Frontpage Contents Search Press Office BTA logo italiano
Luigi Russo Papotto. Bitumens - Oxymorons  
Giuseppe Carrubba
ISSN 1127-4883     BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, September 28th 2009, n. 537

Bitumen. Black. Works in black [1]. Gods have fallen and prayers won’t let us forget about that. It’s necessary to comprehend the relation with the shadows when the relation becomes a language itself. The holy mountain is covered with dust while my heart is filled up with things to tell. But I can’t remember anything. The narration follows the vision, only traces are around me, material of the ground, objects and fossils keeping and showing in their shape their constitution and memory, nature and culture: an alchemy of art capable to turn the vulgar metal (in)to a new knowledge.

Protecting and healing figures live in the capability to generate silence.

The Temple is wrecked and sand and desert have been generating suggestive, enigmatic, mysterical shapes.

Art is wonder and fright, crossing it’s way I happened to get sick.

In the beginning the very sign was meant to tell the existence and to represent time, so the artist gave significance to reality through actions and objects, setting personal and collective meanings that laid the foundation for a symbolic language. Time has been captured, since everything that is defined is already past; but through the language, through the sign, the work, it can be saved from the oblivion’s stillness. The recurring crises and tragedies of humankind can lose their actuality with the passing of time, they can lose their power and vigour, so their presence slowly turns into an absence.

Luigi Russo Papotto makes a spatial action with sign and material, letting the ambient be part together with shapes that are traces, and symbolical fragments of narrations of suffering and tragedy, testifying events and History. This way, both memory and symbol amplify the action itself, an action that’s multiplied on different levels and turns into an anthropologic paradigm and a work about loss.

This black bitumen is a sign and not a colour, it sticks to a figuration affirming it’s own identity through the artist’s handling of objects and materials transfiguring into formal subjects, while the genesis of the work follows mental paths inside a dynamics in which eros and biomorphism are tied up to totemic and magical elements.

The subject and the staging are depending elements in a relation of reciprocity able to generate an evoking image in which the idea is affirmed as a tangible presence; the use of a tree gives us the idea and the memory of it’s image and suggests us other potentialities and an interiority all through manipulation and superimposition.

Art is an instrument of knowledge and a place of cult, it produces images that are simulacra, projects, simulations in a parallel running with reality. In the beginning, before philosophic thought, and way before writing, there was the importance of myth and imagination; they used to represent the absence of what they did evoke.

The archaic idol was a simulacrum, meant as a shadow from beyond. 

Contemporary artworks, like the less recent works of the old and new avant-gardes, exchanged our mental perception with the relationship between art, ambient and mass media; these works invited us to think the unexpected, providing new chances together with other social levels of participation through the interaction.

 Papotto is a sculptor; he handles the material, and has made a poetic out of the inter-action, presenting works with an ambivalent reading, that pre-suppose a discovery and a variable related to the spectator’s participation.

The theatre of art and the staging recover a concept of aesthetic communication based on the multi-sensorial experience of the work, which invites us to cross it from time to time, or to touch or dismantle it in order to build it again, in tune with the synestethic experience and with the plurality of points of view and the multi-cultural, global reference system.

The artist is also a good drawer, he projects and searches the shape. In his work the oxymoric features are evident, since he puts together two contradictory forms of knowledge: the ancient, magic knowledge connected to a culture of ghosts and fancy with the culture of the mimesis: an art meant as free creativity with autonomous values connected with an art of reality and truth, expressed by a relationship between tangible world and ideas.

The poetics of the oxymoron is a rhetorical form that’s symptomatic of the contemporary way of thinking, a metaphor of the contradictions and of what’s irreconcilable, just like the use of bitumen as an expressive medium, an organic material characterizing the urban fabric where we live, a material that recreates the landscape, the borders and the limits.

The presence of this substance in contemporary art determined an obsession that allowed some artist like Burri, Tàpies, Fautrier, Dubuffet, Klein and Kiefer to use bitumen and combustion enriched by symbolical and spiritual meanings related to the alchemical process.

The use of bitumen in Papotto’s works creates an optical energy on the surfaces, a visible mass with carvings and craters, results of an anarchic expression of the material itself, which accepts to be moulded yet refuses that, keeping some degree of autonomy related to the Chance.

