Thirty years have gone by since Arnaldo Dini came to the attention of the critics and art lovers with his vast, innovative fresco of the Resurrection, full of symbolic significance, painted for the apse of the church of St. Evasio. Since then his artistic progress has continued, according to a philosophy that places man at the center, describing his existential adventure and experiences with his surroundings, capturing the changes, the hesitations, the expectation, the hopes of modern man with the sensitivity of shared emotions and with a luminous stillness to which the words of Khalil Gibran are particularly suited, when he says: “Beauty is a murmur/a faint whisper/that speaks to our soul./Its voice surrenders to our silence/like the dim light that trembles/for fear of the shadows.” This great anthological exhibition, therefore, while documenting the progress made by the artist in his development, also provides a summing up of decades of striving, of luminous fertility. In his fresco for St. Evasio, Dini already expressed a full artistic maturity, which was also clear from his earlier exhibitions in which he demonstrated the results of his extensive research into the most authentic expressions of nature and man on our mountain - to which he has close ties, having been born at Corniglio - on the strength of his excellent instruction at the Paolo Toschi art institute where he was a pupil of the most sensitive of masters, Nando Negri. And in the exhibition at the Parma Gallery {June 1969), the critics stressed this tendency of his to look toward “his simple background, nourished by pathetic sadness and a fantastic vein in the attempt to create a painting that had its source in local traditions. This is his interpretation, in the sorrowful figures that seem to be taken from the tales of the mountains, the dark forests of ancient legends, the menacing atmosphere that falls over everything from the dark skies” (Gianni Cavazzini in La Gazzetta di Parma). Full of curiosity and the desire to learn, the following year, also at the Parma Gallery, he exhibited a number of painted stones, as Giovanni Pettenati wrote in Opinione Pubblica: “The artist has not forgotten his usual themes: the serious expression of a young girl, 'that way of breathing the same air that gives substance to the friendship of groups, the flowers, the great tentacles of the trees with their roots and branches. But the forms and tones, along a secret pathway, have found new relationships and affinities, leveling the previous leaps from the flame of a corolla to the subdued complexion of a face. However the dialectics between full-voiced song and subterranean sensuality remains open to rearrange the polyphony of the different elements, and to testify to the youth of this painter, from the great scene of Messina or the tangle of bodies, at the entrance, where the solitude of ages goes up a note in loss and tragedy, to the passages on stone, freely contoured by chance, another demand of immediate spontaneity.” Arnaldo Dini once explained his need to paint on blocks of stone to Carlo Drapkind: -“It is an act of love toward my mountain. I was born in a small village in the Apennines called Corniglio, and I have brought its stones away with me, ideally, to express the hard work, the fatigue of the mountain people, their strong personality and temperament.” The slabs were also exhibited in Pontremoli and Viadana, so that the artist began to be known and identified as “the stone painter”. “His works - wrote La Gazzetta di Mantova - strike the critic and observer particularly for the expressive force that they are able to transmit, for the depth of a gaze, the poignant sweetness of a face. It is a peculiar sensitivity of the soul that Dini is also able to express in his religious paintings, which are a frequent theme in his works, where he is able to impress this nobility of the spirit onto the stone -that same stone that, for so many years, was the very environment that nurtured his youthful inspiration.”
The religious theme, heretofore expressed in a number of separate works, becomes a choral expression, a symphony, in the St. Evasio fresco where the Resurrection is represented with an innovative iconography that shows Christ perennially resurrected even in our own time. “This Christ - I wrote in La Chiesa di Sant'Evasio published in 1971 - who walks amid the anonymous skyscrapers of Via Jenner, is a man among us, with us. His tragedy is barely visible, marked only by two red spots on his wrists. More than his death, he wants to remind us of his rising. The grace that is found there, in that altar towards which he is walking, is an invitation to us to follow. Not as an alternative to pain and anguish, but with the disarming serenity of love, that charitas that is the oldest root of Christianity. The crowd follows him, full of faith, tranquil in the healing light. It is a heterogeneous crowd, but all are moved by a common denominator identifiable in the peace of the spirit.
No one, however, is willing to give up his own personality, which Dini has highlighted with a well- defined sense of volume and a particular tint of the skin. The chromatism of the faces, indeed, take on an identifying function of the individual personalities. Here is Paul VI with his great persuasive gesture, inviting all to follow the Redeemer; here is the dear face of the good shepherd, John XXIII; the recently deceased archbishop Evasio Colli, who did so much for churches on the city outskirts, especially this one; the apostolic administrator Amilcare Pasini; the great apostles of peace John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi; the daily workers of the spirit, the parish priests; and many bthers, anonymous for the mass, but not for their leader: men whose faces are lined by the years, young women with long hair, mothers, children with their toys. The artist photographed them in the neighborhood and put them in the painting, near the great Christ, risen for them; and he continues to walk along these broad, swift streets on the edge of the city with its glimpses of the distant countryside, viewed with hostility tinged with regret because it is just on these last strips of asphalt that many of those who repudiated the country have their homes. Off in the distance, in the background, an Apennine horizon. Dini could not forget it. He comes from there and perhaps it is this that made him paint on stone first, then on reinforced concrete.”
