One of Italy’s most significant post-war painters, Mario Schifano considered painting as an intrinsically human art form capable of capturing the lifeblood of contemporary culture. This exhibition at London’s Luxembourg & Dayan displays some of his seminal works from his most artistically intense period, 1960-1967. During this decade he experimented with media and other, new techniques.
1960 was a watershed year for Schifano, marking the beginning of his foray into the use of unconventional materials in his work and catapulting him to critical attention in both Rome and New York. In America he was shown alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and in his home city of Rome, he had his first solo exhibition in 1961. At the start of the decade Schifano eschewed notions of purity and embraced non-traditional pigments and supports such as enamel and pacel Creating ‘Monochrome’ paintings at the start of the decade, Schifano eschewed notions of purity, instead embracing non-traditional pigments and supports such as enamel and parcel-paper and the drips, dirt and unevenness of gestural painting.
By 1962, his canvases were appropriating iconic advertising logos and text; further urban signs and details of motorway landscapes followed exploring ‘photodynamism’; and in 1963 Schifano was making ‘Incidente’ paintings, images of car accidents which parallel the Car Crash works Warhol was making at the same moment, whilst differing dramatically in their focus more on mechanisation and automation than on death. His ‘Paesaggio anemico (Anaemic Landscape)’ works of the mid-’60s incorporated transparent and chequered sheets of perspex and plexiglas bolted onto the canvas, presenting mechanical landscapes whose dynamic lines referred to works by Picabia and Brancusi.
A year later in 1966 he began experimenting with spray-paint, a medium that he exploited to the full in his Tutte Stelle paintings of 1967, scintillating depictions of stars and palm trees often seen through a prism of plastic. The speed and quantity of Schifano’s investigations with materials are matched by the numerous and diverse influences he brought to bear on his works: from the inclusion of contemporary culture that affiliate him with American post-war frontier artists like Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Jim Dine, to colour planes and arabesques that recall Matisse, and to an Italian legacy that equally drew from Renaissance and the Futurist artists.
He considered the past to be ‘a find, not to throw away but to recuperate,’yet the immediacy of his images and treatment of sources had a conceptual component that was entirely contemporary. Unifying this voracious experimentation and influence is a signature elegance of line, colour and composition — the isolation of detail and provocative shifts of focus that reveal a constantly creative approach to the act of looking. ‘I have tried to work with images that everyone sees or has seen, developing and making their essence, their germinal and primary possibilities emerge,’ Schifano explained, ‘looking is the first action, then there is lingering.’
Mario Schifano 1960 – 67 is organised in collaboration with Giorgio Marconi, Schifano’s dealer during the 1960s. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue featuring a new text by Claire Gilman (Ph.D. Columbia University), who is currently Curator at The Drawing Center, New York. She has taught art history and critical theory at many institutions including Columbia University, The Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, The Corcoran College for Art and Design, and MoMA. She has also written extensively for publications including Art Journal, CAA Reviews, Documents, Frieze, and October.
Mario Schifano was born in 1934 in Khoms (Libya) and moved to Rome with his family in the immediate Post War years. Although he received no formal art training, by the early 1960s he had risen to prominence and went on to become one of the most irreverent and kaleidoscopic Postmodern Italian painters. Using a wide variety of media ranging from painting to collage, photography and video; Schifano was very much an artist of his time, embodying the Pop aesthetic which artists such as Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann and Roy Lichtenstein were spearheading in the USA.
Following decades of struggle with depression and substance abuse, the artist died in Rome in 1998, leaving behind an eclectic and compelling body of work, which has been a constant source of inspiration to contemporary artists and theorists alike. His work has been exhibited widely both in Italy and internationally and is included in a number of major international museum and private collections.
Mario Schifano, until 16 August, Luxembourg & Dayan, 2 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PA, luxembourgdayan.com.
1. Mario Schifano 1960-1967.
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