The material is heavy and slow, it knows light and shadows through the fire and evolves across the image’s limits. Its formalization is contained by such geometric shapes as the square, a stable figure and a symbol of the earth that takes a sacral meaning, like the use of black and red does.

Just like in the depths of the earth or in the cosmos, a movement of evolution of the bitumen’s keratin is exalted here, with a cathartic action. By translating the material and caging the shape, the artist puts into action some scenes of sublimated drives. 

Elements and materials implicate an overlapping of meanings produced by the opulence, what can be generated is also generating. By the transposition of meaning some oxymorons are determined and they highlight negations and contradictions. An archaeology of the present: the approach to an univocal meaning and to a unity falls through and we can attend to a “mystic” writing, of a baroque kind, outlining the multiplicity and the Self’s contradictions.

In the paradox we reach the higher degree of meaning, evoked and never revealed.

The lack of a centre and of a unity is the main feature of present time, making necessary an anthropologic debate about the Human Being.

A poetics of tolerance and compassion is needed, set against the irrationalism of every absolutism, in favour of an aesthetics of permeability representing the opening towards further realities of meaning.

In the contemporary scene, Papotto sculpture affirms itself as a possible dimension, an unstable balance, suspended inside it’s own contradictions; expression of a discomfort but also testimony of necessity and freedom, keeping a religious thought outside of any religion and a cultural proposal outside of the institutional culture’s rules.

This artist’s work contains an implicit denunciation and a message of solidarity for the actual condition of social decay: through an aesthetic rigour and a moral commitment, Papotto evokes the wounds and the discomfort of Contemporary History. It’s an ethical work, filled up with a metaphysical tension affirming itself against the culture of the void, of the passivity, where all is false and provisory. A work set against the end of the democratic thought and of the free civil growth.

The artist raises his own voice and feelings against blackmail, violence, sexual, social and religious discrimination, defining a condition in which time and space fade away, turning into material objects.

The slow sedimentation of the assembled, burnt, recovered, mutilated materials can be observed as an aesthetic of the ruins of time, evoking a possible dialogue, split and death through dialectic and formal contrasts, between revelation and hiding.

According to Papotto, memory leaves its mark, along with news and History, in a repeating game of facts and actions following a discontinuous articulation and a temporeity, a narrative build-up evoking the past and present recovered by the artist with his practice based on remainder and settling.   

The perceptible material shows and reveals itself, with the logic of prohibition a double symbolic register takes place, where the multi-layered implications appear in the dialectical space of negation and transgression of an opulent vision. The artist’s practice is justified by a moral and artistic interiority that recognizes and finds its roots and developments in the deep knowledge of artists and History of Art, although he distances himself from every artistic or market-related colonialism, in order to give back to art a poetics connected to spirit and a historical conscience based on the present.

These works exist in a physical and conceptual way, they are substances made up with energy and desire. Energy for aesthetical situations not relating to sculpture only in its broad meaning, but space itself, capable to descript surfaces on relief inside mighty structures, or to be expressed in a complete three-dimensionality to take over the environment around.  

In the full relief structures there is a will to capture, to cage and keep, through the work of the tools, archetypical metaphors mixing up nature with artifice, while the works based on the surface contain the power of the scrap, both social and linguistic, fragments of present and formal leftovers.

The project, based on the use of bitumen, was born and has grown up on the possibility to create a space where let painting, sculpture and architecture be together, in order to formalize the concept of space and time related to memory.

Pigments and bitumen are laid as a second skin in the work’s wefts; through the heat they melt and purify everything that coagulates overlaps and takes a structure. The space soundlessly presses and keeps, no words left, only gestures from a tragic world, containing hope.

These sculptures are signs and traces coming from deep feelings, soul vibrations turned into sediment of the present time’s conscience, containing the seeds of spiritual motions coming from underground places.

The necessity of “marking” even out of the work’s microcosm determines an opening, beyond its own limits, to invade the space around. The space of the brinks, closed and feminine, opens like a mother’s womb, it opens itself to the world and to the things around, to give birth to a spiritual architecture where religious, secular and civil forces live together.

An absolute space filled up with feelings where the access codes are represented by the positive and negative, masculine and feminine, by material and void, God’s space and man’s.

This work based on the relation with the space implies also a suspension and a demarcation line, the idea of an exterior and interior movement, the search for some natural borders.

