Tamas Jovanovics, 2011
It might not be an exaggeration if I affirm that Ceribelli is obsessed with the usage of toy soldiers in his paintings and objects. When an artist employs an object in such a recurrent manner, one will necessarily ask himself questions about the nature of this object.
What are toy soldiers reminiscent of? First of all, as the first part of the name suggests it, it’s a toy, a children’s toy, and even more precisely, in 99 percent of the cases, male children’s, boys’ toy. Secondly, it has to do with war; this in itself is already an interesting matter of reflection: how come war – the summit and most demolishing manifestation of political conflicts – is present in a children’s toy? How come we – adults, parents – offer war symbols to children? How come that on his turn, the child feels attracted to play with this symbol of destruction, already at such a young age? An ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, believed that war is the father of all and king of all (things) and he might not have been far from truth we might presume.
If you agree with the above points, then you might also agree that it is intriguing that the artworks of Ceribelli, abundant of toy soldiers, transmit clearly and deeply a convicted pacifism; even though he operates with a par excellence war sign (the soldier) coupled often with politics-related subjects (flags, maps, etc.) he is obviously not paying tribute to war or any, even philosophical aspects of it.
And however using the same toy soldiers as children do, he is definitely employing them in a non-childish and non-unconscious way by accumulating them into elaborate compositions questioning political, economical and cultural signs and systems of power and dominance. As pleasant or funny as the majority of his pieces might appear visually, they are also at least as critical and ironic in their meaning.
And indeed, it is the various paradoxes that make Ceribelli’s work attractive for most of us; the paradox of the child’s toy on the one hand and the grown-ups’ war on the other; the paradox between the chaos that the notion of war implies opposed to the compositional order and pureness of Ceribelli’s canvases; and finally the paradox of the critical edge and irony implicit of Ceribelli’s subjects, in opposition with the harmony and pleasance of their aesthetics.
Let’s have a word on this last one as well, as artworks are judged not only on ‘what they say’, but also and up foremost on ‘how’ they say it. At the same time let’s also try to put Ceribelli’s work in the context of the global art scene/ art history.
Applying a real three-dimensional object (the toy soldier) on a canvas is undoubtedly reminiscent of twentieth century modern art. Marcel Duchamp was the first one to erect everyday objects into artworks, but his Readymades are single objects in themselves that have nothing to do with painting. However, Ceribelli in some degree pays tribute to Duchamp and his Readymade, as he is using a ready-made object as the departure point of all of his artworks and the subjects he depicts with are also ‘ready-made’, like flags, maps, logos and other commonplaces.
Another historical link might be Kurt Schwitters who in the early 1920th, in the so-called Merz Bilder, added all kinds of found objects and materials to his collages, but mostly – as other Cubist, Surrealist and Dada artists of that time – two-dimensional objects such as newspapers, wallpapers, etc. By mentioning Schwitters we refer of course also to the fact that the Dada movement is considered by many as an artistic reaction to the First World War.
We have to advance in time to proto-Pop artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the late 1950th to see the usage of three-dimensional objects, even large ones in their cases, applied onto the surface of the paintings. From then on this method become profuse in diverse contemporary art tendencies such as, to cite maybe the most famous one, Nouveau Réalism (with Arman, Daniel Spoerri , etc.)
In opposition to all the previously mentioned artists, Ceribelli’s way of using and applying objects into the canvas is noticeably different. First of all, Schwitters, Rauschenberg, Speorri, etc. use diverse objects (underlining hence their banality and causality), whereas Ceribelli sticks to one certain object that he repeats uncountably within one painting and then again from painting to painting. Secondly, the previously mentioned artists all favour causal, sometimes even messy compositions, whereas Ceribelli’s compositions and surfaces are always clean and equilibrated.
Interestingly, due to the systematic (at times linear, in others concentric) placement of the toy soldiers and the light and shadow-effects that change their appearance according to the viewers’ position, Ceribelli’s paintings also emit a slight illusionist optical effect which relates them even with the so called Op-art movement (Jesús Rafael Soto, Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, etc.)
And to finish with the references, the compositional equilibrium of Ceribelli’s canvases, coupled with the usage of complementary and bright colours might remind us painters like Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland from their Hard-edge period.
I shall state and remind that all the previous allegations were made on a pure aesthetic basis. The toy soldiers and the compositions Ceribelli is drawing with them are so directly political, that this makes him also without a doubt belong to the contemporary art scene of the last 20-25 years. Only since the mid-late eighties can we distinguish a tendency of artists assuming political subjects directly and systematically in their works.
I think it is good that Ceribelli’s work has so many links with modern and contemporary art, but the best thing is that – due to the toy soldiers – the very first link is always the child, the childishness. This is why, independently from the seriousness factor of the subjects, and the implied criticism, you might always watch Ceribelli’s paintings with a smile on your face.
Cristina Trivellin, 2009
… it seems to me that life is equivalent to instability, to disequilibrium. And at the same time the constancy of its forms to render it possible…
Sometimes I think that certain works may require less support of a critical text than others and that therefore, explanation may even mislead or distract from the meaning. In the case of Paolo Ceribelli we’re not looking at signs to interpret or attitudes to translate. His works come directly to the center of our observing, between the hypnotic and the violent, the beautiful and the ironic, the playful and the damnably serious; they bond to our thinking, to ideas about society, consumerism, war, the daily discomfort that we habitually stifle. At the same time they infiltrate our perceiving, generating new dynamics, adapted to contemporary feeling, with intuition, intelligence and growing awareness. One cannot escape the maturity and coherence of this artist, the force and clarity in his use of his materials, but also the extent of deliberate ambiguity, manifest contradictions that leave every reading open-ended.
