Doppio sogno dell'arte
La vita è segno
Forty years of creative joy
by Valter Rossi
Captured by a glance ...
That gaze has been for me, like a permanent beacon on things, on people, on feelings, a safe pilot throughout my life.
Wherever did I see her? That almond-shaped eye, that dimple in the cheek. Why, when I should have been entirely concentrated on the exam, could I not quieten this urgency, this curiosity?
In the space of a moment, I almost forgot how much that exam had cost me, I no longer even considered all the years of boarding school which I would finally put behind me with that soon to be conquered objective …… I must be ready to follow her!
And yet, there had been only one chance encounter, a year before, during a rowdy evening at Capannina di Forte dei Marmi, when my eye sought to grasp the intensity, the subtle response that I was expecting and it probably did come! Later I would realise it, remembering where I had seen her.
Was she the woman of my life? Or was she the lingering vestige of filial affection? All alone in the world at the age of ten, I had been compelled to search carefully and systematically to distinguish between the qualities implicit in wanting someone well and that of feeling love for them.
My age, at that moment, was not the one registered at birth: it was, rather, the sum total of desires which caused me to grow up early and, in practice, permitted me to skip the phase of adolescence.
In that split second, Eleonora had sent me a lightning-swift message, allowing me to glimpse the fire and passion which she also desired and needed if her hermetic personality were to emerge. She, too, was very much alone: in a different way, but nonetheless alone.
Because of her father’s work, her family had moved from city to city during the war, up to the moment when she and her little brother were left in Urbino, with their aunt Iole, a high school literature teacher, a magnificent educator, unyielding and severe, crushed by the weight of her responsibilities.
Eleonora’s separation from her family had lasted for several years, particularly during the moment of her formation when, especially in that era, the family was the only point of reference. A maiden aunt could certainly not satisfy Eleonora’s hunger for affection since, on the brief and limited occasions when she went home, she was also aware of the attention showered on her older sister by the family, which to her seemed excessive. Mara, with her exuberant beauty, was always in the spotlight, reinforcing that sense of abandon which had accumulated in Eleonora over so many years.
This “solitude” of ours was the attraction, triggering our need to demonstrate the great affinity that united us, exposing the concreteness of our fantasies.
Feeling lika a man
For years, it had been a foregone conclusion that my family and I would go to Forte dei Marmi for the summer. That year, with some difficulty, I got permission to spend some days with friends in Riccione (where I would then meet Eleonora), and they gave me enough money for a short holiday.
Enduring great hardship, I made it last for more than a month, not least because my wonderful aunt Anna, who for years was like a mother to me, helped me out financially a couple of times, making me promise that I would go back to Forte as soon as possible.
My friends were not aware of my presence, nor I of theirs, and Eleonora was happy about that!
On my return to Milan, who should open the door but my Uncle Adelio.
“Sorry, who are you looking for?”. “But Uncle Adelio, it’s me…Valter !”.
“Valter…? What’s happened to you? I didn’t recognise you! You’ve grown up so much… you look like a man”.
Yes...! I had become a man: the awareness that I no longer felt alone, but now thought for two, gave me a sense of confidence that I had never had before.
At that moment, I would have liked to tell him about every moment, every detail and perhaps astound him. “You know… there was not one secluded nook or cranny between Gabicce and Cattolica where we were not generously received, and suddenly everything became easy: after a split-second, embarrassment became experience, everything expanded at an exhilarating rate in a mingling of sensations and sweat, creating a magic charge. We wallowed in that sweat as though newly born, and awoke from it convinced that we would be able to tell each other about this experience, which was therefore “undoubtedly real”.
After this, the past fades and only the fondest memories remain, like sure points that helped me to grow, but without strong roots.
Adulthood arrived all at once, our school days were ending and we wanted to shorten them at all costs: there were no longer enough hours in the day to spend together. To delay the separation, we stretched out our farewells, endlessly, with our eyes and, at last, ever more distant, with our hands which waved from every street corner.
Even the night hours seemed stolen from our life.
The “New Graphic Studio” was born, the first pretext for quickly reaching an autonomous productive activity, while we still attended the academy with passionate interest. We were two student partners, very young but already full of the desire to make things: logos, catalogues, love... love...
We helped in the printing, working with an old machine handed down from Graphic Arts. This was the industry which had been owned by my family for several generations. They had begun with wooden characters, then gone on to increasingly sophisticated rotary printing machines, set up to produce large editions using all the techniques available: typographic, offset, rotogravure...
Then I took over responsibility for managing a new company in the group, rotogravure in fact, a printing technique which was in its infancy and where no-one understood anything.
Even though I was young, my passion for printing overcame all physical and psychological fatigue. The scent of the paper, the smell of the inks, of the lead used in the linotypes, and the beat of hammers in the rotary machines: it was in my DNA. At the outset, nobody believed that a young twenty-year-old would be able to supervise fifty or so experts in the field, lured from Rizzoli and Mondadori, and eventually bring out a magazine like “Spazio” by Maner Lualdi without being contested.
It was a great school of life and work because the “world” of information and news, in those years, was still conducting research into the technology. At an editorial level, one experienced the difficulties encountered by the technicians responsible for preparation and printing. It was a family which grappled with feverish moods. There was undoubtedly much empiricism, particularly in the field of electroplating and etching.
We were really in the beginning stages, and it was here that I learned those secrets which would be useful to me some years later.
Any bewilderment or disappointment was anyway overcome by Eleonora’s presence, that glance which I knew was there at every moment, perhaps through a camera oscura where, in order to be closer to one another, she took on the work of retouching photographs, always “with that precision” which has been, at all times and in every situation, her foremost talent.
I recall with joy the wonder and excitement that I had read in Eleonora’s eyes years before when we were still at high school.
It was the day we entered an Etruscan tomb that no-one had previously seen, and those vital, magic signs, full of poetry appeared before us.
All the art history that we had studied in Brera passed briefly in front of our eyes, and as it penetrated us, we understood, perhaps for the first time, how important it was to be able to interpret what stood before us and revel in it together. It was a foretaste of what we would one day appreciate and suffer in art.
Mimì and Matteo ferried us through the world of archaeology, with marvellous trips from Spina to Veio, Montalto di Castro, Tarquinia and all those places which breathed antiquity.
One full moon night, during a car journey to Cerveteri, singing like wild things, without a thought in our heads, a street sign suddenly appeared.
We broke off our song and all together exclaimed:
“Oh little cypresses, my little cypresses…”. It was Bolgheri.
Our trips turned into real tours de force. Mimì had been our maths and physics teacher at school and our parents had the utmost faith in her, so we had a doubly favourable cover story.
Our friends, being young and in love like us, had understood that we would stop at nothing and their comprehension was a great help to us in reaching the goals we had foreseen.
The first was to devote ourselves intensely to archaeology. This helped us to be guided by our sensitivity and to understand things that we had never learnt before: for example, how to find an incredible number of possible answers from only a few elements, and then filter them until all unknown factors were removed and only sure answers remained.
We dedicated ourselves passionately to restoration.
Here, great humility and clarity of ideas were needed to give life to objects which, it seemed, awaited merely the process of restoration in order to be born again.
We were so taken with this world that our imagination knew no limits, and when we could no longer discover new things, we ventured into the techniques that we had learned.
We rebuilt entire scenes with such precision and meticulousness that only the size could belie its origins. In truth, we even taxed the skills of learned experts.
All of this, however, did not lead to our primary objective which, at that moment, was to be able to live together. In those times that meant only one thing – marriage.
It was difficult to get the families to establish dates, for them it was always too early, but at last we succeeded: “the eighth of October”.
It was 1960.
Our first house was in Milan, in via Ronzoni, which we liked very much but in our heart of hearts knew would surely be a short-term affair, since our primary desire was to break away from the umbilical cord of Milan, despite everything that would mean.
It was a conventional wedding in the San Satiro church.
That grandiose “prospective” of the apse felt like a launching pad towards the future.
Bramante was one of our great loves, he always astounded us, as though he had been born to inform the world how much Giotto had inspired him in his daring research.
The blessing by Don Oreste, who married us, was the definitive break with our past. In my memory, many of my companions appeared on that day, but they filed past like paper characters in a Chinese theatre, like shadows, without substance.
“But… Rossi… who do you think you are? The owner of the school? Who booked this bus? What is happening?”.
“Headmaster, sir…. it’s the football match in Milan today, against Gonzaga high school, don’t you remember?”. We had sworn after our last trouncing that we would get our own back… here we were – strong and ready! “Sir, we put together a collection with our parents last Sunday, and we’ve paid for everything: two balls, the uniforms with the college logo. The bus rental was paid for by Castagna’s father”.
“Headmaster, sir…. it’s the football match in Milan today, against Gonzaga high school, don’t you remember?”.
We had sworn after our last trouncing that we would get our own back… here we were – strong and ready!
“Sir, we put together a collection with our parents last Sunday, and we’ve paid for everything: two balls, the uniforms with the college logo. The bus rental was paid for by Castagna’s father”.
“But, Rossi… isn’t the team made up of eleven people? Why do you need a bus of this size?”.
“For the fans, sir…! There are 42 of them, including professor Omboni of gymnastics, Professor Bonetta and Don Oreste… actually, there’s another bus outside full of parents who are waiting to leave. The match is at half past two and we’re a bit late. We’ve organised lunch with sandwiches to speed things up, also because professor Giannotti didn’t want to finish mathematics early, so we haven’t got much time – we’ll eat on the coach”.
“Rossi…! Be careful... remember what happened to the hares... you know what I’m referring to... Are we agreed?”.
(“Don Oreste with Rossi and Corradi, hunters of rare courage... oh fatal error of the sons, they’ve mistaken the hares for rabbits!”.
This was part of a poem which had made the rounds at school after an unfortunate and, to say the least, naive hunting spree, that was famous for years after the Headmaster had had to pay the farmer for the damage incurred.)
That match was spoken about even at the wedding. On that day, Don Oreste hugged us all: winning against Gonzaga had been his all-time greatest victory since the Rotondi team had never previously beaten them.
First premonitory hint!
“I am Franco Cioppi, Eleonora’s cousin, I come from Urbino...”. He introduced himself: a big, handsome face – hairstyle, beard and moustache like the revolutionary Bandiera brothers, small expressive eyes and a “look” that was meant to be convincing but harboured the eternal doubts characteristic of mistrustful people and, above all, gave the sense of being in a great hurry. It seemed as though he were wasting time with us. I remember only that he spoke of a printing press he was setting up in Rome, which would be a great event.
A wave and goodbye, a meteorite that certainly left its imprint because, strangely enough, we intuitively felt that he had transferred part of his energy to us. At that moment, however, it expressed itself merely as curiosity.
Immediately after getting married, I also became fully aware of the fact that the work to which I had so heavily devoted myself could become a cage from which I would escape only as an old man, through tiredness or, sooner still, a heart attack.
I had occasion in that period to meet a good printer: Leschiera. He worked for some small editing houses with great competence and precision, and for some time had been seeking an opportunity to take the leap from artisan to industrial worker but did not have the courage on his own – he was waiting for the right moment, should it ever come along.
My dissatisfaction with the family environment, by now clearly evident, was seen as rebellion, and therefore contested and considered a gesture of ingratitude. They thought I should be happy with my work which, in some way, was already more than I could handle.
I wanted to speed things up and prove, first to myself and then to my relatives, that they had underestimated me.
I began to consider the possibility of opening a print company near Rome where there were concessionary industrial areas. I spoke of this to my friend Leschiera who could not wait to start. He threw himself into the undertaking with almost boyish enthusiasm, which surprised me but, at the same time, made it easier for me to break away from my past and my family.
At that time, XNUMX, the industrial hopes for Rome were focused on Pomezia, about thirty kilometres from the city. Here, there were many political prospects but in that period the only result was two companies, three with ours, which we set up in three months on a piece of agricultural land that we had bought from a small farmer from Polesine. This land had been granted to him in the Fascist period, after the terrible flood caused by the river Po.
For the farmer, as I well remember, it was no separation but almost a relief, because with that sale he probably fulfilled his dream of going back to the land of his origins.
I was so resolute that by the fourth month the company was already operative, creating serious problems in the family quarters, surprised and disturbed as they were by the fact that, in only a few months, an unexpected and dangerous competitor had been born. A large supply of print was already turning on the rotary machines in Pomezia rather than Milan. It was no longer a probability – it was now a certainty.
It was an exhilarating experience for even though I had all the responsibility, I did not feel its weight. For the first time in my life, I did not have to stand up to anyone other than myself and I dabbled in all the sectors, technical, administrative, commercial and financial: an overall view.
At a certain point, I began to have doubts. It was all too easy, there must be a catch.
The response to my doubts was traumatic.
They called me unexpectedly from Milan to inform me that my father’s brother had had a heart attack, and the more malicious voices attributed the responsibility for this event to my behaviour.
This, as well as affecting me emotionally, immediately caused me to react because my decision had certainly not meant to punish the man who had raised me like a son, but only demonstrate, above all to myself, that I was able to act on my own in a world which I had believed to be stronger, almost unassailable. But it was not so.
An error of presumption had been made in the management of the family business. They had believed that everything was under control and that their first intuition had been so meritorious that nobody would ever have dared to trespass on this acquired right.
A theory which was confirmed in my eyes by subsequent events and, in some way, made me reinterpret my project differently. It struck me that I was repeating what my father and his brothers had done many years before in Milan.
This revelation was so clear that when my family approached me for the first time in an attempt to find a solution and calm my uncle’s state of mind, I took advantage of the moment to propose a company merger which would strengthen the family corpus.
We soon reached an agreement that satisfied everyone, and I was free at last to fully scan the horizon, with the possibility of finding other paths that were more open and suited to our way of thinking, ours I say, Eleonora’s and mine.
The premonition comes to bear
Totally clean-shaven, somewhat bourgeois after the time he had spent in Rome, Franco Cioppi, Eleonora’s artist cousin, appeared at just the right moment with a proposal for a project that in some way caused us to relive what we had loved during our student days: “the world of art”.
This stirred an immediate interest in us, so much so that in only a few days we had set up a small studio on the Aventine hill with the aim of experimenting new ways of applying research to graphic techniques.
Our love for art printing was immediately aroused, not least because Franco daily suggested techniques that he himself had put into effect in an extraordinary fashion. He had thought them up for some pictorial research he was doing and although they had produced good results, they were nonetheless empiric. That was just the beginning of our profound and never-ending search.
To proceed in the right way, we had to start from scratch. We needed to understand how we could promote ourselves as innovators in art printing while remaining within the canons, without becoming academic.
We knew that we held the awkward, badly viewed position of “art technician”, which often created false interpretations and would have to be defined and surmounted, once and for all.
Lucio Fontana gave us the answer. Through his works, he made us understand how the reading of a work of art could be so distant and indifferent to someone who did not know how to interpret it and, at the same time, so close and vital for others.
He showed us that there are no boundaries to understanding, as long as one can find the keys to interpretation which, in his case, were those of true freedom. He gave scope to everyone with his humane generosity and, even more so, with his painting, opening bottomless pits of knowledge to young, future artists throughout the world, never allowing them to feel this weight as a burden.
His genius knew so well how to embrace the sense of the term “space” that, with one simple gesture, he opened the world to “spatialism”, perhaps the first conscious “sculpture painting”.
That famous slash in the canvas, that simple, absolutely “conceptual” gesture, was the moment of poetry which was lacking.
One day I was in his studio in Milan while he was signing an edition of lithographs printed by other people and he said to me, “I’ll sign these prints but I’m not satisfied... could you do better?”.
It was the challenge I had been waiting for!
What was needed was crystal-clear simplicity. We were ready to abandon possibly everything that we had experimented up to that moment, as though we sprang from an uncontaminated limbo, transferring ourselves into Fontana’s graphic dimension where he lay waiting for us.
It was not difficult to find the right direction because paper was the ideal underlay for Lucio.
Metals intrigued him, too, he always saw their exposed part, the third dimension was merely imaginary space with all its lightness and immense depth.
The pure surface of the copper plates that we had prepared did not frighten him in the least: trusting, as he alone could be, he had no doubts about the effort that we were making and was immediately in tune with us. In this way, almost without realising it, perhaps the first “spatial etching” was created.
The paper opened up to the third dimension through the pressure of a “press” which pushed on the plate with such force that it jumped off. Maybe we had asked too much of that first machine of ours.
With that initial series of etchings, Fontana won the first prize in graphics in Tokyo. I can still remember how enthusiastic and convincing he was as he introduced us one day to the gallery owner, Bruno Herliska, at the Marlborough Gallery in Rome where he was exhibiting, “Don’t say bravo to me! Without them, these works could never have been born. They are technical poets… artists, indeed! You absolutely must work with them!”.
In Fontana’s studio on the Corso Monforte in Milano, one always breathed an air of spontaneous culture. No-one compelled you to talk and, even in silence, you managed to transmit your curiosity by merely observing the work as it unfolded.
Fontana explained what he was creating in simple words and, in the end, he was the most surprised, like a child which discovers in its first marks the presence of an element or shape that it recognises.
He was certainly not afraid of seeming baroque, or too elegant, quite the reverse: he loved using materials and colors with great daring, surprising and amazing even the most critical with the rigour which, in the end, his works managed to express.
And the word “elegant” is absolutely suited to Lucio Fontana, the man, who had an extraordinary presence, an innate refinement, and was a Clark Gable for the ladies.
These ladies, enthralled by his charm, attended his studio on Saturdays for the “figure drawing class” where they posed, mostly nude, and this remained a constant throughout his life.
I remember, during our last meeting which took place in his house on the lake, he said:
“This place is good for my health! The only thing that I miss is not being able to touch the backside of a beautiful woman”.
Fontana’s etchings were the real introduction that allowed us to raise our sights and approach artists who until that moment had been unthinkable, and the enthusiasm of Carla Panicali, director and co-owner of the Marlborough Gallery in Roma, who knew our intentions and potential, convinced even the most difficult artists to work with us as she voyaged around the world.
The great friendship
Burri had had some limited experience in the world of graphics but he immediately understood that, because of his way of painting, we could be of great help, at least in the initial stages, in resolving a problem which he had had for years.
The famous book “Variazioni”, realized with the poet Emilio Villa, had already been presented in 1957 as a small book of poems by the Poet, with the cover and two very precious, original subjects created by Burri: probably too precious and costly to make the book commercially viable. It was the moment when, in only a few years, evaluations of Burri’s work had risen enormously.
The new idea was to republish the book, using the graphic technique to create the cover and two inner images.
This was how the longest and most thrilling experimentation of our life began with this gifted artist. Burri was not interested in what we knew how to do, but only in what we could imagine doing.
The first exhibition that I saw by Burri was in Rome in 1954, at the Obelisco Gallery.
Walking into the gallery, there appeared before me a disturbing vision from my childhood when, after years of evacuation during the war, I came back with my family to Milan.
The city lay before me with terrible wounds, in such a stark and clear architectural fabric that it looked as though everything had been anticipated by the drawing of one sole architect. Those wounds contained a new space which was available for new creativity.
To understand Burri in depth, you cannot ignore the man.
Only Cesare Brandi, with his immense wisdom and culture, has succeeded in giving him proper space – in his book Terre d’Italia (Lands of Italy), in the chapter entitled Visit to Burri, from which, because of the friendship which bound us, I will allow myself to read a few fragments:
…… So he gets up early in the morning and behind a bush of hovels or crockery, which are a kind of broom or purpose, he takes care: there is a step, and Burri shoots. Alas, there is no step, there should be and that lean, however wonderful roast that you will eat in the evening, how many hours of waiting - and for me it would be tedious - it will not have taken. But not for those who love these places as a homeland renewed from a previous memory, recognized without having first known it, Oh, certainly not from a previous life, not in a mirage of paramnesia, but because this is the place, alpine, without asphalted roads or unpaved to get there, naked of people because all the few peasants fled and the houses are deserted, but even those so few, that here is the best preserved and eye-catching building, on the ridge of the opposite mountain, is the cemetery chapel. The house of the dead so well exposed to the sun that the poor bones will crunch on the day of judgment.
…This was the countryside that Burri desired, and it suits him so well and is so like him, with that shadowy and open character of his, inconstant and generous. He is like a continual contradiction that can be defined only by expressing its opposite: this great artist whose perspective is increasingly clean cut and certain as time goes by.
…There are few works this year: no charrings, but that acrylic black like a huge velvety bluebottle. That black which creates precise and irregular marks that evoke so many things without resembling anything. They are dense marks, and they all bring to mind the black sun of alchemy, a sun with strange phases, not as elegant as those of the moon, always smudged, as though in this constrained eclipse it twisted to flee from the shadow but could not. Then, on occasion there is a veil of transparent plastic: that partial veil is sufficient to render iridescent the pure white of the background – the surface thickens like water when it freezes.
…Well, Burri has never painted, nor ever will, the alpine landscape of Case Nuove, this col that overlooks Tuscany, Umbria and the Marche, a migratory path where birds do not wish to fly or else fly too high. But this place is his place, a bit like the bull which chooses its space in the bullring and cannot be attacked there, must not be attacked. This is Case Nuove, like the bull’s space. But how pleasant for the guests, for the visitors. The simplicity and comfort of that house, the wood mushrooms cooked over coals of chestnut wood, and the roasted birds – the few that fall due to fatal inexperience – in no other place can one taste their equal.
These few notes put Burri, the man, into focus, that marvellous Artist who we were fortunate enough to have as a friend, the person who more than any other in the world portrays his land with so much coherence and poetry. The intransigent Maestro who formed us in a school of liberty with such clear, for ethical, rules that we have been led by means of their ensuing logic to an act of true poetry, which is “always” strongly expressed, in no uncertain terms, with systematic rigour, and where everything fits into place, as though the following words had been written: … only if the appropriate tools are used.
We ran into our first obstacle with Franco Cioppi who, as a good teacher of graphics, did not mean to detach himself from the tools and methods that tradition imposed as a standard. He poured out everything he knew, not taking into account that Burri, however, wanted what our “imagination” could come up with.
After that first, catastrophic technical experience, months passed before Burri came back to our studio.
My acquaintance with Cesare Brandi, who I had met several times in the period when I visited Burri’s studio in Grottarossa (Rome) or in Morra (Città di Castello), was decisive. It was he who began to speak of the unfinished book by Emilio Villa.
Burri had probably already made the decision much earlier to take up the research again but he loved to keep us on the wire, holding to his rules which were intellectual commitment and devotion to friendship.
The question of the burning was the first cement. We assumed that the cover and inside of the book were in the bag, since imagination had already resolved the problem, at least conceptually, whereas the charring element, due to its indefinable value, saw us suspended in an insuperable limbo. How could that impalpability be achieved? Those blacks, so intense and velvety?
What allowed me to glimpse an opening was noticing how much more the technique of “drypoint” renders the sign, at least the sign, compared to etching1, emphasising that unattainable definition from black to white with that vague burr as though the sign has surfaced below the paper, almost absorbed in one sole body. What appears is only the tip of the iceberg.
