebending each leaf, renewing their unique figurations. Rather fitting really, we are all constantly in flux, being blown this way and that by the winds of life, love and time. As often as possible Andrea’s sculptures spin, swing and bounce, he’s always on to the next idea with an insatiable appetite to reach the essence of the message he is trying to convey about the nature of a human life. The most recent concept to be born from his curious mind is a continuum; a continuous swirling of porous bronze that reminds me of the Milky Way from space. The essence, he says, of human existance is a whole and everlasting circle, a ring of energy in constant transformation. We are not only our physical bodies, at the molecular level we are energy and that energy extends beyond the fleshy boundaries of our seemingly finite bodies. We are all part of a cosmic union that is all living and ‘inanimate’ things, and within us heart, mind and spirit come together for the duration of our lifetimes. It is a delicate dance this thing called life and the choreography we follow is often beyond our comprehension. But I get the feeling from listening to Andrea speak, that we can trust in the unknown. His sculptures reflect the ‘forever coming into being’ that defines our human existence; in their weathering of the seasons of life, they are transformed by the elements over time, just as we are. The essence of Andrea’s artistic message is always the same; we are all connected, we are all one.
Beauty, helps the message we are all one be heard, Andrea reflects, because beauty draws its viewers transfixed, holding their gaze, allowing the philosophical message of a piece to enter their subconscious and be truly seen and heard in a direct form of communication. A small true gold sphere placed at the centre of energy in his works of art symbolises the essence of human being, of our life force energy, and he places the sphere where the focus of the work is. Placed at the roots of the tree - heritage is the focus, placed between two figures embracing as the trunk of a tree - the focus is love, the melting of two souls into one.
Zoë: After all this time concentrating on and working around the central principles of human existence, in your opinion what is our reason for being?
Andrea: If we really think about what is important in life, it’s a handful of things. We work like crazy to obtain so many other things but usually we don’t need many of these things, not really. At the centre of human life is, I think, love - the connection of love, the search for the energy that is love, this energy that connects all the things around us. But it can be difficult to find sometimes, difficult to feel, things are so disconnected, why? I ask myself. I think it’s important to connect people with this concept right now, especially in our times; this concept of our holistic interconnectedness as being manifested by the energy of love that is present, as potential for connection, in everything that colours existence including each of us. The international interest that we all share in making sure that this philosophy is made concrete is immense. There are high stakes. We are all so distracted away from the essential transcendent qualities of our existence but many of us are trying in some way to break free from these distractions. These days, we are encouraged to live in a certain way, to try to be like others, to fit in, to blend in but in truth we are already one, and instead the beauty of the world is that everything is different; completeness is found in the fact that we are all a bit different which together creates a unique perfection. Just as we see in nature, each being is different from another but in fact the beauty of nature is found in the diversity of all beings and things that make up the whole of nature.
Zoë: What is beauty exactly?
Andrea: True beauty? I don’t know exactly, but I think it’s when we see and we perfectly hold in our mind’s eye not only certain proportions but the right energy; when that which we behold in front of us touches our cores, creating an idea of perfection in our minds. Everyone tries to explain what the world is, what life is, but it is impossible to know exactly what it is because it’s too complicated: we see and we touch with our senses and they are so limited so it is impossible to know life in its essence through the senses alone. In the end, it's all about connection, the best thing in my opinion in the whole of the universe as we know it is magnetism - this is the fundamental force that connects everything.
Zoë: Is that why you try to communicate with people’s subconscious through your work? Because then you can somehow speak straight to the essence of a person’s being?
Andrea: We don’t think that dreams are really important but dreams are a big part of our lives and when we dream it looks like this! Like reality! We don’t often think about that or fully comprehend the significance of dreams because when we wake up, after we touch other things, we see other things, we forget. But the subconscious is a huge part of your life, it’s a strange entity because it is a speedier form of relating to the world. When you decide or create with the subconscious, your decisions and your creativity come to you more easily, it’s free and it’s open and you can do so much more by inhabiting the subconscious than you can when you live in the push and pull of your external ‘reality’ alone. Engaging with the subconscious level of being brings with it a greater sense of connection and more creative ideas, it’s probably even more important than reality in that you can connect with what is real, haha, well not ‘real’ but what is most important.
Zoë: Where is the subconscious held? Is it in the head, the heart, no place at all, is it energy?
Andrea: Many think it’s in the body but I don’t think this is so.
Zoë: Do you mean we are not limited to the confines of the body?
