The Painted House is an original mix of archaic, ancient and modern cultures, as original as the artist who conceived this experience: Brian O’Doherty.
He adopted the pseudonym of Patrick Ireland in 1972, after the events of the Bloody Sunday in Derry, to denounce the repressive attitude of the British government towards the Irish claims. Then he decreed the death of Patrick in 2008, returning to his original name (thanks to the change of attitude of Great Britain) with a ceremony held in the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, where the tombstone is still visible.
But back to us, Todi, Via delle Mura Antiche (the street name already tells us that we are in the historical center of the medieval town). At number 25, a small door introduces us into the house that the O’Dohertys bought years ago. To retire, you might think… not at all!
Just after the entrance steps there is a large kitchen, with the old furniture, but bright colored.
Geometric squares chasing each other on the walls, and on the lintel that separates the kitchen from the dining room stands an inscription: One Here Now. The mantra that the artist wants to convey.
Old appliances, far more than vintage, alternate the artist’s work.
Everywhere vertical or oblique lines: simple decorations, you might think, not at all. Here an ancient Gaelic alphabet, the Ogham alphabet, consisting of just 20 lines that match our letters, blends with contemporary geometric style, and with the colors sometimes soft and sometimes bright.
In addition to the three fundamental words: One Here Now, reproduced in several languages, always with the Gaelic signs all along the lintel, two letters are the most important to the artist: “I” and “U”.
The letter ” I” in Gaelic is written with 5 vertical lines, and the number 5, 5 squared (what a coincidence we’re at the number 25 of Via delle Mura Antiche) are used throughout the Painted House.
We climb the colorful stairs that lead us to the living room: here, the work that strikes me the most is an installation entitled “300”, in homage to the fourteenth century Italian triptychs. From the painted shapes wires seem to simulate perspective lines. Every visitor, choosing the right vanishing point, can see the painting lined up with the wires, feeling like the painting comes closer.
On the highest level there is the bedroom: windows and fictitious openings play with perspective and a chair placed under one of the windows by the artist disorients me up to make me doubt what is real and what is, instead, painted. Always play with wires and prospects captivate the visitor, while at the sides of the bed, you can see the silhouettes of the two hosts: Brian and Barbara.
Last room: the bathroom, where the decor reminds of the circles of Dante’s Paradiso and mirrors inebriate us with colors.
To visit the painted house is definitely a unique experience. No doubt O’Doherty works are visible in many museums around the world, but this, in my opinion, is the only place where the artist’s message takes extra force. From his Celtic roots, from our Latin roots that make us all unique but neighbors, heirs of history, but constantly changing. We are all One – Here – Now.
by Benedetta Tintillini