The furrow created by the artist’s tool as it cuts into the plate, leaves that burr on the edge of the mark caused by the displaced metal, just like a plough as it strikes the ground, turning it over, dropping it on the edge of the furrow, bringing it to life. In the same way, the overturned metal allows only shallow entrance into the furrow at the moment of inking and cleaning which is done with the palm of the hand, thus making the sign come alive in an undescribable manner.
Once printed, the whole image brims with magic.
How had it been possible to achieve this effect with aquatint1? How was the point made indefinite, rather than the line?
Or rather, how were the points which create the aquatint toned down?
The experience in Milan, when I battled at the publishing house with rotogravure and particularly with etching and electroplating, came to my aid.
From working on the regeneration of printing cylinder surfaces in that environment, I had learnt how to apply and remove copper ions with extreme methodology and control.
The solution was to add copper rather than remove it, with a series of stratagems that were gradually prompted by the surprising results which emerged all of a sudden, until we reached a point of total control and declared it finished technique.
It is not presumptuous to speak of finished technique since the end result of the work which comes off the presses is the visible, concrete part of an infinitely long series of intuitions, risks, suffering and surprises, but our greatest reward has always been that of living moments of unthinkable magic, of such quality that we always felt privileged and unique at that moment.
I believe that these experiences of ours can be compared, from an emotional point of view, to moments in the field of science, medicine and applied research, where the end result is never a given, quite the opposite! When it appears, it is as though it has come from a dream-world, sweeping away all the effort and fatigue and confirming a series of hypotheses that have been set aside pending confirmation.
I should say that all sorts of trials had first been made, for months, using empirical systems which were even fascinating in some way like, for example, using sand or carborundum of different grains and sizes and fixing them with various glues and other methods. It was all crude, if interesting, certainly far from the predicted goal, but anyway these techniques would later be useful to other artists.
Burri immediately understood the potential of this innovation and also knew how to use the new aquatint in a vital way, without ceding to the whim of technique but, on the contrary, chastising it. He exploited only a small part with extreme austerity, keeping it all hidden, overlaying the subsequent plates so that the eye could revel in the subtle echo, like a vague hint of pitch.
We also realised that, to perceive the effect demanded by the technique, we needed to invent a press which did not yet exist.
That was how “Alessandro Magno” came into being: a machine of limitless pressure, a reference point for all the others which I designed in the following years, which were even larger, but no more powerful.
Nobody had ever expected a press to do what we asked of it and we were demanding this of a machine, so for the new project I used materials and dimensions that were invulnerable.
In a navy deposit, I found the axis of a ship’s propeller made with a special steel, in dimensions and materials which it would have been impossible to find on the market – a discovery which splendidly and quite definitively resolved any doubts about torsion and flexure, since the only way its cohesive force could be modified was by fusion.
I make this point to explain that there were no insurmountable obstacles for us.
We knew that every challenge made us grow, allowing us to see the poetry which sprang from images when they first appeared on the sheet of paper with our own eyes, often astounding ourselves. Burri baptised Alessandro with the series of “Sei combustioni”. Everything was brought to light by the pressure, nothing remained hidden in the copper plates.
The paper emerged revitalised from that forced embrace which was the source of this reborn transformation, this newly assumed identity as Work of Art.
It was an incredibile undertaking for all six subjects: an ongoing gestation, a multiple, multiple birth with “the father ever alert”. Burri asked me why so much time was needed to print and every time I tried to explain the difficulties, he rejoiced. You could see it in his eyes as they scanned the horizon, almost as though strengthened by the awareness that great results can be obtained only by means of great difficulties.
One of the reasons why Burri was so determined to work with us was because everything that happened in our studio, day after day, brought new life force to his continual, inexhaustible curiosity and research. Furthermore, he was aware of how useful all of this was in the process of simplification that he was devising for his painting.
From its origins, graphics has gone beyond the easel, needing no palette or preparation of canvases. The primordial drawing on the rock walls of Altamira is no different from the sign etched on copper plates with the drypoint technique. The meaning of a sign remains in man’s memory because of its synthesis as a number or letter: it is the skeleton of any pictorial work and, indeed, the support and balance in every sculpture.
Burri, through his research, wanted to use graphics with the precise aim of going back to the origins, thereby recuperating basic values as elements of a new, more simple vocabulary.
The terms “graphics”1, “printing”1, “lithography”1, “reproduction” have never, particularly in Italy, clarified the specific merits or limits of the techniques involved. More often than not, in fact, by the use of inappropriate terms, they are shorn of the true values which distinguish the work of art from a mere reproduction. Not one of Burri’s graphics, for example, can fear comparison with any of his pictorial works, for the reasons I have given. On the contrary, the graphic work is an act of generosity, since more people can revel in owning and interpreting it, knowing that the artist, in his unconscious, has used an instrument which spreads his symbols more widely.
We made stupendous journeys by car where the conversation flowed freely – from his Perugia to my Milan, from his first attempt to escape to Mompracen (he was eleven years old) when he was stopped after only a few kilometres by his parents. Conversations which always ended up touching upon subjects which then led us to imagine new work processes, with his poetry alongside my technical imagination.
He was possessive and did not leave much space for other eventual meetings that might interfere with the pace which we had set, apart from those with artists who enjoyed his esteem (very few), and who were unattainable at that time like Miró, Chillida, Pasmore, Sam Francis, Ben Nicolson, Gottlieb and a handful of others who were already milestones in Contemporary Art.
A great perfectionist, Burri had probably glimpsed the path that I would have to follow and, little by little, he took me to meet the artists that he respected, as though by chance. But it was not by chance, he knew perfectly well when the right moment had come.
One morning, Burri took Eleonora and I from his studio in the mountains to see the small church of Morra. Making our way between chickens and hens, we arrived at the centre of the small village. We asked no questions, aware of being encircled by something of immense importance.
The dazzling light from a partially collapsed roof blinded our eyes, preventing them from seeing what Luca Signorelli had donated to humanity in a place that was so mystic and poor, yet so rich and generous in images.
When our eyes finally adjusted, first they took in the compositive value of those plasters, then the exquisiteness of the details. Details which had in large part been erased both by neglect and the passing of time that, in that sacred place, had gnawed hungrily while awaiting the attention of someone who would be intelligent enough to yearn for its restoration.
I felt we were not there by chance. Certainly a project had existed for some time in Burri’s mind, for he took to that place only the people who, in his opinion, would be able to share his dream unconditionally, which is exactly what happened.
Many years later, in 74, the Accademia dei Lincei awarded Burri the Feltrinelli prize for the graphic oeuvre executed in his ten-year collaboration with our Printshop. Burri donated the entire sum of one hundred million lire to the restoration of the little church in Morra, which was just what it needed to rise again as the chosen one to be viewed in all its unbelievable splendour.
The meeting with Afro
I still remember when Burri introduced me to AfroXNUMX, at Ca’ Nove. In his boots, velvet hunting jacket and ever-present tie, he too was ready to set off for the passage of migratory birds at the crack of dawn. Drinking coffee was the only thing that prevented us from our first exchange of words, even though, just by looking at each other, we had already sensed a mutual liking, not then quite understanding why.
Some of us asked ourselves if the passage of birds would really take place and if it was worth getting up so early. It was only at sunrise that the second part of the eye opened up, the part which analyses and allows you to see beyond emotional sensations, to perceive the concreteness or not of what is happening, should it ever do so.
There was no shooting that morning but his friends, who were gathered around the table, behaved as though they had indeed hunted, speaking of yesterday as though it were tomorrow.
It was obvious to them that they would always eat gamebirds when they were there.
At a certain point, Burri disappeared, went to his studio and started working again.
Afro went off to a room by himself and read.
When Eleonora came back from her long walks, she examined and classified botanical specimens. She was often so absorbed in nature and her research in the woods that she was not aware of how much time had passed, and we had to blow the hunting horn with some insistence to hasten her return.
In the library at Ca’ Nove, there were mostly adventure books, which Burri had certainly read and remembered as though he had read them only the day before. He knew how to be pleasantly youthful, his innate curiosity so forceful that nothing was taken for granted and everything had to leave its trace, even if hidden. That was why he appreciated and loved Afro’s painting, because it played with color in the same way – proffering and denying.
Beneath his painting, there was everything that he had already done and what he would subsequently do, it was a continual surfacing and drowning: where man was not visible he “existed”, and where he appeared, he did not.
It was always color which played an ambiguous role. He could build a shape and destroy it at the same time, and his subjects did not emerge from a title, but the titles had to look for their subject.
From his very way of looking at you, with that ironic smile, he put you in a position that was simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable. Only with the friendship, no, the great friendship, which emerged in time did his smile become pure and transparent, and I still remember him brimming with gratitude and happiness before the evident results, which were always critically shorn of everything that was not essential.
Some time passed before we succeeded in having Afro in our studio, since in the early ’60s he still spent a great deal of time in the United States, where he exhibited and had wonderful friendships with many artists, particularly De Kooning.
We were very busy with Giulio Turcato, Giò Pomodoro, Giuseppe Capogrossi, and also Achille Perilli, Piero Dorazio, Consagra, Giuseppe Santomaso and others, all chafing at the bit, all yearning to experiment, so the conditions were not favourable for a definitive work meeting until Afro was asked to illustrate a book for the “Campiello” prize.
As a painter from Veneto, Afro was so in love with colour that he often put himself in the position of denying it, eventually arriving at black and white, and then recuperating the colour – like someone who is drowning and, on recovering consciousness, discovers the joys of being reborn. An example of this is the first etching with the title: “Presenza grafica ’71”.
In the first months of ‘68, Franco Cioppi, Eleonora’s cousin, decided to devote himself to teaching, and opened a new studio.
He was convinced that when he left I would give up this activity, since he also knew that after two years of work in the shipyard we were finally launching our new boat, and he thought that my new ship would be a great temptation at that moment!
He knew how much I had loved and still loved sport. I had gone from skiing to swimming, from ice hockey to canoeing, from tennis to sailing, which I had practised from childhood, first on sailing boats and then on a Dragon racing yacht, eventually acquiring our first cruiser, built and launched in Pesaro in ’64, the “Davide” in honour of my first sweet child, and we were now ready to launch the “SIDA” (Simona and Davide).
Franco Cioppi was not so wrong because the desire to give up everything did cross my mind, but he had not imagined how much we loved this work, so much so that we put off the ship’s launch until the following year.
From that moment, Eleonora took part, totally, in the life of the studio with all the passion and sensitivity that she had already invested for some time but, being an intelligent person, always behind the scenes, on the most difficult occasions, not allowing her participation to be a burden.
And then the children, Davide and Simona, arrived
Happiness upon happiness. Eleonora raised them wonderfully well, not for one moment diminishing the intensity and curiosity of our life together, 24 hours a day, discovering skills and affinities, and organizing our life with immediate, lightning-swift decisions that were natural to both of us.
Not for one second did we regret the decision that we had made and, in reality, from that moment on, everything became more fluid, tension-free, the house was transformed into a printshop, the printshop into a house, until we moved to Ara Coeli, where house and workshop became one single dizzy nucleus.
Getting back to Afro, ”Presenza grafica ’71” began in 1968 with an extremely complex project, almost as though we were testing both him and ourselves.
The proofs that emerged right from the start were exhilarating from the point of view of technique, composition and colour, but as soon as the print came off the press, Afro would intervene, first on the plates and then on the colour, simplifying further and further and eliminating chromatic and colour values which seemed indispensable.
With the subsequent proof, however, we would realise how right he had been. The work took on increasing autonomy, it seemed as though the graphic image wanted to be born with new roots.
An etching emerged that was so autonomous and emblematic that it surprised everyone.
It was like an omen somehow since for those who knew Afro as a painter through his gestuality and typical sense of colour, “Presenza grafica XNUMX” might have seemed a static image, not very exciting.
Strangely enough, some people began to glimpse a new Palladian light: both the blacks and the background with its gold-permeated colour created an ambiguous balance, somewhere between negative and positive in an atmosphere that was typical of Afro, but with a different spatiality, precisely that of aquatint, or rather, of our aquatint. Ours, in that at that moment we had resolved the fixing of resin on the metal plate in a new way. A discovery that was ours alone and which opened enormous possibilities for everything that would happen in the years to come.
I close my eyes and can still see the calendar of our hard work in those years. Dates and titles which remain engraved on my memory: Grande grigio 1973, Controcanto 1974, Tormarancio 1974, Santarossa 1974, La chiave 1973, L’isola di Cleopatra 1974, Pozzuoli 1973, La bilancia 1974, Piccola terra 1974, Galera 1974, Scarpanto 1974, Lunario 1974, Vulcani I 1974, Vulcani II 1974, “Decantatore 225” (Presenze grafiche).Les Fleurs du Mal, ten poems by Charles Baudelaire and ten etchings by Afro 10.
Afro’s death came as a total shock and seriously disoriented us because, four years after that first cerebral disorder, the graphic work that he had created with us, with the assistance of Valeria Gramiccia, a friend as well as assistant to Afro, had led him to regain so much faith in himself that, free from physical impediment, he was at last able to realise works of painting that were full of joie de vivre and heavily architectural.
With us he would share his surprise in these new born works, day after day.
A large sheet of paper hung in Afro’s studio, on which he wrote all those titles which he had noted down over time. The list became longer and longer, helping in the search for the name which was best suited to the subject. A huge smile confirmed that the title and subject had finally met.
The magic touch
I have already mentioned and in the following pages will frequently refer again to the inborn talent that Eleonora had for colour, and its importance to her. This gift of hers contributed to the great evolution we made in raising the value of graphic art to the level of that attributed to painting and sculpture, distancing it from forms of reproduction, opening new creative spaces and, in this way, giving the graphic work prestige, so that it could no longer be considered a minor art form.
The technique from which we started, which was for that period absolutely cutting edge, had incredibile limits because it was punishingly bound to rites and repetitive academic rules, and used tools and methods which gave no liberty to the mind or gesture. The phrase used was, “It can’t be done”, since everything was also totally “empirical”.
The products used in etching, the methods and applications, had been the same for centuries because the technique was seen as a heritage to be passed on, overlooking the evolution which painting, sculpture and architecture had undergone in so many centuries.
The dreams from which we had started probably gave us the opportunity to soar, helped as we were by the many favourable circumstances that, together with our great enthusiasm, allowed us complete freedom and autonomy.
The first was the experience I had had in Milan where I had become acquainted with products and methods that were always straight forward but gave sure results and guarantees, and could be acquired and used easily throughout the world, without the obligation of “wizardly rites” like snakes’ tails, vampires’ fingernails and such. These precarious empirical products made the result uncertain right up to the very end, limiting creativity and frightening even experts with processes that were unnecessarily laborious.
Our rule was: “Not one single mark that the artist wanted to trace must be lost”... The technical surprise must occur only at the beginning of research – at the moment when it was put into effect, the limits could only be creative, never technical.
The fine tuning of aquatint with the new system of anchoring the resin gave the artist the possibility of taking on increasingly large copper plates, thus entering a new world which graphics had never previously approached.
In this way, the possibility of intervening several times on the same plate, overlaying subsequent resins of differing grain, allowed the depth of the etching to be taken beyond traditional limits, with contrasts that were useful in broadening the range of grey tones, widening the possible spectrum for Eleonora so that she could use her colour skills to the utmost for the benefit of the artist.
In those years, there was not as yet a real market for graphics. The artists who today have come to the fore aroused the interest of only a few experts. The works and artists that we presented were too advanced and were not able to give us peace of mind from an economic point of view.
The activity managed to survive because I had inherited a part of the family printing industry from my father, which guaranteed me the possibility of supporting myself and of investing in the world of graphic art, our great passion.
I owe this freedom of mine to the great entrepreneurial skill of my uncle Adelio, who I had however once contested. It was he who over the years had developed and refurbished the activity of our company, later with the help of my cousin Sergio, too, who was like a brother to me and with whom I had lived in boarding school for several years. There had always been total understanding between us as well as great affection.
Affection which I also bore towards Luciano, Sergio’s younger brother, who immediately after graduating with a degree in economics, entered the company and until the year 2000 was the person who made it possible to maintain an extremely difficult and shaky equilibrium. With his honesty and sense of timing, he always managed to expose various problems, even the most difficult, to our scrutiny, and we always accepted his solutions because he had first delved into them, rendering them transparent, keeping the weight of them to himself. So much so that his delicate heart ended up killing him.
He left us, suddenly, to our immense suffering, creating an irremediable void... dear Luciano.
From collectors to gallery owners
Until 1973, the commercial activity was totally entrusted to the Marlborough Gallery in Rome, which had other premises in London, New York and Tokyo. The only one which was really concerned with graphic works was London, with a specific gallery in this sector directed by Barbara Lloyds.
The results in Italy were limited, not least because the market was certainly not driven by us, for we considered ourselves to be jealous collectors of our works rather than dealers. We did not realise why we were better known abroad than in Italy. The answer was simple: Italy lacked a real commercial presence.
In 1974, the American sculptress Beverly Pepper2 introduced me to her good friend, Danny Berger. He had just emerged from a troubled period that had ended with him breaking away from the Metropolitan Museum in New York and choosing Rome as a free city.
As a reaction, he had opened a tiny nursery garden near Porta Portese.
Danny enjoyed observing the artistic life in Rome, looking askance from behind his glasses, his eyebrows acting as a filter. Detached but always ready to grasp any opportunity that might bring him back into the world of art, which he pretended to scorn but, as a refined professional, in reality valued highly.
From his vantage point, he learned that Colnaghi, an international auction house, had decided not to open its fully renovated new headquarters in Rome, just a short distance from our house. This immediately aroused our interest and after seeing the building and the space for the gallery, it became a necessity. The project was also possible because Danny was extremely happy to take up his first work again and, with his experience, manage our Rome gallery.
Some months later, we opened the “2RC Editrice” Gallery.
We were grateful to Beverly since, yet again, she had given us extraordinary input. The first time, she had lent a small press of hers to Franco Cioppi so that he could experiment while we were waiting for our new one to be built. It was a great help to Franco who, on that little machine, made his first experiments with Beverly on a series of etchings that we subsequently realised for the Marlborough.
In the following years, we worked with Beverley using tools and materials that a woman does not usually handle. The American sculptress had no equal in this work. She had only one complex – that her work was not as forceful as that of a man. Wife, mother, magnificent cook, all gifts which, as a woman, were hers and did not diminish the strength of her work. If she had any defect, it was that of lacking femininity.
The gallery was inaugurated with an exhibition by Burri, and then there was a series of other wonderful exhibitions that kept pace with the Printshop, alternating originals and drawings which were accessible or close to the world of graphics.
Danny was able to maintain the gallery at an extremely high and exclusive level, he never allowed or had contacts that could be regretted. The quality of the graphics which were circulating in Italy at that time was questionable, no error could be allowed. For this reason, and to broaden the market, it was necessary to open a second gallery in Milan.
The space could not have been more beautiful, right in the centre. I knew that Milan was very attentive, but the exhibitions that we put on were irreproachable. Even though with difficulty and some caution at the beginning, the public of Milan accepted the Roman editor, me, when they learned from critics like Ballo, our Professor in the history of art, that in effect we were more Milanese than they were. At that point, we became part of their circle.
A commercial group that was emerging from an editorial experience showed interest in us and was extremely determined to invest heavily in marketing the graphics we produced, creating an organisation by the name of “Grafica Oggi”.
It worked very well because we invested great resources in making our presence known and giving it a certain weight, but at the moment of greatest effort, there was a heavy recession which blocked the Italian and European market for a couple of years.
The group, which was perhaps too foolish in its promises, insisted without thinking how long the negative period might last. We were obliged to blow numerous resources to remain at the level which I had established, until the moment when the enterprise died, leaving the choice to me alone of continuing.
The solution was to rid ourselves of all absurd ambition and start doing again, with humility, what we knew – exhibiting only what we produced.
Eleonora’s sister, Mara, had followed the business in Milan, even if at some distance. She had never been in contact with the world of Art, other than by osmosis with her sister. She came into the gallery without preconceptions or presumption, but with a measure of pleasantness and simplicity that even allowed her to commit small errors. The enthusiasm and extreme trust that she managed to inspire were so strong that they made up for the perfect knowledge which was often requested of her, but which she lacked.
At the beginning of the 80s, there was a sudden interest in Art which, starting in the United States, arrived in Europe and, for the first time, also strongly affected Japan.
Graphics began to be in demand and inspire interest particularly among young people. The real opportunity for us was afforded by the large dimensions of the works we chose and produced. A market was created which was so obviously new that it convinced other printers and editors to produce large prints.
Ours was a true provocation.
Many printshops which opened or were relaunched in the eighties in the wake of a tradition which left extremely wide spaces for interpretation, established themselves on the graphics market with arrogance, proposing so-called ‘art’ prints that masked their lack of technical skill with an undefined mixture of superimposed technical methods – part lithography (often offset)80, part etching and part aquatint – thereby creating true ‘hybrids’.
Even if in that period there were real economic advantages for us and the entire art sector, more than ever before, the birth of these new entities confused the market so much that it took fifteen years to untangle the situation to some extent... and there is still much to be done.
The first American artist
While we were experimenting with Afro, Carla Panicali organised a beautiful exhibition by the abstract expressionist American painter, Adolph Gottlieb, in the Marlborough Gallery in Rome. Carla was decisive on that occasion, because she showed the artist the etchings by Fontana, the first of Burri’s etchings produced by us, and the newly printed proofs of Turcato’s work. These latter works, for a painter like Gottlieb, were probably so significant that he requested a meeting to get to know us and find the time, even if limited, to work together.
It was the first time that we had faced a challenge without seeing how the land lay. Today I can say that it was a splendid personal experience, but not sufficient to achieve what the Artist deserved, even though two beautiful etchings came out of it. With greater technical maturity and in a larger dimension, the works would probably have benefited more extensively.
Getting back to Giulio Turcato’s engravings, what had Gottlieb discerned that was so interesting?
We were certainly never bored with Giulio Turcato. He was an unpredictable artist, full of intuition and curiosity. Anti-conventional by instinct, his painting portrayed his own character and way of life, which could seem weird and outlandish. There was always poetry in his works.
In only a few artists have I felt a sort of creative madness while working that spread without explanation, but was anxious to manifest itself in a dream.
Gottlieb had seen and felt all this. Observing those etchings, he had grasped a curiously intriguing colour, almost velvety, nuances so imperceptible as to overflow and become tense and vibrant backgrounds from which dry notes appeared, freshly minted coins, still unknown, suspended in space as though by a magic wand, always in movement. Like footprints, like little stones to lead you, almost hand in hand, through spaces that are so unearth-like that you seem to be on another planet.
It was in that period that Unesco involved me in a project involving the realisation of a portfolio of etchings with a dozen international Artists: Burri, Bill, Calder, Sonja Delaunay, Matta, Miró, Nevelson, Pasmore, Sugay, Vasarely, Wotruba.
