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The Man Who Lived Twice, an Appreciation of William Congdon

An exponent of figurative abstractionism, the American painter William G. Congdon, in the 1940s, was as famous as a Rothko, Pollock or Rauschenberg.

Luna su Cascinazza, 1

A tormented and very sensitive soul, he lived two conversions that produced a dichotomy between the “before” and the “after” in his artistic production. If at the beginning his work was still amateur, after the Second World War and the horrors of the extermination camps that coincided with his first conversion, his art developed under the sign of “pietas”. He painted canvases that testify to the basic demands of his new conception of art. In the show are exhibited, among others, “Ganga”, “Stazione 1”, “Ponte di Calcutta”, works that express anguish and pain and in which dark masses predominate with graphic-pictorial elements. He said, “I live the black that for me is a source of light”. In the ’50s he travelled a lot, producing an impressive number of works, from which he frees the freedom to play with things and to affirm his autonomy without religious or ideological ties. As a man he was always looking for something that would subtract him from his isolation: this search led him to the second phase of his art with his conversion to the Catholic faith. For Congdon, the whole truth was summarized in the crucifix, as the body of Christ on the cross led to the salvation of redemption. After moving to Milan, he painted more than 200 crucifixes. The canvases were not so much devotional works as a way to discover new languages and above all to find himself in an intimate and spiritual dialogue with Christ, an icon of absolute love. In the 80s, in search of absolute isolation, he moved to Gudo Gambaredo, a small town near Milan. In the Lombard countryside and in its mists he found a new source of inspiration. He painted landscapes, poplars, streams of this area, enhancing its subtle and discreet charm. “La luna su Cascinazza”, “Il monastero”, “Campi”, “Estate”, are some of the paintings on display from this period. The paintings are always a mixture of physical and mystical elements and radiate a melancholic magic and a feeling of peace.
For Congdon, art was like a window on life beyond death: “I do not love what I paint, because I do not paint anything, I only love the same painting that is my dying”.

Loretta Pettinato

Volume 33 no 4 March / April 2019

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