All artwork , Copyright - Contessa Antonia Mastrocristina Sirena
For Antonia Mastrocristina Sirena, painting is a natural extension of her skills as a singer and a poet. Art, for this extraordinary creative woman, is a totality of all possible media of human expression, the multiple facets of which are reflected in any one medium at a time. Acclaimed as a singer in her youth, always a poet in her response to life (as well as a poet in occasional spurts of writing), it is Sirena's paintings that command our attention.
There is no doubt that Sirena's paintings are what they are, to a great extent, because of her training in music and poetry. She insists on providing a message for each painting (although one is not needed), and that message is always one of live and Dantesque unity.
Many of the titles of her works reflect her operatic training, but again - one need not and should not insist on the titles to appreciate what the painting is telling us directly, through its own special medium.
Most interesting about this artist is the combination of high inspiration ("Trans-Expressionism" is the phrase she chooses to describe her work) and the easy, even rudimentary manner in which she approaches her craft -- a single bare bulb over a large table on which she paints: a plain kitchen knife for spreading colors; a lack of preliminary sketches.
One might well call her work a "happening." But what would be for most artists working in this way a clever primitive effort at painting is, for Sirena, breath-taking art.
She works for incredible long periods of time without a break -- 15 to 17 hours is not unusual -- often finishing a painting in one large sweep.
"But you can't work that long without a break," someone will tell her. "For me, it's the only way," she answers. "I must paint. If I don't I can't breathe." She means it.
She paints when the spirit moves her and I suspect there is nothing else that moves her quite in the same way. "I don't need much light," she explains, poiting to the small-watt bulb that hangs directly over the huge oak table on which she works in her basement. "I have all the light I need inside me.
The colors pour out from my soul."
By any other name, Sirena's "Trans-Expressionism" would still affect us as a genial art form that has acquired the strong personal stamp of its originator.
All art is personal, of course -- the style is the artist -- and Sirena's "Trans-Expressionism" is no exception. But the name, finally, is not the only key to the effect she produces -- an outpouring of huge forces struggling toward light. Even in her deceptively simple flower arrangements -- the dazzling array of colors bursting in pyrotechnic symmetry - one senses chaos soming to terms with form.
Whatever Sirena calls her inspiration or vision, whatever titles she gives her painting, the ultimate effect goes far beyond the limited suggestion of nomenclature. Her success lies in the perfect adequacy of vision and execution, form and matter. How she has mastered her particular and totally individual technique is of less interest, finally, than the actual result, which is much larger in its suggestivity than all the things that have gone into it.
"Trans-Expressionism" could be used just as easily as "Trance-Expressionism" to describe Sirena's masterful handling, though color, of a multi-sensory experience, an emotional restructuring of consciuosness seen through superimpositions of color, layers on layers of paint which is also sound, speech, song, music, spiritual and religious commitment.
The artist's titles for her works are no more than a convenient shorthand for a complex experience in which inspiration flows directly into execution and refracted light becomes almost an audible sensation.
Sirena has already proven her talent and has received scores of prestigious awards here and abroad. I will simply note that anyone who, like myself, comes upon her work for the first time, must surely feel the excitement of aesthetic identification. And even when one moves to larger statements of critical sensibility, the first sense of discovery will continue as a recurring magic.
Anne A. Paolucci
Award-winning playwright and poet
ABOUT THE ARTIST* Born in White Plains, New York, Sirena spent most of her young adult life in Italy. She has studios in Rome, Manhattan and Long Island. Her collectors include Frederico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Rossano Brazzi, Gina Lollobrigida, Giorgio de Chirico, Luciano Pavarotti, Vittorio de Sica, members of the Italian govenrment as well as the Pope. Picasso's praise of her work was instrumental in getting Sirena her firts major exhibit at the Galleria D'Urso (Rome).
At her second exhibit, also in Rome, Cardinal Dino Staffa, of the Vatican, honored the occasion by cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony.
The recipient of many prestigious awards and medals, among them the International Gold Medal of the City of Rome; awards from the Academy of Paestum, the Academy of the Five Hundred, the Cultural International Committee Gold Medal, and the prestigious First Prize Gold Cup of the Quadrennale of Europe (where she bested 1,000 finalists from all over the world) -- her paintings grace many museums, including the Vatican Museum, the Museum gallery of Modern Art and the State Museum in Rome, the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, and the OCC Art Gallery / The City University of New York.
The death of her father (when Sirena was two) forced her family to return to Italy, where the war overtook them. Starvation caused the deaths of the other children; Sirena alone survived, rescued by an opera singer from a burning train near Naples, and -- in a sequence of events more dramatic than any fiction -- was trained by the woman to sing grand opera. A year later when her benefactress died in a bombing raid, Sirena (then 14) made her debut in Naples in a musical.
She returned to America in 1947 and began singing engagements through the Lew Walters Agency.