In addition to the religious themes, Arnaldo Dini shows a deep interest in the problems that have beset society since the end of the Sixties and early Seventies when, as the country underwent its great industrial transformation, many people left the country with its ancient, deeply rooted human values and moved to the cities, with their history-Iess suburbs, squalid and anonymous.
The fresco painted for St. Evasio led to orders for other frescoes, a type of art that few are still capable of painting. Thus, in the home of the entrepreneur Notari at Corniglio in 1972 he developed the theme of the mountain as the place to which men return to rediscover a simpler life and friendship. A message of hope that is restated in the canvases exhibited in 1974 in his gallery-studio at Via Oberdan. “Serenity and hope - I stressed on that occasion - are the components that imbue the works of Arnaldo Dini, a painter who deals with the themes that life puts before us every day with a restraint that derives from his acute, retiring sensitivity.” In the meantime he continues his fresco painting with “The Flower Children” (1973) painted in a home in Parma; “Summer on the Po” at Roccabianca ( 1975 ); “The Ascension” in the cemetery at Fidenza (1978); “The Evolution of Man. Episodes from the Space Age” (1979).
At the beginning of the Eighties, the provincial office of the blood donors' association AVIS invited him to paint a symbolic work on the value of donation to be placed in the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Spine at Sissa, chosen to be the patron saint of donors for the province. A difficult theme resolved brilliantly by the artist who divided a long canvas (2.20 x 1 m) into three parts: at the top is the venerated image of the Madonna delle Spine with the Infant in her arms, surrounded by heads of angels; at the center he placed three donors who generously extend their arms from which precious drops of blood fall into a vessel in the shape of a funnel, symbol of the immensity of he who gives and of he who receives the gift, while a clock symbolizes the perennial nature of the gift itself; in the bottom section a patient, lovingly attended by a woman, represents the concrete scope of the donation.
The painting is one of the last works in which the artist expresses himself with a language bound to naturalistic figuration. The Seventies were difficult years in Italy from the social and political point of view, with the massacres by different ideological groups, and for art it was a time in which a strong current began to circulate against painting, in favor of other forms of expression such as poor art, conceptual art, minimalism and so on. Arnaldo Dini was deeply affected by these violent tensions that were agitating society, and his “characters” became assemblies of stones bound from within by iron. The man became harder, his emotions petrified, forced to travel in a world that is hostile to him and engages him in mortal combat, well represented in a painting from 1979 in which a horseman struggles with a foot solder in the extreme existential battle.
 

A future of anguish and trepidation seems to await man who is more and more “petrified and paralyzed in his impotence to dominate these lethal destructive processes he himself has set in motion. He risks losing all that which enables him to see, understand, feel and act; he risks finding himself alone in a desolate scenario of aridity amid the sinister outlines of menacing buildings. Nature becomes desolate and arid when it loses its vitality and the beauty of growing plants: the leafless branches twist and poke, the landscape with its dark colors has the shades of premonition. And Dini captures the central essence, while new creatures, solidified in a compact density, loom in the foreground with powerful force. But within them there is still - and here is the first, feeble sigh of hope - a unifying element: a strong steel wire that ramifies in the limbs and sustains the entire bodily framework. In subsequent paintings, the rough mass is transformed into neatly squared blocks that highlight even more the interior bond that becomes more vitally determinIng. And when, in the darkest moments, the filaments break and let the inert blocks fall, the iron stubs, stripped bare, vibrate and contort in a last spasm under skies lined by unreal flashes. It is hope that prevails in Dini, however, under the form of anew life, that is presented purified of all previous residues. This vital thread “of life” floating free in space, announcing anew dawn, winding and twisting to become a shape again, a figure, a living being, a man: once again the protagonist in a completely transformed world.”
Dini's message is thus a message of confidence and hope even at the worst of times. This is confirmed by Stefania Provinciali who, reviewing the exhibition at the S. Andrea Gallery (1982) writes: “If this is how all the work of Dini appears, veiled by subtle pessimism, he nevertheless reveals a steadfast belief in life and in the resources of mankind, and the awareness that it is only where man exists that life can exist.” Giuseppe Marchetti, too, on the occasion of the inauguration of Dini's personal exhibition at S. Ilario d'Enza in December 1984, after defining the works of the artist “works of extraordinary poetry”, points out that his painting at first appears “anguished, bruised, swollen by the violence of the subject”, but looking skyward the view is “open, luminous, I would even say fragrant”. “This is not a self-serving painting, but has a profound human and social content that leaves room for the hope of a subsequent stage”. And this arrives with a highly original idea, the use of iron rods as a descriptive and creative element. “The iron rods keep changing: they are no longer what they once were: fixed, hard, black, torn by the violence of things: now it becomes a rod that is restored, bursting into bloom, opening on itself and letting the light filter through. This is a particularly original manner and style that I have never found in any' other painter.”
