The songs of the heart - 2008, Nicola Manfredi

I printed Stefano Grasselli's first etchings in 1998. Remembering now, I never doubted, from the beginning, that a highly respected engraver had arrived in the workshop. His recipes are apparently simple: drypoint with intertwined signs drawn with control and medium strength, an orderly hatch, more often in scrolls than straight, reminiscent of the chiaroscuro of the ancient masters of the burin. Sometimes conducted over light aquatint etchings, to reinforce the dark atmospheres of many of the subjects dealt with.

And certainly the constancy of the iconographic themes contributed not a little to making me appreciate Grasselli's engravings: not to devote himself to the squares of bourgeois living room graphics but to characters, animals, dark landscapes, which recall the griffins of the grotesques, the bestiaries engraved in the 16th century, but also the visions of Kubin or of some surrealists, it is an act of courage and coherence towards the persistence of one's own sources of inspiration. And knowing how to translate one's inspiration with an appropriate technical language is characteristic of great engravers.

Grasselli is an artist convinced of his work, reliable for the momentum and commitment he spends on art projects. Over the years I have passed many of his plates under the press and some of the printed sheets I wanted to keep them for the expressive vehemence, for the beauty of the nightmare and the foreboding they emanate: The great vulture, Shepherd with nightmares, The great pitfall … Until the opportunity arose to edit a text by Pablo Neruda on his own poetics. Reading the prose of this solar poet, understanding that poetry lives in the contrast between light and shadow and approaching it with Grasselli's dark engravings was sudden. Neruda says, regarding the themes of the poem: "some hunter alone, imprisoned in the middle of the woods, oppressed by the celestial aluminum, smashed by furious stars, solemnly raises his gloved hand and hits the place of the heart. The place of the heart belongs to us. Only, only from there, with the help of the black night, of the deserted autumn, the songs of the heart come out at the stroke of the hand. Like lava or darkness, like bestial tremor, like the tolling of an unbroken bell, poetry plunges its hands into fear, into anguish, into diseases of the heart. Outside there are always large decorations that impose solitude and oblivion: trees, stars. The poet dressed in mourning writes tremulously very solitary ”. Here, Neruda's words best evoke the themes of this engraver, which are songs of the heart, a heart capable of translating the dark side of humanity and nature on paper. The three drypoints on Plexiglas, with their signs cut without beards, were the best equipment for the Nerudian text.

Shortly after the publication of this volume, we faced Ciro Alegria's Hungry Dogs. Author coming from the same landscapes as Neruda, the same harsh and splendid nature, relentless and lavish, man like a straw that bends, breaks, is reborn, animals as a threat and as a resource. And again Grasselli's engravings, black masses of signs and some whites, generic yet recognizable mountains, portraits of men as beasts and beasts as humans ... The essence of an extraordinary novel in five small perfect plates by Stefano Grasselli.