When these proposals are made to artists, they are usually supported, but when there is an extremely long time span and it is a question of donation, the artists may end up making only partial commitments. Works which, even though honest, can suffer from a certain poverty of application.
This was not so for us because, since we had generously volunteered for the project, the opportunity could not be wasted – on the contrary, it had to be exploited with the utmost diligence and commitment. We had to show, above all to the artists, how useful we could be in research based on innovation, and not only on the graphic sign.
After their first experience of working with us, it was not difficult to convince them to realise a series entitled “Presenze grafiche” for the 2RC Gallery. They accepted with enthusiasm because the dimension of 95cm. x 95cm. opened new creative horizons. It was a totally intriguing project for those times.
We began with Burri who, at that time, was creating his second portfolio of blacks and whites with us, and it was a very significant period since the graphic experience which we had first undertaken in ’67/’68 with “Bianchi e neri”XNUMX was independent of painting.
This experience led the artist to simplify his work, attaining such austerity that it seemed excessive to many people.
They probably had not observed with sufficient care his works of the preceding periods, where the materials seemed to be a necessity and almost an obsession for Burri. But it is also true that little has been said of the dimensions of his works, which varied from a few centimetres to several metres in size. In essence, a tiny image could expand in the same way that a large one could shrink, without suffering in any way. So, after this reflection, we realised that the materials could be overlooked because it was above all the composition which predominated.
A new experience: the meeting with Max Bill
A Swiss architect, designer and painter, Max Bill was among the most versatile artists at the Bauhaus. He appeared with a defined project, firmly thought up with silkscreen printing 1 in mind but when he came across the black by Chillida, well exhibited in the printing press, he had his first doubts. He took his time, wondering around Rome for a few days and came back to the studio curious to try a different approach, but making two fair requests: the weight and balance of colours.
Compared to traditional etching, the greatest difficulty was to maintain the value of the colours with the correct balance, printing them in series one after the other, using from six to eight plates. This process would have damaged the surface of the paper, though very little, and the last colour would consequently have predominated to some extent, causing variance in the balance of those printed previously. Moreover, for Max Bill the juxtaposition of the various colours had to be absolutely perfect, with no leeway, something which traditional etching methods could not guarantee.
We had combined different colours on one sole plate on various occasions when there was enough space between one colour and another, but that was not the case here.
The solution was to imagine a puzzle and, following the same principle, first ink the plates for each colour separately, then mount them on a mother plate which received them and at the same time blocked them definitively during the printing.
The result? It was a pure etching, balanced in its precision.
It was not difficult to convince him to realise a second subject for the “Presenze grafiche” series which we published in 1971 and was appreciated for its freshness and great rigour.
Our technique could certainly contribute to the quality in the typical painting by Max Bill and, subsequently, Vasarely, but it was not indispensable for the two artists.
The silk-screening technique, on the other hand, was wonderfully well suited with no problem whatsoever, and we ourselves experimented with Vasarely, on the work planned for Unesco, creating it with silk-screening and taking risks that no other printing press had ever considered.
Vasarely entered “Abstraction” in Paris and then, as a protagonist of “Kinetic Art”, had always been extremely interested in techniques – was intrigued by the aquatint-etching technique, and it was he who wanted to experiment with a large image for the “Presenze grafiche” series. For a certain period, this allowed us to frequent his studio in Annette sur Marne.
Besides the pleasantness of the place, the atmosphere inside the studio was new to us, similar to that of a university research centre. There were a large number of young assistants, all ordered around by Vasarely like elements of his ‘pictorial’ orchestra.
Later, as we observed the finished works ready to be exhibited, we realised the reason for so much organisation – I would call them “organized intellectual compositions”.
The dimensions created no difference in technique or quality. In fact, if set at the right distance, the small ones close and the large further away, the impact was staggeringly identical.
The rigour, the precision, particularly the order, revealed a way of thinking and a poetry which, even when read by means of a mathematical code, managed to survive or, better still, was so strengthened that it became enigmatic and intriguing.
We enjoyed Paris, such a sparkling city, with the utmost pleasure for some years, each time settling near the artists with whom we worked: Vasarely, Sonia Delaunay, Man Ray, Pierre Soulages, Alexander Calder. It was also a pretext to meet artists who even though they did not live in Paris, frequented it for their own exhibitions and to see other interesting ones, as did Sam Francis, Hans Richter, Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland, Willy De Kooning, Matta, Max Ernst and many others.
We passed through grand hotels and typical boarding houses that had been previously filtered and recommended by the artists with whom we were then working.
We had installed ourselves, and that is just the right expression, with all the material necessary for a first stage of work, in a delightful hotel for two young people, the “Hotel Esmeralda” in rue St. Julien le Pauvre opposite the Notre Dame, a cosy and bohemian refuge.
The building was nothing other than a medieval tower with small rooms of differing features which had been built on here and there over time. The smells from the kitchen, which fortunately prepared only breakfast, drifted up like smoke from a fireplace through the rooms, causing us to open our eyes with pleasure in that heady atmosphere. It was difficult to leave that room for it was such a comfortable little alcove, even if hard to reach, since the only way to get there was up a terribly steep and interminably long flight of stairs.
Every one of these experiences remains in our hearts and the mere memory touches us profoundly.
Even though we were very young, once we had overcome the artist’s initial curiosity, we offered them great tranquillity and certainty, and they asked themselves what it was that pushed us to be so bold.
We allowed them total liberty in their work, without ever limiting the dimension or number of colours, and they had no need whatsover to be influenced. We worked in such a way that technique became a secondary factor, coming after and not before the poetry.
When we loved an artist and his work, we would work and prepare the ground for months or years before contacting him, studying the complexity of his subjects, his habits, his way of painting, the research he had made and, particularly, how he approached the outside world, even from the point of view of his temperament.
Working with artists in the same space for hours and days on end, it is not a secondary matter to understand their character and habits in order to avoid moments of tension which necessarily build up during the work.
Man Ray, the American painter and photographer, was the one who had suggested we go to the Hotel Esmeralda, and right from our first meeting, he had understood how enamoured we were of him, seeing us immediately at ease in his fanciful and anti-conventional studio-home, a place which was absolutely beyond any imaginable norm.
On that first day, we sought to astonish each other with facts and witticisms relating to our personal experience. This happened spontaneously as may occur with old friends and almost seemed to be a game.
Man Ray loved to surprise you and, like all true observers, his eye captured every gesture of ours, in the same way as an experienced director establishes the path to be followed with only a few camera shots, putting us to the test with shrewdness, using the occasion to evaluate and establish how much of his time he would devote to us.
During one of our amusing conversations, in the company of Eleonora and Juliet, Man Ray’s wife and model in his most beautiful photographs, I had sat down, by chance, opposite him.
At a certain point, I had the feeling that something was moving around me, making me almost uneasy.
The conversation was so interesting that I was not able to discern what had in reality caused this feeling.
Curiosity, which has always been my Achilles heel, eventually got the better of me and I broke off the conversation to investigate.
Behind me, an extremely long hair emerged from a small piece of paper fixed to the wall with two drawing pins, and it pointed directly towards my ear. It was as though it were touching me – so my unease stemmed from that and I moved to avoid it. Only then did I realise that the hair had been drawn with care and precision by Man Ray to assess the reactions of the person who sat in that place.
I deserved a gold star!
We were probably a focal point for him right from the start. We established frequent meetings that were totally original and led to a first stage of work in which Eleonora was personally involved, thereby earning the dedication on the first print: “Merci Eleonora pour les ombres”.
It was only with great difficulty that we managed to produce a large etching-silkscreen print with the title“Decantatore 205” (Presenze grafiche). It was unthinkable for Man Ray to come to Rome.
We still did not have a “travelling studio” where we could make such a large image, so we were forced to travel continually between Rome and Paris to resolve all the difficulties.
It was immensely surprising to us to realise that an artist of his calibre had such a limited market at that time. I was happy to be one of the people who appreciated him, devoting time to him with joy, hopeful that we could contribute to spreading his image in the world of graphics.
Unexpectedly, new faces appeared around this talented artist, doing away with that naivety which made his minimal participation on the market so natural and disinterested. Shrewd dealers saw the possibility of making multiple reproductions of some object that he had created years before.
During our occasional visits, these replicas became ever more numerous, removing, in my opinion, that dreamy air which the originals had been full of, over and beyond their disconcerting simplicity.
It was certainly a useful process, however, not least because it allowed the gifted couple to live out the last years of their life in the comfort they had dreamt of and finally achieved. The most important thing was the satisfaction we felt knowing that his value had been recognised in concrete terms.
Sonia Delaunay received us for the first time in her home. Her personal presence greatly outweighed her majestic physical appearance. She had identified so much with the poetry of Robert Delaunay, her husband, that after his death she had taken on both roles, continuing Robert’s pictorial art with love and surprising personality.
She showed us numerous lithographs that she had made over time and we realised that they lacked intensity and pictorial substance. Our research started from that realisation, even though we were limited by the fact that Sonia wanted to create a lithograph1 because she already knew that technique, so it was inconceivable, also due to the artist’s age, to propose anything else.
We reached a solution, using colours which we ourselves blended that were very solid and covered well. After each pass, powdered pigment or the earth from which the colour had been made was deposited by sprinkling it on the oily surface of the colour, and as it absorbed, it was caught and amalgamated.
Once it had dried, the superfluous powder was brushed away with an extremely light brush, leaving a resulting colour that was velvety and consistent.
When Sonia Delaunay saw the first proof, she had no doubts about signing it “bon à tirer”. She accepted it even before she took it into her own hands, observing it from high up on the balcony overlooking her studio, from where she came down only on rare occasions because of her by now advanced immobility.
That time however she insisted on coming down immediately.
I must once again pause to dwell upon the youthful enthusiasm of that generation of artists which, in the case of Sonia Delaunay, was still more gratifying since, as well as her generous enthusiasm, the analysis she made of her work was done with such modesty that it amazed us.
The image was born with values of pureness that were new and surprising to her and, anyway, independent of her pictorial works. Gratitude and joy beamed from those intelligent and sincere eyes which had remained so youthful.
That evening, we went back to the Hotel Esmeralda satisfied, and re-emerged only two days later...
Like dinosaurs! Alexander Calder
It was windy on the day we decided to go and visit Alexander Calder in Sachè. Leaving Paris by car, the landscape was so limpid and profound that we often stopped to grasp that autumnal chromatic value in all its depth.
Light greens, ochres, dark greens, burnt browns, blazing reds, of undescribable range and continual variation.
Once we arrived in Saché, we easily discovered how to reach Calder’s house, helped by the friendly country people who were working in the fields. They were only too happy to help us find their protégé, the elderly American artist.
Suddenly, just before we reached the top of the last slope, we realised that the trees, caught by the wind, were moving rhythmically with every blast. Between them, we glimpsed shapes that moved differently, like huge waves in the sea dominated by the faster-blowing wind which, however, does not affect them in any way. We thought they were animals but they were too big. In that light, so surreal, they could only have been imaginary dinosaurs.
This was not so far from the truth since as soon as we reached the top of the hill, a series of immense shapes appeared. They were Calder’s famous “Mobiles” which seemed to be extraordinarily well lodged in the ground, but in movement, in the same way that Lisippo’s “discus thrower” seems to be in movement.
The blast of the wind was only minimally felt, the works moved because of Calder’s gifted inventiveness, too.
We told Alexander that Burri, who he much appreciated as a painter, sent his best wishes, as did Giovanni Carandente, who had for some time been helping us to make contact with this great friend of his.
He immediately showed us a splendid “Sacco” by Burri which he had in his bedroom, the fruit of a swap he had made for one of his “Mobiles” many years before. An exchange of which both were proud.
Calder moved between half-finished sculptures and elements of others, as though they were huge pregnant mothers, and then took us to an old farmhouse on the other side of the hill where he created his tiny prototypes. They were micro-sculptures whose birth he had rejoiced in as he now did their presence. They maintained the memory of his huge sculptures scattered throughout the entire world. In that shape, even though much reduced, they also remained as a document of the planning stage, assuming an emotional value in the artist’s eyes that was almost child-like.
When he entered that space, he clearly revelled in them and willingly postponed leaving.
Due to his age and the small amount of time he could dedicate to us, I had to make things as simple as possible. I made him work as though he were creating a gouache, at which he was a maestro.
He confronted the copper plate with a substance that we prepared with the colours he habitually used on his palette. He treated the plate that we had prepared with an impermeable paint as though it were a pictorial surface, with surprising simplicity and self-assurance. Freely, leaving all the responsibility to us, as a child might.
It was a way of proceeding somewhere between alchemy and innate mastery since, although for our part we knew the processes, the natural inclination, experience and gambles taken by this formidable American artist managed to astonish us.
The work certainly did not lack spontaneity and freshness. The etching, with great stretches in aquatint, rendered the space imagined by him both architectonic and balanced: it was only a kind of grill, spiky, sharp which could find no peace, giving the impression that it was moving, amazed by the absolute lightness of the overhanging shapes.
The only people to suffer from our sojourns around the world were Davide and Simona. Our two children could not understand the reasons why we were away, and we noticed this from their behaviour, from the things they wrote and, even more, from their drawings.
Even though they were looked after with love by their maternal grandmother, Amelia, Eleonora’s marvellous and sweet mother, they were happy only when we worked in Rome and extremely curious about what happened, both at home and in the studio.
They saw anti-conventional characters appear, above all foreign, who enjoyed speaking with them, for they had learnt both English and French as small children and were very uninhibited and sensitive to the attention they were shown.
In ’71, at the beginning of summer when they had finished school, our children came with us by boat to visit Spain where we saw Chillida and Miró again and met Tapies and Dalì.
Eduardo Chillida was the first Spanish artist with whom we worked. He came as a guest to our house in Ara Coeli with his wife Pilar. They were most surprised by our warm welcome and easily adapted to our daily life as though they were part of the family.
This was important for them because they were used to being daily surrounded by no less than eight children, and Pilar in particular missed them very much, this being the only reason why they had delayed coming to Rome.
The renovation of the printshop in Ara Coeli was still not finished, so we were working at the old printing press in Madonna di Fatima.
It was not difficult for Chillida to be on the same wavelength – he already had a good knowledge of etching and, as a “pure” sculptor, he certainly did not think about colour, but only about the unique value of the relationship with the white sheet of paper.
The size of the moon, the size of a plant with the space it manages to occupy, an open hand… a closed hand with the space it manages to grasp.
“If you put one of your sculptures near a plant... you will always lose!”.
“Perhaps one day I will try to imagine a sculpture of mine in the sea. If I succeed, it will be a victory with regard to the sea. Temporally brief with regard to time”.
He stroked the copper plate, he felt it, he warmed it with his hands, he did not dare to scratch it.
With a sensitive touch, he let the resin1 drop on the copper, in an almost uniform fashion and not, all in an isolated intimacy, all his own, woe betide he who interfered. Then, with Segovian-like strumming, he made the plate vibrate, gathering and separating the resin where he wanted it, creating a background material that was almost musical.
This gesture was repeated several times and for various subsequent bitings of the acid until the material, which was clear, slowly slowly turned so misty that only the sound was left.
Then lastly, the plate prepared with soft-ground1 wax was taken up again by Chillida who worked on the white with very fine sand, delicately using the pads of his fingers, which he made stick to the plate until it scored the acid-resistant varnish with very fine and almost invisible scratches. In only a few minutes, the acid then bit into the copper, making a very slight scratching appear.
This was the last act of love which balanced everything.
There is no artist or practised person who has ever been impervious to the mystery in the incorporality of Chillida’s etchings and the subtle vibration of the composition balanced by the white of the paper, barely touched by imperceptible marks, so that its value is almost unrecognisable. What is positive? What negative? The white? Or the black?… There… only that almost imperceptible vibration of black can give you the answer.
The tremendous allure of this work increasingly kept me away from the sports which I had practised in the past, because Rome, for us, also meant the sea.
Sailing was what we wanted to do more than anything else. Sailing in the real sense of the word! For the first cruiser, the “Davide”, had been a mere pretext for us to heed the sea and learn to understand it – it was certainly not a boat with which we could participate in regattas, or live on for long periods of time.
The great turning point arrived in 1966, when I was invited by Peter Nicholson to participate in a very challenging English regatta aboard the “Quiver IV”, an extraordinary boat which had been designed and built in their famous, three-hundred-year-old shipyard, in Southampton, England.
That totally exhilarating voyage of one hundred miles opened new horizons in my mind.
Fortified by Eleonora’s support, I initiated the design stage with Camper & Nicholson, and then immediately began to lay the keel in the shipyard of Gino D’Este, a fantastic shipwright who had recently moved from Venice to Fiumicino.
Following ancient tradition, and with his extraordinary blend of know-how and sensitivity, D’Este was able to understand which wood was suitable for various uses and shapes from the unfelled tree. At the same time, he knew how to handle the wood using cutting-edge techniques, shaping it any way he wanted.
My escapes to the shipyard were famous. For three years, they knew exactly where to find me at lunchtime and often at dinner, too.
I saw the keel emerge, starting from the wooden model of the stem bulb; and later the Sida’s frame, marked by the ribs, gradually taking shape until the whole volume could be seen; and then, as its innards began to take life, I proposed the possible variations to Camper & Nicholson.
I know every screw of my beloved boat, and I do not wish to digress further on the details because it would be like expecting a mother to recount the birth of her child.
It would be impossible to describe the number and variety of things that the “Sida” has revealed to us, and how many more she will allow us to cherish and enjoy. She has taught us more than just the sea, offering us a way of life that is both simple and rational yet concrete and responsible, too. A rare, welcoming space which is hard to understand for those who have never experienced it. For us, she is a creator of energy and, at the same time, a lookout point from which we can reflect and reach awareness of our own limits.
With the launch of the “Sida” in 1970, we decided to go to Venice by boat, departing from Fiumicino, rapidly circumnavigating Italy and touching on the most beautiful places, which we knew only in part. We had made a commitment to collaborate with the American cultural attaché in creating a stand at the Venice Biennial with an operative printing press. For the occasion, we had sent our machines and materials from Rome.
It was a useful way of being quietly admitted into the delicate mechanisms of the market and American culture, and an opportunity to introduce ourselves at the Academy in Venice at that particular moment, with a splendid exhibition of all the graphic works we had produced up till then, thus creating an umbilical cord between New York and Italy.
In our long stay in that wonderful city, we were greatly helped by Giuseppe Santomaso, “a Venetian painter” who with tremendous generosity had applied himself to the task of easing our way into the exhibition at the Academy. We had worked with this artist for many years, producing numerous etchings, a technique that he loved.
That long visit to Venice was extremely important to us for it gave us the chance to see him working in his own Venetian environment, opening a window onto a world of wonder – for our eyes, too, since the artist’s studio looked out over the Grand Canal, a timeless, metaphysically surreal horizon, a window onto the East.
It seemed unbelievable to us when we woke every morning that we could be moored with our boat at Sant’Elena, in the centre of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Venice is a city which, in its false slumber, conceals an intellectual dynamism that regenerates and proffers new horizons to everyone, should one but know how to observe the results while merely standing on a balcony.
We navigated the meandering canals of the city in our tender, pointing out every detail to Davide and Simona, relating some of the sights which we gradually perceived, no longer with the eyes of mere tourists, but like lovers discovering even the simplest things, and the children, knowing that they were at the very centre of our interest in those moments, appreciated them even more.
By sea towards Spain
Sailing towards Spain was a pretext for meeting MiróXNUMX in Palma de Mallorca where the artist was spending the summer and could receive us without time limits. This allowed us to make the journey in relaxing stages, discovering places which at that time had still not been invaded by tourists, to our great joy and that of our children.
Departing from Argentario, it was with great emotion that I made one of our first stopovers at Arenzano where my paternal uncle lived during the summer. He could not have imagined that I would arrive with a boat of that size, of that tonnage, and was much impressed by the calm and confident way we maneuvred and handled the boat. He did not really know much about me or my so deeply-rooted passion for the sea.
As we left Arenzano, I had the impression that, for the first time, I had given a clear answer to all those questions which for more than 10 years my uncle had probably asked himself about what I was looking for. The answer was “the freedom to choose my own destiny”.
We met many friends along the coast of France and then we arrived in Sète, where we met Pierre Soulages and his wife. It was an opportunity to arrange a definite date for working together in Rome at the beginning of the autumn.
When we arrived on the costa Brava, we discovered splendid bays and villages in which it was a real delight to land, like Puerto de la Selva, for example. In that village at the foot of the Pyrenees, quite by chance we met the editor Umberto Alemandi and his wife with their children who were the same age as ours.
It was an enjoyable, if unexpected, stopover and particularly welcome to the four children, who were so pleased to spend time together that they kept us in that port for about ten days.
With Umberto, we had lived through the first days of art information in the publishing industry, and we recalled those moments with pleasure, reconfirming the fact that we had not modified our demanding and steadfast way of working.
We just missed meeting Salvador Dalì in Cadakesh, where we made a stopover. He had left for Italy some days before, so we left him our best wishes and promised ourselves that we would return which we did, in 1977.
We stopped in Barcelona for some days and managed to visit Antoni Tàpies who welcomed us with great fondness. He spoke of a visit that he would probably make to Rome, which we never managed to organise. We continued to maintain contact and who knows if one day...
When we finally arrived at the Club Royal in Palma de Mallorca, our first desire was to contact Miró.
Miró’s wife, Pilar, answered the phone and was not surprised by my call, inviting us that same day to their house on the hill, where they greeted us with utter simplicity and kindness.
We had already met Miró2 on other occasions in Paris, at galleries and in public places, but it thrilled us to be received in his home. They were both there waiting to meet us at the front door. They invited us in and we immediately realised how simple their house was, and their way of dressing, too: relaxed and casual, sober and plain.
He was interested and intrigued by the fact that we had come from Italy by boat to meet him and wanted to know every detail of our movements and about sailing. When he found out that we also had all the equipment necessary to create and realise a graphic work aboard the boat, he was happy because he realised then that we had undertaken the voyage just for him.
It was a pleasure to do lithography with Miró.
Ours was merely a chemical intervention, the image emerging naturally and progressively, controlled by a technique which exploited everything that was known about lithography with a naturalness that astonished even us. That knowledge allowed him an approach that was pure poetry, almost childlike, and the image which gradually emerged was cloaked in a mysteriously ripe shadow, full of memories.
We would have liked him to take on a copper plate, preparing ourselves for that eventuality, but he probably realised that with one lithograph he could rapidly fulfill his commitment towards Unesco, so we did not insist in any way. Only when the work was finished did we show him some graphics which we had realised with artists that he loved and, perhaps, but this is only my opinion, he did then have a moment’s doubt that he had missed a new opportunity. If nothing else, it would have taken him back a few years to the time when he created his splendid etchings.
