Painting is project, risk, individual adventure, development of an idea articulated in its extreme logic.
Paolo Cotani was born in 1940 in Rome, where he embarked on his early artistic education at the beginning of the 1960s, coming into contact with Gastone Novelli and Achille Perilli, and approaching the Gruppo 63 literary movement. He left for London in 1964 and stayed there until 1970. These were years that marked a watershed in Cotani’s research. The works from this period are assemblages on paper that he entitled WXY, an acronym used by biologists as a classification system. Thanks to his friendship with Joseph Rykwert, he was awarded a professorship at the Colchester School of Art.
He opened his first exhibition at the Ferro di Cavallo in Rome in 1968 and returned to Italy for good in the early 1970s. Giorgio Cortenova and “Analytical Painting” theorist Filiberto Menna followed his work from the very beginning. During these years, he approached the experience of the “New Painting”. This was not a group of artists, but a movement that swept through Europe in the 1970s, characterised by the rejection of the work as an aesthetic object and the reduction of artistic language to essential elements, in a mental process that is never detached from the technical material process and that gives each structure a meaning of its own.
The first Elastic Bandages were exhibited at the 9th Paris Biennial in 1975 and, in the same year, he exhibited in the Analytische Malerei exhibition organised by Bertesca in Genoa, Milan and Düsseldorf.
The poor material, with strong symbolic references, is painted and placed on a loom; the artist encircles the structure, but at the same time reveals the material in the weft of the fabric that takes on form, sign and colour, in a highly pictorial result.
In 1977, Cotani was invited to the exhibition 16 Italian Artists in Rotterdam. At the end of the decade, he experimented with new cycles both with the use of metal, in Fili Battuti, Biffa and Nuvole (1977), works made with silver point on paper, an essential rendering of an ancient and universal iconographic theme, taken to extreme consequences by the expertly anti-naturalistic analysis. Cotani held his first solo exhibition in an Italian public museum in 1979, at Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara. His artistic experimentation evolved and his first works, Gli Archi and Le Vele, featuring a shaped aluminium support, appeared. He subsequently returned to painting with the theme of clouds.
In 1980s, he met Ralph Gibson, with whom he established a long collaboration and realised the exhibition Metafora at the Cantieri Navali della Giudecca in Venice in 1981, for which they created the lithographs of the Metafora series, also presented in New York by Castelli Graphics.
In 1985, he was invited to the exhibition L’Italie aujourd’hui / Italia oggi at villa Arson, Nice. The following year he participated in the 11th Quadriennale at Palazzo dei Congressi in Rome. In the early 1990s, he produced Cancellazioni (1988) and Tensioni, elastic bandages mounted on steel structures.
Cotani’s artistic research into the relationship between sign, material and colour continued, with experiments on the chromatic element, as in the Della Tigre cycle (1987). The anthological exhibition La costanza della visione at Palazzo Forti a Verona in 1991 was significant. Cotani’s work was displayed alongside that of Scarpitta and Castellani in 1992 at the Galleria Niccoli in Parma, at the exhibition Tensioni in superficie.
The artist’s research continued towards the condensation of sign and form, on the tensions and strengths of materials, within the framework of an inescapable formal code, freer from materials and their use.
In 2004, he participated in L’immagine negata at the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain. In 2006, he was invited to Pittura ’70 – Then and Now at the Italian Cultural Institute in London. In 2008, he was at the Permanente in Milan as part of the exhibition Pittura Analitica. I percorsi italiani 1970-1980.
Preparation for an exhibition at Palazzo Ducale in Senigallia was underway when Cotani died in January 2011. His works can be found in important public and private collections, including those at: GNAM – Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Palazzo Forti, Verona, GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bolzano – Italy.
Paolo Cotani. L’aragosta è un mostro delicato, edited by Micol Forti, Milan 2009