The artist, Contessa Antonia Mastrocristino Sirena,
with one of her paintings from "The Christopher Columbus Series".
Dr. Anne Paolucci inaugurated the Anne and Henry Paolucci International Conference Center on March 25, 2000 with an all day symposium on “Multi-Cultural Literatures.” The widely successful event terminated with a marvelous candle-light dinner at the new Center. Her surprise guest at the dinner was Antonia Mastrocristina Sirena, the widely known opera singer, poet, and artist. Due to advancing age, and illness it was probably Sirena’s last public appearance, and a great tribute to her friend, Dr. Paolucci, that she chose this occasion to say her farewell to an admiring public.
After Sirena’s operatic career came to a close she began to paint. She developed an art style in the modern/impressionistic strain. She called it “Trans-Expressionism.” In this she shared the same interests that Dr. Paolucci had in the modern theater. Dr. Paolucci’s writings in the “theater of the absurd” style led her [Dr. Paolucci] to become a renowned expert in the works of Luigi Pirandello and Edward Albee.
Sirena’s paintings have been collected by many including Frederico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Rossano Brazzi, Gina Lollobrigida, Giorgio de Chirico, Luciano Pavarotti, Vittorio de Sica and members of the Italian government and the Pope. Her first major exhibit at the Galleria D’Urso (Rome) was encouraged by the praise Picasso had for her work. She was honored by Pope Paul VI, the President of Italy, and the Mayor of Rome.
Her many awards include 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.
Sirena’s paintings have been exhibited in many museums in Paris, Amsterdam and New York, including the Vatican Museum, The Museum Gallery of Modern Art, the State Museum in Rome, the Castello Sforzesco in Milan and the Queensborough Art Gallery/ The City University of New York. The latter was due to the interest that Faustino Quintanilla, Gallery Director, had in her work. Her ten foot painting is now in the New York Archdiocesan Museum at the behest of John Cardinal O’Connor. One of her paintings graces the wall of the McGinley Center of Fordham University, Rose Hill campus.
Sirena did a series of paintings of the Columbus story. Her interest in the explorer was influenced by Dr. Paolucci’s work on the Quincentennial of the Columbus’s Voyage of Discovery. Since both Sirena and Dr. Paolucci were Americans who had close ties to Italy they understood Columbus’s “first immigrant” status – a title coined by Dr. Paolucci.
Both Sirena and Dr. Paolucci were not only friends but women of great accomplishments. They were both poets, lovers of music and artists each in her own way. Sirena predeceased her friend, Anne, by six years.
Dr. Clara Sarrocco
Dr. Anne Paolucci’s Essay on 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 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, pointing 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 come 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 coming 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 consciousness 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.
What marks her work is a flow and a rhythm 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 pull 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.
Anne A. Paolucci
Award-winning playwright and poet
A brief view of some of Contessa Antonia Mastrocristino Sirena’s paintings interspersed with her quotations from her 1989 publicatton, Trans-Expressionism:
"Too Many Flags in One Boat"
Oil on masonite / 1975 / 30x40 in.
"Planet Jupiter Round"
oil on canvas 1983 / 48 in. diameter
From the McGinley Center, Fordham University
"Isabela Appears to Columbus"
Oil on Masonite / 1987 / 40 x 30 in
"Can you imagine a world without colors, and music and poetry?
A world without architecture, without aesthetics?