Antonino Leto: when melancholy turns into beauty and magic


The golden rule for any self-respecting painter is to know how to observe. However, not with eyes that are limited to recording, transposing the plane of reality immaculately onto the canvas, but with a penetrating depth, with the searching gaze of one who does not let daring and unpredictable connections escape his attention. It is a kind of re-creation, an almost mysterious reinforcement of the senses, a reassembly of what, despite its beauty, seems to us scattered and fragmented. As if pulling in the invisible threads of harmony, the painter constantly longs to recompose, to give form to that which is not shown, to give meaning to the void of the soul. In front of his brushstrokes, faces, places, colors cease to be valid only for themselves and take on the character of a universal message to be grasped, of a time of inexhaustible value renewed in a cyclical way. Antonino Leto, probably known to the general public as an excellent landscape painter, perfectly embodies this sensitivity that extends beyond the historiographical categories. Long considered a realistic painter, the native of Monreale was in fact something more. An irreducible interpreter of wonder, a cantor of the dignity of the least, a witness to the stubborn existence of life in spite of the vicissitudes. In its glimpses of reserved openness, often flooded with a light that cannot fail to recall the best island tradition led by Francesco Lojacono, however, the most canonical Sicily reveals itself as the least expected. Like the cradle of a purity that does not compromise.

Antonino Leto, “Saline di Trapani”

The sea is certainly the major protagonist in Leto’s paintings. A sea that the artist had practiced for years, even when his profession had led him away from his food borders, to Capri. A sea that is willing to show itself in all its grandeur, at times threatening infinite breadth, at times soft and welcoming crystalline surface. It is the fisherman’s sea of ​​loneliness, compelled to undertake the journey of hope by means of luck; it is the sea striped with blood, where the spectacular slaughter of tuna between the struggle for survival and the perverse ritual is consumed. But it is also the sea that cracks on the rocks controlled by a kind of mechanism of nature, the background of mountains that smoke and boast of their size, the faithful companion of enchanted children playing on white beaches. There is always a sweetness in the background, a melancholy that opens with sincerity for the viewer, the narrow-mindedness of a people burned by the sun as its own vegetation, yet utterly discouraged. Where a glimpse of the barren emerges, the painter’s hand immediately seems to want to flank it feverishly with a triumph of opulence, the creation’s response to the bitterness of fatigue. In this sense, the representation of Salt water of Trapani (1881): a landscape with almost surrealistic outlines, where the exhausting load of the work is engulfed by an almost supernatural wonder, by a warm and soaring white that dominates the scene, spraying the entire canvas with its brightness. Or again, The Temple of Castor and Pollux (1862), in which Leto almost manages to photograph the stigmata of a greatness that has never been completely lost. A glimpse of almost romantic features, immortalized at dusk when its monumentality is maximized.

Antonino Leto, “The Temple of Castor and Pollux”

Picasso said that “Painting is not an aesthetic operation: it is a form of magic intended to carry out a mediation work between this alien and hostile world and us“And in fact, in Leto’s paintings there is something that transcends, overflows in terms of simple aesthetics. It is a sense of desperate belonging, compassion for those who fight the battles of life, the convulsive search for what makes resistance. beyond time and space. The diverse soul of Sicily, which after all shines with its own light. The power of an imaginary who has a taste of myth and at the same time of everyday life. A perfect hug of suggestions. Like what happened in Leto between the heart and the brush.

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