A near-fatal illness which followed a broken marriage forced her to reorder priorities. Of that time, Sirena comments: "...the gifts of God came pouring through my mind as new talents appeared."
During her secluded recovery she experienced traumatic aesthetic visions and an overwhelming compulsion to paint what she felt. She abandoned her singing career and, still in seclusion, began to paint for long stretches at a time.
Completely self-taught, she hit on what she has called "Trans-Expressionism," a unique style in which her musical sensibilities found an outlet through painting.
Five years later, Sirena was invited to exhibit in Rome, where she was honored by Pope Paul VI, the President of Italy, and the Mayor of Rome. International acclaim followed, with exhibitions in Paris, Amsterdam, and New york, as well as in Rome, Milan, and other major cities of Italy. A CBS-TV special followed, and Frankie Lane introduced her on the "Mike Douglas Show."
In 1982, after a period of ill-health, she exhibited ninety large paintings at the Bjorn Lindgren Gallery (New York). In 1983 she had another major exhibit at the Lowenstein Gallery (Lincoln Center). In 1984 she returned to Rome for an audience with Pope John Paul II, who accepted two of her paintings for the Vatican Museum. In February 1985 she unveiled, at the invitation of Cardinal John J. O'Connor, a 10-foot painting now in the Archdiocese Museum.
Dozens of her works as well as her many awards and trophies grace her homes.
The impression one has is that art indeed is Sirena's whole life and that she cannot separate her daily routines from her artistic consciousness. She is a painter in whom all other compelling needs have been absorbed into the one single and unwavering impulse to give artistic expression to her unique multi-faceted inspiration.
(Artist Painting Gloves Meditation in the Light)
collage and board / 1978 / 48x48 in
"Too Many Flags in One Boat"
Oil on masonite / 1975 / 30x40 in.
"The Cross and the Church"
Oil on masonite / 1979 / 50x25 in.
"I believe that art is beauty, and to become beautiful is to be attuned to that intangible life force of the spirit within"
"Planet Jupiter Round"
oil on canvas 1983
48 in. diameter
"Can you imagine a world without colors, and music and poetry?
A world without architecture, without aesthetics?
"Romantic Lady Goes On..."
oil on masonite 1971 / 24 x 36 in.
"What I paint is then extricated from those visions and is embedded in pigments in a variety of colors and in many layers"
Oil on masonite / 1959 / 48x90 in.
"True education isn't just learning wordly things;
a higher vocation calls us to be aware of what transcending spiritual values have to offer"
"...true art is expressed when the human soul exalts the mind to perceive inner beauty of reality, and then translates that inner beauty visible. And so artists are made to serve this beauty to the world."
"I Embrace Beauty"
Oil on masonite / 1977 / 32 x 28 in.
"New York Spring Snow"
Oil on masonite / 24 x 48 in.
Oil on masonite / 1972 / 48 x 48 in.
"The Arts are meant to uplift the spirit, to penetrate to the true love in our hearts, mesmerized by the world's illusions. The arts are there to restore brotherhood to the human family."
What marks her work is a flow and a rythm which makes one think immediately of song and message, haunting melody and lyric. Of course, one notices immediately and perhaps first of all the craft itself: the solid table-like wood panels she prefers to paint on (instead of canvas), the use of ordinary kitchen knives to apply paint (creating the unique three-dimensional look of most of her mature work), the rich use of gold leaf.
One is immediately struck, also, by the linear configurations - often symmetrical arrangements that suggest a burst of light through a perfect prism of color, curving figures tending toward a nucleus of life, movement caught in its very flux. The "representational" figures (they are not "realistic" in the usual sense, however) all bend into the gravitational pul of love -- especially the variety of "mother and child" tableaus in which deft but simple logistics of form reduce everything to simplest most limpid configuration.
"Isabela Appears to Columbus"
Oil on Masonite / 1987 / 40 x 30 in.
"I want to tell everyone. And teach them. And share the mystery of spiritual achievement. And they, of course, will not want to hear. But I want to know more and more how to do it better."
"Moses and the Tablets"
Oil on masonite / 1973 / 30 x36 in.
"I woke up to a bright light, thinking that I left the light on last night.
Then I got up to shut it off when I noticed
it was the Sun.".
"The Trial of Jesus Christ"
Oil on masonite / 1972 / 30 x 36 in.
"When I am painting I become the reflector of the light, colors and beauty that come to me
in symbols and visions, always from the spirit."
"When I am in meditation, perceiving these symbols in colors, life is eternal.
The meditative state is silence...I become calm, balanced, in peace."
"Jesus, Moses and Elijah"
Oil on masonite / 1977 / 24 x 24 in.
"What I paint is...extricated from those visions and ...imbedded in pigments in a variety of colors and in many layers."
All quotations are from the 1989 publication,
Trans-Expressionism, by the artist,
Contessa Antonia Mastrocristino Sirena
The artist, Contessa Antonia Mastrocristino Sirena,
with one of her paintings from "The Christopher Columbus Series".