There are numerous episodes, myths, legends, anecdotes and stories that involve the medium of painting: in his Natural History, Pliny describes a painting by the famous Zeuxis in which some grapes were so successfully represented that birds flew up to it; in his The Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Paolo Uccello – who had this name because he loved animals and would often paint them – was once so offended by Donatello that he refused to come out of his room but sat working at his drawings, and whenever his wife called him to come to bed he would answer “What a wonderful thing perspective is!”
However no story is more appropriate to this occasion than the one told in The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac. This is not the time to tell the full story, and notwithstanding the differences between the cases, the comparison to Eti Jacobi – her practice, her works, her devotion, her obsessions – is fitting. Her modus operandi, her untiring desire to unlock the mystery of painting, a quest that has been keeping her busy for more than forty years, is a model for what art could be, and should aspire to be.
Through the juxtaposition of works that appear to be different – a neophyte would say “abstract” versus “figurative” works, but such distinctions have little place in Jacobi’s complex universe – but which are in fact created with the same mind (and body) set, the artist is challenging our own mind and our own body; yes the full body, because speaking only about the eyes would be in fact misleading since Jacobi’s large paintings need our full attention.
In other words, through this strategy of juxtaposition, which she has employed before, Jacobi is demanding full attention, full devotion and commitment. What appears to be shapeless is in fact the opposite. What seems to depict figures, eventually turns into pure color – or lack thereof, if we consider the strong presence of black in this exhibition.
A malady, just as the title suggests, is what Jacobi ‘suffers’ from and constantly endures. It does not matter if a work takes six months or six minutes to be completed. The position from which the artist creates actually happens to be same, due to the fact that there is in each case an equal craving to possess all the unknown rules for the making of the perfect painting and there is an equivalent force which is directed to the understanding of how to push the limits of color applied on a surface. Thus, through such ‘simple’ actions, Jacobi reveals to us, paradoxically, how painting is still the most difficult language created by humankind.
In the company of Poussin (just like the protagonist of Balzac’s story), Caravaggio (whose whispers can be heard in Jacobi’s dark still lives) and the unique light that every day touches this land and enters her studio, the artist creates a world in which she sets the rules in order to challenge them, “warms up” (this is how she often defines her drawing practice) in order to create art that has nothing to do with today, yesterday or tomorrow’s currencies. Like painting itself, despite how the times try to convince us otherwise, Jacobi’s practice is a constant siege, which goal is to conquer immortality.