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SPOTLIGHT: Alfonso Fratteggiani Bianchi, 2006
If you visit the Fratteggiani Bianchi household in Pieve Caina, near Perugia, in Umbria, Italy the first thing you might get invited to do, after stepping for a moment into the 10th century stone farmhouse where the family lives, is to pick some figs from their tree and enjoy eating them while gazing at the Umbrian countryside. And perhaps after a visit to Alfonso Fratteggiani Bianchi’s studio, you could be invited to stay for a leisurely (and exquisite) dinner, cooked by Alfonso himself, which lasts until well on midnight. Possibly Ulrike Brand (Fratteggiani’s gifted wife) will play a John Cage piece on cello.

Originally, Fratteggiani Bianchi’s work was with music. In 1986 he founded the Institute for Contemporary Music in Perugia. Musicians and composers, like John Cage, came from all over the world to meet and study there. It was, as he had intended it to be, a place for contemporary music to flourish and to expand its horizons. Soon visual artists were also brought to Perugia to collaborate and work. Monochrome painter Phil Sims was one of the artists who resided for a time in Perugia.

In 1999, after the institute had been closed for a few years, Fratteggiani Bianchi began to paint. At first he experimented with mixing raw pigment with glue, applying it to medium density board. This did not satisfy him as the colors, fixed into place by the glue, seemed “blocked, broken.” The leap he made, that renowned collector Dr. Giuseppe Panza di Biumo credits as a, “first time in thousands [of] years,” was to discover a way to apply powdered pigment directly only pietra serena limestone without it fading or falling off.

Though perhaps hundreds of painters in the past have rubbed their pigment colored hands against stone to clean them, it took the right eye and the right time for someone to see this as a new direction for art. Fratteggiani’s leap is much like what he credits to Cézanne, on some of whose “unfinished” landscapes can be found a block or section, which is painted one single color. Fratteggiani suspects that this was a movement on Cézanne’s part toward what has become monochrome, rather than a mistake or omission (he believes Cézanne was too accomplished for that). However, during Cézanne’s time the world was not ready for monochrome, perhaps before Fratteggiani Bianchi, the world was not ready to see pure powdered pigment on limestone.

It is lucky for us that the time was right. Fratteggianni Bianchi’s paintings take color to a new level of intensity. The pigment, free of the bonds of a medium, seems glow with its own light, and the packed surfaces achieve a textural complexity and soft, wet or moss-like finish. Fratteggiani does not feel like he is part of any particular movement in art, but rather that knowing art history and growing up in a region filled with masterworks have influenced him. And in fact his own works have hung side by side with some of the masterworks that he admired, such as at the San Sebastian Chapel in Panicale, where Fratteggianni’s intensely colored pieces hung near masterworks of the renaissance painter Perugino. The comparison does credit to both artists.