The cat's cry - 2003, Nicola Manfredi

Sometimes beauty confronts us and we take it for granted, the gaze passes without paying much attention to it, at most it tends to return to it frequently. Until this unconscious coercion of the optic nerve affects our reflection and suddenly we realize that what we are looking at is beautiful; indeed, for the surprise of the discovery, wonderful. It can happen for a glimpse of the landscape, a face or a body, an animal, a work of man, for all the thousands of details that surround us.

Three large drypoint engravings were exhibited in the printing house for a long time. One of thirty-five by fifty centimeters, the second of forty-eight by sixty-one, the third of fifty-nine by forty-four centimeters. Three large images, charged with black, very visible. In the first, on the right, some painful figures have faces and bodies contracted by fear and anguish, just as the old man in the lower left is contracted on himself, without hope. Below also two cats, crouched in panic. Above, still to the left, a landscape of black hills, almost ash dunes. In the second, a woman bent backwards, screaming, her hands to her chest, a dog leans her paws on her stomach and raises her muzzle to ask her why so much pain. Above, a landscape of brambles and thorny clouds and in one corner three crosses, a gloomy Golgotha, a war cemetery.

The third imprinted from bottom to top a female nude, three-quarter back with the turned face emerging from a flowing wavy mass of hair, on the left a Luciferian profile of a man with a top hat and pince-nez, in the center an arch of moon, bottom right playing cards - a five of diamonds and a joker - and a screaming cat. It is a brief description that does not fully honor the richness of symbols and the representative power of the engravings. And it is the third that, first seen day by day, hanging in front of the desk, it was finally revealed to me of complete beauty, for the balance of shapes and construction, for the harmonic play of graphics and counter graphics, for the instinctive attraction aroused by the characters. I arbitrarily titled it The cry of the cat, from the name of a monstrous set of congenital malformations, due to a chromosomal aberration, including a particular tone of the cry, plaintive and acute, simulating the meow of the cat, precisely because that cat, wide open mouth, it is a disturbing allegory of the labor of living. And the other, Golgotha, and the first Nuclear winter. Works of an engraver who under the embellished skin of everyday life sees and represents horrors, hopes, nightmares, dreams, monsters, beauties. Effort to which true artists and true poets are called, so that, distinguishing themselves from cathode ray-fed amoebas, they bring the perennial relief of art to those by now few who know how to appreciate it.

Probably the titles attributed to these dry points have nothing to do with the real ones given by the artist. But evoking suggestions, stories, personal memories in the observer is a peculiarity of each of the many splendid engravings and lithographs by Isabella Branella that I have had the opportunity to admire and sometimes the privilege of printing. And if the titles are present they give indications, they are still incipits whose continuation the artist entrusts to the imagination of others. Overlooking the sea, Moths, Handicap, Hug, Together, The vamp, Distant melodies, Alain's dream, Inertia, The silent: not only images in engraving or lithography but, enclosed in a sheet, whole stories to unravel and interpret at pleasure.

Branella's evocative power makes use of an iconographic lexicon based on suggestions drawn from Käthe Kollwitz, Kirchner, Beckmann, Munch, from the best fruits of Northern European Expressionism, both pictorial and literary; some sheets seem like tales by Kuno Kohn, a lithograph that portrays a robust old man sitting in front of a window, his hand on the sill, looking at a landscape that he can no longer reach, is called Buddenbrok. But also of a masterfully conducted design and a possession of engraving techniques that has the instinctive ease of those chosen by art. Closed in the workshop for a week, hardly nourishing herself except by drawing on her own secret book swollen with drawings, this minute artist has created a series of plates in mixed language - aquatint, etching, drypoint, lavis, for negative - and lithographs in pencil, nib, watercolor, such as to decree her among the most interesting and promising engravers who have come to our workshop: often superior strength and will are hidden in frail appearances. From the distance of Giulianova, where he lives, news reaches us regularly. Isabella Branella, while forcing herself to comply with the dictates of everyday life - a job, money… - continues to weave her stories, passing from the engravings to the Fauvian chromatism of oil paintings, always with the same pathos and the same narrative verve. He does not give up but cultivates with obstinate passion the sacred vice of drawing, painting, engraving. We ask the god of art to take particular care of this very deserving daughter of his!