The day we decided to leave Palma de Mallorca, he wanted to know the exact time we had planned for our departure. I was precise that day because I was sure he would be watching from his house, with feverish imagination, as a work of his risked the open sea.
Before leaving the island for good, we stopped for a couple of days in Formentor at Chillida’s house, where the whole family acted as generous hosts, never speaking of work but only of the sea.
I played tennis with Eduardo and personally verified, to my chagrin, that as a young man, he had been a great tennis champion with the Spanish national team.
Simona and Davide enjoyed these long stopovers because we allowed them to go to swimming pools and places where there were other children, and so we never rushed away.
The return from Spain with the “Sida” was our first real experience of being at sea with a gale above force nine. I must admit that it was useful in assessing the true capabilities of the boat, even if we had previously had no doubts.
We left Minorca, Port Mahon to be precise, with a Spanish weather report which promised sun and calm winds, but as we observed the upper reaches of the sky on the evening and dawn before we left, we could see the windy trails of a northwester.
I had mentioned this to the skipper of the neighbouring boat, bigger than ours, which belonged to professor Stefanini, a famous Rome surgeon. According to him, and he had been listening to the Spanish weather reports for two months, we should have no doubts.
He set sail before us on the same course as us directed towards the island of Asinara.
It was not long before we realised that the day did not promise well. After a couple of hours, a strong north westerly wind started to blow, even though at that time of day it should have been easterly. We began to change course, directing the boat decisively towards the north of Corsica.
The wind blew stronger and stronger but the sea had not built up completely, so we took advantage of the moment to tighten our course while we still had the chance.
The ship moved forward, fast and unruly.
We ate up many miles before taking in the first reef and from that moment we were forced to lose several degrees because the sea was by now building, with very frequent and strong waves of about two metres high. Making my calculations, I was sure that I had a large margin to make fast and safe sailing in the following hours.
Towards evening, the wind strengthened to about 40/50 knots and the sea swelled with huge breakers. We bore down still more, nonetheless maintaining a sufficient margin to pay out some slack in the worst moments without losing our course for Asinara.
A splendidly bright moon allowed us to see the enormous waves before they arrived, bigger and bigger, we had never seen waves so huge and powerful.
When the “Sida” hit a top wave, she surged at more than 12 knots with such a natural leap that sailing became euphoric to the point that I forgot to haul in the trolls which had been used for fishing when the sea was still calm.
Towards ten in the morning we glimpsed the north west part of Sardinia – we had expected it later, but on that day, with such visibility and so much wind, it was a fantastic apparition.
In daylight everything became easier even though the sea did not seem to be improving.
The closer we got to the coast, the more irregular were the waves, and we had to be very careful not to gybe dangerously and suffer damage. It was not possible to stand at the helm for more than an hour, such was the tension and the physical strength needed.
I remember the arrival at Porto Torres with Eleonora at the helm, the boat skimming over the waves, which were so strong and violent that they burst beyond the breakwaters.
We lowered the sails inside the port with some difficulty. The space was hardly big enough to contain the large number of vessels which had sought refuge there, including the cargo liners which had been stationary for two days.
We had forgotten about Miró’s graphic which had sailed with us.
The most incredible thing was that the artist called that very evening to have news of us since, for many days, he had heard the furious wind blowing in Palma, too, and had been worried about us, and we, safe at last, reassured him.
Stefanini’s boat was forced to put into Cagliari rather than run into serious problems. The skipper probably lost his faith in Spanish weather reports after that experience.
We had arranged with Soulages that he would come to Rome after the summer to work on the “Presenze grafiche” series, and we were also getting ready to go to Los Angeles for an even more challenging work with Sam Francis at the end of autumn. For some months we had been working on a series of lithographs with Giuseppe CapogrossiXNUMX which, because of the simplicity of the subjects and technique, we had thought would be resolved in a short time, but we were still far from “bon à tirer”.
In reality, it was Eleonora who was most involved with the artist, a continual commitment because Capogrossi, whose work seemed apparently simple and easily realisable, demonstrated that he was in fact a refined and demanding colourist.
To make my meaning clear, you could only get the artist’s okay after the different colour proofs had been checked in the same natural light and at the same hour of the day, because different lighting of the subject systematically changed its interpretation. Without these tactics, it was impossible to make the extremely subtle corrections.
Capogrossi told me that several years before he had had a studio whose windows faced east onto a building painted an intense brick red.
In the afternoon, the sun from the west transferred its light impregnated with red into the artist’s studio, sending him into paroxysms of frustration, so that after a few months, during the summer when the owners of the house opposite were away, totally exasperated, he had it painted completely white. I believe the lawsuit brought against him by the building’s owners has never ended.
Even though he was bound by a contract to a Swiss editor, the artist wanted to work with us on many occasions, and for some years he would free himself from the binding contract each time because he was extremely keen for his graphics to be part of our editions, particularly because he knew he could count on excellent results.
Only illness and death did not allow us to continue with the research but, even more, with friendship, which was strong and sincere.
Soulages in Rome
Pierre Soulages finally arrived with his wife at Ara Coeli in Rome,. As well as his personal baggage, I noticed that he was carrying a large package in which there was undoubtedly a plate similar in size to the one made for the “Presenze grafiche”, well wrapped up and protected. This seemed strange to me...
That evening, after they had settled into their room, we talked about the graphic project. Pierre told me that he was used to working with a printer in Paris and, to speed things up, he had already prepared a plate that in his opinion was finished, which he was happy about.
He did not show it to us that evening, nor subsequently, because after he had come into our studio and seen the etchings by Chillida, Burri, Nevelson and others, he asked me what we would be capable of.
From that moment, we expected it to be an extremely long technical process, so Eleonora and I decided we would have to part for the first time, since we had arranged with Sam Francis to go to Los Angeles as soon as possibile. Eleonora would anticipate her visit, in the meantime organising the fitting out of the printshop in Sam’s studio with the material that we had already in part sent, yet she still left laden like an emigrant but no less determined.
It took three weeks to complete the work with Soulages since, right from the start, I had to untangle the sort of dependency that bound him to the Parisian printer. To every suggestion which I discreetly made, he replied that he already knew it and was not particularly interested, completely throwing me every time.
Then came the moment when he told me about some research that he had been trying to achieve in his painting for some time.
At last we had reached the ground that I loved the most, I had glimpsed the ideal technique for Soulages. We had experimented with it for Burri’s burnings when he was looking for something evanescent, but had rejected because it was too coarse, whereas it was startlingly suited to Pierre’s needs.
It meant giving a very deep value to a colour, which was initially impossible because of its transparency. When, however, the matrix of a substance was enriched so that it could absorb a large quantity of ink, it gave the result he wanted. An extremely strong, profoundly vibrant intensity of colour.
Soulages worked on the copper plate with a glue that we had prepared as though it were a colour, and which spread very well with the brush. The clean brushstrokes, more or less dense, remained on the plate exactly as they were on the canvas.
When the work was finished, a rich rain of carborundum in powder of various thicknesses was made to fall from above, shaken through sieves until the surface was entirely covered.
When it was dry, the superfluous part was removed with brushes of different hardness and then, using tools of yet another kind, the artist scraped and softened the parts which needed greater transparency and light.
I never did see that famous plate made in Paris.
The magic of Sam Francis
Sam Francis was undoubtedly a man full of magic and even our first meeting was somehow magic.
“Those colours, so bright and pure, can only be Sam’s”, said Burri, standing in front of a vast canvas, four metres by eight.
And here was Sam Francis, introducing himself with that wry look, so joyful as he welcomed us to the Los Angeles gallery, the Cienega where he was exhibiting his most recent works.
It was May 68.
I remember an ironic remark that Burri made to Sam as he stood in front of an enormous painting, totally white with tiny, extremely colourful scratches in two corners: “You could have tried a bit harder!”.
Burri did not know then that a few years later he would reinterpret and produce his own works with a Franciscan severity and synthesis. Only a few traces of material or a film of glue would later be enough to support works of several metres in size.
That was how we met Sam Francis: from that moment it was he who opened us up to the interpretation of his work, with his personality, bearing, dreams and joie de vivre. We, on the other hand, always forced ourselves to overcome the difficulties caused by his precarious health.
It was precisely his health that conditioned our various work meetings, which were always arranged with enthusiasm but often postponed.
Rome was in fact distant from California for someone like him who suffered from sudden illnesses which so debilitated him that for months he would have to concentrate merely on getting better. The solution was to create a mobile printshop that could be transferred to the artist’s studio, so as soon as everything was ready, Eleanora left for Los Angeles on her own with all the necessary equipment.
The studio was set up in Venice (California) in a space that Sam had put at our disposal.
On that occasion, Eleonora created an efficient studio from nothing, ready at all times to welcome the artist. After the extremely long breaks necessary to reach concentration, there emerged a series of etchings and aquatints that were wonderful in their immediacy and rigour. These first etchings formed the technical base which subsequently allowed us to make further progress, each time achieving graphical successes that were like milestones.
This first experience was so important for Sam that it became an absolute priority for him to come to Rome as soon as possible.
One week later, he arrived in Ara Coeli where we lived and had the printing press. He was immediately fascinated by the spaces and atmosphere, but above all by the window of the sitting room from which one could see the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Campidoglio square.
He would sit for hours, voyaging in his fantasy and dreams in that space created by Michelangelo, involving us too when he reached the moment of inspiration needed to begin work.
It took days for him to establish the right atmosphere, and when the moment came, the tension was so high that even the printing press was no longer big enough to hold the results of the energy that he unleashed. For this reason, I decided to move to our exhibition gallery which was only a short distance away from the printshop, emptying it completely.
It was the chapel of the building and in that space he felt unburdened, content somehow to have a studio at his disposal where, in the seventeenth century, another artist had frescoed the emblem “De’ Delfini” on the ceiling.
Large as the studio was, after a few days there were countless plates of two metres by one spread out over the entire surface, thus allowing Sam to have an overall vision of the work so that he could then go back to those same plates with spontaneity and vibrant gesture.
For the first time I realised the true meaning of “energy”, since by the end of the etching work, the imprint of the creative effort had left an extraordinary vitality in the copper. When Sam realised that, through his work, he had managed to master the material, he was filled with an emotion comparable to that of a marathon runner as he crosses the finishing line.
It took days to reorganise ourselves, take stock of the situation and speak about printing proofs. Sam had to regain his strength.
We spoke for hours about colour, and in that field Eleonora gathered every reference, even the most subtle, that would enable her to enter the artist’s so personal atmosphere and transfer what had been generated onto the plates. Through colour, she would have to reconstruct the solution needed to exalt the finished effort.
A great retrospective exhibition of his work, which was being inaugurated in Paris at that precise moment, compelled Sam to leave the studio before he was able to try out the experiments he had thought up in those countless hours and days, but he was anyway sure that he would come back to Rome before long.
This, however, did not happen, for Sam passed from periods of working to periods of illness that did not allow him to come to Rome, and it was unthinkable to realise the proofs without him being present. The complexity of the subjects required a team of printers who I certainly could not have taken to New York or Los Angeles.
1982 arrived, the year when he came back to Rome, to our new home and printing press at the Terme di Caracalla. As soon as he arrived, he wanted to see everything. We left him free to wander wherever he wanted, at his own time, with his periods of rest and his emotions.
Our bobtails followed him constantly, since they understood, as good dogs do, that Sam loved animals so they never left his side.
At ten o’clock one morning, not seeing him come down from his room and rather worried, Eleonora went to call him and a delightful scene unfolded before her eyes – Dado, our dog, was lying on the bed with Sam, who said to her, “I didn’t want to wake him”.
The colours of spring which were exploding at that moment in our garden, helped us to take up the proofs again with renewed vigour, but Eleonora was able to interpret far more deeply than what spring had to offer.
Owing to this immense variation of colours, the title of the series was in the end: “The five seasons”.
The artist wanted to try his hand again with etching and we planned a new adventure with the understanding that we would finalise it in New York, in the printing press we had already set up in ’79, precisely so that we could have that famous continuity. And so it was.
Three years later we set to work in New York. As always, the preparation lasted for days even if the New York environment did not allow many distractions. Eleanora’s good coffee and the lunches she managed to organise created a convivial, undoubtedly preparatory moment of relaxation which was much appreciated by Sam who adored Italian cooking, and especially Eleonora’s, who he said “uses flavours like colours, with the same pureness”.
He was particularly happy at that time because his last child, Augustus, had just been born, and this name betrayed his pride in the fact that, at his age, he had several times been transformed from grandfather to father.
As soon as he felt ready and was sure that he had brought us to the right level of intensity, Sam transferred this happiness onto the plates, in one go, knowing at every moment what we were achieving and where. That night, we completed the four plates, forming the mosaic of colours which the artist had imagined and transferred into Eleonora’s heart and mind.
For practical purposes, we recorded the duet Sam-Eleonora and this was indispensable because with the written notes alone we could never have achieved those musical notes that only the voice can reach when speaking of colours.
It was certainly a homage to the new life of little Augustus who seemed, to Sam, like a victory over the illness he was fighting against with such tenacity.
The image in the subject, “Untitled 3”, represents a particular triumph and an explosion that only certain moments can provoke. The clear figure of the subject was like a new witness in his painting and for Sam this was certainly not pure coincidence.
Galvanised by these results, we arranged a work project for the following spring, once more in New York, but yet again it was not possible for Sam was extremely busy with a large, retrospective touring exhibition organised by Pontus Ultain, and also with the new house he was building in Point Reyes where he meant to move for good.
This decision had been dictated by the need to live in an environment that was as uncontaminated as possible, assisted by the oriental therapists who had been following him for years, helping him to overcome his illness, considered incurable by many, but a constant challenge for him against which he continued to emerge victorious.
We often talked on the telephone to arrange hypothetical dates, which served more than anything else to convey the affection between us.
I thought yet again about re-proposing the famous mobile printshop and Sam could not wait, even though he was not able to put us up in Point Rayes, apart from in the studio space, since the new house was still not finished. We went to a small motel that Sam recommended which was built on piles in the bay of the village and I must say that it was a fantastic refuge for us. We stayed there for 59 days.
The beginning was all-consuming, since by now Sam no longer needed to have a rough image of the results but, sure of his instruments, went still further.
As a great dreamer and interpreter of those dreams, he was often dumbfounded by an image that he himself was creating, so he produced a large number of subjects, all quite different.
This first great effort immediately showed us what a high price he was paying.
The therapists took several days to bring Sam back to a condition of normality, and we realised that this splendid work of his was a true homage to life: the shapes, the rhythms, the brightness of colour, the tension, the vibration, the balance and the joy…. he set art above his very life.
At this point we tried to leave time between one stage of work and another and we spent a great deal of time talking to him, touching upon those subjects which Sam was proud of: the Foundation that he had created for cancer research; the research group into wind-energy which he had financed; the publishing house; the litho-shop where lithography, silk-screen printing and etching were done in the classical fashion; his children, wives, families, his painting studies, his innumerable exhibitions, his dearest friends, bicycle trips, tennis matches… and his dreams… and ours…. which we recounted every day.
It was he who called us when he was peaceful, knowing that we set no limits. Even though it was hard for us, we did not want to finish that splendid work unless he was happy and felt that we were sincerely disinterested. Had we stopped at that precise moment, we would still have been able to appreciate the joy of those works.
After fifty days of rain, the weather took a decided turn for the better. They had told us at the outset that there had been no rain for three years.
I had never seen so much water and California so green immediately afterwards: the light so intense, the flowers which strained beyond all known limits.
The atmosphere in the house changed, the black clouds rolled away and even the work needed to complete the etchings was practically over.
Only the fine tuning of colours was left. It was the most exciting week, the colours and shapes enveloped us, stretching out from one etching to another, as though it were all one single composition and, at the same time, a countless number.
The dawns seen from our room were incredible, with the water birds which at high tide practically passed beneath our bed. In that atmosphere, we recognised the colours that Sam used and, as the sun gradually rose, they shone brighter and brighter, until they became dazzling.
A long friendship, Victor Pasmore
I had already met Victor Pasmore2 in London, very quickly; I was surprised by his willingness to perform the engraving for Unesco, as it was an honor for him and not the other way around, as it was, alas, for many artists.
I invited him to come to Rome as a guest with us but, until the end of the summer, now approaching, he could not move from Malta, except for very short periods, because he was completing some important works in his house.
It was now the end of May when I decided to go to Malta with SIDA.
We first passed by Ponza, despite having known it for years. It remained a must because it is impossible to describe its charm, beauty and sympathy.
At that time, then, in '72, it was unparalleled, with Palmarola very close, a lunar island for the brightness of its rocks, in contrast with an infinite number of variations of the seabed. It was rare to find a more beautiful sea.
A few miles and we touched Ventotene. The stop in the Roman port was very pleasant because everything was on a human scale.
You felt the port cut on you; the scent of the flowers and aromatic herbs of the tiny village mingled, at certain hours of the morning and evening, with the healthy smell of fish still alive returning with the few boats.
Strangely enough, that little port stood still in time.
The bollards carved there, in the rock, determined the stakes of a seafaring education that the Romans, in their time, learned modestly and applied with respect for nature. They built safe shelters like this for those who had to and knew how to navigate. Even today, the same bollards give the possibility to moor safely even to those who do not have that minimum of culture to understand and move with respect in that magical mirror of stillness.
On arriving in Ischia we met Alexander Liberman with his wife Tatiana.
When we arrived in Ischia, we met Alexander Liberman with his wife, Tatiana. This important American sculptor had been one of the founders of the Condé Nast publishing house, the owner of Vogue magazine among others, and was still at that time one of its major figures.
We had already arranged an appointment that winter and it was not difficult to install a small studio in the Hotel Regina Isabella where they were staying.
We occupied, for some technical procedures, a part of the large kitchen of the Hotel whose management generously and curiously offered to collaborate with our oddities.
The copper plates entered the oven and came out together with biscuits, cakes and other kinds of food, initially with mistrust on the part of the cooks, then with increasing curiosity and interest.
A series of etchings emerged from that meeting, full of dynamism and an immediacy that we would probably never be able to repeat in the works we did in Rome over the following years.
The way of setting up, and perhaps desecrating, the work of the printer there was certainly seen as a positive challenge by Helen Frankenthaler... who, in those days, was Alexander's guest in Ischia. Helen suggested us a printmaking experience with her in Rome in September, before her return to New York. Perhaps she thought she was involved in a situation similar to the one Alexander experienced.
We left Ischia with our children who, by now, had physiologically settled in SIDA. We made beautiful sailing, we fished longlines in abundance in navigation and while still, sea bream and sea bream in the bays. It was real life on board.
After a few short stops, we arrived in the Strait of Messina just at the moment of the passage of the swordfish.
We stopped in the area longer than expected, captured by that primitive hunt. Everything remained the same, except that the engine was in place of the rowers.
This splendid land, which we walked along the east side for its entire length, filled our eyes and hearts with natural wonders and a strong sense of civilization.
The strongest presence was undoubtedly the Etna that dominated us with its lantern invaded by sun and lava when the sea just dawned and throughout the day with its extraordinary grandeur under which you could feel life.
The mountain followed you for miles and miles hiding its secrets inside, throwing only faint smoke signals.
Just further south, when we broke away from Capo Passero, it was as if we were losing something important that we certainly would not have found in Malta.
Entering the home of Victor and Wendy Pasmore was like being inside a work of the artist, no longer English, but extraordinarily Mediterranean. All the elements, even the most functional, were part of an architectural design within one of his paintings.
The light of Malta, so dazzling, was dampened only by the shadows that hid the facing rooms inside the large patio, denying the eye the possibility of going into details and defining their spaces.
Only the sunny elements snapped due to the shadows reported, creating almost musical assonances desired by the artist with great precision and calculation. The title of the work could have been: "Abstract in the Garden".
I realized that we all lived that atmosphere in an abstract, metaphysical way; as if suspended, we could not feel ourselves in a defined position, but, practically, it was a space that could not accommodate us. We had not been foreseen among the useful elements in that composition.
Pasmore's swimming pool was the welcoming spot of the house for my children, which they enjoyed for days.
We worked with Victor trying to create the foundations of a friendship and work relationship that would last for thirty years.
We made the engraving for Unesco without hesitation. In that first graphic work we only looked for a balance of shapes and colors, sure that we would have done quite different paths together.
For Pasmore, engraving was the way to have a certain defined order, an obligation to rigor also because in his way of painting he always set very long maturation times.
The works came out of his studio already lived and the technical uncertainties, of little interest to him, were mediated by the patina of time.
"Brown image" was the graphic work that triggered Victor's need to return to the printing house in Rome with a rhythmic frequency, because, with that experience, he realized that there were no limits of size, of colors, of , in short, limits, but a 360 degree opening.
Pasmore was sensitive to everything that through an evolutionary process could acquire new value, the result of different experiences, even contrasting ones, but ultimately useful for his way of proceeding.
The book "The dance of man" was certainly a work commitment where the artist perfected painting and poetry, as if everything had been born on a musical score. The artist used his images and poems as notes of a dance in an imaginary space where anyone who wanted to browse it would not have had to read the music to listen to it.
Even if absolutely all his works, even the smallest, lived on wide breaths, in large dimensions they acquired architectural values so strongly emblematic as to sustain unthinkable balances in such simple and essential painting.
“Un bel dì we will see” was a graphic experience where the musical notes were the title of that splendid engraving.
The solvent liquid went down along the slab as does the lava going downstream and Victor modified its path. The form spread under his watchful eye to create the image he had dreamed of.
For the first time, after transmitting the necessary pathos to Eleonora, Victor immediately wanted to do the color test; it wasn't necessary to do a second rehearsal, everything had been played in the best way.
Pasmore was fascinated by aquatint and, certainly not by chance, his painting was consolidated and enriched strongly with this experience. There were times when certain images were so successful and exciting that the artist himself did not have the courage to use the same subject for a pictorial work.
An example was the large “Burning water” aquatint which was exhibited, with all the works printed by us up to that moment, in a large graphic exhibition by Victor Pasmore at the Tate Gallery in London.
The director Alan Bowness noted, among all, the great quality of this large image and told Victor that he would like to have a work made in painting of the same subject for the Museum.
A few months passed and in the end Victor wrote a letter to Alan Bowness advising him to buy the graphic work as, after several attempts, he had not managed, in painting, to achieve anything better for that subject and perhaps he would never have succeeded.
After working for days on some large plates of a very difficult subject, “The war”, he decided that it was not the case to continue, very disappointed with the result. Eleonora asked him if he would allow her to make one last attempt during the lunch break, changing only the base color.
I don't think I've ever seen Victor so amazed; it was a strange experience for him to suddenly find himself in front of a subject, of which he was the father, surprised by so much beauty. He looked at Eleonora in a new way, even though he had known her for a long time, never having noticed how much attention, participation and competence she brought him with his usual colors to the print voucher.
