Federico Severino: Between Earth and Sky

Severino’s work can be considered a sort of storytelling of his quarantine. From the first work “Great green landscape with sky – 2019”, made towards the end of December, when we could still hug and kiss each other; up to the latest work “Great landscape atmosphere – 2020″ where our bodies are kept at a distance by fear. A personal journey that also speaks of us.


Federico’s works are to be considered as an intimate and powerful experience of the visible that turns into a delicate and methodical action. Experience is, in fact, one of the central themes of all the artist’s work and for this Severino loves to quote the words of Mark Rothko who claimed that: “A painting is not a picture of an experience, It’s an experience”. Moments of personal experience translated through the use of oil pastels that from soft and pasty material are transformed into landscapes characterized by imperturbable lights.


Federico Severino has always researched, confronts and dialogues with horizons and with the multitudes of colors that blend with the landscapes he loves to explore. An example are his long walks on Etna, a Sicilian volcano, which, like other landscape and artistic beauties of this island, which is also the place where he comes from, inspired many intellectuals and travelers. It is useful to quote a travel writing – Journey to Sicily, 1953 – by the American art historian Bernard Berenson, who describes the colors and atmosphere of the volcanic landscape from the point of view offered to him from the window of his accommodation:

I went to the balcony of my room to watch the sunrise over Etna. His color was silver and purple over a delicate blush, which seemed to come from within. At the top, a snow diadem, and, below, the necklace of clouds. The great height of the mountain did not appear so because of its soft and long sides. The sea was a mirror that reflected the colors of the sky, gradually pervaded with red due to the rising from below of the sun, more and more present, although it was not yet discovered to my eye. A soundless calm, except that vast and immediately extinguished by the great expanse of the sea breaking when it touches the shore ”.

In the same way as Berenson, who describes the sea as a mirror reflecting the colors of the sky, Federico orchestrates his composition with suspended spaces that link these two elements. Hence the choice of the title of this exhibition: Between Earth and Sky.


In the first selected works there is a material abstraction which, however, does not exclude the viewer’s understanding of the limit that delineates the boundary between the sky and the landscape. Borders and limits that the artist sees in both day and night environments, not excluding, moreover, the representation of urban atmospheres. A research that shifts its focus to more contaminated environments conceived by the artist as containers from which to obtain other material to add and reassemble, always using the essential. As in Urban Element_Grey – 2020, a reference to the city of Turin, and Yellow Underground – 2020, referring to his long experience in Berlin.

From this moment on that “Between”, among the sky and the earth, is even more extreme, abstract and lyricized by the compositions of “Atmosfere”. In these works the threshold of the limit is surpassed. Federico dares in the search for the visible that cleans up every superfluous element and every edge fragment. Each particle of matter becomes essential throughout the composition, particles that blend together thus absorbing the faint border mark, generating a larger and even more ideal space. Like a traveler, who notes his experiences in a diary, Federico Severino tells his research in which it is possible to see the dimension of the human being charged with passion, fear, amazement, and wonder.

By Carla Ricevuto

Large green landscape with sky, 2019, oil pastel on canvas, 90×130 cm

Big green landscape with sky is one of the first works I made towards the end of December 2019. I worked with a lot of serenity and slowness. I tried to enjoy every moment, every touch of pastel deposited on canvas. I remember like it was yesterday that in my slow progress, the lumps of matter fell to the ground, touch after touch, crumbled and as always I went on with indifference. At that time I was in Turin for work. The days were long, endless. With this work I can certainly say that I managed to grasp the breadth and extension of what binds the earth and the sky in an ephemeral way. Time dilates, the earth almost disappears, it emerges timidly, small strips of land. What else, what is beyond?



From the landscape only green, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 60×126 cm

Three weeks later I decided to take back what I have always loved. Landscape horizons. I took old photographs in my hands, there were so many. I stuck them on the house wall. For years I have worked on this theme and even today I do not feel tired, on the contrary, I try to understand how he could sink into this spell. After all, I have no desire to wake up because every time my perception changes and the colors I study and experiment constantly maintain that glow that has always belonged to me. Finding myself out of my homeland, Sicily, I always love to remember when in my long walks in the mountains I stopped for long minutes to observe the profile of a rocky body silhouetted against the sky and almost touching it, to then move away again and become unreachable. A profile, a line to evoke a landscape, a line that cannot exist except in our eyes and in our mind. This element is the bearer of distances and infinity. From the landscape only the green is just that. “I am forced to continuous transformations, because everything grows and becomes green” [..] (Monet C.)



First lights, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 45×115 cm

The news that the newspapers and the media gave were not comforting, they were starting to be a bit scary but my afternoons were always the same. Something was changing. It took me a long time to decide what the next job might be. For three evenings I found myself thinking about the night and that happens when the light gives way to the dark, to the depths. I really needed to observe and at the same time walk in the night. With a dear friend of mine we felt the need to get away from the city. We could still move, for a little while longer. We went to Ceresole Reale, in the upper Orco Valley in Piedmont. For three years now, I have approached the theme of the landscape with courage. With courage, because I dared to create an almost two-dimensional condition of the landscape reduced to the minimum degree of a simple line that separates the terrestrial domain from the aerial one. A totally visual and unreachable line. I remember well how unreachable that landscape was on that cold January night. Of that night only First Lights.