Paolo has always loved to design and create, in constant and never interrupted display of talent, despite his not having followed a strict traditional academic curriculum; but it goes without saying that there are multiple approaches to achievement and after all, his having studied political sciences plays a fundamental role in his artistic and intellectual stance. After various experiments in two-dimensional media—predominantly collages in which he expressed his visions of global society—from 2006 on he begins to work with little toy soldiers in plastic. The theme has evolved and been carried through into the output that we observe.
Playing with toy soldiers, a favorite pastime of children from the most diverse social, cultural, and generational backgrounds, is very far from being innocuous, in this respect resembling most team games that to date are still part of juvenile and adult lives. There is no use denying that many of them are characterized by different measures of brutality. Paolo Ceribelli magnifies tenfold and underscores these valences immersing the diminutive anthropomorphic sculptures in monochromatic baths and making them resurface as unwitting protagonists of his works, massing them, making them uniform, arranging them on the canvas so as to form maps and territories, flags and alignments, targets and playing fields. There is a bodily movement in the manipulation of the material and especially in the arrangement of the tiny soldier-figures on the canvas to which the artist accords great importance, because in this “doing” every structure takes on a meaning and every shaping of space incarnates variations of values. Paolo’s works are plastic, three-dimensional, and they transcend the bounds of classical frontal appreciation to become tested and evaluated from more points of view, whether they be studied in their optical significance or conceptually; noteworthy, according to me, is the view from above, the bird’s-eye view, indispensable for understanding the Gestalt of the constructions and their fit proportions. I’m pleased in this case to recall one of the laws of the Gestalt (by coincidence the law of common destiny) which affirms the tendency to perceive as belonging to a single object things that move together, at the same time and in the same direction; the masses, studied in the aggregate, take on a single identity. Identity given in this case to the troops that mobilize and concentrate on the canvases of Paolo Ceribelli and that vary, from work to work, their distribution and density. In the first works the little toy soldiers are few and of larger dimensions, as in the series No tank you, where armored tanks and an explicit message appear; in Globe trotters on the other hand they are quite tiny and they thicken so densely as to cover the canvas and form a map of the world. We arrive at seeing the little toy soldiers with their weapons pointed toward a single objective, as if they had only one single possibility, that one. Here we have in fact a moment in Ceribelli’s output in which may be perceived more strongly the sense of inevitability, of enforced rupture and the point of no return, that reaches its apex in the series War Time: 17 pieces of small dimensions, frozen clocks where in every scanned second there occurs a different scene of warfare. Impossible to detach the glance from the thought. In Bersagli ambivalence plays out in the title itself, but is expressed also, on the formal level and purely artistically, as a tribute to the highly acclaimed Bersagli of Jasper Johns from the Seventies.
With the more recent Spirals there is clearly delineated the transmutation that departs from physical reality until it reaches cathartic abstraction in the domain of Form, where announcement and actuality yield place, as though dissolving, to art and artistry, to the search of these latter as generative centers of other possibilities and energies. And then the color, far-fetched, abstract, brilliant. A color that detaches from the white-black dichotomy, passes across the iconographic reality of stars and stripes in the case of the flag, until it becomes gaudy and monochromatic in the spirals, as though to echo the chromatic and plastic tonality of the Bonalumis or Castellanis, where the centrifugal effect derives from the shadow of the little toy soldiers on the canvas. These last, in the indistinct and alternate figure-background syntheses, lose their identity as they enter into a form that moves away from the alignment, from the massed arrangement. They are archetypal figures, cave paintings. Irradiations. Expansions. Forms and colors that carry on a dialogue in a tonality register that does not forget those that went before but lightens them, creating space also to art for art’s sake, the game for the sake of the game.
All this rich and articulated output takes flight from an emblematic work: Take me home A supermarket cart crammed full of little white toy soldiers that, massed together like shopping for the weekend, are asking to return to life, or else mercenaries who choose (but then do they have any other choice?) the assured work of the military, thereafter to be bought up by power and borne off in jeeps or armored tanks to die without knowing the logic underlying the war that they have fought. A modern Monument to the Fallen of the third millennium. But on side B is where the work speaks out, with its caption/cartoon protruding from the cart, asking to be taken, studied, adopted by someone who wants to possess it, acquire it, yes, as everything is acquired and desired, including art. And so to what does the desire for accumulation lead? It is for posterity to judge. Because Paolo Ceribelli, instead of answers and speeches, greatly prefers questions and disenchantment. He chooses that estrangement that carries him far enough away to freeze out facile demagoguery in the name of a synthesis that inevitably shifts the burden of the reply onto whoever dares look at it, aware of the fact that the battles, today, are waged on different grounds compared with those fought by generations past. They are waged “from within,” not “from without.” The artist, not more isolated and emarginated from a world he accuses but immersed up to his neck, he too is responsible, but also aware. And that’s at least something.