Just before noon on a Thursday morning, Milan was draped in a thin fog. The light coming in the room through the skylights was soft as if someone had covered the windows with a thin white curtain. Bronze sculptures of dogs sat in front of me, each depicted in a different position. One of them was scratching his belly. Another stared off into the distance. Another one stretched calmly on the floor in a lazy position. There was something of strangely human in their behavior. Each one of them seemed to be a well-defined individual. They looked sloppy in their loneliness, intentionally roughly shaped in their bronze armors. I had just entered the immense studio space of Velasco Vitali, a 50-year-old Milanese artist, and one of the prominent figures of Italian contemporary art. We sat at a large white table stained with countless brush strokes and talked. Velasco is a good man. He is humble, but his eyes can’t hide a hint of narcissistic melancholy. His words are wise and intellectual, the concepts complex and articulated.
Vitali is an accomplished artist: his work has been shown in some of the major museums in Italy and his last show was at the Royal Palace of Milan.
He started, “In contemporaneity, beauty emerges from human tragedy.” These dogs, one next to the other in his studio or at the Royal Palace of Milan, acquire a crepuscular beauty, some kind of plastic solitude that seems to suit them perfectly. There is a quiet armony in their loneliness.
Velasco continued, “This sense of harmony in things is an aesthetic structure from which I cannot separate myself… The mission of the artist must be of creating beauty in response to human tragedy and failure.”
The dogs in their disconnected and individualistic attitude are nomadic and uncertain. They appear as a clear metaphor for the human condition in modernity.
Velasco is a crepuscular figure, he makes poetry about things that have nothing of poetic. It is in this faith in harmony and narrative that he becomes a positive character.
As is true for every city in the world, many have come to Milan looking to lose their rural identity and become part of a bigger, more complicated system. Velasco Vitali’s dogs are the inhabitants of these cities, which he constantly paints and sculpts. His obsession is the urban scape. Modern life can be unpredictable and uncanny, as he says, “an absurd dream.” As I walked near to the large canvases that were sitting on the floor, the familiar smell of oil paint hit my nose, opening my mind to memories that I didn’t think I possessed anymore. His colors were the ones of the dry Mediterranean, pastel yellows, reds and blues.
In his paintings, Velasco sees the city as a fantastic and absurd place. The city itself appears as a recording of a blurry past. From here Velasco shifts and focusses on abandoned cities that become a recurrent theme through out his carreer. In abandoned cities all the absurdity and madness of modernity collides deeply inspiring him. As we walked again through his atelier, I noticed a big depiction of Michigan Central Station in Detroit. The famous parking lot placed inside of an old theatre says a lot of how cities work: they are built for an ideal reason, or as a utopia, and often end up being used in other ways. Velasco says, “I think of our western cities as the biggest utopic design of mankind. Building and abandoning a city is the process that man undertakes in order to practice this utopia.”
Photographs by Matteo Lonardi