Chiara Smirne paints at night. This did not surprise me when she said it while telling me about her way of creating art. In the cocoon-like silence of a world buried in sleep, Chiara goes to her easel and frees fantasies, the unconscious, the deepest emotions, her delicate and tormented sensibility. It is in the crepuscular atmosphere that her imaginary urban landscapes: whether they are metropolises congested with billboards, piazzas and historic streets, glimpses with a brave photographic perspective of shops and facades of palaces, long boulevards lost in the darkness rather than in a background of skyscrapers, they all emanate sensations of bewilderment, mystery, apprehension. The sounds of the city seem to be off and the frenetic beat slows down. Of course the style and technique adopted by the artist contribute to creating this distorted reality: the clean defined lines, the areas of flat, uniform, cold and at times gloomy colours confer to the landscape a temporal transcendence that imprisons the sentiments and angst of metropolitan existence on the canvas. Existence, human life in which the presence and the breath are felt, but are often not seen, sometimes glimpsed or which take on forms recalling “man”, but which are not human: this is the case in works like L’attesa and Le tienda in which we presume there are people, but in the paintings only mannequins appear. Other times, as in Statue, the human figure is evident, but objectified, almost as if it has been deprived of its soul and compared with a cold marble statue that seems more vital that life itself.
Thus the urban landscapes of Chiara Smirne become symbols of memories of life, of existential awkwardness, mirrors of anxieties, full of apparent gratification but lacking sentiments and values, where a lost humanity is always present with appearances and absences.
The artist puts on a surreal show. The urban glances are like theatrical or cinematographic set designs, artificial architectures showing the emptiness and inconsistency of man-made fictions. In these places, the windows of the buildings take on an emblematic value, they are opening-closures, membranes between the private and public worlds.
Openings where, through the glass, we glimpse a light, the shadow of a body. Closures when bars, shades, darkness imprison those inside and do not let an external gaze enter. Confusion and anxiety where faces, often only excessively large parts of them, fill the entire expanse of a window. They are real faces and sometimes we can recognise them as characters from cinema or music, in the works more for great admiration than for being closely connected to the private sphere of the artist. For example in Vicolo K.C., details of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love trapped in the window frames appear. It is hard to identify them, but what counts is the artist feels a deep connection of solidarity and comprehension towards them – despite the success, the fame, the riches – they were not able to give sense to their lives, to find happiness or at least serenity, they were not able to quiet their existential torment and to fill the abyssal emptiness of a psychological drama.
Dreaming an inland empire is instead a clear tribute to David Lynch, where his fragmented portrait is recognisable through the openings of multiple windows. The poetic and absurd visionary of the director is closely felt and interiorised by the artist. She, like Lynch, represents public places of an exaggerated normality that hide terrible emotions. Chiara Smirne paints worlds belonging to an apparent daily reality, but, like she herself says, they are places inspired by dreams, memories, fears. The effect of bewilderment embedded in her canvases is given by the creation of a dreamlike structure and of a scene of unconscious visions, delineated by an ambiguity that is apparently normal in context – the glance of a piazza, a courtyard, the angle of a city street – stereotyped scenes where reality is the paradigm itself of superficiality, of daily life, of the obvious. With a careful glance it is possible to get the message common to many of Smirne’s works, as for example For sale, which represents a boulevard with an array of shops and buildings running along each side and at the horizon the profiles of skyscrapers stand out in the surreal colours of the sky. The artist is always able, here as elsewhere, to create a temporal deformation in which the hours seem expanded and uncertain. She represents the urban landscape with a solid and exaggerated slowness able to gather what is happening behind the scenes: the anxieties and human suffering in a daily environment, but also the dreams and hopes that this world can change, the shops reopen after a static period of crisis, the windows, all the same, open up to let a vital breeze enter the homes.
It is the time of human fiction that is present in these paintings, where that which really counts can not be seen by the naked eye, but only by letting yourself be transported by the emotions. Behind the placid semblance hides the dark side of human existence, which Chiara Smirne brings to the surface with a representation of the unconscious through slow and numbing visions of an unnatural world created by man, where absurdity prevails over reason.