Papotto is a deep, complex artist; his work doesn’t allow anything to simplification or reduction, but only to sedimentation. The process of complexity is depurated by time itself, as an existential element, with its connections and correlations, a path presupposing a reflection and a contents questioning too, according to the western culture’s critical approach. Inside this declaration of poetics, the aesthetic nature, the existence in the world and the human condition stand together.

In these latest works, it’s proposed by the bitumen the concept of black(ness) as landscape and material. Black is not a colour, it’s a symbol of the material before it is recomposed; it declares an absence and a waiting, it expresses the deepness of a primary place. Black is the colour of Caravaggio and Goya and it’s connected with the History of Mediterranean, a History crossed by ruins, fire and storming lava. The artist has made the works with various layers of bitumen, used in different densities and mixed up with different other materials: wood, copper, iron, stones and sand from Etna.

The shapes moulded and overlapped are bodies turned into consolidated entities; they can contain kind of a pure sensoriality and often assume an open condition, since they have the possibility of a changing inside, with aesthetical and sexual appeal.

The bitumen works represent a mental space where we save hurting remains and fragment of existence in: they are keepers of memories.

They are mute voices and suffocated screams in a dark and silent zone. They are the scraps that the visible shows and transfigure to. They’re emphatic in their workmanship and theatre of ecstasy and dramatic force in which spiritual and conceptual are part in the construction of sense by the change. They are aesthetic and communicative short-circuits the artist use to maintain a stable state of alarm regarding our social condition. 

They are a border and a resistance.



Luigi Russo Papotto was born in Linguaglossa, Catania, in 1955.

His artistic path starts in the 60s when he attends the sculpture class at Istituto Statale d’Arte of Catania and, at the same time, attends Domenico Tudisco’s workshop.

In the 70s he studies at the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Brera, at Minguzzi’s sculpture school and at the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Catania, the sculpture school of  Eugenio Rosso and Rosario Frazzetto; then he moves to Pistoia and starts working in the prestigious Fonderia d’Arte “Michelucci”, where he meets many of the artists he will work with.

In the 80s he takes part in a number of projects of scenographic sculpture, together with, among many others, Arnaldo Pomodoro.

He has exhibitions in Italy, France, Spain and in the U.S. and his works are bought to be part in several private collections.

The artist pursued various researches that brought him to the creation of interactive sculptures first, then to deal with History-related themes in “Monumento per la Pace” (A monument for Peace) in Mazza and Cozzile, 2004, and sociocultural reflections in the work called “Pozzo di Abramo” (Abraham’s Pit), Quarrata, 2004.

“Date Cardinali” (Cardinal Dates), an installation dated 2006, is a “memoroteca”, a space for memories, a kind of memorial, a project in which art is meant as a painful testimony of traumatic events in our recent History.

In 2007/2008 the artist realizes “Pinnocchio si arrende” (Pinocchio surrenders) and “L’Ombra dell’Albero” (The Shadow of the Tree). The first work is an homage to one of the favourite themes of Venturino Venturi, whom Papotto personally met at the Officine Michelucci in Pistoia, while the other, an icon of a tree not fit for nesting, represents through sculpture the issue of atmospheric pollution. 







Date Cardinali, Catalogo della mostra, Settegioni Editore, Pistoia, 2006


Giacomo Bazzani
Luigi Russo Papotto, in “Confidenze dell’arte”, Studi d’artista e generazioni a confronto a Pistoia, Centro di documentazione Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Pistoiese, TRA ART, Pistoia, 2007


Marco Bazzini
Proiezioni d’arte, Palazzo Fabroni Arti visive contemporanee, Pistoia, 1997
Lungo i binari… apparizioni, Montecatini Terme, Pistoia, Maschietto & Musolino, 1998


Santo Calì
Scaglie di marmo candide incidono, Immagini e parole, Lambda Editrice, Catania, 1969


Bruno Corà
Pistoia: proiezioni e continuità, Palazzo Fabroni Arti visive contemporanee, Pistoia, 1997


Vittoria Corti
Luigi Russo, in “Sculture e disegni”, Borgo a Buggiano, Pistoia, Tipolito Vannini, 1983


Carlos Franqui
Teatralità in scultura, Centro culturale “L’Oro di Noma”, Milano, 1991