Giulio Carlo Argan, in an article in the "Espresso" of 5 December '82, entitled: "The world in a spot", wrote:
… Today his favorite technique is large format graphics, perhaps because it allows him to overturn the architecture of his first stereometric constructivism and free the image from contextuality with the material consistency of the painting. And he found in Rome, in that magician of the art printing that is Valter Rossi, a collaborator rather than an interpreter.
The repetitiveness of printing was necessary for him: having reduced art to a process of integral symbolization, the uniqueness of the work became an intolerant servitude. In the limited edition, the repetition of the image is prescribed by its own rituality. Just as the initials of a Byzantine ornament cannot fail to be repeated.
The matrix of the mythical image of Pasmore is landscape, indeed ecological: the island, the archipelago, the incessant interpenetration of land and sea.
The large white sheet is a luminous expanse and the colors, the same browns and blacks, saturated with drunk light. The stupendous suite of the Points of Contact describes the slow, irresistible attraction of the melting drops of water; elsewhere is the mystery of the filter or the transfer, of the rivulets that make their way into the rough, absorbent surface. The awaited myth is that of the wedding (Blake would have said) of earth, water and sky: or of the triumphal passage from chance to order, from stain to image ...
Upon returning from Malta we found Helen Frankenthaler settled in Ara Coeli, ready to work. The encounters with the artist in New York, in his home, in his studio and, subsequently, in Ischia, did not make us read the character to the point of imagining what sort of climate would be born before the creative phase.
We knew her work as an abstract expressionist painter and we knew that she was considered, by the market and by museums, a backbone of American painting, but we did not know its character.
Helen's way of life and her habits were to work with programmed rhythms, with large spaces dedicated to bringing us closer to the creative moment, without knowing the way, without having that minimum of indications to imagine what to suggest.
Helen had already had graphics experience and now she wanted to understand what she could experience through our knowledge and experience, so it was like starting from scratch. The hours went by, we looking at her, she looking at us. At that time we were printing Burri, Capogrossi and Afro. There was a tremendous excitement and tension in the printing house, which did not allow me to be totally available and so we decided to make a first practical cognitive investigation.
In the first recordings: "Roman Walk", "Bridges", "Italian Lunch", as the titles show, we limited ourselves to a very short Roman, technical, hospitality tour. Because, knowing Helen better, we realized the need to free her from her worries in order to show us her true competence, painting.
In the years that followed we met many times in Rome, New York and Ischia, but the dates, for many reasons, did not coincide, until it was decided to activate the printing house in New York. There we went with her to produce a series of memorable engravings which I will give ample space to later.
Mont Blanc from the Alps to the Pyramids
When we arrived on the summit of Mont Blanc, it was not the classic trip that could be done from Courmayeur or Chamonix, but up there, on the real summit, abandoned by the helicopter, it was a dismay!
Only the skis tied you to the ground, but you didn't see them because the snow, so dusty and light, reached up to your waist ... the rest was pure space.
Everything became remotely small; from that distance nothing definite brought you to our time until you thought of the descent, and you were, at that moment, the first man on earth.
There were no traces under you and the tension lessened only for the trust I placed at that moment in Agostino Perroux who, as an expert guide and magnificent skier, traced with his eye the possible descent in that pristine snow, where it was certain of having no surprises and almost unconsciously enjoying what was to be done, "the most beautiful descent of my life".
The feeling of amazement, the tension, the excitement and the knowledge that it was a miracle, made us go down to the valley in a cloud of sensations, where fatigue never dared to present itself.
Interminable apneas interspersed with breaths that we dared not interrupt.
That drowning under the white powder that rose like a cloud due to the great displacement of snow that we raised at every bend, as if it were an ocean wave crushed by the surf.
Each deep bend corresponded to an immersion and each distension to an apparition.
There was nothing that could not be done, even on the steepest slopes, because the type of very light snow supported you like a caressing and strong hand at the same time.
Before leaving one valley to look out over the next, we stopped to enjoy our traces we had left.
They presented themselves with rhythms that depended on our state of mind and on the confidence that we gradually made ours. There were no dissonances, the rhythms were marked, the repetition was nothing more than a sum of joy, like a muffled tam tam ... maybe ... it was the beating of our heart.
When I was with Burri I was able to transfer to him these sensations that he did not know, but he was happy because he loved all sports. One year I managed to take it to the top of Mont Blanc just to enjoy so much wonder together.
It was the autumn of '72 when Giuseppe Santomaso introduced us to the publisher Ives Rivieres with whom we designed and created a very original and new book, where Santomaso enjoyed talking with Veronica Franco, a poetess of the 700th century, a cultured and intriguing courtesan. Above all, it was a good reason for the artist to later create a series of splendid engravings with us.
Ives Rivieres, during the countless meetings, told me about his friendship with Pierre Alechinsky, with whom he had made many catalogs and books when he worked with Skira.
He told me that, for the summer of 73, he had planned to go with Pierre and their families to Bodrum in Turkey, where they would stay for a long time.
The navigation between the Greek islands and Turkey had already been foreseen in my projects and the additional reason, that of knowing Alechinsky in an informal way, prompted me to move the SIDA further south, in various stages, before the summer.
When we left Italy, after Capo Spartivento, we headed for Paxos.
The navigation was very smooth; a pleasantly steady wind accompanied us all day and night, allowing us to catch a big splendid tuna. Late in the morning we reached the northern tip of Paxos.
It was the first Greek island we touched. It was a great thrill to imagine having arrived by sea and having that concrete appearance, that new light that made its way through ancient olive trees.
Our eyes searched for similarities to help our memory to elicit an emotional impulse already experienced; even the smells that came were new to us.
Great was the euphoria that accompanied us to the entrance of Porto Lacca, where we gave up to take the first bath.
The little old village that overlooked the bay looked cheerful, captivating, but no one was to be seen.
A crystallized landscape overlooked us; surely we were observed by the few inhabitants, not many, but all.
Throwing ourselves into that clear water, we felt like we were diving into history; it was like a baptism that prepared us to accept the fact that beauty was born right there, in that cradle and from there we left for: Porto Gaio, Skorpios, Ithaca, Lepanto, Corinto, Athens, Sunion, Naxos, Paros, Despotico, Amorgos , Calimnos, Kos, Bodrum.
We were told that, as soon as we arrived on the Turkish coast, the famous Greek wind the “meltemi” would no longer exist, but in reality the wind only changed in name: “poiraz”.
Before arriving in Bodrum, we stopped in a cozy bay with a boring wind still at 30 knots. By now it was getting dark and since it would take half a day to do all the customs operations, as we had been told, we decided to spend the night breathing the first Turkish air in a somewhat outlawed way.
In the morning I woke up very early because I wanted to get to Bodrum to make the entrance due.
As soon as I looked out of the boat, I noticed, under some large plants by the sea, a movement of animals and people. I watched until the eye got used to it and I understood that it was a peasant caravan moving with its camels.
I woke up the children who were happy to see the curious animals at work for the first time. We then found, in the afternoon, in Bodrum, the weekly market where the morning caravan was headed.
I don't remember ever having seen such a genuine market and that didn't take into account the tastes and habits of tourists. Our curiosity was certainly great, theirs, although they pretended not to observe us, was penetrating.
It was the first time that in addition to putting up the Turkish courtesy flag, which we made before arriving, we also hoisted the yellow quarantine flag. It took on not only a formal but also a practical value, as it required a visit from the medical officer on our boat before being able to go ashore.
Instead, we received a strong rebuke from the Maritime Police for the simplified and naive flag we produced, and we were obliged to lower it immediately and hoist another one. We were asked to buy it immediately in the shop opposite.
The owner was happy to give it to us, as he had never seen an Italian boat in the port of Bodrum.
They made us moor under the Castle, between a warship and a strange boat with the Dutch flag, moored near a Canadian sail. Then only a few small fishing boats remained, for tourists, with large Turkish flags.
By now we got used to undergoing the usual questions: “where do you come from? what flag is that…? ”. Then, a lady, with a fluid French, a sun-struck face, very expressive, asked me if we were from Rome and with my assent she said “So you are Ives Rivieres's friends?”. "Sure!" I replied. At that point he introduced himself: “I'm Miki Alechinsky, we didn't think you'd ever come to Bodrum. For us, arriving by car was a real problem, but the place is so beautiful and different that it deserves all the hardships and troubles suffered ”.
After two hours, on the SIDA, there were eleven people: Pierre, with a hat like a foreign legion to prevent the sun from destroying him, was immediately amicably available. Ives had certainly informed him of my intentions to meet him, but he did not imagine that I had brought all the equipment necessary to make some engravings on the boat.
In addition to Pierre and Miki, there were Nicolas their son, Ives Riviere and his wife Niki, Jean Clerté assistant and printer of Pierrre with his daughter. Everyone was housed in a small hotel on the harbor, decent for that time, very suitable for Pierre because his room opened directly onto a huge terrace overlooking the harbor. This was his studio where he could work.
The atmosphere from that location was fantastic. The castle opposite, although large, ended up being like a passer-by in a colorful crowd.
The history of Halicarnassus had left no visible traces but was all present for the spectacle of the surrounding nature, immersed in a clear and intense light that made us grasp details and details usually out of focus.
Such a vast composition is still in my memory. Even outlines of mountains at incredible distances approached, with their silhouettes, like wings upon wings with an unimaginable range of colors. On the other side, the islands in succession left little room for the sea because you felt that other islands were ready to appear.
In the following days we drove to visit Didima, Miletus, and Ephesus.
Our little caravan moved around those ancient areas, urged in all of us by old loves and student memories awakened as our eyes rested on this or that settlement.
For the first time, with Eleonora, we realized that, even if the Romans had succeeded in destroying the beauty to establish their urban model, in those sites, in the lethargy of the centuries, only the joy of Greek beauty, because Roman architecture, having lost the function for which it was born, remained a metaphysical appearance.
The way of reading of the French friends, on the other hand, was detached, with less emotion, as if they were still undergoing Roman domination. We faced critical roles objectively, aware that Greek beauty, for the Roman invader, had to give way to their domination.
A large number of works came to life on that terrace, which Pierre created immediately after each visit, between sea and mountains and such different civilizations. He was thrilled with the countless ideas he could capture. His only concern was to have enough paper with him to satisfy his hunger for paint.
Pierre knew that we had brought some copper plates to the SIDA and that, if we wanted to, we could make some engravings. He began to talk about it the day we decided to go to Knidos, a peninsula full of antiquities, accessible in those days only from the sea.
The first difficulty, arriving in the small bay, was that the military prevented us from landing with the tender. You could only go ashore by swimming and for a very short time.
Here Pierre's fibrillations began to surface because it was the first time he had such a drastic and intimidating contact, right there, where a man of culture like him had the right to be received with respect and with the utmost generosity. All this, those armed soldiers, were certainly not able to understand.
I had heard from Danny Berger, who at that time was collaborating with us to open the gallery in Rome, that the excavations in Knidos were directed by a friend of his, Iris Cornelia Love, an American archaeologist who had worked there for some years for Long Island University.
The first thing I did, landing swimming in the bay was to look for Iris, who had already noticed the Italian flag waving on the SIDA from the ground and was waiting to meet us.
She was a passionate lover of our country. When I called her by name, she hugged me affectionately and there I knew that Danny had warned her of our probable visit.
The cult of Aphrodite in that peninsula had been the reason for that settlement and that was the research they had set out to carry out with that excavation. Iris had begun the excavations, as early as 1967, with some young American researchers, helped by about fifty local Turkish workers who worked with great enthusiasm on this initiative.
At sunset we had to swim back to the boat where we hosted Iris and, in rotation, some of her collaborators for dinner. With the imagination fueled by the various discoveries that took place daily, one came to imagine how much the Greek period, on that site, had left a legacy. Pierre was interested more by the stories he heard than by the findings.
In that bay, one morning, Pierre asked me to face the copper plates, he felt ready and charged. Thus were born, on the SIDA, the two engravings: “Mare nostrum” and “Arbre de vie”, astounding all of us, including Iris. A cognitive synthesis, in that space saturated with history, recovered in “Cobra” reading.
The color, in that part of the Mediterranean, is so exasperated by the sun that it is reduced to black and white; in one of the two engravings there was only a very small note of red, a presence, which enhanced the light-saturated value of the “Phicus” engraved on the copper. The large slab was supported by seven small metopes which contained as many roots engraved.
This first very intense, magnificent experience with Pierre necessitated a new meeting which took place in Rome.
On the afternoon of December 24, 1973, when he arrived at our house, he asked to immediately see the printing house. Faced with the looming press, he asked me what was the largest size we could have made; I replied that there were no limits, that he was the one to establish it, he said: "two meters by three meters".
Having launched the dimension, as a challenge, we immediately prepared the plates to be engraved with the technique we had already tested in Turkey.
Pierre put his hand to his brush as if he were using a weapon.
He began by holding his right hand forward away from his body to establish a distance, then brought the same hand behind his back. With a consistent Chinese brush, he began with his left hand to draw that typical sign of his: as it detaches or approaches the surface of the copper, it becomes from very fine to increasingly larger, until it forms full-bodied masses, and then returns, sudden, to be tense and thin.
As the Artist entered the composition he was so involved that it became necessary to feed the brush with liquid continuously. He took the bowl in his right hand and attacked the plates relentlessly to the end.
We worked all night. We etched various etchings with acid non-stop. On Christmas morning, “Aveuglette” was born, I think the largest engraving in the world, two meters by three, with a dedication: “pour Valter et Eleonora complices”.
A conversation between Alechinsky and Diane Kelder
I am trying to reach the spontaneity of watercolor, by painting directly on the plate prepared with the grain, this allows me a way of working that is close to my painting.
I usually start with brushstrokes that provoke my imagination. Then I draw, I follow the image. Miró said of himself “I work like a gardener” and I work with two feet in the dream. I treated the first plate as if it were a watercolor. Valter showed me a proof and printed the image on a second plate, as a kind of aide-mémoire, it is useful for making a decision, when I say decision, I mean adding and deleting, similar to the montage technique (cutting and adding) or how to write it. The big difference between the writer and the painter is that the painter reveals his own traces of the elimination, while the writing hides the hesitations of the writer. The painter shows his second thoughts, his corrections end up loving them in order to impose them.
Entering the printing house means leaving the solitude of your own studio. Having preferred the café terrace for forty years, I opted for the warmth of the printing house.
For seventeen years I had a large press at home that never stopped working. In 1984 I succumbed to an experience in teaching… I was a professor of painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. That activity, which was fortunately ephemeral, totally disorganized my printing house. When I regained my freedom, I immediately began working with Valter in his new studio, at the Baths of Caracalla, which I had never seen. I made some large incisions. When I say some, I mean such a quantity and in such ideal conditions that I quickly decided to get rid of my press, much to the delight of my wife who had been waiting for that moment to enlarge her kitchen for a long time. I would say that in fifteen days of intense work in Rome, while the Staff followed me like “servants d'une piece d'artillerie”, I produced the equivalent of one or two years of work on my press. Valter has perfected an almost too perfect aquatint technique that I sometimes have to disturb.
This technique thus concerns me, because it provokes my naivete. Briefly: there are times when the artist even having a Steinway at his disposal, takes pleasure in playing with just one finger.
Rome, October 14 1988
Graham Sutherland spent hours observing with a certain envy Pierre Alechinsky's decisive and flowing sign. Graham, as a young man, had devoted himself passionately to etching and together with us he was very cautiously filming it.
His gazing at Pierre, with that insistence, had disoriented us, preventing us from quickly suggesting the right technique to bring him into his visionary world.
The truth was that, in the sign, he was looking for something tortuous, almost chewed, in absolute contrast to the clear and flowing sign of Alechinsky.
We set up a small printing house in the cottage-annex very close to the artist's house and studio: Villa Blanche in Menton.
Here lived in complete isolation Graham and Kathleen.
Our intervention was not traumatic because, at the right moment, we knew we were invisible.
Graham was openly in love with the engraving.
Already at the second opera he knew where and how to proceed. However, he remained anchored to technical curiosity; he wanted to understand each step with all the details. He often took notes, thus thinking of returning to the autonomy he had enjoyed when he was young and teaching etching in London.
The first obstacle, in truth, was overcome by Eleonora who had managed to print, with all her passion and concentration, a plate that Graham had engraved in 1930 and had never managed to achieve in many attempts, either alone or with others. printers.
When the “bon à tirer” materialized, he was so happy that he wanted to pull the edition using an 700th century paper he had bought in London in the 50s.
For us, going to Menton was a real pleasure. For years it was an absolutely natural spring and autumn stage; it allowed us every time to find the ideal conditions to give birth to complex projects, very intriguing and provocative from a technical point of view for us, and for creative Graham.
We worked completely isolated, in a surreal atmosphere, with rhythms linked to the artist's habits. Many times, intrigued, he surprised us with his appearances, but he had to surrender to the necessary and indispensable technical times in the various passages, before reaching the press.
During the hours of waiting in that study, the eye swept one hundred and eighty degrees over the sea; I never got tired of looking at it and my mind sailed much further, in fact reaching my boat and often having the sensation of being on it.
Eleonora loved to walk in the garden where the plants were full of flowers and fruits for the great care and for the good fortune of enjoying a mild climate, in that area, even in winter.
It was there that he began to get serious about botany. His nights depended on the number of books piling up well beyond his reading pace.
We walked in that garden every day with Graham to go from his house to the studio and to return. We took a different journey each time because he tried to capture a detail of nature in contrast with the absolute beauty that surrounded us.
Then he stopped him with simple signs and references on his sketch book.
Once in his studio, he elaborated that detail by separating it from the context in which he had grasped it and placed it in a completely abstract and surreal environment with respect to the origin, from which it had been almost eradicated.
I knew from the start that Sutherland didn't want anyone in his workspace. Years earlier, in the Morlot printing house in Paris, they had equipped a part of the atelier with a curtain to separate the artist from the printers, when he was working.
This is a need that many artists have. It is necessary to be present with reserve and sensitivity, only when the artist feels the need, a moment before and not a moment later.
In this way the presence of the technician becomes indispensable and pleasant.
Graham admitted, only later, that we were the first, in his life, to be actively and positively present at the birth of one of his works.
I remember that in the long journeys from Rome to Villa Blanche with Eleonora, we tried to foresee the right way to make Graham's work with us spontaneous and pleasant.
For the artist's particular vision on the subject of “nature”, we had to leave vast spaces to the imagination. Then we had to compensate with gimmicks without leaving any doubts on the technical process so that everything was logical.
Upon returning from Menton to Rome we felt full of responsibility and desire to make concrete all the work we had managed to do in that little paradise.
As we walked away from Villa Blanche, the feeling was that we had grasped with love the secrets of a hidden, very intimate poem.
The folder entitled "Bees" and, subsequently, the folder dedicated to Apollinaire, entitled "Le bestiaire", are two works where the complexity of the themes and the number of subjects would have intimidated many artists. For Graham, a true lover of engraving, it was an important opportunity to explore themes that arose from his sketch books and which, without engraving as a pretext, would never have developed.
Graphics for sculptors
There is an important difference, in creating a graphic work, between the artistic vision of the painter and that of the sculptor.
In our studio this difference was clear already in the first years of activity because we gave the painter all the color we could and he wanted, without limits. In some way, the sculptor, while attracted by color, reads in a three-dimensional way. This inevitably leads to the relief and to the natural material from which his experience is born.
Giò and Arnaldo Pomodoro were certainly fascinated by the engravings of Burri and Fontana, where the material and the three-dimensionality are absolutely evident and new in a surprising way. In those years the engraving technique was very limited. Research was absent; everything was fossilized in the culture of the sign, making true apologies on this, thinking that all knowledge was contained there.
It is true that there is probably still to be written about the sign but this is equally true: fundamental elements that could enhance the paper support and bring it to the level of a canvas or a table were born on our presses through the observation of the first engravings by Burri and Fontana which enticed the artists to add something of their own.
Giò Pomodoro started with some white reliefs, starting with negative castings in bronze as matrices. They were printed with great pressure with results that, despite their purity, did not have the graphic imprimatur of the Artist. They looked more like chalks, even if the paper was very deceiving, giving a complete but ambiguous effect.
Pomodoro immediately realized that he could also take advantage of color, but a color that was close to metals from which a sculptor cannot easily separate.
The results were good but, for the Artist, that was a free graphic effect and after the first experiences it proved too repetitive. He decided to tackle the copper plates in a traditional way taking the Etruscan world as a theme.
Giò knew of our experience in the Etruscan area and, months earlier, taking advantage of our youthful knowledge, he asked us to visit the necropolis of Cerveteri. The result was an inspiration for many graphics born in that period and certainly also for his beloved sculpture.
The opposite thing happened with Pietro Consagra who began his first experience at our studio with a series of seven 1967 lithographs made for the Marlborough Gallery. The color created the shapes and the vibrant silhouettes gave a feeling of apparent thickness.
A series of six white reliefs was a short-lived interval of curiosity but an absolutely mystical and subtle edition.
The provocation of the large dimensions also led Pietro to confront himself with acids and branches.
His brilliant idea of a “frontal city” made it easier for us because the third dimension, in this case, was so ambiguous as to hide the perspective values.
At the time of printing, plastic forms appeared on paper, in an unparalleled and mysterious balance. Cities reduced in thickness to give space to the imagination and the "dream".
Pietro gave his works titles with symbolic names, linked to his volcanic land, bringing to the surface a mythological Greek world, in which he felt certain that he had his roots.
Initially, in his attitude, there was a certain mistrust that put us at a distance from his way of thinking and, with difficulty, we were able to find a smooth and constructive dialogue.
In his work he was very taciturn, on his own, unlike us who were trying precisely with dialogue to incorporate as much as possible all the sensations useful in order to be able to give the most necessary and often new ingredients for the artist.
With the aquatint "Inventario" 1972, of the series "Graphic Presences", it was understood which was the way to follow; we covered it in its entirety in the following years, but always with a certain detachment.
There was a barrier formed and filled with ripe prickly pears...we were pleased to taste only a few.
Arnaldo Pomodoro, at the beginning of the 70s, created the first etching plate for the “Graphic Presences” series, after a previous lithographic experience that we were almost forced to go through. In fact, at that time Arnaldo had experimented with Gemini, an American publisher, an interesting series of lithographs that had the merit of introducing Pomodoro into the world of graphics.
This very schematic and essential engraving made with us was certainly the first experience for Arnaldo, where the pure relief brought to life the shape he preferred: the "SPHERE".
The edition, then, was made by exploiting the value of the oxides of the plate, like an aquatint, inking it with a metallic color.
We immediately realized that Arnaldo Pomodoro used graphic techniques to create his initial project, as a synthesis that heralded the birth of his new or future sculpture.
At that point we decided to exploit the techniques and his knowledge as a sculptor to apply them to graphics so that it would become the same working method for the artist.
The difficulty was to find the ideal meeting point, managing to make a sculptural sign graphic, without making the graphic enterprise look like a poor and repetitive representation of one of his sculptures.
