This painting, which was shown for the first time at the Fundación ”la Caixa” exhibition hall in Madrid, belongs to the ‘Arthur Rimbaud au Harrar’ series. Enzo Cucchi made the series in 1985 to commemorate the journey to Abyssinia of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud to settle in the city of Harar, where he spent the last years of his life. That experience of Rimbaud’s, marked fundamentally by his literary silence and inability to once again be the radical, ground-breaking poet he had been in the past, became a reference for many artists throughout the twentieth century and, at the same time, a metaphor for the difficulty of facing the creative act. In order to bring all of these aspects together, the exhibition Rimbaud et les artistes du xxe siècle was mounted at the Musée Cantini in Marseille in 1991-1992, and Cucchi’s work was selected for it. The same painting was the starting point for a small show entitled Arthur Rimbaud / Enzo Cucchi: Caravanes de relats, presented at the Fundación ”la Caixa” cultural centre in Vic in 1995, which merged the experiences of the writer and the artist. In 1985, Cucchi did a series of paintings based on Rimbaud’s experience in Africa. Without forgetting the poet’s literary legend, his journeys across the desert with the trading caravans that travelled the area around the Gulf of Aden gave Cucchi a crucial reason to reflect pictorially on the desert landscape, the stifling climate of the region, and subjects as evocative as death and silence. For several years his painting had firmly adhered to the fundamental principles of the Italian Transavanguardia—figuration, in other words, with a strong sense of volume in which landscape appeared as both support and motive for experimenting with a variety of new material elements. In this series, however, he strips away all anecdote and focuses fully on the theme of landscape, trying to reflect the vast stretches of desert through which Rimbaud had travelled for over ten years, and which the poet himself had described as “something like the supposed horror of moon landscapes”. In this painting, Cucchi has composed a “caravan of skulls”, returning to an important theme in his work, the presence of death, revealed through the archetypal image of the skull. In their arrangement, the skulls emulate a caravan travelling through the desert—much like in another painting of the same series in which small lorries have replaced the skulls—but at the same time they become a metaphor for the passage of time. The treatment of the pictorial support—in this case, a sheet of iron—enables the artist to lacerate the material and show us a landscape tortured by heat, as dense, bright red, empty and silent as the routes traversed by the poet.
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