"Let the Children Come to Me"
These paintings are in keeping with the traditional themes of this artist. We find those female faces so round and full that their skin seems to be drawn to the edges of the canvas, his references to religion, and the use of foreign iconography, in this case from Southeast Asia.
In the words of anthropologist Giulia Bogliolo Bruna, "diversity is, for this painter steeped with talent, the embodiment of unity. The works of Armonia are a fervent hymn to the numerous facets of humanity, humanity that is inspired by the divine."
"Limited in its nature, without limits in its voices, man is a fallen god who remembers heaven." (Lamartine)
However, if we look closely, this apparent loyalty to his traditional themes hides a subtle evolution. These feminine faces that used to be the central subjects of the compositions have become a background, almost like vestiges of beauty and gentleness now confronted by more violent and provoking themes. To this first difference we have to add the evolution of the painter himself: the mainly aesthetic aspect of his work is now enriched by a strong semantic view. This same message refers always to a dual interpretation.
Thus the reference to the universality of religion, brought forth by the coexistence of representations of baby Jesus and Taoist divinities is paired with speculations on the blinding of man, represented by some hummingbirds, irresistibly attracted by divinities. And even the inherent spirituality is at time perturbed by the surprisingly sensual aspect of the infant Jesus, an allusion to the recurrent news of scandals in the Catholic Church.
Because, if we disallow attaching ourselves to religions, is anything left, other than folklore? And what should we say about the new challenge of bypassing what is logical to become involved in a spirituality that won’t be perverted by man? Or else, what is left to the woman surrounded by skulls (see the painting Vanitas Vanitatum) and by cherry blossoms, Asian symbol of the frailty of life? The tiny scallop shell – the Christian symbol she wears on her forehead - appears quite fragile when faced with the dangers that threaten her. The vanity of times past served to remind men that their terrestrial life was ephemeral, but also that the kingdom of heaven was awaiting them. What is left to them, if also this door closes for them?
In the series of the veiled women, we find once again contrasts at the same time symbolic and aesthetic.
The symbolic contrast is in the coexistence of the infinite gentleness we can read on the features of those very sensual women and the violence of those veils that hide them and suffocate them. Since Armonia couldn’t bring himself to make their eyes and lips disappear, with their sad expressions and the knowing smiles, it is then the noses that become victims of this subterfuge. This symbolic contrast is doubled by a more elementary and insightful contrast, since the masks are illustrated with biblical scenes depicting war and violence or tragic episodes; the pairing religion-violence is not absent, as well as the association of different religions, as represented by the intimate association of the Christian bible and the Islamic veil. Obvious paradox of these masks that highlight (the horror) as they conceal (the beauty). At least, substance and appearances are here in agreement, and the function of the mask and its decoration don’t leave any doubt as to what the artist feels about this violence perpetrated against women.
Radically different in its form, since it is a statuette, the Papa-gatto (in Italian the word Papa means Pope and gatto means cat) is however also inspired by the same position, by the same questions, and push the provocation even further by being more explicit. If the feminine references have disappeared, we find one again the religious and multicultural references: a Chinese cat, believed to bring luck is decked out with a mask representing Pope Benedict the 16th. The contrast becomes even more evident when one realizes that the Chinese cat is famed to bring luck especially in money matters…
In short, far from presenting a univocal or ambiguous perspective, the work of Armonia is clearly that of an artist who is becoming more and more politically and socially conscious and engaged, who is looking for balance between the opposites, and whose interests are represented faithfully by his work. Marc Nossin - Atelier Armonia Paris