The certainty of being on the right path led us to create a series of absolutely unrepeatable engravings, by anyone who had ever tried. Many tried, but Arnaldo, although generous and open to possible experiments and collaborations, excluded, over time, to do with others what he knew he could easily get from us.
The matrices were initially made in bronze casting, then in epoxy resin where then, with suitable tools, Arnaldo intervened by engraving and modifying the material. It should be clarified that Pomodoro started from clay, his usual material, of which he knew every secret. He knew that the purpose was different as he could subsequently count on additional plates, aquatint and, in many cases, also etching and drypoint to reinforce or detail some absolutely graphic elements.
This magnificent combination of techniques helped, starting from the 70s, to give birth to many engravings, from very small, such as the series of the "Seven Letters", to then arrive at large formats such as "Long sheet of Urbino", "Foglio Lungo di Pavia ”and the splendid engravings dedicated to“ Ugo Mulas ”, and to“ Gastone Novelli ”. And so on up to the "Dreams" of the 90s and the magnificent four-handed work carried out with Enzo Cucchi. Then followed the series of the "Traces" of '95, and the complex and very elaborate book that we finished in 2004: SEVEN FRAGMENTS from The art of primordial man by Emilio Villa.
In this book the materials: lead, copper and paper coexist and give strength to the poetry of Emilio Villa, in the almost obsessive world lived by Arnaldo Pomodoro, involved in the lines and the hermetic feelings of the great friend poet.
It is certainly a great tribute to culture, as the reading of the three-dimensional image initially leads to an analysis of the beautiful object but immediately afterwards one is fascinated by a fabric of letters that bounce through, above and below, forming poetry, making take a multiple and much deeper curiosity that involves and gives space to a myriad of interpretations.
Simona, my daughter, presented it in her gallery in an exhibition dedicated to Arnaldo Pomodoro. The volume was exhibited in a single display case with absolute simplicity.
On that occasion there were some sculptures and the series of seven subjects, engravings, cast in bronze, coming out of the same clay reworked by the Artist for the different application.
The bronze managed to give an absolutely strong and convincing impact to the seven images. The same works on paper maintain and declare a surprising sense of tactile communication, a belonging to a world that is certainly more fragile and light but stable, at least as much as the papyri, compared to stone consumed only by the wind.
Arnaldo's latest effort is a graphic work that he wanted to dedicate to his friend the poet Leonetti, very demanding. A shroud that brings out the lived and suffered realities in the contemporary era, where the poet navigates and emerges with his intuitions among the spaces granted, with rigor and generosity, by the sculptor: "... We fish inside the wandering whole, in a whole - and this is the only sense ”.
In the initial project, a traditional book was thought of, then in Arnaldo's mind the thing was transformed, following a path of great respect, deciding to nail us and himself to the cross, to allow the poet's typographic lines to occupy the space pleasing him. It was a tribute to Leonetti and Arnaldo wanted it to be such.
Things took place simply, apart from the 140 x 200 cm format: the management of the four plates that must form a whole, the rigorous need for the attachments of the four sheets of paper to coincide perfectly, the need for the the inking of the four surfaces made at different times results as unique, the color ... after all, for the viewer it is only an engraving.
Absolutely personal was Louise Nevelson's attitude towards the world of graphics, which was born from a sort of structural intimacy that few critics have been able to grasp in her work.
From the very first meeting in his home in New York, we have grasped this very personal way of introducing ourselves to his world of shadows-twilight. It is like a statement in which you are allowed to read if you want, but not to comment. The work appears only when the eye has become accustomed to that kind of reading in the dim light.
Even though she advanced in years, her presence, charm and great charisma had certainly not suffered: I remember her as a priestess, a vestal guarding her work, inhabited in that space by black cats, still as if they were sculpted by a hand. Egyptian, spaces left almost to welcome them, spaces without wings because the sum of black gives black.
Only with the light that, for the need for dialogue, was turned on, we were faced with something animated, both for the stampede of the cats but, even more so, for all the geometric shapes that suddenly appeared as actors on countless stages. Louise knew from the very first words that we had entered her exclusive world with respect and without reserve.
The Unesco presentation had given us the opportunity to meet her. She knew about us as she knew many details of our work, which allowed us to tackle the project with ease.
The term intimacy alone does not clarify the value referring to Nevelson. For me it is evident in how much I attended the preparatory phase to introduce it in the new media that I proposed: etching, aquatint, drypoint which at that moment I thought was right.
I understood how much sensitivity Louise needed in touching those constructive elements that were not absolutely three-dimensional but that came out with a childish spontaneity, as if she wanted to find inspiration by opening an old trunk full of memories, in her home in Kiev where she was born.
This is where the aquatint was the first to give the possibility to create desired plans with a vibrant dynamic tension. Small bites were enough to modify the paths and create spaces of light. From these spaces the imagination first emerged with etching, giving time to highlight embroidered fabrics, smells and moods, and then bring them back to reality with strong drypoint marks. Signs like blurred landscapes that made their way through the blocks formed by the buildings of New York, catching small flaps of newspaper abandoned by the wind and used as the only barely three-dimensional element: a collage.
I still remember today, after more than thirty years, the great impact that the series of engravings had, made in co-edition with the Pace Gallery, presented in '73, surprisingly independent from previous experiences that the Artist had had, so strong and loaded with innovative content and elements, without any pseudo-graphic virtuosity.
"Could we have a rendezvous?" So it was the first telephone contact with George Segal who, when asked by Eleonora, due to the ownership of the word used, only gave a positive answer: “sure… Eleonora” followed by a solemn laugh.
However, it was the pretext to see each other and, already at the first meeting, to understand that a feeling and a tension was born capable of creating that mutual interest, such as to make available, with generosity, time and resources to find the technique, or rather, a creative technical system.
While I was seeing his sculpture exhibition in Zurich, I realized that he was observing me from behind his glasses as if to study my reactions, with a look that I found, later, on every occasion: "... Valter what can we do ...?" . "... George, come to Rome and we will find the solution ...".
George Segal is the artist who more than others has led us into an abstract, metaphysical world, permeated with a subtle science fiction, with his peremptory silences, witnesses of who knows what catastrophe.
Only after getting to know him thoroughly, did we realize the great suffering he was able to transfer to his characters, emblems of his natural and simple poetry. The word "simple", for Segal, was the structural basis of his life, of his way of being, of appearing, of creating and, absolutely, of his way of living. With this premise it was possible to create a truly fantastic experience in the world of engraving, so spontaneous and without any calculation, waiting for the creative moment only knowing that it would come according to the appropriate technical solution.
The occasion was an invitation to Rome to evaluate the possibility of producing in relief, in paper, some bas-reliefs typical of George which, in fact, could be executed, as was the case for the subject "Female torso with necklace" of '75. and for the next series for the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
This experience was just a pretext to get to know us and it is to be considered a technical virtuosity that did not satisfy neither us nor the artist.
He arrived as a guest at Ara Coeli with his wife Helen and daughter Rena. Having overcome the enthusiasm of the first impact, for the quality of the image we had experienced, we realized that something new, typically graphic, had to be born, but we didn't know what ...
It was simplicity, once again, that solved the problem.
This happened to me in my sleep-wake: I was focusing in my mind the intervention I had seen and experienced when Eleonora and I had been the models for a Segal bas-relief that represented us. That session had placed me so close to the creative moment, to understand the mechanics of the event, where it began and ended and how important the technical and creative moment had been.
For Segal the cast is like marble for Michelangelo who saw human forms already in the piece extracted from the quarry that he would later model.
I suggested to George to use us as models and to tread on the plates, using the human body as it was customary for him in sculpture, and then to intervene on the copper plates to negate or to enhance those parts and forms that are typically his.
After the first slab there was nothing more to add; having had the rudder in his hands, he never left it until the last bon à tirer. The result was that in these shadowy grounds there were no longer us models, but only George with his nightmares and his silences.
Thus was born the series of "Blue jeans" 1974.
One thing that surprised us very much, living in the same house for many days, was to see the Segal family who lived the day in all its times, always together, as in a continuous procession. Exactly like the groups of his sculptures that share only the space they occupy, in a continuous silence, with a communication like blind gazes.
About ten years later, with the opening of the New York Printing House, visiting Segal in his studio in New Jersey, we realized that, in a corner of a wall, a poignant pencil portrait had been stopped with two pins. doubt it was George's. He showed us others that confirmed a true production never shown, because it was very intimate and jealously hidden.
It did not take long to convince him to do a research that could enhance that handwriting, so suitable to be made in engraving: etching, aquatint, drypoint, soft wax.
For the first time, in our New York studio, we spent most of the day alone with George. He would arrive every morning from his home in New Jersey by bus and leave in the late afternoon, after working on the plates all day. He was able to accumulate a great tension that he transferred, strongly, also on us. The result was always an unknown because for the first time he used some engraving techniques; he used them, in any case, in the evening, then he had to go back to his family, as if to recharge himself.
The first test was not exciting, indeed in its rigidity and coldness, it almost led us to think that we had traveled a dangerous road but, a magical intervention by Eleonora, carried out with a touch of color, brought the value of the image of "Helen" in a Renaissance space, full of stormy clouds, in a cyber-space lived only by the dismay of the persecuted and scattered Jewish world.
Cesare Brandi, as I wrote previously, was certainly a great point of reference in our view towards the contemporary world. Often his attitude, apparently simple, implied not only esteem and friendship towards the artists he gave credit to. In the case of Manzù, the awareness of having a genuine character in front of him stimulated him to devote himself with greater attention. This allowed him to discover the most subtle psychological nuances, linking or separating them from the works that the artist created. He was able to grasp the positive and ingenious aspects in each.
Cesare Brandi, after an exhibition by Graham Sutherland at which he was present, told me that it was time to foresee a collaboration, even if difficult, with Giacomo Manzù.
His presentation had the desired effect. Very few words and immediately to work. The simplicity of the technique had to be the basis of the work as the skilful and ingenious hand of the artist was sufficient to support any space he wanted to occupy, with his mark: essential and unrepeatable. We could not help but enhance this fluidity, taking only great care to acid this sign, knowing that it was the supporting structure of the work that was being born.
What was added to enrich the image served to bring an almost neutral light, even if there were colors that were evident in themselves, but unable to distract the quality and strength of his etched sign.
Manzù was closely linked to the object "copper plate" and, knowing its importance, required its control, until the end of the print run and then, after the signature, with a "sacrificial rite", he destroyed it before our eyes : “… Only the best children had to survive… the generated sheets!”.
One day Cesare Brandi came to see Manzù in Ardea, under the pretext of finally seeing the first proofs of the work. He wanted to do it in that context because he was curious to see one of the last sculptures that had been cast a few days ago.
Even if, for artists in general, the works are all daughters, when one of these has an extra note, he realizes it and the consent of Brandi was not long in confirming his intuition. “Model on a chair”, which we found ourselves observing, made Cesare Brandi say only one thing: “Fidia”.
For a moment I thought it was meant to be a compliment, but he immediately brought me closer and showed me the almost disproportionate volume of the model's thigh that supported the weight of the body in contact with the chair. He said, “See. Like Phidias, Manzù thinks of the man who looks at the subject and not of the beautiful subject in itself ”. And adding, without being heard by the artist: “this is where you see a genius! See how the work changes by turning around it, the element, which seen closely seems disproportionate, makes the whole work enjoy it at a certain distance and, for those who have the opportunity to see it again, it will be a new one every time. enigmatic reading ".
The New York studio
Many times I have talked about the New York studio and, therefore, perhaps the time has come to explain its origin, because it was a fundamental decision for the continuity of the printing house.
In Italy, in the 70s, the political and economic climate was difficult. The usual flow of American artists who came on vacation every year to enjoy the beautiful country had completely stopped. In this way we lost some wonderful job opportunities that we had been able to seize for years.
Since 74 we have been looking for solutions to prepare a base for a printing house in New York that would thus be a physical presence. I was sure that in that city, knowing about theirs, they would have accepted us favorably.
Arnaldo Pomodoro gave me a wonderful opportunity. He had been invited by several universities to take courses during the year, as is customary in America. For him at that time it was necessary to have a studio in New York. He found, through some artist friends, a large loft in Soho, beautiful but too big for him.
He asked me if we wanted to take it together and my answer, without even having ever seen him, knowing Arnaldo, was enthusiastic.
Before defining the agreement with Coop. Broome Street, owner of the building, Arnaldo was officially commissioned to teach for a few years no longer in New York but in San Francisco. With great regret he asked me if he could give up his share. I accepted willingly, absolutely not wanting to miss the opportunity to join that cooperative of artists where there was a huge waiting list.
I signed the agreements directly from Italy. I only knew that it was a palace from 1848, the “Silk Building”, born as a factory where silk was worked. I had been assigned the fourth floor, but there was no problem there to support the weight of the machines we would have to install.
I think the day I first saw the Silk Building I was breathless.
A splendid palace which, I learned only later, was a national monument. Extremely severe in its 14 floors, under a copper roof oxidized by time which contained and compensated, with its discreet intrusiveness, the excessive architectural repetitiveness of the façade.
It was different from all the lofts I had seen over the years in New York. Normally, in lofts, the only positive thing is large spaces, often sacrificing brightness with small and rare windows, certainly not conceived as light sockets or for looking out.
Our studio had a large number of windows, very bright; the smallest was two by two meters, and from there you could see Broadway traffic passing beneath you. What was even more surprising was the orientation: north-east, the best for an artist studio.
The thing that surprised me was that the aesthetic quality of the exterior was not repeated inside. Instead, there were anonymous walls with frames dripping with overlapping paint and rickety wooden floors. The services part was comparable to a public toilet. Instead, the exciting thing were the spaces, indeed the space, a huge parallelepiped full of light that generously lent itself to every possible realization.
Before doing any project we began to attend the studio at all hours of the day; we slept there for a couple of nights, a bit camped but satisfied. We became physically aware of the violent fascination that this city, always alive 24 hours a day, had on us.
The palace itself, in that incessant factory of noises, participated in the great metropolitan concert, unusual to our ears, which came from steam systems for heating.
The most excruciating noise was that of the sirens. The fire trucks, which started at full speed from Broome Street and headed for every part of the city as they crossed Broadway, just below us, slowed down, blasting that piercing sound, making us imagine catastrophic situations.
We began the work with a first company, then with various others that alternated for months, not to finish the works as we had them, with love, thought and drawn in detail. To be able to finish, I hired a Caribbean sailor from Granada, whom I had met in Turkey, embarked on a very old Greek boat, owned by elderly Italians.
Good Anthony enjoyed the utmost confidence, as he was capable of everything from carpentry, to plumbing, to electricity. He did everything with great skill and responsibility.
With Anthony's help we finally entered the New York studio, where he remained as my assistant.
The most worrying thing was the installation of the large press which, designed and built in Italy, as light as possible, still reached three tons.
We found a company specialized in transport of this type, which thought of organizing the bureaucratic and administrative things necessary in that area where traffic does not stop and conditions every operation on the island.
Traffic was stopped on Broadway and Broome at 9.00 am and diverted for two hours into parallel streets by firefighters who set up barriers and appropriate markings. Immediately after, the vehicle arrived with a huge crane installed. I never imagined they would push a three-ton press with a crane out of one of the windows on the fourth floor.
The press entered and, as if by magic, when I went up, I found it positioned as expected. It seemed to be part of that space, born as a workplace more than a hundred years earlier.
The whole building participated with interest in the operation and in the end we celebrated.
Looking from the outside, a few days later, I realized how much energy had been needed to be able to carry out that imaginative undertaking.
Operation started from a Roman studio at the Baths of Caracalla, now it was located in the center of Manhattan. It had fallen like a meteorite, almost by accident, and was accepted, in no uncertain terms, as a logical consequence.
For a long time, during the night, opening my eyes, I wondered where I was, and every time I was surprised to be in that place of our own; I looked at Eleonora who was sleeping peacefully next to me, protected by those walls, in that immense heterogeneous agglomeration so complex and different for us.
For the first time in many years of coming to New York, right and only there, we unconsciously realized that we were in a friendly space, in that aggressive city.
Pierre Alechinsky wanted to be the first artist to work in New York. He had recently found a studio in Up Town, and this was a wonderful coincidence that we took advantage of.
Pierrre thought of a very New York triptych: “Soleil noir”. Three large intense and severe images, born from plates engraved to the point of pain, like wanting to dig with your nails in the basalt, basalt on which this city is founded. Then all that remains is to look for the sun, going towards it, but squinting until you see the black.
Working with Pierre, who clearly knew which path was to be followed, was the best way to start the studio on a positive path. The only thing to check was the efficiency of the press that was waiting for nothing else. With its maximum range of one and a half meters of light for four meters in length, it certainly did not fear a Pierre slab: one meter by one meter! He printed it, already at the first stroke, in an admirable way.
While we were working with Pierre, the completely strange thing was to have a constant presence next to us. All day and all time, a close friend of Pierre stayed with us: Walasse Ting, a Chinese artist who had lived in New York for many years, after moving from Paris where he had lived in a commune with Pierre and Sam Francis in the 50s.
In New York, as a painter, he had obtained some acclaim but the real market he had found in Holland. There he finally found the success he was waiting for and which gave him a great financial autonomy never achieved before.
At that moment Walasse had relied heavily on Pierre's friendship since he had lost his wife after a long and painful illness and my studio ended up being a meditative place for him to spend the day. He never mentioned wanting to do any graphics with us.
It was Pierre, a couple of years later, when Ting was out of depression, who made his friend face the world of engraving. We were able to create a series of aquatints where the freshness and fluidity of his calligraphic sign allowed the color to destroy its importance and create an imaginary impressionist world.
Here Eleonora, once again, was a Jolly, an admirable support, as she helped us to solve the technical difficulty of obtaining, with a small number
of plates, a high number of colors. Thus he gave the possibility to have that freshness and immediacy necessary for the artist with an enlightening result, so to speak.
In the spring we returned to Italy: forced by a project we had started many years ago with Henry Moore. It hadn't been easy. We had invited him several times to Rome, also with the great help that our friend Julio Lafuente gave us, but something unexpected always happened that moved the meeting to the following year.
Finally, during the summer, I had the idea of organizing a studio in Pietrasanta, near his summer home. Here, for thirty years, Moore used to spend about three months with the "first" purpose of working marble in one of the oldest and most serious workshops in Versilia.
So I set up our studio at the “Cooperativa Versiliese”, which also specializes in quarries and marble processing. The owner friend was enthusiastic, only at the idea, of being able to meet and host, through us, the great sculptor.
A large, very simple space was placed at our disposal, in which we mounted the press we had built at the same time as the one we had shipped to America. We had designed it specifically to be easily assembled in artist studios, and we completed the installation with all the necessary equipment for printing.
The work experience we had with the English artists Victor Pasmore and Graham Sutherland helped us a lot because Henry Moore, while frequenting Italy continuously since the war, had not been touched in the least in his way of being and watched everything that happened. around, every time with amazement, because events occurred that went out of his schemes.
Henry Moore had, in the past, worked a lot in etching with splendid small engravings that followed, in some way, his sketches, probably using them to engrave in his memory and to recover, from them, sensations useful for reading his sculptures. He was looking for a setting that, on paper, he found more easily.
He had never entered into the merits of the press as a concrete medium to rely on and to feel that the time he devoted to the surface of the copper would return to him with all the strength he normally knew he was getting from stone or bronze.
This man, more than eighty years old, applied himself with incredible enthusiasm and meticulousness, to the point that if we initially thought of doing a simple experimentation, we were instead involved in a complex series of plates that grew in that space, at the beyond our imaginations.
He immediately understood the quality of the aquatint and defined it, in front of his first print: a black man with his shadow . We were amazed because, with so many artists who had experimented with this technique, no one had ever described it with such precision (“Decantatore 325” (Presenze grafiche). ).
Henry Moore had noticed that, based on the light and changing the point of view, the black changed strongly, the image acquired absolutely different depth values, almost three-dimensional macro.
To enhance this effect, I thought of bringing the artist to also use drypoint1, a technique with which his intense figures could blend up to the white of the paper, absorbing strongly plastic forms inside it, so as to give an effect of "pure light "( pp. 184-186).
The effort to be able to deal with plates of that size with drypoint could worry even a young person. There was not a single moment in which Henry Moore interrupted a sign that had begun and, when he stopped, it was only to concentrate and leave, however remaining on his schedule, from 9 to 12 in the morning and from 4 to 6 in the afternoon, with a student meticulousness. .
One day, Moore, his wife and the two of us went to visit the sculptor Pietro Cascella in the castle he had recently restored and in which he had settled after the long restoration. It was really a splendid manor overlooking a narrow valley from which it dominated the obligatory routes.
In reality, Cascella, by choosing this site, just wanted to "isolate himself" under his beloved Apuane, from which he had extracted his "stones" several times, giving life to marble, creating works that live among us with our daily lives in many cities on the planet.
This site was certainly, for Cascella, the only acknowledgment accepted with the success of his profession as a sculptor, a concrete monument to all his efforts and sacrifices.
Moore's almost embarrassed astonishment was not long in manifesting itself with touches of the elbow, nods of surprise to his wife and us. He was almost incredulous because, even though he was appointed Baronet by his Queen, at that moment he felt he was a vassal.
The hospitality of Pietro, the genuine and refined quality generously put into practice, in the hours that followed, relaxed the English couple who perhaps understood how much an Italian artist can, when he wants it intensely.
For Cascella that place represented his "Milestone" to which, who knows how long, he had aspired to. Moore, his cantonal house, had only repainted it and lived there in the silence of the Mediterranean pine forest, which in itself satisfies an Anglo-Saxon.
The results of the magnificent Pietrasanta experience were evident and concrete, to the point that Moore, out of gratitude to us, accepted the request to inaugurate our printing and house, at the Baths of Caracalla, with an exhibition of his sculptures in our garden.
In addition to the great works he gave us the opportunity to exhibit the plates and various proofs of the engravings in the Stamperia. At the same time, in our galleries in Rome and Milan, we presented the entire cycle created in Pietrasanta. with some small sculptures.
The Henry Moore Foundation posed many difficulties to the idea of the exhibition, but the artist imposed himself, allowing to bring forward by six months the shipment of five very large sculptures that would subsequently be exhibited in Madrid.
Thus we were able to organize the splendid event, in the total indifference of the Roman Official Culture. Suddenly, Henry Moore was found in Rome, at the disposal of the public who were enthusiastic about it.
I believe that the quality of the event, for the works exhibited, and for the charm of the environment that welcomed them full of Roman history, magically brought us back to a splendid Renaissance atmosphere.
Henry Moore's sculptures, while large, represent the concreteness of man, but at the same time perform an act of modesty with respect to nature and the environment that surrounds them. Rome.
For three months the house, the printing house, the garden and all of us were totally involved.
The guys from the printing house
At this point, I want to clarify that the work done over many years, which in part I am trying to describe in these lines of mine, does not underline the importance of the contribution of the boys (all students), who gradually passed through the printing press or long periods, and some for their entire professional life.
