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Magic, fantasy, poetry and immersion in nature. There is something archaic in the words most often spoken by Mara Montanari, the highly experimental 40 year-old Carpi-based painter of feelings.

Large-scale sculptures have emerged from her most recent experiments, in which metal is combined with curved 'petrified' lotus leaves, brightly painted to give shape to tropical flowers, animals and fantastic figures. These are now on show, together with her paintings dating from the 1990 to 1995 period, at the head office of the Banca Popolare dell'Emilia until Friday 24 April. 'I invented a "magical" process using oils,' says Mara, 'which I just knew would work. I'd been thinking of painting large leaves for years, and also of using my work to come into almost physical contact with nature.'

And nature - seen as a 'sourse and pathway of knowledge' rather than in a naturalistic and figurative sense - is central to the work of this unusual artist, whose limited output makes every painting or sculpture the synthesis  of 'long and intense spiritual and mental effort'. Or as she puts it: 'If I were a calmer person, maybe I'd do more of them. I could have fun doing series or repeating the same subject matter, as critics have sometimes suggested. But there would be no point or meaning to that sort of work. It just wouldn't  satisfy me.' Instead every new work is an adventure: 'Sometimes I start with  a fascinating title, often something evocative and poetic that fires my imagination and above all stirs feelings. That's the starting point for a journey that will lead me to the painting.' Then again, I might find inspiration in poetry or music. But it has to be something emotional, because a painting is a whole made up of feelings.' 

On canvas, images are joined to words, references, verses of poetry (with clear echoes of Miro', one of Mara's favourite painters), but always evoking nature 'my lifelong passion', whether it's the sea or a tropical forest, a frequently recurring theme 'even though I've never been there. My journeys are always made through the pages of a book.'
An exhibition in a bank may seem rather unusual for Carpi but is very common abroad, especially in Switzerland, where many banks have exhibitions spaces and concert halls to promote young artists. The opportunity came almost by chance, and at just the right moment. 'I don't tend to show my work much in gallery, but you have to put your work on show sooner or later, to get a reaction and communicate with people through your work.' 
After all, nobody paints for themselves, least of all an artist for whom painting is neither a hobby nor a job but something that, so to speak, gives voice to the soul.

Laura Parenti
From the Voce weekly
(Carpi, 23 April 1998)

When I walk through the main gateway of the courthouse, opened for the occasion onto  Viale Carducci, I feel as self-conscious as the children entering the forbidden garden in 'The Selfish Giant'. I have some Carpi-based artists to thank for this chance, since it was they who decided to turn this rather secret and exclusive space into an impromptu art gallery. 
This fortunate choice allows us to enjoy beauty in its two Kantian forms. On the one hand we have the 'free' beauty of nature, which we see in the variety of trees or the wonderful hydrangeas of the big central flowerbed, and, on the other, 'the dependent beauty', which needs a material or representative medium for its expression.
Sometimes these two levels of experience come together, as in Mara Montanari's work.
Her painted steel installations float in space, setting up to a constructive exchange between nature as they portray it and the real nature around them.
These primordial and symbolic shapes challenge the wind, the earth, the forces of nature, magic and perhaps also the unconscious by multiplying a basic form that erupts and generates life.

Pietro Marmiroli
From the Voce weekly
(Carpi, 11 July 1996)


Mara Montanari's work was on show at the Galleria Teorema from 8 to 20 June.
As a painter attentive to processes of being and becoming, finding stimulation in the impulses of universal languages, she gives vigorous expression to feelings fed by the lymph of social events.
The new forms of communication - publishing, television, cinema and mass media- are also educative, helping to bring a language composed of symbols and signs to maturity.
Vibrations always perceived logically, rooted in the subsoil of life and growing into dreamlike visions, dense in their colourful Expressionist backgrounds. This language might seem unusual in the context of the typical trends emerging after the mid-point of twentieth century, but in the work of Mara Montanari it appears original, new and forward-looking. It is thus not an expression of being but rather of becoming, where signs, colours and words come together to form new expectations, new frontiers, no longer focussing inward, into being, but outward and away to distant galaxies, new adventures in space-time, fully dynamic: a metamorphosis of images and words fused as the language of the artist that is always open to new possibilities.

Giuseppe Labate
From the Alla Bottega weekly
(Florence, 16 September 1992)


 Mara Montanari uses her instinctive, hasty, often tormented and at the same time strictly logical powers of perception to seek out new experimental pathways in the area of pictorial representation. 
For this 'researcher', constantly focussed on meaningful artistic renderings of a conflicting evolution, anything can be a reason to take on the infinite possibilities of graphic narration. 
Vibrations overlap and are interwoven: language within language, colour within colour, white within white, red within red. Her works are settings for moods (I think of Caliban's sleeping place), gathering and then releasing the space of a story, becoming solos full of archaic echoes.

Mara Montanari's works manifest the dynamic competition, filled with vying evocations, between the definite form of the 'leaf' and the colourful transgression covering it. This compositional dynamism is carried over into other works with different themes but the same basic creative concept. Images and words compete on the canvas to make representation their own, where the symbol and the sign mirror the conventional and the subjective.

This results in different levels of communicative intensity, standing not so much as 1970s experimentalism, or even as provocative transgression, but as representation aiming to transcend the univocal nature meaning, instead allowing a multiplicity of experiences and stimuli to emerge in Mara Montanari's 'workings'.

Franca Casarini
brochure of Florence exhibition
(Carpi, 8 June 1992)

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