Urban element_Grey, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 40×40 cm


closeup detail

The city is present in my concept of landscape. I have been living in Turin for three years and I certainly got to know the city trying to grasp those elements of strong interest. Towards the beginning of 2020 a mini cycle of works was born that I called “Urban”. I have always been attracted to any type of surface that has a strong material appeal, vibrant and sensitive and monochromatic. In this series, as in the piece Urban element_Grey I investigate space, I try to explore new minimalist compositional elements. Living in an urban context aroused in me an interest in a new vision of the image, abstracting from reality. I felt the need for something unexplored and therefore to be investigated. The color and the sign are free from any conventional compositional structure. I try more and more to define and compact the material so as to give solidity and shine to the image. Everything comes from an emotion, something seen, explored that amplifies and acquires more and more value within me. In this series I have found a strong interest in the chromatic data. The image is essential, almost as if it were timeless. Gray.


Yellow Underground, 2020, oil pastel on paper, 48×39 cm


February 2020: In a first initial phase of research it was always nature that inspired me. More recently in my research another need has emerged, that of confronting myself with urban landscapes. They are mental and experiential projections. It is a slow process of research, new colors, new elements that describe urban landscape compositions, soft verticality. In Yellow Underground I took up old sketches made in the long Berlin residence in 2014. Fields of color and vivid pictorial materiality, blinding brightness. I made small works on paper as if they were small travel notes. I remember the waits and the minutes waiting for the U-Bahn, the underground subway in Berlin. A strong and intense yellow of light cadmium. As Goethe said “Yellow is the closest color to light”. In its two-dimensional perspective, the image faithfully reproduces colors and impressions of the moment. The visible image is maintained by a certain compositional balance balanced respectively on the sides by subtle shadows that gradually disappear into thin air.


Atmospheres of the afternoon, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 100×65 cm


We are in full lockdown: I find myself in my studio, basically, I’m fine. If I think about what’s out there, I feel bad. This situation has brought me certainties. I learned to roll my eyes. I learned to overcome that insurmountable limit that I have always defined as horizon. A new cycle of works entitled “Atmosfere” was born. There is no longer a horizon, a limit is no longer visible, something that delimits. New visions of landscape are born. The hand is pawing. I began to hang wide strips of fabric on the wooden support. I must necessarily start painting. I am happy because I am at home in Sicily. I have the strength and truth to communicate. In the first works there are no visual limits. In these new works it is possible to wander inside. New chromatic gradients, new shades, new compositional solutions are born. The touch of the pastel is quick. Each touch of color on canvas settles and outlines a chromatic map. Work by overlapping, by addition. I try to unify the chromatic matter in a single plastic body. There are no explicit figurative references. Only a close dialogue between materiality and abstraction.



Atmosphere, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 70×55 cm


closeup detail

Production progresses, I am more and more motivated. Even if it is not possible to get out, I am working incessantly. I found the right way to go. I am working consistently. In the new canvases, I am gaining more and more mastery and control. I feel a freer matter, free to occupy the entire surface, I can manage matter well. The colors blend, contaminate each other. This limitation which outlined and described a landscape as in previous works is no longer evident. In the new cycle, I paint landscape atmospheres. I paint what I see if I look up a little higher, always starting from the earth’s surface. A single starting dimension, traveled, animated by the matter of oil and pastels. The corporeal aspect is always present in the material and two-dimensional element of the works. The material is sometimes rough and sometimes vaporous. A constant interest in probing space is always present in my canvases, thus defining the place that a subject or an object occupies within it through the surface and its perceptual possibilities.



Atmospheres, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 100×60 cm

Also in this cycle of works, I present a wide-ranging painting. I paint an intelligible reality, devoid of earthly matter, an intimate and profound but at the same time visible reality, which smells of ethereal. I try to translate the visible data into a color that is thinning out and at the same time impregnating itself with light. There is always this driving force, an internal drive that pushes me more and more to describe a landscape, to recall a landscape without declaring it. They are vast contemplative dimensions, ethereal visions. Shades, chromatic transitions, and tonal variations describe the atmosphere. The feeling is that slowly, and with small steps, I am crossing and crossing that border that I have intensely investigated for a long time. The entire composition is harmoniously balanced and chromatically balanced. Thus the gap between earth and sky seems to be fluid and light, thus creating an infinite, indefinite dimension.



Great landscape atmosphere, 2020, oil pastel on canvas, 70×180 cm


closeup detail


I always made a lot of sketches before starting a project that could have longevity, as if it were a real living organism. I also thought that that sketch could become something great. Great landscape atmosphere is the last of the nine large-scale works that I have the pleasure of showing for Art Now After Hours. In this work, I think I have achieved the perfect balance of what I have told in this project. The three-dimensionality of the light in the image. The composition is sparse but rich in matter. I create an ideal world, new visions, new landscapes where everything is summarized in heaven, earth and man. The space continuously compresses and stretches like an incessant wave that hurls itself on the rock and subsequently retracts. Now it is a painting that has nothing to do with nature despite being deeply crossed by it and that recalls how the landscape is all in our head but also all in our legs. The central theme is the place and the relationship with the landscape understood as a world, a new dimension, an almost impalpable diaphanous essence. The dividing line element slowly loses its body to become a connecting element that recedes, to give rise to changes and color variations.


I take this opportunity to warmly thanks the Art Now After Hours Team, Carla Ricevuto, Robin King, and Jonn Nubian.