Andrea: I don’t think we are, we are all one, probably there are something more than meets the eye. What makes all ideas, including the subconscious itself, evolve, probably doesn't have an exact point; I don't think so. I think that ultimately it’s magnetic energy that creates all of this because in the end if we think about it, it all starts from nothing, which is actually not nothing but a kind of plane of infinite potential. The concept of the universe as a void, proposed by various scientists, is an error. In theory, the void cannot exist because the whole universe is magnetized. When we realise that there is no void, we can better conceive that everything is part of a continuum that is something that completely completes everything, that binds the amalgam, something that is extremely, well, fine, but not empty.
Zoë: So when you design the continuum, the everlasting swirl of porous bronze, are you expressing this exact philosophy?
Andrea: Yes, even at the personal level.
Zoë: Lots of Eastern philosophies contain similar ideas about the nature of our existence, do any of these interest you?
Andrea: Yes I am interested in Eastern philosophies, but the strange thing about many philosophies is that they seem perfect on the surface but in reality, when you look closer at people’s lives, they aren’t living in line with these original philosophical concepts.
Zoë: Do you mean when philosophies and religions are used to control people?
Andrea: Yes, it’s strange to me that we live in a world that could give us all everything we could ever need, but continually we witness people enslaving other people and despite huge developments in technology, this fact remains unchanged. If we think we are now so intelligent, why haven’t we been able to find a way to live in peace as opposed to in constant conflict - it’s crazy if we think about it.
Zoë: Despite this ongoing conflict in the world, how can we become part of the solution by tuning into what binds us together in the contiuum? For example, when you’re creating something, when you are in front of the clay and you’re making something with your hands, is that how you connect with the most eternal part of yourself?
Andrea: Yes, when you work you are inside what you do, you are so concentrated on the unfolding moment that you don’t hear other things around you - you are one with the clay, melting into one. That happens, it’s a strange sensation but it’s like making love, it’s really very similiar, like losing yourself in another dimension.
Zoë: Maybe that’s why when you create something in that dimension of experience, other people are able to intuitively connect with your work because of the way in which you created by fusing yourself into the clay; bestowing upon your sculptures an immediate power or portal, that can effortlessly transport other people into their own experience of that same dimension.
Andrea: Yes, they are free moments, a little bit outside of reality - it’s not conscious. Everything comes easily and without obstacle when you don’t think too much, step-by-step everything arrives. These moments must be totally free, if you start thinking, ‘I must do this for… because…’ and so on, it doesn’t work.
Zoë: Lastly, I want to ask you about time…
Andrea: I depict time in my sculptures, if we’re thinking just about us alone it’s a spiral because we begin and we end. Time itself, I think, is a circle because it never ends. But these shapes are just our perception of time, unique to us human beings, because we need a way to think about the course of our lives, this circle of life and the path all the energy of the universe is taking. It’s almost impossible to think about the nature of time, it consumes our brain energy - in the end, we don’t even know if we’re really here or not!
Zoe: Like you say, yes we have our feet on the ground but we have our heads in the universe.
Andrea: What and where are we when we’re dreaming? At the end what is reality, this or our dreams? We are a part of both worlds.
Zoë: Some people would say that the dream, the subconscious is truer because in dreams you can’t lie to yourself, you don’t often think ‘oh I should do or say this’, dreams simply are; like art, you can’t lie in art in the truest sense when you are totally melting into the materials you have in your hands, it just happens, you don’t think ‘should I, should I not, I want to make this perfect thing…’ it doesn’t happen like that.
Andrea: We don’t have the answers but we constantly strive to know, to understand, but in the end what really matters is love; everything is about our deep-rooted need for connection.
I am moved by Andrea’s ability to capture the duality of being that animates human life; feet planted on mother earth, seeking containment, connection and belonging and arms stretched up and out towards the swirling universe all around us in our longing for boundlessness and spiritual enlightenment. Andrea’s newest project is to suspend his representations of Time in a ‘universe’ using magnetic fields. His work is as much philosophy and art as it is technology. He must find the time and discover the technology, he says, to bring this new idea into the light - this important message that although it could seem that in the vast universe we are mere specks of no import, we are important. Step-by-step, he says, ‘I now want to tell that story…’
My sincere thanks to Maestro Roggi and Chiara Barneschi for your warm welcome and making my visit to your atelier possible. It has been a profound experience that I won’t forget.
2019 © Zoë Atkinson Fiennes and Andrea Roggi
1. http://www.andrearoggi.it accessed April 2019
2. http://www.andrearoggi.it accessed April 2019