Venice, Behind Doors


Logan writer Ona Siporin is revisiting sites in Italy and Israel.
This piece is the “first” in a series of short meditations on travel into the hidden and unknown.

By Ona Siporin

Yesterday, with my Venetian friend, Pino Zennaro, I visited another friend, Gianni D’Este “Widmann” in his studio on a little side street in Cannaregio, a neighborhood of Venice. These two artists are among Venice’s hidden secrets, lost to the sight of the general mass of tourists in the glare of the great monuments. Not far off the main thoroughfare that leads from the train station to Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco, both Zennaro’s and D’Este’s studios are filled with canvases that startle the mind and fill the spirit.

As soon as we entered the studio, the two men dove into conversation about D’Este’s new portrait in oil that was sitting on an easel in the middle of the room. To see and hear these two artists talk shop – techniques of shadowing, use of color, angle of light – is to see the Venice of Tintoretto, Tiepolo, and Longhena, an ambience of profound interest in and consideration of beauty.

Zennaro, architect as well as artist, began studying art at a young age under his mother’s tutelage and by eleven was reading the history of art from prehistoric times to the modern. D’Este, who teaches painting in the evening, describes himself as “intuitive”, with an intuition guided from childhood, I would add, by the absorption of every detail and aspect of his native Venice.

Pino Zennaro. Titled BOLLE. Oil on canvas, cm 150 x 200
Pino Zennaro. Titled BOLLE. Oil on canvas, cm 150 x 200

The two artists work in different styles. D’Este’s paintings are the more overtly emotional. Using both representational and abstract forms, he brings his subject (most often Venice and the lagoon) to the canvas with a yearning, dreamlike quality: a ruined boat disintegrating on an island shore, a fog through which one sees the form of a bridge spanning a small canal. His works are reality becoming dream or, in the way of dreams, dream becoming reality. In his hands, Venice can morph into abstract shape and yet give the viewer the city of her imagination. Regarding the patient, concentrated, and technically masterful use of oil on canvas, the viewer searches D’Este’s paintings and finds an impossible, poignant memory to carry through the confusions of life.

Zennaro works with the nonstop, idea-generating mind of a Leonardo. He paints mainly abstracts, but also carves, sculpts, makes books, and fabricates miniatures. His paintings explode on canvases large and small, in brilliant, luminescent colors and in symbols that bespeak times both ancient and modern. His hands yield a ceaseless flow of spirit and form, visions that, once the painting is finished (often against his will; he would rather keep going), allow the viewer entry into not just Zennaro’s world, but also to one’s own. Traveling the paths of the paintings, the viewer finds one’s youth, one’s loves, one’s heartaches, joys, one’s own presence. With the clarity, the inventiveness, the pure élan of a child, imbued with the wisdom and skill of a master painter, Zennaro’s conceptions in oil tumble from his mind to his hand to the canvas, and invite us to come along.

No one wants to miss the great monuments of Venice: the Basilica of San Marco, the Doge‘s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs. These are visions of the possibilities of creation and remind us of the long history and the often beleaguered city and people that never stopped longing for and creating beautiful works of art. That history continues in the present in artists like Pino Zennaro and Gianni D’Este “Widmann”.

For more on these painters, google their names.