by Anna Dalaidi

How often do you pay attention to people’s eyes? Apart from cryptic rhetoric quotes, and fabled, belittling narratives: how much interest do you truly reserve to stares, quick glances and unspoken vocabulary?

Paris, 1906. 

A 22 years old Amedeo Modigliani lands in the French capital, eager to prove himself to established revolutionaries and conquer fame in the ville lumiere

He dove into the city’s chaotic life, devoured its temptations and embraced its extravagances, slowly slipping into a spiral of recklessness that further undermined his already poor health. He immediately saw his desires met, his dark passions satisfied. 

Even if enrolled in the prestigious Academie Colarossi, the conversations that shaped his style (and the 900’s avantguardes) were happening in the holes of the most degraded streets of Montparnasse, amongst quickly emptied glasses and compulsively smoked cigarettes. Just imagine it: a thick blanket of smoke, drunkards’ blabbering, and the minds encapsulating the purest artistic genius of those years.

An almost demoniac Rimbaudian curse is encapsulated in his work, which depicts the bustle of those years better than anyone else’s, in the Paris of the shipwrecked, the lost, the vagabonds. The faces of his figures narrate the tales of their mal de vivre, healed by disordered lifestyles and theatrical gestures. 

His taste for extreme synthesis managed to harmonize that confused environment, to put things into place by simplifying them. Simple shapes, blocks of colors, faces that can be interpreted as empty: or maybe, just at peace. 

The “Modigliani style” was established after the years of research and contamination that occurred in the French capital, and became distinguishable around the 1910s. 

What better way to clearly convey the complex feelings of his subjects, than creating his own personalized and essential nomenclature, his unique lexicon: Modigliani paid attention, Modigliani watched, Modigliani observed. 

He decided that his language was gonna pivot around the most expressive organ of the human body, the most praised element of any interaction: the eyes

When I know your soul, I will paint your eyes: this is the celebre quote put in Modigliani’s mouth. 

To every figure, he dedicated peculiar attention. The irises could be both black, both white, one each. Rarely the eyes were marked with pupils, and the underlying connection between these exceptions was intimacy. The faces of personalities close to Amedeo were awarded with vague details, suggesting affection and respect.  

Even rarer are the cases in which the eyes are clearly drawn, with no nuancing, no haze. 

Jeanne Hebuterne is one of the few elected who were granted this privilege: the artist and the young woman met in 1916 and quickly became lovers, later partners. 

Their Shakespearean love was scattered  by emotional abuse, infidelity, passionate and venomous romance, a roller-coaster of co-depeOndent devotion and unreasonable abandonment. Resembling the most dramatic of tragedies, the epilogue to this story saw the suicide of the 8 months pregnant woman, devastated by the premature death of Amedeo.

After their encounter, the poetess and painter became the almost sole protagonist of Modigliani’s production. 

Madly in love, desperately infatuated, he felt deeply emotionally connected to the woman and recklessly embarked on the troubled journey that would have forever changed his artworks and life. 

Jeanne’s gentle features, her elongated neck and elegant oval face are depicted on a multitude of canvases: her eyes were different from the cerulean, vacuous and empty stares drawn up until that time, defying a turning point in Amedeo’s life, rather than production. 

He finally knew her soul, he was finally ready to paint her. 

Milan, 2024.

It is so easy to feel insignificant in Italy’s most crowded city. 

It is a comforting feeling, knowing you will go unnoticed. 

Coming from a small town where everyone knows each other’s business, walking around looking like a rat doesn’t terrify me as much as it does back home. Even in a packed room, Milan grants the gifts of anonymity.

Sometimes though, I cannot help but feel overlooked. If the nosey attention I would receive in my hometown made me feel overwhelmed, the excessive carelessness that Milan offers has had me feel like a ghost in the past. So many things to do, places to be, so easy to be dragged in an hyper-active loop, so easy to feel left behind. You can be on top of the world, constantly surrounded by resolute people, interesting characters and seconds later miss out on the newest and most fashionable event. 

But how often can I separate fascination from interest? How often do I feel attracted to the orbit of coolness of the individuals I meet versus how often do I actually pay attention to them? 

Trying to live up to this city’s standards can sometimes feel exhausting, especially when you get the chance to meet people that present themselves as the person you would exactly like to be. But when most of them serve you the same treatment as our unforgiving city, doubting yourself is the most immediate and human experience there is. How should we get closer to others, when we doubt them, us, and social contexts as a whole?

Modigliani navigated the chaos of Paris by detaching himself from people (and reality). He decided to draw a distinct line, leaving the souls he didn’t feel connected to, out of his art. It was an act of respect: towards himself and his work above everything else. 

If a cheesy comparison between his approach and my life can only seem limiting and childish, I can’t help to feel like he grasped a concept that I try to exercise every day. 

In a city that blinds you at every change it gets, having your own lights is not only comforting, but grounding and rebalancing. I try to remind myself that, just like Modigliani magistrally did, it’s fine to not allow everyone in. Not everyone deserves to make a deeper impact on your path, to influence your behavior and mood. 

Not everyone, not everything.

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