Our Roots are our Branches
by Guy Brett

He gets around London on a 550 c.c. Kawasaki Zephyr motorbike. A small plot of land in North East Brazil, in the state of Bahia, also claims his attention. He was there last summer to clear the undergrowth around the cashew trees and coconut palms. Back in London, he has tropicalised his corner of a Council housing estate. The gloomy brick is painted warm colours around his front door and cage-birds sing inside. There is room for a barbecue in a recess of the communal balcony, and when he cooks on it he invites his neighbours round. From the same balcony a stand of majestic trees is visible, the remnants of a nearby prison grounds.

Is it too personalised to begin writing about Giacomo Picca’s art works in this way? Somehow, to begin with a cool, impersonal tone seems inadequate because Giacomo Picca himself gives the impression of someone on a journey, and he speaks about his work in a similar, personal, way. He originally trained as an engineer. He worked on several major building projects in São Paulo but was outraged by the way the workers were treated in the Brazilian building industry ("like another race ….."). He came to Europe looking for an egalitarian society. No doubt he is still looking …… But after settling in England in 1990 he enrolled in art school. He went first to Chelsea, then Wimbledon, and completed his MA at Goldsmiths in 2000.

Confrontation with art, and the history of art, inevitably throws personal experience into a new light. The subjective is brought into relationship with the objective, material fact of the work of art. In a statement disarmingly entitled "This is What it is", Giacomo Picca has reflected on the relationship between the work of art which "exists because of itself", and the mutability of the individual life journey. In particular his move from one culture to another sharpened the riddle of the connection between the directly-felt and the historically-constructed, in the workings of our consciousness. "We all walk through a space somewhere between our experience and stories told to us of experience …. Through my own being – my psycho-geography – through my journey I have found that we inhabit many different spaces: there are shared spaces and universal images that we share; there are spaces created by cultures and societies whose images speak closely only to some of us."

This is what it is

It is as if, in his art, Giacomo went in search of a sign that would be universal, understandable in any culture, while acknowledging that the ‘factivity’ of the art object is actually the province of illusion.

Hence his title for this exhibition. "Trees for the Wood" – a playful reversal of the famous English proverb. The confusion is apt because in these ‘paintings’ wood is the pictorial surface, the material and the subject-matter. In the original proverb, "not to see the wood for the trees" means that you are so stuck in the particular that you cannot get a view of the general, the whole. But this ‘general’ is exactly what Giacomo seeks by means of his attention to the particular, the wood. ‘Wood’ becomes ‘tree’ becomes ‘wood’, as a universal symbol.

Trees for the Wood
And paint, the long historical practice of painting, insinuates itself into this process. In these works, paint, or a paint-like substance, appears in several guises: as background colour, as raised outline, laid into grooves, sandwiched between panels. We can sometimes compare a paint-inscribed outline with one cut through the panel itself, so that the light passing through projects a virtual figure (say a ‘house’) on the wall behind. Further reality/illusion games have been conducted by Giacomo by means of a portable tree-symbol cut out of MDF which he carried around and photographed among the reflections in urban shop-windows. Instantly many layers are given to the image and its meaning.
Clerkenwell Road

There is an innocence about his trees. They remind me of the early period of modernism when artists were seeking simplified signs that, it was felt, anyone could understand, transcultural images that could contribute to a universal visual language of communication. The example of children’s art partly inspired this search which had a radical, subversive energy at the time (remember Picasso’s remark: "It was easy for me to draw like Raphael but I had to learn to draw like a child"). There was also a practical need for such languages. Electrical circuitry, statistical analysis, molecular structure, mapping, ‘finding your way’, and so on – these required internationally standardised sing-languages (one of the earliest and most ambitious was the Isotype system of the 1920s designed by Otto Neurath). There was a convergence between the visual culture of science and art which was perhaps not fully perceived at the time.

If this could be described as a ‘classic’ period of his work, Giacomo has recently moved into the romantic, with a series of works based on the landscapes of Caspar David Freidrich. And the constructive, architectural role that the lean, winter-tree image (discretely ithyphallic, it may be noted) played in the earlier works has now become something more indeterminate and ambivalent. Basing himself in landscape as a powerful representational configuration, deeply lodged in the psyche, the new work conducts an unexpected transformation of its materials. This proceeds on three levels, three surfaces: the given unpainted wood grain as a transcription of graphic energy, the landscape image as conventionalised painted signs, and, by the artist’s scraping away at the layers of plywood, the discovery of a chaotic, organic, a kind of protoplasmic material world below the surface. An element of violence is involved in revealing it, which contrasts strangely with the sublime vista of nature.

Trees for the Wood 3- Solitary tree
The so-called classic and romantic have not been set up in opposition to one another, but rather to play with one another. In the same way ‘painting’ is not privileged but is one genre at play with other genres. Giacomo has also made installations. In one, the floor of a vaulted, cellar-like room was covered with what could be the residue from the constructed paintings: chippings and sawdust in an undifferentiated mass. This reminds us that whatever was lost in making the object was not really lost. The installation is entitled: "Where something happens".
Where something happens

While tautology and irony are a strong component of Giacomo Picca’s language, they serve a sincere vision, a form of honesty. His reference to Caspar David Freidrich suggests a desire to reconfigure the German romantic’s transcendental poetry with the materials of "our world of design, DIY, media and advertising". His ‘wood’ is not idealised but already acculturated at a popular level. And from Giacomo’s own assessment of his dialogue with recent art trends, an egalitarian, communicative candour emerges:

" Maybe the simplicity and directness [of my work] is intentionally against a more hermetic work that has been the trend since the advent of conceptual art. [My works] seem to have no secrets; we can see step by step how the thing is made by looking at that process: by way of the finished painting."

No secrets, maybe, but still some enigma.

Gallery 32 - Catalogue - "Trees for the Wood"
urban mobile tree1 - Piccadilly, 2000
urban mobile tree 5 - Clerkenwell Rd, 2000
this is what it it is 1, 2 and 3, 1999
trees for the wood, 2002
Trees for the Wood - Solitary Tree, 2002
a place where something happens, 2002