Sometimes, I ask Federico to teach me something, he perfectly knows what I mean. Maybe is Happyhour’s time and we are sitting at a bar table , so he says: Ok, let’s raise! Then he dips his forefinger in the wine and he makes it dripping on the ground. ”Voy a dar de beber a los muertos”, he explains to me with a smile . Other times he tells me ”clips” about his childhood in Colombia , of how chasing a beheaded chicken with the other kids in her grandmother’s farmyard, when a guest came to lunch ,was funny . The honour to murder an animal was reserved to the guest , but if he couldn’t, they called the ”capataz”.
After the execution , all the children chased behind the bird’s body still moved by miracolous nerve impulses. He puts the paintbrush between his teeths the and he mimes incontrolled movements with the arms to right and left. I absorb every single word as those of a story, I don’t forget no one detail of that Federico tell me.
He calls me Estrella , he portrays me with Atena’s helmet or by profile in front of a sky full of white stars , because my suitable colour is the white , we have agreed on it one day in his old atelier on the hundrteth floor of a palace in Canneto il Lungo. His colour? Green oil as the eyes , inherited by his great-grandma, that who was Lebanese married with a German. And green like his hands, stained of emerald green, since I have know him. A sign of recognition, the green fingerprint , a bit ”alien” , that he leaves on the books we each other borrow, so that, little by little under the title Cien años de soledad I always find the stamp of his fingertips. As Virginia Woolf said as regards the writing (and we are talking about always of art) we must be aliens of everything.
Elegant dresses for some cerimonies, I remember about Federico in a dark suit who was apologizing because of his green hands, alien of everything. Class can’t be stolen…
He draws the architecture, the infrastructural hotchpotch tipic of our days, the city.
Many different cities, as a matter of fact , but in my opinion we have the impression that every view of Milan, Venice, St. Petersburg belongs to Genoa in the same way that it belongs to Federico: his city is a lived and reviewed city in a dream, which has taken part of a Barranquilla’s smile in Colombia, the glum expression against the sun of Genoa , and the hyperkinesis of New York. Is The journey stands perhaps in the eyes of who travel and of who comes back to tell us what he has seen?
So the industrial and harbour reality, filtered by his eyes, becomes an organism of veins and arteries , nerves and roof frames ,immortalized in the moment where the energy of who lives that landscape has left the track of the own movement and nothing more. Only to the sign lie the concern of storytelling. Dynamic views, lights of an overnight photography at long time when a busy street by the cars turns itself in a simple beam of incandescent trajectories.
The sensation, is indeed that of stay in front of a viewed landscapes through the window , places from which people leave melancholic and to never they arrive, dirty by the aqueous signes of wire, railways lines, broken and ”back together” horizons . And if the writers use public means of transport or buildings of historical and artistic interest, Federico in his last works is directly passed by the symbol of the national identity – the flag – used as a real support, to send us murales-postcard of the world, step of that journey which he, even though his multi-ethnic origins and his moving life, says to make above all with the fantasy. The colours of the banderas (which he prefers call, in a more international way, flags ) emerge from below and the painting overlaps itself to these ”special” canvas without formal and clear links , as in a photography in a double exposition.
Sittin in his place with the high windows and Camaròn de la Isla that sings by the stereo of a little mp3, I ask him some questions while he’s working.
Which is your first memory linked to art?
My first memory is my dad .. He used to tell me and my brother the life of the painters , he explained us the paintings, he taught me many things. And also a book that he he has made as gift , took at Rome ,on the works by Michelangelo and Raffaello in the Cappella Sistina.
When have you started drawing and which subjects ?
I don’t remember a day in which I haven’t drawn or at least doodled. I used to draw what I saw ,often the lions of the zoo , and then I copied Michelangelo and Raffaello by that book.
What does the word ”travel” means for you?
For me the travel is not only a physic fact, I relate it much more to the curiositness, to the want of know and discover. The literature, the painting, the poetry, well… The art in general , make us travel not only through the places but also during the time, the space, and the fantasy. I find nice communicate with people that have lived 300 years ago.
Perhaps the deepest sense of art , that you have just mentioned communicate with who has came before than us and with who will come after us . Instead , which meaning has paint on a flag of the U.S.A of the Argentine?
No meaning precise, symbolic, manipulable. I only want that the images on the flags are visions, a fleeting moment of my fantasy and of my memories. The idea of the flags was born by my relation with the gallerist – Rotta – who has always believed and followed me in every moment of my artistic career.
Your reference’s models ( not only artistic)?
This is not an easy question. Well, every old masters … A lot of writers, but also characters as Muhammad Ali that is a symbol for his people and his culture ,and Thomas Sankara , who has fought for his dreams and for his freedom.
Curiosity of a writer: you have a citation from a book that you feel yours?
El hombre es dios cuando sueña y apenas un mendigo cuando piensa.
Da Hyperion , di Holderlin. (I make him write on a piece of paper and translate by voice: The man is God when he dreams and only a beggar when he thinks).
And about you.. what do you dream? When you are sleeping, I mean.
I often dream to come back to my childhood . Or I dream that my teeth fall out .
Me too! I dream the same thing! It is said that happens when people are afraid to lose control of theirselves or of someone they love.
The day before my great-grandma’s death I dreamed to spit all the teeth and to deliver them to my mother.
Changing subject …Can you describe me Genoa in a only word?
Do you have any ritual before starting a work?
I paint in the morning, I have the mind freer and sharper than any other moment. I paint with music and with my sneakers on that are always the same by 10 years.
Recently you don’t use anymore the green and you like better the black, why?
Simply because I am beginning to search the colours and I must start with the black in order to add them then.
Indeed you have got black hands , but may I leave ”The green hands ”as title of the piece?
Of course. The look is ever green.
I don’t understand this last answer, but immediately after Federico look at me with the eyes-precisely, – green – and an ironical smile as if the meaning was obvious and I should have
taken a hint on it. So, I transcribe it as he has said it. One day I will ask him what he used to mean and he will take it as inspiration to tell me an another story.
Ester Armanino was born in 1982 in Genoa where she lives and works as architect.
Einaudi has published her first novel, Storia naturale di una famiglia.
Author: Ester Armanino
Translation by Magdalena Pallestrini