In writing, I used a focus, as narrow as possible, that represented my mood.
What has come out of the printing presses is the result of many small and large holdings which, only taken together, have allowed the establishment of rules of conduct and rigor.
This is what they have learned and experienced within the printing house, and are able to testify.
Franco Cioppi was certainly the promoter; without his love for graphics I would have nothing to write.
Giancarlo Iacomucci, cousin of Franco and Eleonora, who came out of the “Scuola del Libro” of Urbino, suffered with us the experimentation of the lithographic technique. His way of being rational and precise allowed him to deepen lithography and use it in an exemplary way, also for his work as a painter to which he has dedicated himself full time for years. I take this opportunity to wish him lots of inspiration and poetry.
Dino Depetro, Raffaele D'Orsogna and Angelo Buscema, fresh from the Academy, were suggested to me by their Professor Toti Scialoja, a magnificent artist and teacher of great culture who, however, sought and faced, without ever solving it, the problematic approach to engraving. For Toti the fact of having to work on the matrix in the "opposite", compared to his way of doing painting, distorted his gesture to the point of not being able to accept it, because at the time of printing the image was overturned.
Dino, an introverted and taciturn boy, was climatically Sicilian. I use this term because, after a first "winter" experience in New York to help us start the studio, he was so traumatized by the cold that he asked me to exempt him from another trip to that city in the future. For the rest, he had all the best qualities of the Sicilian: intuition, stubbornness, confidentiality and other personal qualities.
Dino Depetro, suddenly passed away, leaving a great void in those who lived and lives the Stamperia, and in those who had the good fortune to know him. I would just add that, in many cases, Dino was indispensable, but in one in particular: the long series of engravings by Renato Guttuso. Dino, with Eleonora, contributed generously, giving much of them to simplify and make possible the involvement of the artist.
Raffaele D'Orsogna, due to his character, never wanted to be in the foreground. He was very attached to Dino, acting as his shoulder, almost timidly, but his Abruzzese roots have contributed over time to strengthen the entire working group that over time expanded, putting in condition, even those who had not had a precise cultural preparation, to enter the various stages of work.
His willingness to follow us was total. Eleonora and I remember with pleasure all the travel and work occasions spent together. Difficulties and hardships were accepted with enthusiasm.
Angelo Buscema, also Sicilian, entered like the others, starting from scratch, but with a different spirit: the way he posed, the way of observing, his attitude gave an impression of sufficiency and this revealed his desire to learn as quickly as possible. He probably had an innate desire: to do that job and then devote himself to teaching. But also to have a printing house in the country of origin, with projects that I hope will be realized.
Adriano Corazzi earned the profession for his great availability and tenacity. It was naturally dynamic, although sometimes too dynamic. Qualities that all the others certainly lacked. Then there was an instinctive modesty in him that allowed him to adapt, for example by serenely accepting the annoyances of the typical repetitiveness necessary for the printing of the edition.
In 1967-68 Burri wanted to tackle a theme dear to him, "letters", which arose years ago from a pictorial correspondence with Minsa.
The images of absolute simplicity reflected the rigor and synthesis that was taking place in his painting at that time. The ideal technique, due to the body and intensity of the colors, was screen printing, easily applicable to the intended subjects.
For the first tests we relied on a commercial screen printer. We took advantage of his experience, until we could create the folder of the "Letters". The young Piero Feliciotti, born silk-screen printer, also adapted himself to other techniques in the printing house, because a long period passed before resuming screen printing.
A few years later Eleonora and Piero were certainly the architects of that long extraordinary series of serigraphs, "Temperine", which Burri fed for about ten years, exploiting it as a research for his pictorial cycles that were born from here: starting from the series of the "sextant" , to the huge “Cellotex” visible, in large numbers, in the Burri Foundation in Città di Castello.
Vineyard Antoniniana Art Printing
The transfer to the Baths of Caracalla was not a desired change but a necessity. The structural, conservative and complete restoration of the Ara Coeli building forced us to consider “even” abandoning the activity. It seemed impossible to find another location with the characteristics we were used to.
After some time, I realize the damage that had been done to us and the arrogant way in which it was carried out towards us, a real wickedness, not entirely explainable at that time, but today understandable because strangely they appeared, behind the negotiation, characters and performers that we have found in recent years, the same people responsible for economic and financial disasters that have involved thousands of investors in their crashes.
It was a close friend, the architect Edoardo Monaco who, upon returning from a visit to the studio of Capogrossi, thought of passing by the Baths of Caracalla to show us an abandoned farmhouse. An acquaintance of his had rented it for some time, without being able to obtain permits for the renovations.
We discovered what became our wonderful place of work, but above all of life. A farmhouse inserted in the park of the Baths of Caracalla, born at the beginning of the 400th century, ready only to fall at any moment, totally abandoned for about a decade.
And here are the problems !!!
Just imagine having a two-storey building, sixty meters long with a width of twelve, which is opening in the middle, supported by a series of buttresses placed at the beginning of the 800th century to strengthen and hold the building together. They could not foresee that traffic and neglect would subsequently undermine it to the point of making it truly dangerous and unusable. The whole lived in a garden of about one hectare, completely abandoned.
We bordered to the south with the EuroGarden nursery, to the north with the garden of the Friars Minor Conventual, to the west with an incredibly abandoned forest and with such abundant vegetation that it was even able to partially tear down the boundary wall from which it separated us. To the east we overlooked the Baths of Caracalla, an archaeological area used as an open-air theater during the summer.
At the first check at the competent offices, I realized the difficulties in overcoming the clear refusal by the managers of the Municipality of Rome to deal with the subject, known to them, and at the time defined as impractical.
It all seemed so absurd that I thought of turning to Giulio Carlo Argan, Mayor of Rome, our dear friend.
The great critic had seen us born, he knew our work perfectly, as, already in '74, he had been able to admire the great exhibition of the "Donation" of Stamperia 2RC at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Rome, which Palma Bucarelli then director had wanted to exhibit in an exemplary way.
Argan, who with his "critical gaze" had managed, for years, to read and describe in a punctual and penetrating way the fundamental aspects of our business, when he was made aware of the project, clearly refused because the position of Mayor prevented him, for his honesty and consistency, to be able to help me.
So he did and there was a silence of two months. All my efforts in other ways proved useless, to the point that we thought of moving to Venice, where I was offered to start a new printing house.
We were still in love with Rome! This city could not leave our heart ...
One morning Argan called me and told me that, for health reasons, he had resigned as Mayor, and from that moment on he proposed that we take care of our project.
A few days passed and the great Critic presented himself at the Ara Coeli Printing House with the building commission of the Municipality of Rome in full. They were thus able to see what an art printing house in full operation was and make decisions that could unblock a veto which, in order not to risk speculation, had paralyzed any possible evolution and project for years.
On the same day we all moved to the Baths of Caracalla.
In that place, with the assistance of Edoardo Monaco, we presented the renovation project, demonstrating that this dilapidated building could become an exemplary location, without disturbing the quality of the farmhouse.
It was easy: it was enough to respect its simplicity.
The concession and the change of destination did not take long to arrive: from granary-cellar to Stamperia d'Arte.
Even after many years, I still thank my friend Giulio Carlo Argan for the decisive help that gave the Stamperia a way to survive, for the solidarity he showed us and for the hours we spent in his company.
My children remember him for his sympathy and for the great ability he had to communicate, in a completely simple way, even when they were still children, notions and emotions that have remained in their memory.
Living the construction site with respect
The first thing to do was to restore the perimeter walls, for the most part soaked with water and rotten. At the same time, it was necessary to secure the entire structure with a series of steel tie rods that caged the floors, lightening the perimeter walls to bring the various balances back to normal.
In the meantime, the roof was completely rebuilt, repairing, and in some cases replacing, the bent and worn trusses. On the roof we applied a formidable insulation, for the time, which made everything airtight and soundproofed from the outside world, giving the sensation of entering a generous and protective climate.
Architect Edoardo Monaco with his partner Alessandro Martini and his entire staff were a priceless professional contribution for us.
Eleonora had designed the entire garden on a 1/100 scale, coming to define, in all the details, the various movements of plants and new plants, allowing to advance parallel to the restoration of the farmhouse, taking advantage of the summer, autumn and the winter.
In spring we were ready for the big step: settling in the new house-printing house with an exploding garden. We opened it with the Henry Moore exhibition!
All that greenery around changed our life, it made us appreciate Rome in a new way because the seasons and the climate continuously varied our daily life.
We realized that our experience of the sea helped us a lot to make impromptu decisions that, in that area, were a real necessity: it meant being present 24 hours a day.
Tropical plants flew the oceans and settled in the Roman environment as if they had always been there. Protected in winter by a suitable greenhouse that sheltered them from the rare Roman frosts… we were able to eat tasty pineapples grown by Eleonora.
We knew we had a huge cellar, but we didn't imagine it was part of the Catacombs. It had many precarious and dangerous ramifications, to the point of curbing our curiosity. Inside, the temperature was consistently 14 degrees, summer and winter.
It was the last curious attraction with which we dismissed visits that prolonged beyond measure.
Besides the artists who came to our guest house for long periods, there was no day when there were no visits, even without warning. This meant that our table at breakfast and dinner could vary unpredictably. Eleonora, in that house, was well organized, and proved to be an incomparable hostess.
When we sat down at the table everyone could appreciate the care and quality of his food. For a good part of the year the vegetable garden and the orchard provided our cuisine, contributing, with genuine flavors, to amaze ourselves and our guests.
It wasn't easy to manage that little programmable whirlwind. It had become a point of reference of which we felt only the positive effects. Those visits made that island, which had been abandoned for too long, active and full of interest.
The magnificent venue created a very strong cohesion with the New York studio, Menton, Pietrasanta and the various others with the artists, becoming the vital hub of all of us.
There were no limits… just the time to make them.
Enzo Cucchi started working with us as early as '79, with a series of lithographs on stone for an edition by Peter Bloom entitled “Immagine fieroce”.
This first experience allowed us to know the modus operandi and also a modus vivendi of a young artist who was growing rapidly in a whirlwind current compared to the past.
Finally a cohesive group of artists had formed: "La Transavanguardia" with Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Sandro Chia, Nicola De Maria and Mimmo Paladino who, pushed by the pressing stimulus of the brave Achille Bonito Oliva, gave such an impulse to the national interest to cause, in a very short time, an even greater resonance in the rest of the world.
It was a surprise for us that since the postwar period we had only experienced clashes and divisions of groups, initially born with the same poetics and which, in the blink of an eye, a flag divided more than an ocean.
In general, the Stamperia gave artists a great desire for creativity and curiosity, but for Enzo this was not the case; he wanted to work with his poetry alone.
We met very early in the morning, at the "Campo de 'Fiori", in front of the fishmonger and from there we moved around. Enzo tried to transfer his emotions that were gradually evolving to me, until they became a necessity.
I must say that the first encounters were difficult, because Enzo used to express himself with his own fantasy, the same with which he constructs his works: from a completely abstract world he manages to recreate a real one of his own.
His way of seeing things through phrases far from reality suddenly becomes understandable, real and concrete. So each incision produced is a true apparition, arising during the laborious meetings.
Arriving at the Stamperia and producing the plates necessary for the imagined image became a simple liberation routine. My collaborators, having not experienced the long travail of our interviews, could not understand and almost opposed us because, suddenly, the madmen had become two, or rather three. Eleonora, to whom I was transferring my sensations, was also prepared. She was ready to intervene, to support the work that was being born, there in front of their skeptical eyes, without any indecision.
They faced slabs of impossible sizes and with impromptu techniques, almost magical because they were never touched by regrets.
Thus was born “Immagine Oscura”, a disturbing aquatint where, in addition to the total absence of light, silence is added, indeed it is removed, because the term “silence”, for this image, fails to express dismay.
Immediately afterwards we faced three subjects with a single title: “The she-wolf of Rome”.
Three omens, built with a complex technique even for us, because it was all ambiguous. We had used intaglio with very heavy reliefs that were deliberately denied, both by the shapes of the composition and by the colors that are now strident and now neutral. Aquatint, etching, drypoint, exasperated reliefs, all these different techniques had found themselves solving problems in an alchemical world far beyond logical canons.
Two years later we made “Giotto's elephant”. Another battle in an endless field, full of darkness ... a single drop of light: "An elephant" that holds up the whole world.
Technically, the depth of the aquatint, supported by a subtle grain of carborundum, has optimized the concreteness of a prehistoric landscape, highlighting, perhaps for the first time, the outside, and not the inside, of a cave, canceling out millennia of history.
It took countless encounters with very long walks along the banks of the Tiber, to then create, in my opinion, the two most spontaneous and lightning-fast graphic works conceived by Enzo: “Disappear”.
When I started talking about the dimensions thought with my collaborators, there was the first reaction: “But the copper of this dimension doesn't exist…!”. “How do you do with the aquatint? How with the acid? How…? How…? How?".
I knew that the solution would be found for copper and all the rest, wanting it strongly, but, once again, I realized I had to sail alone, “too far from the shore to enjoy the breeze”.
My boat had already taken the wind of enthusiasm, always and only with Eleonora on board.
It is curious to think that, from the first glance at the slabs laid out on the work surface, where a single trace still did not exist, Cucchi attacked with a brush and acid, as if he were reading one of his stories. It was a question of occupying a space where a small "world" would be deposited, hoping for a glance from God.
In the second subject, a single tiny creature appears to the eye which, despite having the entire earth at its disposal, goes to look for other possible planets.
The aquatint technique, for the two subjects, was the lifeblood.
The various superimpositions of different grains, the useful acid times and the spontaneity of Enzo's gestures completed this natural and magical birth. Some touches of drypoint to highlight the small world in the first engraving. An incisive etching to give birth to the creature in the second subject. The intensity and, at the same time, the transparency of the aquatint of both, supported by colors out of reality, still make today, in my eyes: “Disappear”, the most aware and long-lasting madness made with Cucchi.
With the artist we continued to tackle ever more complex dimensions and techniques, starting from far away without a single sign, without a sketch, something concrete and visible from which to start… nothing.
Great flights of fancy with his imagination and a single madman, me, ready to grasp, at that precise moment, the first technical concreteness that can be proposed to arrive at thinking “Men”.
A theme where my only perplexity was to understand the useful means to solve the problem thought by the artist for the "mirror object" in the hands of a huge primitive man. In the mirror would appear a landscape captured from the inside of her belly. From the top of the sky, some flashes of light had to be released like little magical meteorites.
The size, height 270 × 75 cm. basically, after the three meters of “Disappear”, it didn't intimidate us. By now we knew how to give birth to "The Mud Man", with all its primitiveness, but the time to understand "the mirror object" was a real problem for months.
Finally, during our long conversations, Enzo gave me a strange suggestion, referring to the Priest's collar, as if during his childhood he had seen himself reflected in that object, as if it were a mirror.
We did this by applying a collage of glossy coated paper; which, under the pressure of the press, captured, from the plate, the shape of the mirror, at the same time the medieval landscape engraved on drypoint by the artist.
I believe that only by seeing the image you can appreciate the solution of the mirror, while the flash of luminous fragments was solved by Eleonora by placing a sheet of aluminum foil behind the small and various holes placed by Enzo at the top, above the figure, which reflected the light in a vibrant way as if they were precious stones.
In 90, for the "Scala", it was no longer enough to know the most advanced printing processes because, in addition to the third dimension, the mobility of some parts of the image was added: light but concrete navigational balls, weighed down, in some, only from a crystalline medieval landscape. In others, the same landscape, as if foggy.
This time, instead of starting with paper, we started with cellulose still in pulp. First of all, we inflated some balloons until they reached the size Enzo wanted: about 15 cm. in diameter. We spread several layers of cellulose on their surface until we reached the thickness of the paper we normally used. At the same time, on a small press, we printed the plate engraved by Enzo in etching on the same cellulose still in paste. The same pulp was immediately molded over the unfinished ball so that the cellulose layer integrated to the point of becoming a single body.
"And the balloon ...?". After drying, it was enough to pierce it from the outside with a needle and remove it. We then used the small hole to stop the ball, very light, on the surface of the very complex print that housed it, with ten other similar ones.
Danny Berger, after having worked with us for many years at the 2RC Gallery in Rome, returned to New York and resumed directing the Mezzanine Gallery, a department of the Metropolitan Museum.
Taking into account the printing experience he had had for years, passing all the graphics we had produced up to that moment into his hands, he did not take long to introduce them into his circuit, organizing splendid exhibitions and presenting the various prints that we published gradually.
The Museum itself proposed to print artists with whom they had relationships on their behalf, one of these being Nancy Graves.
Nancy Graves, sculptor, known in particular in the world of American museums attentive to quality, very shy, very refined, on her own like a wild cat out of the den and a very hard worker.
Her father, Anthropologist Paleontologist, had strongly placed her in a very complex and, at the same time, formative space of fantasy. All nature, from its origins, including man and his habits, was present in each of his works, to the point of representing even useful objects, as found and assembled, removing them from their use, as if placed in a display case.
I must admit that working with Nancy, having her on a continuous basis as a guest in our Ara Coeli home and studio, was a real pleasure because she knew how to organize herself and, with humility, tested the technique I suggested with total optimism. He practiced for hours, with considerable physical effort, which did not surprise me; having seen her work in her studio as a sculptress, I knew how much dexterity she was capable of.
Already with the very first recordings the results were evident and exciting, to the point that with the second experience, we faced a great dimension entitled: "Paleolinea" 1979. I understood, with that engraving, how deeply rooted the idea of origins was in her, so distant in time to represent them as a colorless graphite where the smell of time remains.
It was Nancy who introduced Eleonora to tropical botany when she began giving her pieces of her beloved plants that she grew in her New York studio.
The feeling was not that they were there for aesthetic reasons, but as models that she often used in her compositions.
Despite having a studio in New York, two blocks from our loft, Nancy came to Rome every year, where with Eleonora she took long walks in our garden and in the adjacent wood, and returned with seeds, leaves and all kinds of insects and useful things. to his imagination. By now she was convinced of the need to use the two studios in Rome and New York which gave her, in addition to the continuity of work, the feeling of being part of our family and also enjoying the intimate aspects of a sincere friendship.
The creative stimulus for Nancy came from far, far away. Then the work, as it grew, was enriched with precise elements, mostly organic, which were part of that famous research. Research that did not stop at concrete objects and things but often with texts, symbolic words, images captured by books, codes and the famous school of his father.
The large copper plates were born with a certain destiny of having to be transported, or rather, sent several times from New York to Rome and vice versa, because, even if dedicating whole days of work with an almost maniacal methodology and constancy, they could not be finished. in days but, due to their complexity, in months. The work resumed in the next location, without leaving too much time to complete or advance the technical creative process.
"Stuck, the flies buzzed" 1989, begins in New York, but the Artist almost feels the need for his plates to go to Rome, and here he enriches them with an infinity of strongly Greek-Latin contents, then they return to the United States where, with Eleonora, Nancy finds the colors and, on the basis of the first tests, feels the need to add other elements to balance the unfinished composition.
At this point the slabs return to Rome where the work is finally completed, adding a bas-relief obtained with leaves and flowers from our garden.
We were able to make two other large magnificent engravings; always in the spirit and climate previously described, we were projected to reap great satisfactions in the years to come and, certainly, Nancy's journey would not stop.
Only his sudden death interrupted our magnificent journey.
Davide, my son who in those years lived in New York where he was attending university, had taken on the responsibility of filming the artists who worked in the studio with the camera.
In those shots there are moments of great intensity and richness of Nancy's expressions at work, surprising. Especially his breaks after a feverish physical fatigue because for hours he used tools where it was necessary to put strength and tension.
His young and beautiful gaze in the close-ups that Davide was able to capture, confirms his mood in those moments, and it is what remains in our hearts.
Helen Frankenthaler in New York
After thirteen years from the first works done in Rome and after continuous contacts, without ever getting to the concrete, finally the New York studio made it possible to work with Helen Frankenthaler in a complex and certainly very demanding project.
Great commitment for various reasons. In New York it was very different because Helen was on her ground of conquest, aware of her own level as an artist, in a climate like the New York one where she had to show that she had earned her space.
In Rome, however, she had adapted because she was aware of living in a city where too many things of art had passed and lived over time.
Another reason was that the times had to be programmed for a method of his work that did not coincide with ours.
The solution I used was a system where Helen could work on the positive, on a previously prepared copper surface and where she could treat the plate as in painting, not thinking at all about the technique.
From her gaze, at the test of the first subject that came out of the press, I understood her consent and the affection she felt at that moment towards us, for having led her to reach, almost unconsciously, such a result.
The path from that moment went downhill more and more. Also the color topic, where Helen did not give a minimum space, as it was she, as she always had done, who had to prepare the mixture of the printing ink.
After the first tests he realized that, with Eleonora, he would have a great help. The final result of color printing depends on many factors: type of engraving, depth of the mark, quality and transparency of the aquatint, overlapping of colors and their alternation, unloading of the previous color on the next, types of paper, different pressures and many still other things ...
The print of that cycle, which is dearest to us and still involves us strongly today, is "Broome Street at night", born from one of the windows of Broom where we lived and where, in addition to seeing the perpetual flow of the "city par excellence" , we were able to enjoy surprising sunrises, skies full of wind, rain and snow that reached vertically on the windows, driven by winds that were incredible in intensity and duration.
That window was our protection from everything. Helen had read it as if from a target, in a nocturnal climate; in a muffled silence, he had been able to fix and crystallize flashes of cars and strange wandering beings ... always alone in this “unique” city.
Francesco Clemente had already lived in New York for some time, his visits to Rome were always too short to be able to dedicate the necessary time to a first experience with our studio.
He thought he could make lithographs on his own, working the plates in his New York studio and then later mailing them to us for printing. The project did not interest me and I did nothing to help it; I just sent all the necessary materials, and waited ...
Subsequently, it was the German publisher Schelmann who asked us to reconnect with Clemente to make a large engraving. The artist wanted to do it with us. We were happy with this opportunity, because in the meantime we had opened the printing house in New York, so close to Francesco's studio that we could walk there. A unique opportunity that we took advantage of immediately.
The look of Francesco Clemente is, in my opinion, the most evident thing of that artist. Not only in a physical sense, but even more in a poetic, philosophical and transcendental sense. His characters, the elements that are part of his countless compositions pass from his gaze to a superior one that scrutinizes him from the inside and lets his imagination fly in a timeless space, in places where it does not matter who you are, beyond the Stingray.
The day I saw Francesco Clemente use the watercolor technique in his studio, I realized with what concreteness and determination he controlled the birth of his work. There I decided where to start.
The first major work was an etching, aquatint and drypoint for the publisher Schelmann. Probably the choice of the subject and the size imposed on us, initially, a research that we immediately exploited, realizing under the pretext of knowing each other, two small, fresh aquatints, two of his portraits.
Being in New York, so close, practically allowed us to have no timetables. Francesco could show up at any time, we often worked even at night, arriving destroyed in the morning.
