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Perceiving the city: painting as a visual storytelling by Ada Patrizia Fiorillo

In the anthology of texts that Francoise Choay realeses in his City. Utopias and reality,a significant collection of writings on urban planning from pre-industrial to industrial society, there is a particular author, Kevin Lynch, whose reflections seem to adapt very well to the work of Mary Cinque.

For this architect, who trained with F.Ll. Wright, and studied disciplines such as anthropology and psychology of the form applied to the analysis of the city (emblematic his The Image of the City, released in 1960), the urban problem is mainly focusing on “the idea of- in Choay’s words – the consciousness that perceives. “

The theme of the city, its perception and the consequent retstitution of its image, is the unifying motif of Mary Cinque pictorial practice, that observes it obtaining, as Lynch would say: “a special pleasure” in drawing information that she added to the her gaze, and then to be translated in her own imagination. “As an architecture – as our author keeps saying – a city is a construction in space, but of enormous scale, an artifact that one can perceive only over long periods of time. The urban design is therefore a time art, but rarely it may take advantage of the limited and controlled sequences that are typical of other temporal arts, such as music. On different occasions and to different people, its sequences are reversed, interrupted, abandoned or intersected. “

Mary has initiated such an important process of survey of the city in a relatively long time: “Display” series, started in 2008, representing the first steps, followed by Lifelines series (2009 – 2013) and then “Berlin”, “USA” and “New York” series in 2012, to “Titled”series that, from the same year, will also include the recent ‘city’ of 2015-16. A timeframe in which the consciousness of her perception has obviously changed, as the imaginative, rendering in its concrete form. Not drastically, though, the artist infact keeps alive some constant codes of her own expressive language. The recurrence to the ceaseless and smooth marker stroke, for instance, whose use, thanks to color textures, represents the link with painting, where the profile of geometric shapes is entrusted by mostly saturated color textures.

Talking about the images, it should be noted that whether the artist’s interest has been hold up, from the outset, by the need to weave stories, subtracting from urban, system now everyday objects, essentially prototypes of a new design, isolated as with “Display” series, in the middle of small canvases; then the tidy network of linear architectures in “Lifelines” series, depicted on small sheets of paper, with a purely graphic intonation; over the time the city has certainly gone emancipating in her glaze. A change, as said, noticeable by subtle but still fully readable nuances. Nourished by travels and relationships with the places she lived in, Mary faced her city perceiving it as a living organism, as a network of relationships and communications, of stratigraphies and surfaces, of a space made of things and forms, or as a stage open to be translated, in the wake of the ideas offered by Calvino, in narrative ground, albeit an imaginative one.

Hence validating the two mentioned cycles, whose register claims Mary’s belonging to a generation fed by visual culture made up of close relationships with photography, comics and movies.

A first approach, therefore, in which the eye went to investigate in the fragment, or, to quote Lynch, “in the illusory realm, in the labyrinth, in the surprise of an environment,” which, besides those objects of desire and memory, beyond anonymous and serial networks of organized spaces for the ability of the sign to be expressive matter, has led her to wander into inhabited cities. It is what is proposed in paintings like “Berlin” or “To Brooklyn RMX” “Little Italy”, “Surf Av” of the New York cycle, where space becomes a place of figures portrayed as silhouette of which Mary has crystallized gestures and movements returning them almost like a cartoon. In this case get to the heart of the metropolis, littering its meanings in the sequence of those frames, was another way to penetrate the environmental image, chasing, in the encounter with the urban chaos, with its intense and pulsing reality, more access points to a dialogue with it. A dialogue that the artist wanted, then, to transfer from absence, to presence, from noise to silence, from disorder to order, ie from tangible matter of the present to the abstract world of design. So it is to be read, I think, the birth of “Titled” series, those surfaces that have reorganized the vision for defined geometries. I would say that this register remains in her rich production a full stop, somehow the experience that best characterizes her since along the wire of constant and diverse variants, emerges, with greater urgency, the reflection of deeper motivations, so the need of a research that, digging into collective identity, looks for personal identity meanings. They are not all the same, Mary’s cities, even where it seems so, at first sight. It is true that they all bring to the surface architecture linear profiles, they empty their volumes, they all use solid colors, they, almost always, prefer the a schematic reduction style.

The difference, however, must be grasped precisely with the last two years works: first in the dimension that led her to confront with broader perspectives. Although this is not negligible, as was the case, this meant reconsidering the space-time dimension that led to articulate the photographic acquisition (starting point of her work) in scenarios where the illusory penetration of space becomes image of time.

Through this combination the artist consciously consumes the painting artifice: she lets slide the frontal image, making use of oblique lines, angular sequences, to flat, “geometries” that add space to the vision; she also plays with color, alternating homogeneous backgrounds with white drafts that create breaks or allude to symbols. So it is in that successful picture of Naples, where Garibaldi statue is reduced to an outline, a simulacrum, faced, paradoxically, by the black Neapolitan coffee great advertising sign.

Other examples shore this new page, other cities are wedged in her eyes, now focusing on soft colors juxtaposed to the raw canvas, taken as a further color, then intense colors that invite to the simultaneous view of ‘utopian’ Futurist memories as in “Spaccanapoli” series, dated 2015.

Mary Cinque knows, and this is her achieved maturity,that the readability of a city is the result of relationships in which the eye of the perceiver has an active role. Penetrate its meanings, its communication codes that support it as signs of a new iconography means, as Lynch suggests, give course ‘to an open order, capable of continuous further development. “This is the direction in which the artist’s eye is moving, looking for a “visual plan” as Lynch would call, for which it is not important “the physical form in itself, but the quality of a mental image” that guides the observer “to see his city, to observe its various forms and how they mesh with one another. “