Pinot Gallizio

Galleria Mazzocchi

Pinot Gallizio took up painting in 1955, at the age of 51, after having dedicated himself to archaeology, to botany, and to studying popular cultures and the phenomenon of nomadism. This exhibition was a representative selection of his entire body of work, produced over a period of less than ten years. His paintings have an abstract matrix, resolved in a gesturalness that layers heavy brushstrokes of oil paint on the canvas. At times the clots of paint condense into confused signs, like small round eyes, or mouths open in threatening smiles. Many of the works have surreal, ironic tides such as Morte di un pidocchio viaggiatore (Death of a common traveler, 1955) and Paranoia ellitica (Elliptical paranoia, 1956).

Gallizio’s choice of bold colors and heavy, childlike forms was due in part to his collaboration and friendship, beginning in 1955, with Asger Jorn, a member of the tumultuous CoBrA group. Both men worked in the Laboratorio Sperimentale di Alba in Gallizio’s home town, where the Italian artist conceived and produced his “Pittura industriale” (Industrial paintings, 1958–59), canvases more than 40 feet long featuring heavy impasto and stormy colors. Instead of being framed and hung, each of these canvases can be unwound in an exhibition space, creating an environmental work; it can even form a tunnel into which the visitor can enter, as with Caverna dell’antimateria (Cavern of the antimatter, 1958). Gallizio’s search for an alternative to painting and to the limits of the canvas approaches Lucio Fontana’s Ambienti spaziale (Spatial environments, 1948–50) and Yves Klein’s L’Architecture de l’air (Architecture of the air, 1958–59). As described by Mirella Bandini in a catalogue for Gallizio’s 1974 exhibition in Turin, the “ideation of a new culture, in opposition to institutionalized and compartmentalized art” began to slowly filter into the environs of Turin, where it fell into step with the ideas of the older arte povera artists, like Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, and Michelangelo Pistoletto. And if Gallizio’s thickly painted canvases clearly influenced the early paintings of Mario Merz, his use of materials like coal, resin, sand, and iron filings suggest the early antiart and vitalist choices of arte povera.

One part of the gallery contained the works from the last years of his life. During this period the artist used only dark and burned-looking colors and covered the canvases even more densely than before. The tides are dark too—for example, La coperta funebre (The funerary cover, 1963)—and many are just called Senza titolo (Untitled). It is likely that Gallizio had a premonition of his own death, which occurred in 1964. After years of intense public activity he retreated into a solitary existence, closing himself off in his studio. There he installed the Stanza nera (Black room, 1963) a sort of funerary apparatus where he gathered and bound up his prize possessions—brush and spatula, an herbalist’s mortar, a chemist’s alembic—on black-painted bookshelves. He prepared his mourning, just as, a year before, another innovator in Italian art had done, Piero Manzoni, who, foreseeing his end, reorganized his possessions and arranged them in small black envelopes. Perhaps each of these artists was preparing for a pagan burial, surrounding himself only with beloved objects to carry with him on his long voyage.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.