PIETRO GHIZZARDI’S VIVID PORTRAITS
AN EXHIBITION IN MILAN OF RARELY SEEN WORKS FOCUSES ON THE ARTIST’S NOTION OF BEAUTY
Davide Macchiarini, a young curator who comes from Viareggio, Italy, a coastal town in northern Tuscany, recently graduated from Goldsmiths, a division of the University of London, where he studied contemporary art theory. He organized Pietro Ghizzardi: The Sea and a Beautiful Woman to Kiss, an exhibition on view through February 25, 2022 at Maroncelli 12, a gallery in Milan.
Pietro Ghizzardi (1906-1986), a self-taught artist from northern Italy, made drawings of animals, women, and his family members. In the world of art brut and outsider art, he is probably best known for his vivid drawings of women. Here, Macchiarini tells us about the themes of this exhibition of works that have rarely been seen before and shares some of his insights about the artist’s background.
MILAN — Pietro Ghizzardi was born in 1906 in Viadana, a municipality in the province of Mantua, just northeast of Parma, in northern Italy. He came from a poor family of humble origins, and his peasant parents were often forced to move in search of work. As a result, he dropped out prior to his third year of primary school, settling with his family in 1931 in Boretto, another northern town in the province of Reggio Emilia.
There, as a boy, he worked in the fields and displayed a talent for drawing. However, his older brother disapproved of his art-making and destroyed his artworks more than once. In 1951, the great flood of the Po River occurred; the deaths of his brother and his father in that disaster marked a turning point in the young Ghizzardi’s life.
Six years later, in 1957, he decided to devote himself completely to making art and to writing his autobiography, which was published in 1976, when he was 70 years old, by Einaudi Editore, as Mi richordo anchora (I Still Remember). In 1977, the book won the Viareggio Literary Prize in the best bebut novel category. During the last 15 years of Ghizzardi’s life, after his art was discovered, he enjoyed some recognition, and today, a museum dedicated to his work can be found in Boretto. It is situated in the house in which he resided until he died.
Pietro Ghizzardi: The Sea and a Beautiful Woman to Kiss, the exhibition I assembled for Maroncelli 12, celebrates a kind of raw beauty the artist seems to have appreciated. It also recognizes the biographical context — his background in rural, peasant circumstances — in which aspects of his art-making career may be considered.
By displaying Ghizzardi’s portraits of ten women, works that he executed during his golden creative period from the 1960s to the 1970s, the Maroncelli 12 exhibition showcases the entire range of glances and passions, hidden pains and veiled irony of the female universe that so attracted the artist and that he rejected at the same time. These portraits, far from being naturalistic, were shaped by a generalized sense of female beauty that was based on his personal aesthetic notions of beauty.
Such beauty may take on different characteristics and features each time it is expressed but it can be traced back to an ancestral archetype of a woman-mother figure — an object of a kind of desire and pleasure Ghizzardi was never able to satisfy due to the constant looming presence of his mother in his life. Thus, the exhibition surrounds visitors with depictions of women whose images represent the ultimate desire of this self-taught artist — a beautiful woman of his own (a girlfriend, lover, or wife) whom he could kiss.
This is the first time that most of the works on view at Maroncelli 12 have been publicly shown. They come from a private collection, so it is quite extraordinary to finally have an opportunity to see them. Given the subject matter of these pictures, from a contemporary point of view, they may be regarded in relation to current discussions of gender. In Ghizzardi’s case, insofar as his notion of beauty is very generalized, it may be seen as disavowing any barriers or classifications regarding gender; that’s because this artist’s idea of beauty is that of a universal beauty.
In putting together this exhibition, I wanted to bring to light a sense of yearning or loneliness that I could detect in Ghizzardi’s work, feelings that this self-taught artist might have succeeded in assuaging or almost in exorcising — his agonies, his secret anxieties — through his art. Maybe, in a therapeutic manner, his art allowed him to take possession of his own reality.
Merati was born in 1934 in Bonate Sopra, near Bergamo (North of Italy). When he is 25 years old he goes through a very intense psychiatric collapse: the misery, the frequent quarrels with his family and a job who doesn’t like make him very vulnerable. In a sort of omnipotence delirious, he reacts choosing a new social role. In 1959 he is hospitalized for the first time in Bergamo psychiatric hospital.
In 1975 he discovers painting and till 1983 he attends the artistic studio inside the mental institution every day, producing a great amount of work. “Freed” by painting, Tarcisio chooses to be reborn creating a different reality from the one he is living in.