Carmela Infarinato
Papotto, in “Cartoline d’artista”, Ponte Buggianese, Pistoia, 2001
Papotto, disegni e sculture, Multimedia arte contemporanea, Pistoia, 1992
Papotto arte interattiva, Catalogo della mostra, Pistoia, 2002
Il pozzo di Abramo, V Biennale internazionale delle arti di Quarrata, Pistoia, 2004


Romana Loda
I Blues delle notti sfinite, in “ Coevit “ civitas litterarum, Scuola delle Arti, Viadana, Mantova, 1997


Nicola Nuti
Il procedere da una forma all’altra, Catalogo della mostra, Pisa, 1993


Jolanda Petrobelli
Ti parlo d’arte, vuoi?, Pisa, 1996


Giuliano Serafini
Luigi Russo e i padri ritrovati, in “Terzoocchio”, n. 35, giugno 1985, Edizioni Bora, Bologna


Giovanni Torre
Scultura e grafica, Galleria del “ Gruppo Ciclope “, Acireale, Catania, 1975.






Luigi Russo Papotto

Luigi Russo Papotto – comunicato stampa “bitumi – ossimori”
<> 2009


Settegiorni Editore


Marcia mondiale per la pace e la non violenza
<> 2009


Carlo Chiavacci, Ritratto di Luigi Russo Papotto, in “Fotocommunity” 
<> 2008


Carlo Chiavacci, Ritratti, in “”
<> 2008


Tempo per lo Spazio, in “”
< >2008


L’ombra dell’albero, in “Exibart Blog” – Giuseppe Carrubba
<> 2008


Note a piè di pagina – Omaggio a Niccolò Puccini, in “”
<> 2007


Confidenze dell’arte, in “”
<> 2007


Giacomo Bazzani incontra Luigi Russo Papotto, “Confidenze dell’arte”, Pistoia
<> 2007
<> 2007
<> 2007


Lorenzo Maffucci, Confidenze nell’arte, in “La Nazione”, Pistoia 
<> 2008


Liù, mon amour, viaggio nell’arte contemporanea, omaggio a Giacomo Puccini
in “”

<> 2007


Liù, mon amour – L’inizio del viaggio, in  “”
<> 2007


Liù, mon amour. In viaggio con Giacomo Puccini, in “”
<> 2007


Liù, mon amour, in “”
<> 2007


Date Cardinali, in “”
<> 2006


Date Cardinali: l’installazione di Luigi Russo Papotto, Settegiorni Editore
<> 2006


Percorrenze 06, in “”
<> 2006


Pinocchio si arrende – Luigi Russo Papotto rende omaggio a Venturino Venturi 
<> 2006


Pinocchio si arrende, Museo Venturino Venturi di Loro Ciuffenna
in “Radio”

<> 2006


Culture & pratiche. Conferenza regionale per la cultura. Regione Toscana
<> 2006


Giuseppe Carrubba, Culture & pratiche. La conferenza regionale della Toscana tra innovazione promozione, in “BTA - Bollettino Telematico dell’Arte”
<> 2006





The critic essay Luigi Russo Papotto. Bitumen - Oxymorons  is taken from the catalogue currently on printing by Settegiorni Editore, Pistoia, 2009

Translated from Italian to English by Luca Andriolo

[1] The Author probably refers to L’Ouvre au Noir, title of a novel by Margerite Yourcenar, that is actually named in English: The Abyss, but it’s also known as The Work in its Black Phase. 


Fig. 1
Trittico, 2009
bitumen, various pigments on wood
21,66 x 22 x 5,51 inches each


Fig. 2
Trittico, 2009
bitumen, various pigments on wood
8,66 x 8,66 x 1,97 inches each

Dea Madre

Fig. 3
Dea Madre, detail, 2009
bitumen, wood, varoius pigments
98,46 x 37,41 x 11,02 inches


Fig. 4
L'Albero, 2009
bitumen, shrub, copper
78,77 x 47,26 x 27,56 inches


Fig. 5
Cornucopia, 2009
bitumen and gold foil on board
118,15 x 26,39 x 20,48 inches


Fig. 6
Bitumi, 2009
drawings, pencil on paper
6,3 x 6,3 inches


Photo courtesy by Giuseppe Carrubba



BTA copyright PATRONS Mail to