With these iron filaments Arnaldo Dini “reconstructs” man, nature, trees, the entire landscape, with an expressive charge that vibrates in harmony with the chromatic structure. It provides a key for understanding the emotions and feelings of the characters, in the light colors that move hesitantly on the canvases and send out messages that, with time, become more and more reassuring. His figures - wrote Vera Franci Riggio on the occasion of the exhibition at the Michelangelo Gallery in 1989, “fuse the simplicity of a linear, essential representation with the ambiguity of a language imbued with uneasiness. They are images suspended in an arcane dimension where reality takes on dreamlike tints and the small faces almost always, in spite of the stylized aspect of the pure outlines, retain nevertheless something of a sculptured depth, constructed as they are around a central pivot that interrupts the smooth surface and creates an elusive spirit along which the convexity of the lateral planes seems to weld itself. In the composition of Dini there is uneasiness but not desperation, and the heavy burden of problems that weigh on nature and man alike is dissolved in the consoling light of an invitation to hope that, though with great fatigue, filters gently through the language of an incisive and tormented brushstroke.”
In the Nineties, the shapes begin to fill up again with more consistent colors, that dress the trees and flowers with a joyous vitality and enrich the characterization of the personalities. An important award was obtained by Dini at Arzachena where the national jury, presided over by Aligi Sassu, awarded the prize to his Maternity. He later exhibited at Salsomaggiore and Langhirano, and suggested and coordinates the resumption at Corniglio of the initiative entitled “Painted Walls” that is transforming the facades of the houses in this mountain town into murals that should provide an interesting tourist attraction.
His characters live in the reality of daily life, highlighted by the sheets of newspaper that, for a certain period of time, provided a meaningful background capable of interacting dialectically with the characters, whose faces remain a mystery: that mystery that is the unknowable aspect of the human soul, so difficult to understand in its complexity. The characters, although lacking in facial lineaments, are not metaphysical mannequins that live in abstraction: they are men, women, youths, children who participate with intensity in the life around them, but above all within them. And when the sheets of newspaper disappear, the urban landscape emerges with all its implications.
Arnaldo Dini's painting - notes the art critic Giorgio Falossi - “in which thought becomes philosophy, the setting is historical, placing the observer before an undertaking that goes beyond the visual to the mental reflection. Humiliated, mutilated too many times, nature is still ready to give and humanity can be rediscovered in those folds where living is not just a struggle to possess, to rip and tear, to mortify. This is the direction taken by the latest paintings by Dini. Definitely thinner, even fragile, contorted in some of its pathways, but free of frippery and weights that sink it. Who are these characters? They are the warriors of all the wars, with their hands up, the crucified Christs, the young women, the lovers, the doves, maternity. Arnaldo Dini confirms his position as a painter of history and thought. His brushstroke runs swift and sure, seeming now to clarify, emphasize.” The sociologist Alessandro Bosi observes: “Dini helps us to look, not just at the object, but through the object. Our gaze does not stop on what it touches, the things we see are not an impenetrable wall, on the contrary, they are always instruments of knowledge and thus opportunities to see more and beyond. Before this window, that brings to mind the bold solutions of Magritte, but that here becomes a body, a person pieced by the gaze, Dini has been showing us, for some time, pages drawn from the Gazzetta di Parma. The chronicles, the documents, the new, the sense of the present comes through onto the canvas through that bible of modern man that is the newspaper.” “A picture acquires worth only through the eyes of those who observe it”, wrote Pablo Picasso. This concept perfectly fits the works of Arnaldo Dini that, with their great openness, leave room for exploring the depths of the themes they suggest: the figures recover their identity at the end of the Nineties, they are essential, while the color is rich in ferment and vibrations. The chromatic tiles reveal a crystalline clarity, networks of forces played on counterpoints that seem to correspond to musical criteria for the harmoniously tight rhythm in which unity is recomposed through diversity. The artist is absorbed by the laboratory of his transfiguration, an interior alchemy that transforms the surface of the painting into optical magic. All his now extensive progress and development has been marked by a constant though cautious taste for experimentation that now appears in certain ideas that go beyond the canvas and involve more complex forms. Not by chance, these more articulate pictorial objects are presented for the first time in this anthological review organized in the measured Renaissance architecture of the cloisters and cells of the Benedictine monastery of San Giovanni Evangelista, in which the solemn classical equilibrium contrasts with these structures modulated on different planes, like the bindings of containers of a fabulous imagination, or in the shape of boxes painted on both sides: magical treasure chests of hope and utopia, that are, after all, the elements that best characterize the production of Arnaldo Dini.

Pier Paolo Mendogni


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