He needs a different code; he wants to draw and painting, inventing, raving. That’s why he chooses the mental hospital even when his sister decides to take him back home.
For seven years Tarcisio is not painting anymore. He keeps asking her to go back to the “castelletto, small castle” (this is how he names the hospital).
Finally in 1991 he is sent to a retirement home close to the hospital where he can go back to the painting studio. His world fills up with new images, he produces his own personal language. There are the “uccelletti / little birds”, the “macchinette / small cars”, or the “turbines”, “Italy’s maps”, decorated “alphabet letters”, “aeroplanini / small airplanes”, “insects” series. These are the symbols, expressed in a variety of forms and colours which come off the painting and invade the space around, making rich, emotional, bright, and ultra-modern Merati’s opera.
He dies in 1995.
SHAUL KNAZ MOVES ABOUT IN THE ART WORLD LIKE A STEALTH PLAN
Meir Ahronson (Spring 2012, Chief Curator and Director, The Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan)
When I first met Saul Knaz he was standing at the door to his studio in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. He was a tall fellow with a full beard and was dressed in kibbutz work clothes.
If he were wearing different clothes, I thought to myself as I approached him, he could be a painter in Provence. But Gan Shmuel is not Provence and Saul Knaz is not a French artist. But one can imagine.
Saul Knaz's paintings are not the kinds of works that art curators are used to seeing. For years, the Israeli art radar never even picked up a signal of their existence. Knaz moves about in the art world like a stealth plane, but he leaves in his wake a visible trail. This trail is made up of practical endeavor, of designs for newspapers, kibbutz parties and celebrations. The practice of making his painting into something purposeful is perhaps the soul of the kibbutznik in him. Being active is a value as cherished as are the reasons why Knaz, a son of the kibbutz, has remained on the kibbutz.
The canvases are bursting with haphazardly arranged images. Reading the work is like reading cuneiform writing that has been jumbled and put back onto the canvas. The visual texts are the signs of his life, a life made up of memories of orchards that once were, an army that once was, a kibbutz that once was. There is much in these paintings that can be called "once was." Yet, despite this script that speaks in the past tense, there is in these works, in these paintings something very contemporary. Painting that is not trying to be clever, painting without the pyrotechnics of color and form, painting that puts itself on the canvas dressed in plain work clothes and work boots, painting that is entirely a self portrait of Knaz at the same time as it is a portrait of society.
When we parted, I took note of the kibbutz's old main entrance gate. Saul stood next to it and told me about the founding of the kibbutz and this gate. It became clear to me then that Knaz and his paintings were as one. Today the gate stands at the side of the parking lot at the entrance to the kibbutz. A gate is a type of triumphal entry. The triumphal entry is perhaps the ultimate symbol of the defeat of a place, a defeat that is memorialized by the victor. History is written by the victors, wrote Walter Benjamin. This gate is a triumphal entry that has become a memorial; an entry that one passes through to no particular place. The winners are the private cars belonging to the members of the now privatized Kibbutz Gan Shmuel that are parked in the parking lot of what was, and perhaps still is, the stronghold of an idea.
The radar may have missed Knaz but Sarah Brietberg-Semel, who is a kind of "super radar" for Israeli art picked up his signal and alerted me to his existence. For this and for many other things I am most grateful to her. Additional thanks are extended to Hila Fishman who took upon herself the task of curator of this exhibition and all the work this entails. I extend my thanks as well to Hezie Lavi for his efforts to bring this exhibition to fruition and to the dedicated staff of the museum for their continuing and valuable work.
Davide Cicolani was born in Rome on 8 July 1979. His childhood is quite difficult. At the age of six he was struck by lightning. The following year, due to nephritis, he was hospitalized for six months. During his long hospital stay he begins to draw.
At 18, after graduating as a surveyor, he began working at night as a factory worker. Thus, during the day, he can devote himself entirely to art. A free spirit.
After 10 years he resigned and moved to Paris, where he continued to paint, moving from one squat house to another. In 2016, life in the French capital began to hold him tight and he returned to Italy, preferring a life in the countryside, more in contact with nature. A caravan in Circeo as a home.
Cicolani prefers recycled materials such as road maps, project drawings and old accounting records. Or recycled paper. On these supports already loaded with memory, the artist superimposes arabesques of Indian ink, powerful graphic stylistic features and dreamlike and disturbing figures, sometimes realized with inlays of color similar to those of the ancient stained glass windows.
Traces, weaves, portraits, his works have great graphic power.