The birth of "Semen" was a shocking and unrepeatable experience, with a result so positive that it nullified the negative aspects that we were forced to undergo during the initial technical journey.
I state that the equipment installed in New York, in the studio, started from Italy, designed in every detail to adapt to the space which, at the same time, had to be a printing house, a place of representation, a show room, a home for us and at the same time a space. in order to host an artist.
Movable walls, Venetian blinds and plants that Eleonora claimed to be present, acted as curtains.
When working on large slabs, all the equipment expanded taking up the maximum of the useful space, often invading areas intended for other things with acid tanks larger than two meters by one.
The tanks, pushed on appropriate wheels, could disappear after use to make room for subsequent operations.
That famous night, it was about one in the morning, after having treated the plates with more acid etchings (iron perchloride), we decided with Francesco to change the technique and proceed with a new aquatint to subsequently treat it with a brush.
This decision led us to put the acid tank back in its place, pushing it from the outside to let it enter under the fixed tank.
Everything happened in an instant. One of the four wheels that supported the tub gave way under our pressure and, without realizing it, the very heavy liquid accumulated towards the part that was giving way and, as in a dream, we were all three helpless in front of what was happening.
We were surrounded by a poisonous amalgam, helpless and stunned at the same time. Where did you have to start? Could we get out of that nightmare?
Perhaps the exhaustion made us burst into a childish laugh that allowed us to react unconsciously. First, we put Francesco in a position to gain the door, thus removing him from our embarrassment.
Finally, three hours after the disaster, we were immersed in the bathtub, with two nice glasses of vodka, certain that we had passed an extremely grueling test.
We had the feeling of having paid very little, in relation to the violence suffered in those few moments, and of being able to lull ourselves into the warmth and unconsciousness that slowly advanced, leading us to a deep sleep in our relaxing bed.
At seven in the morning, the insistent bell at the door called us back from unconsciousness and took us into an alarming reality!
After opening the front door and seeing the young architect of the mega "Architecture Studio" downstairs, with his face contracted and hands full of iron perchloride, we were paralyzed, thinking of the consequences that could be activated from that moment.
"What is this ...?" was the question, "a salt" was my answer, and it was not a lie, as in chemistry iron perchloride is considered a heavy salt, and I continued: "actually, we had a little problem tonight but, before to talk about it, I would like to understand how this salt arrived in your studio, could I come and see? ”.
The very heavy and damned acid had slipped along the heating pipes and had fallen downstairs, right on the white marble, the base and support of the most advanced and sophisticated computer that could be thought of for an architectural firm at that time, touching it. a few centimeters.
We were saved!
Francesco Clemente several times, during his periods of work in New York, mentioned to us that Julian Schnabel was interested in getting to know us. He had had the opportunity to see the works of Francesco, those of Enzo Cucchi and many other artists printed by us, and he was convinced that he could create something absolutely innovative with us.
The first meeting was in his studio in New York, where we witnessed, Eleonora and I, to a fantastic direction. In this large loft, the paintings, the only interpreters, began an approach dance which, with a synchronized rhythm, appeared from wings formed by the very same paintings that, for themes and periods, made their appearance.
We did not even realize how and by whom they were moved, as the works were so engaging and the rhythm, granted for reading, was so well evaluated that it did not allow any distraction.
The result was that we participated in a real happening. This allowed us not only to know the works, in the right way, but to understand how to propose ourselves so as not to repeat ourselves and be able to surprise him.
We knew he was going to spend the winter in his Palm Beach home and studio.
From New York he was just a few hours away by plane and so we thought of visiting him to fix a possible program, hoping to see him at work.
We were curious to know the golf courses in that area which we knew were very beautiful. The surprising thing was that by the second day we were already at work and the time for golf was reduced to short forays on the course. And this is because Julian's father demanded that, finally, he could play with us.
The imagination in those days helped us enormously because, not having planned to work, we had not brought the materials and tools to deal with a volcano of ideas such as the artist was.
By exploiting elements and materials found there initially, and having the bare essentials sent from New York, we were able to activate an appropriate creative space, to the point that even before finishing the first two subjects, we planned the next meeting which took place in Montouk. , a few months later.
Montouk, the extreme tip of Long Island, an incredible house perched on the sea, previously inhabited by Andy Warhol, an absolutely intact and wild nature prey to any wind. Solid and severe, it was an ideal rectangle without frills like a medieval tower. It gave us the feeling of a real detachment from the world but not from the creative world in which Julian moved.
That space which, although large, was insufficient to hold only the canvases that the Artist dragged, at night, on the asphalt of the surrounding free-ways to exasperate them.
In order to work on his great cycles, he set up a grandiose studio in the garden, a kind of amphitheater, where we managed to have our own space.
Some problems existed, because, in the hottest hours of the day, the acid, which we used abundantly, dried immediately, partially canceling the etching effect.
The sun above us participated from the morning to the birth of an extraordinary series of engravings and, at sunset, forced us to interrupt and wait for it until the following morning, thus giving us time to understand where we were and to be able to take a breath.
In the house there was no habit of getting up early, so we took advantage of it to go and play golf on a nearby course by the sea. Unfortunately the fog, every morning, invaded the coast and at the beginning prevented us from enjoying the surrounding landscape.
Slowly the sun predominated, the landscape appeared like a mirage, adding also the sounds that the fog had absorbed. The ever stronger light discovered, in our eyes, the miracle of an uncontaminated nature.
Seeing Julian working on his great works, we realized that the one meter by two plates, sent from Italy, were too small. His broad way of dealing with subjects could not bear dimensions less than at least two meters by one and a half meters.
The only solution was to use two overlapping slabs on the height of one meter. In this way we arrived at the desired surface.
Schnabel, in those days, passed from the canvases of his subjects to the plates, using the same brushes, with the same rhythms and timing. The result that came out of the presses of the New York studio took away all doubts. Having made the decision to use double plates was the winning idea.
We had entered the world of the artist exploiting all his potential, the works "Flamingo", "Tango" and "Pandora" presented themselves in an overbearing way.
The usual routine, which we had had to abandon for climatic-environmental reasons, had been replaced by our experience, almost unconsciously, taking us by the hand, giving free rein to the optimistic part of us, without reservations.
At the Graham Sutherland exhibition in our gallery in Rome, I had the opportunity to meet, among the visitors, Renato Guttuso whom I had not seen for years, after a not entirely positive experience, in the 60s, with Franco Cioppi and of whom I never knew anything specific.
Graham's beautiful engravings were an opportunity to meet us. On that occasion, the sympathy was born that allowed us to open a dialogue with favorable prospects. There was human curiosity in Guttuso and perhaps the desire to recover a relationship that had never been born many years before.
Erick Steingraber, director of the Munich Art Museums, was the liaison of a project that enabled us to work together. He proposed that we organize an exhibition in his museum, the end of the realization of a project where Guttuso would undertake, with different themes, to work intensely in our studio, with the technique of engraving. Etching, aquatint, drypoint, in formats of any size and with such a number of works as to be able to set up an exhibition that, from Munich, could become itinerant.
Renato's figuration, so surprising, did not frighten us, because we immediately realized how graphic his sign was, the absolute container of color and form. He enveloped the gaze and the mind, and was "absolute" in brilliant moments, "mocking and irreverent" in his usual life games.
His painting, looking at it, could narrate his life, not through images and facts, but through the flow of his sign as a continuous story without end. The copper plate, placed under his hands, did not force him, not even for a moment, to apply a different attention: it was the sign of his life that left traces, nothing more ... nothing less.
The color was born within the signs and was contained by harnessing and enhancing all the Mediterranean power that surely belonged to it.
The more we introduced ourselves into his world, the more interesting became the dialogue that our curiosity was going to provoke and explore with attention and respect. The naturalness and simplicity with which Renato made us feel at ease was increasingly surprising.
When there was the presentation at the Munich Museum and finally we were able to see all together the engravings produced and exhibited in that splendid venue, it was a great emotion for everyone and in particular for Renato. Until that moment he had not realized that he had produced so much work and of such great quality in an ensemble that seemed planned but, in truth, had taken place naturally and spontaneously, perhaps unconsciously.
Few artists with whom we have worked have been so generous towards us, to the point of disavowing the graphics created before working with us, and saying in front of our closest friends, in our presence: "The only regret I have is to not having met them before ”.
The work with us influenced his poetic imagination, renewing his youthful ardor and feelings.
The experience with Renato Guttuso, connected to the work previously done with Sutherland, and later with Cucchi and Clemente, led us to think back to Francis Bacon, whom I had met in an exhibition in London, at the beginning of the 70s.
I managed to have a meeting with him in '74 in Paris and, soon after, in his studio in London.
Seeing his studio was a violent impact for me. Tubes of all colors and sizes, full and empty, piled up everywhere, ruined towards the center of the studio, preventing you from moving without due attention. The feeling was that you were totally uncomfortable. There wasn't a single corner you could occupy.
Even a small space would never be yours. Never! Not even for a second. At the same time I quickly understood that in the chaos of his life, everything was absolutely coherent and necessary to grasp instantaneity and magical movement from that world.
The static and monumental elements lived in his works through the tension of the objects and things that were part of that disorder. His studio exalted and represented the true state of mind of the artist.
He explained to me, right from the first meeting, that he was unable to think in graphic terms, as he had never even drawn a single preparatory line on a canvas and, much less, an extempore sketch.
He always started from a base with a black background, recovering shapes and objects, most of the time only imagined or just appeared as found, which often tripped over the vanishing lines drawn like a musical score.
Assonant and dissonant notes that accentuated, with their screeching, elements of rejection of a reality that only a genius hidden in a cave, strewn with wandering human waste, could think.
The great metamorphosis that took place in Bacon's behavior, in the space of a few hours, amazed me.
It was pleasant to converse with him in the morning; we spoke in French and her curiosity towards me surfaced, barely veiled by her shyness.
In the conversation he tried to understand me, to get to know me better, probably to evaluate if it was appropriate to touch a world that I knew so well but was totally new to him. Gradually as time passed I realized that, as in his paintings, he was looking for black ... getting agitated, suddenly distracted to the point that we didn't know how to resume the conversation. I should have gone into that black cave too. I understood that I had to leave. He wanted to be alone with his demons!
The time needed just to understand the behavior I should have had with the Artist was unpredictable, certainly impossible in a reasonable time. Even if it tempted me, it was totally out of a logical work project, inducing me to postpone everything to another occasion.
Fifteen years later
With our active base in New York, I contacted and convinced Pierre Levée, of the Marlborough Gallery, to imagine making some large Francis Bacon etchings.
For years his name had had such an impact and power, that it could open a sudden vision to the market. Like an unprecedented appearance.
Bacon's graphic works had been seen very few, and those few only in reproductive form.
After a brief and rapid technical experience with the artist, to establish the necessary conditions to make the work flow smoothly, he moved on to tackle a triptych he cared very much about.
I understood from the first subject that Bacon wanted to take us to difficult terrain, that of color, perhaps to immediately put us in the most delicate position. As a peremptory challenge he imposed on us "a poisonous orange", indefinable in its infernal brightness.
An orange with a Dantesque soul.
Certainly, fifteen years earlier, we would not have been able to overcome and satisfy such a subtle request, we had achieved a lot of experience and maturity over time.
We started from black, as he did in his paintings, with the right acid etchings and the relative relations of transparency, color coverage, decided by Eleonora. We were able, from the first tests, to amaze the artist who freed himself from any negative prejudice.
From that moment he generously participated in the birth of the triptych with the utmost attention and interest. It was the omen of a feasible future collaboration for other happy editions.
We agreed that he would go to Barcelona to rest with a friend over Easter, and immediately afterwards we would start a new and more complex project. He died in Spain.
The three works remain in my living room and in many other lucky homes around the world. Their presence rewards our effort and the poetry of a great artist.
That Hiroshima baby
In 1988 we were invited to Japan to present our “Big Prints From Rome” exhibition.
For me and my whole family it was one of the most exciting and happy trips and stays I can remember. From the very first meeting, for the exhibition at the Toyama Museum, the welcome was something tactile, as they wanted, with their hands, to touch us to ascertain that it was us. Certainly organizing that exhibition with four other museums, in as many different cities, took up so much time and resources that we would not believe until that moment that their work was finally done.
Shu Takahashi2 was the promoter of the new adventure and with his presence and authority he lightened and made everything simple and possible.
We toured Japan with Shu for three weeks. We touched places and people of extreme simplicity and others of great elegance and refinement, everything and always with rigor.
I remember in Kyoto, in the gardens, a cloud of cherry blossom petals that accompanied us like a caressing snowfall. I remember, in the evening, the sound of the little bells moved by the hooves of the ancient charm Geishas.
I remember the subways of Tokyo with its trains with seats lined with red velvet, intact, with a neat headrest, there, fresh from the morning. I don't remember noticing a single cigarette butt, in my gaze, looking for the congenital defect in the rest of the world: dirt. This general order is not due to an imposed discipline but to a natural one, which is in the DNA of the Japanese.
The catalog, the frames, the organization were not mere details, but examples of professionalism. Even in the United States, where this same exhibition was born three years earlier, they hadn't been so careful.
In that year we found in Japan a surprising euphoria and vitality that did not in the least suggest an imminent collapse. Even though our friend Shu, several times, while working in the Stamperia in Rome on his inspired engravings, mentioned to me that their market was very tense and he hoped that sudden paralysis would not occur.
The Artist had prepared us, in many years of working together, to consider the fact that the way of looking of the Japanese is very different from ours. The consequence is that even today it remains very difficult for them to accept, a priori, Western works of art. At least the moment is premature.
Shu Takahashi was born in Hiroshima in 1930. He was little more than a child when "Gilda" fell from the sky. By date and place one can imagine the need for an artist like him to get as far away as possible from the nothing in which he found himself, and start from scratch.
In 63 he moved to Rome, his interest in the Italian artistic world was concentrated on the Milanese avant-garde which for him meant only Fontana.
Working with Shu, over the years, I realized how much of the Samurai there was in him.
Poetry was very strong in his works, in man the cold distrustful detachment predominated, observer, he was always ready to demonstrate his autonomy.
He used his cutting weapons to describe in detail, often magnified, the symbols of his ideograms, dissecting them with his imagination.
1993: the trip
Fate, at fifty-seven, tripped me.
The thunderbolt struck me in the heart and a devastating intervention was necessary. They opened my chest and the scalpels worked in it like the talons of eagles devouring Prometheus's side.
Aside from my health problems, the difficulties escalated frighteningly as a series of chain crises unfolded.
At the time of the serious illness that struck me, and for a long time after the surgery, I lived in a limbo where everything was out of dimension, the affections, the friendships, the projects, the ambitions that had made my life a constant challenge. . I saw everything hazy, as if this world belonged to others.
In moments of clarity and coldness I was able to glimpse the spaces to simplify things as much as possible, for Eleonora and my children. All hope had been removed from the prospects, even worse, I could not give even minimal continuity to what we had believed so strongly Eleonora and I for.
The passion and intelligence applied by Eleonora in nourishing myself by any means, helped me not to become debilitated, and to lose the energy necessary to maintain control of the situation, even in moments of dismay.
It was so convincing that it made me believe that I was deciding my life, with my behavior.
We had participated for more than thirty years in exemplary creations for quality and technique, we had enjoyed these births, and suffered for the death of those who, with us, had rejoiced in producing them.
Despite my personal problems, the downsizing was necessary, also because, after 89, there was, throughout the world, a terrible recession, particularly in the art world.
Probably, in New York, we had arrived at a Sodom and Gomorrah of art, where only a decades-long famine would have selected and probably saved only the true professionals.
Artists in New York were the first to realize that the market was showing signs of recession. The most evident cause was the role of the American auction houses which for years had dictated and confused the role of galleries, even the most important ones. They had imposed themselves with billions of valuations and sales, not imagining that the large gallery market and all the operators in the sector had unconsciously taken advantage of it. And this in all its abnormal supply chain, spreading like wildfire, distributing false, and often unjustified, quotes all over the world.
Young rampants who approached art as if they were stars or professionals of the highest paid sports, with the same attitudes, participated in the auctions, placing themselves, as well as with the works, with the images they had built of themselves.
Another important cause was that art entered the homes and offices of the "Big Apple" as a fashion in an ostentatious, superficial way. Most of the time we thought of speculative investments ... very wrong!
Europe had been drawn into this perverse mechanism, not realizing the great change that was taking place. The market of the old continent continued undisturbed to support the theories born overseas. It was thought that it was simply one of the many periods already overcome in the past, and that Europe, straddling east and west, could wait, sure of being the necessary and irreplaceable control unit.
It is evident that for those like us who had worked with artists such as Burri, Fontana, Afro, Chillida, Calder, Miró, Moore, and many other greats, it was not easy to accept that moment and, moreover, to see the birth of print shops, every day, which produced everything: few in a correct but poor way, many in an incorrect and dishonest way.
The house and the printing house in New York were the first to be sacrificed, it was enough to think of the distance and the current crisis to be quickly convinced.
All the equipment was desired by our fellow Artists residing in the United States, but in order not to hurt anyone, I put everything in a deposit for future decisions.
The Stamperia at the Baths of Caracalla, with the magnificent house, did not allow me any downsizing. As everything was set up, there were two possibilities: to close, or to move, separating, first of all, the house from the printing house, considerably reducing the second ... waiting ...
Only one positive event: my nephew Alessandro, born from the marriage of my son Davide with Giulia, in a few months made me think of my new paternal presence, almost obligatory, certainly more attentive to grasping what for age and charm of my work I had not done with my children.
Observing a creature in which you see your child, see yourself, puts you in a position to review your childhood and the wonderful life that passes in front of you. You would like and want at a certain moment to challenge events and live intensely the time that remains, whatever it may be.
Eleonora and I had participated in the creation of many works by firmly believing in it, and we knew that the work of art has value only when it lets itself be read, and leaves a trace so strong that its echo is not lost and continues to attract the interests of those who love beauty.
It is beautiful, and I am absolutely certain that many works released by the Stamperia are to be considered beautiful because they are works of genius, works of art.
Bella was my niece Margherita, when she was born, as beautiful as a flower.
Davide and Simona
That's enough! When it came to crossing the significant limit of seventy years, it seemed right to pay homage to those great figures of 900th century painting with whom Eleonora and I had the fortune and the privilege of working. In addition to a tribute, it should be a personal balance sheet, but we cannot track it because it would not be definitive.
We have done so many and we can only say that the most is done but we must not put an end to our splendid adventure, such is the vitality that we still feel in our bodies because so much is the love for our job.
At this point, after so many portraits, there is a great desire to talk about our children, Davide and Simona, to whom we have dedicated only a few hints, but they played a large part in our life.
I must admit that the work was so exciting that it did not allow us to be classic parents, too protective of their children. In addition, the relationship between me and Eleonora was very solid, and this gave us great strength but, in some way, the children were jealous, not feeling unique at the center of our interests and attention.
The mountain was the element that allowed us to finally regroup and to be able to feel a united, loving and happy family.
I remember all the descents from Ruitor, from Gran Paradiso, from Piccolo and Gran San Bernardo, from Bianco and in all those magnificent French and Swiss valleys that we reached on skis. I remember the splendid breakfasts in those delightful huts, close to each other waiting for the fire in the fireplace to warm us, joyful and proud of having overcome new enterprises together.
But there was more. I took advantage in every way to put those long holidays to good use to understand if our profession aroused curiosity and interests in the boys. I expected, seeing how enthusiastically they contemplated the things around us, that this would encourage them to enter the land of signs and dreams.
Dreaming is beautiful when you are alone. But in the world of graphics you have to share them with the artists because we are still technicians even if in every creation we have experienced part of the emotions with them.
My boyfriend was in college in New York and lived in our house on Broome Street.
For us it was a good opportunity to stay with him and follow him in his inclinations, which were oriented towards information technology, in particular the digital image, still in its infancy. I remember that I was very surprised by his decision to take Nancy Graves back to work in the studio. And he took pictures after pictures, for hours. At that point I thought he was getting closer to our work.
Davide engaged in the digital image in the following years, to then return to fly in his computer universe. It was very difficult for me to follow his modern Ulysses travels in cyber space.
That's right because I am a man of the past and he of the future.
A modern Ulysses: yes! At 20 meters underwater you could see him calmly stroking the groupers, touching in a sensitive way all the elements that surrounded him.
He was accepted by the sea as by everything, of course, which even as a child he knew how to respect and observe with love.
Here his bees, last, lead him back into a limited space of four miles which precisely corresponds to the distance allowed by nature to those faithful insects to bring back the pollen.
He wants to be alone, ready for his children, perhaps to tell them what he really knows and appreciates: how to love nature.
Simona, from an early age, was curious, enterprising and endowed with an extraordinary vitality. There is no portrait where his eyes appear distracted: they are always sharp, eager to know. Not to mention his imagination and fantasy, the need to dialogue and communicate with others regardless of the languages spoken.
Creative? Yup ! Very creative to amaze you.
Expectations? Yes many! For both of my children.
Simona had entered the school and all her interests and friendships were in that area.
We had chosen the English school for our children because in the '68 the Italian school was in great turbulence. We also realized the ease with which they had learned the English language. Suffice it to say that Simona applied to be admitted to the Parsons Academy in New York and was accepted on the first try. But we, after the experience of David, who had not found himself well, did not consider it conceivable to leave her alone in that city.
That "no" was a wound that perhaps still, after so many years, has not closed in Simona's heart. And after so many years Eleonora and I too feel a kind of remorse, our intermittent attention did not make us understand one thing: perhaps that choice of hers was a cautious approach to the world of art.
Simona continued to attend Lettere but at the same time decided to take care of the gallery, which at that time was in Via De 'Delfini, an extremely suggestive place in old Rome.
For Simona's character, however, something more whimsical, more bohemian was needed. And it was she who found her space in via delle Mantellate.
Eleonora and I, always inclined to adventure and perhaps a little for an unconscious repentance for having given her that great disappointment of Parsons, we were not afraid to make a big bet at that moment. Graphics were in a deep depression as was the whole art sector.
We moved the gallery to the new address.
It really took Simona's imagination and creativity for that ruined little factory to become a delightful and welcoming shell for her work and her life.
It is Simona who has now taken over the project in her hands: the “Cabinet of Contemporary Modern Art Press” Foundation.
Despite all the difficulties one can imagine, something that came from within us prompted us to keep the printing house running. For which we also have an ambitious project that will take a new name: Laboratory - Contemporary workshop.
Time will tell. But also, by a strong desire of Simona, if we can perpetuate our school of master engravers it will be worth having worked so much with so much joy.
Eyes that investigate, eyes that welcome, attentive and curious eyes that filter you, childish but aware eyes. They are those of my nephews Alessandro and Margherita.
Through their gaze I saw the same little light that once attracted me to Eleonora shining. And through their clear gaze my wife and I can glimpse a hope, that they too will be lucky enough to repeat our great journeys into the world of fantasy and beauty.