Nicola De Maria describes himself as “one who writes a poem, fingers dirty with paint, while closed off in the heart’s lair are a dog and cat ‒ painting and poetry ‒ which duel for the triumph of art.“ The analogy with poetry is an apt one, for his pictorial works are the lyrical transposition of the artist’s inner universe. Each painting or environmental work is evidence of, in vivid colors, the artist’s ability to embody the figure of the poet, along with that of the storyteller and the narrator. According to De Maria, the artist’s duty is “to transform the mishaps and the brutality of the world into beauty and harmony, in the infinite truth of goodness,” and the goal of art is “to evoke what is invisible, to bear witness to the supreme work of God; when the artist participates in creation, painting brings reality toward the absolute.” In his works, references to nature are the memory of and the nostalgia for origins, expressed through the language of a re-found innocence. More than a figurative representation of the visible world, each painted form is, rather, a personal vision of the otherwise invisible essence of things.
De Maria’s works do not accept the traditional boundaries of the canvas; the artist almost never uses frames for his paintings and he sometimes paints the works’ edges and backs. Similarly, the dimensions of his works vary from small to large, and painting often becomes an installation that expands into a total environment. Heir to the great tradition of fresco painting, De Maria is the originator of a pictorial language capable of enlivening ceilings and walls with a vital force, the colors of which create rather than illustrate. The artist strongly believes in the “principle of improvisation,” creating his works without a preconceived plan and inventing them directly on site. De Maria’s intention is to respond to this expressive urgency, celebrating “the triumph of art through the lyricism of painting.” In the late 1970s his proclivity for upending pictorial conventions, rejecting the academic, led to his role as one of the founders of the Italian Transavanguardia movement.
The poetic titles of the artist’s works serve as clues that provide another way to access De Maria’s inner world. Mare, chiudere gli occhi, o mare (Sea, Close Your Eyes, Oh Sea), 1983, a work on canvas, is characterized by an intense blue field animated by dense red and yellow brushstrokes. The depth evoked opens up the canvas to the dimension of an infinite watery expanse, making palpable the image of a distant sea, thought about and desired one summer day by the artist in his studio.
A large work on canvas-backed paper, I fiori salutano la luna (Flowers Greeting the Moon), 1984, is evidence of the renewed appreciation of drawing as an irreplaceable technique for the avant-garde. Almost like a long unrolled papyrus, both sides of the work feature drawn images of slender-stemmed flowers, whose presence frames a moon-like landscape painted in watercolor tones. De Maria considers flowers—a recurring element in his iconography—to be universal creatures, which concentrate within themselves the best the world and nature have to offer. In his personal vision, flowers are in touch with the planets, and their movements occur in harmony with one another. According to the artist, the “kingdom of flowers,” a sentence that frequently occurs in the title of his works, can be used for his entire oeuvre, dedicated to the desire for a perfected life.
Each of De Maria’s works represents the artist’s “cosmic” ambition to embrace all possible worlds within the work, making the transcendent visible. Testa dell’artista cosmico a Torino (Head of the Cosmic Artist in Turin), 1984–85, is an inner portrait, in which the various elements that compose it, painted as clear geometric forms in brilliant colors, are presented in a vision of unified equilibrium, animated by a continuous positive dynamism. The artist describes this work as a search for the internal processes of his own mind, emphasizing the unceasing progress that art and science share.