There is an engraving by Livio Ceschin which captivated me particularly, among the many surely having the power to captivate as much, not only because they are all sustained by the extraordinary technical mastery so many have already dwelled upon, more belonging to a veteran than a relatively young artist, but for the perfect coherence of poetry that brings them together. I believe this engraving could be of symptomatic inspiration for more complex assessments of Ceschin's art, so I will explain now the reason why I find it so interesting.
I'm thinking about an engraving from 2001, conceived as homage to the most famous 20th century photographer, HCB (Henry Cartier-Bresson). A quotation of his was inscribed at the bottom part of the image with Ceschin's calligraphy, according to a not so rare habit of his. Above the sentence, a marshy environment that could come from the high Adriatic, often represented by Ceschin, taken from a lowered perspective and stretched out in depth, from a bird's eye view. In this flat and wet environment, luxuriant in the richness of intricate vegetation, emerges an almost half-figure of a fisherman next to an umbrella, engrossed in throwing his fishing-rod, while another, who must have already completed the operation, next to an umbrella as well, is hidden by lake plants and reeds. In spite of the different distances from the onlooker, they are so coordinated, these fishermen, that the one could constitute the preceding stage of what the other one is doing, and vice-versa, as if it had to do with one person represented simultaneously in two different phases of a same act (first the throw, then the pose).
Why am I so drawn to this image, more than another among the so many possibilities of Ceschin, all equally intense and compelling? It's for their apparent contradiction, given that there are not too many similarities between Ceschin and Cartier-Bresson. The former is an artist tied to a "slow" notion of time, either in the individualization of the object to be represented, always from nature, or in the reflection about it and the process of the emotional identification he develops with the scene he reproduces, as an integral part of a more vast and representative whole. Or yet in the accurate technical transposition which links the moment of perception and reflection to its purely material artistic interpretation. From this "slow" time, necessarily dilated, already connected to the manual execution of the work, the images of Ceschin end up as the objective correlative, proposing visions that certainly aim to overcome the limits of instantaneous perception, stipulated by the unforeseeable fugacity of the moment, in order to redirect our vision toward more stable horizons of significance.
The approach of Cartier-Bresson, would-be painter, "quick" time artist par excellence, would seem completely different. Because the technical time of the photographic means is quick (the framing of the image and the release), at least in relationship to the traditional handwork of an artist as extraordinarily accurate and meticulous as Ceschin. It would be less quick if the development and the print were associated with the photographic framing and the release. These show some similarities in some ways, such as the contact with the acidic substance, with the etching technique. But the development and the print are beyond the obligatory competencies of the photographer, who tends to delegate this to specialized technicians. This happened to Cartier-Bresson, who thought only of taking his pictures, and entrusted his negatives to Gasman, the famous printer. Even more than the technical time, though, the "quickness" of Cartier-Bresson especially corresponds to the way in which he placed himself constantly in relationship with the world, to be more precise, with the subject of his representation, singling out a specific, as Galvano della Volpe would have said. This allowed photography to emancipate from the arts arising before the 19th century. Cartier-Bresson is the theoretician-practician of the instantaneous, as essential and revelatory element, often surprising, of aspects of reality that would not be otherwise perceptible. The photographer's task is to gather the variegated and continually variable manifestations of the world, the decisive moment in which the split second becomes the epiphany of a more vast and articulate whole, becoming the existential experience of consciousness, pragmatic in its instinctive quality, in almost an anti-intellectual way in respect to the traditional customs of art. "Photography is holding one's breath to capture the passing of reality: a physical and intellectual joy", HCB said. And, "You don't need your head for photography, you only need a finger, and eye and two legs", " Photography is putting mind, eyes and heart on the same target line. It's a way to live".
If we didn't know that HCB had been in the same marsh represented in Ceschin's etching, we would have difficulty imagining that Cartier Bresson would represent fishermen in a similar way. He would have probably taken them at one of the moments of maximal efforts of the throw, probably with an curious expression on the fisherman's face, the other in a possible curious pose, for example in the middle of his afternoon nap. He would not have seen them from afar, flying over them with a bird's eye view, but would have stalked them nearby, in silence, without eyeing them, with just the right concentration needed to catch the decisive moment. These fishermen, who throw and then wait patiently the prey to come to them, while relishing the "slow" time of nature and the meditation of it, could symbolize very well the way in which Ceschin looks at art and the world. It would be more difficult to imagine the same for HCB, which we have taught to consider as photographer of the split second par excellence. In fact he prefers to identify himself with the archer hunter, always ready to follow his prey, rather than lie in wait, always ready to surprise the prey, and release the fatal arrow.
Two different visions therefore, not coinciding, actually, separated by a considerable distance, which can also help us understand the quotation inscribed on the bottom of the print. Why did Ceschin want to include them? Only the last sentence explains it well, unveiling the mystery: "What is essential is tension and meditation, never relaxation". Their methods can be different, and those of Ceschin and HCB certainly are. The time of preparation and assimilation can be different, but not the proposed objective. Which is to catch the world in its vital, existential essence, through its fragmenta, because beyond this, man, or at least the artist, would not be able to do it. Fragmenta that become symbolic of the universal whole, according to brief and instinctive times in the archer HCB, according to long and reflective times in the fisherman Ceschin, finding them in foggy undergrowth and forgotten corners of a garden, in sunny country-sides, in snowy hills or in boats ashore next to a pond, according to the paths already marked by romantic and late-romantic landscape art. Both artists, however, are successful in this way to explain the irreducible variety of the whole, showing the possibility that this could fall under a single meaning anyway, a single halo of an absolute, equally truthful and lyrical, valid for everyone. Because the truth is the poetry of the world, like poetry is the truth of life, in an indistinguishable continuum of art and philosophy.
This is not only because of the super fine technique, capable of furnishing an up-to-date synthesis of lessons, which sends us back in part to the Renaissance masters, in particular to the Northern ones, in another to Japanese art, but also for the naturalistic sensitivity and intelligence of his artistic proposal, so efficiently demonstrated by way of the association he searched for with the greatest photographer of the last century, that we should value Livio Ceschin from Pieve di Soligo, now not only Andrea Zanzotto's hometown.