Mario Schifano was born in Homs, Libya on 20 September 1934.
After the family moved to Rome, the young Schifano began working as a salesman and later joined his father, an archaeologist and restorer at the Etruscan Museum in Valle Giulia.
Meanwhile he began his artistic career as a painter; His debuts are in the field of informal culture with highly thick canvases, furrowed by careful gestures.
With his works, he inaugurated his first personal exhibition in 1959 at the Appia Antica Gallery in Rome.
Critics began to take an interest in his art in 1960 during an exhibition at the La Salita Gallery in the company of Angeli, Festa, Lo Savio and Uncini.
Subsequently he began to paint monochrome paintings, large papers glued on canvas and covered with a single color, tactile, superficial, dripping. The painting becomes a “screen”, a starting point, the space of a denied event in which, a few years later, figures, letters, fragments of consumerist civilization will emerge, such as the Esso and Coca-Cola marks.
In 1962 Schifano leaves for the United States; there he knows Pop Art up close, he is struck by the work of Dine and Kline; his works are exhibited at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York in the exhibition The New Realist.
He returned to the United States at the end of 1963, after setting up several personal exhibitions in some of the major European cities (Rome, Paris and Milan).
In 1964 he was invited to the Venice Biennale for the first time.
The artist now works for thematic cycles: anemic landscapes, a review of the history of art and towards the end of 1964 accentuates that interest in revisiting the history of art that I will bring. the following year, to the well-known pieces dedicated to Futurism.
In 1965 he created “lo sono infantile”, a work linked to illustrations for childhood, which also represents the return – all mental – to a distant temporal dimension, yet always present in Schifano’s art.
He is attracted by the images that can be taken from the mass media and therefore heritage of the community. This phase of Schifano’s work is occupied by careful critics, such as Maurizio Calvesi, Maurizio Fagiolo and Alberto Boatto, as illustrious writers, such as Alberto Moravia and Goffredo Parise.
Mario Schifano and the Cinema
At Studio Marconi, in 1967, he presented the feature film Anna Carini seen in August by the butterflies, followed by a trilogy of films composed by Satellite, Human non-human, Transplant, consumption and death of Franco Brocani.
His first cinematographic experiences, carried out in parallel with the pictorial ones, date back to 1964 and from these immediately we see the critical attention that the artist pays to the uninterrupted flow of images produced by our technological civilization in which the real is always replaced by the his “double”, be it photographic or television or cinematographic.
Between 1966 and 1967 he made the series Oxygen oxygen, Oasis, Companions companions. The Compagni Compagni series makes emblematic the precise commitment that Schifano, in these tormented years, will lead to an ideological and identity crisis that will lead him to declare that he is abandoning painting.
Mario Schifano’s artistic revival
At the beginning of the Seventies Schifano began to bring back isolated television images directly on emulsified canvas, proposing them with touches of nitro color in an alienating function. At first it draws a lot from the material shot for a film never realized Laboratorio humano, then from the patrimony of images that our television stations transmit daily.
In 1971, Mario Schifano took part in the “Vitality of the Negative in Italian Art 1960-70” exhibition, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva; later he held solo shows in Rome, Parma, Turin and Naples and was present at the X Rome Quadriennale and Contemporanea, a show set up in the Villa Borghese parking lot, again in Rome and again by Bonito Oliva.
In 1974 the University of Parma dedicated to him a vast ontology of about 100 works that allowed him to read his entire pictorial adventure and define its most important lines.
In 1976 Schifano participates in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna at the exhibition “Europe / America, the determined abstraction 1960-76”; two years later he was invited back to the Venice Biennale and there he presented “The unknown masterpiece” at the Tartaruga in Rome, a reworking of Balzac’s famous homonymous tale.
Several of his works are on display in 1979 at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, while the following year he is invited by Maurizio Calvesi to the exhibition “Arte e critica 1980”, set up at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome.
In 1981 Germano Celant selected some of Schifano’s works for the “Identité italienne” exhibition organized at the George Pompidou Center in Paris, while in the same year he showed the group of paintings collected under the title Cosmesi, followed by the Architecture, Biplane, Botanical Garden cycles. .
Also during the 1980s the artist’s works are exhibited in various editions of the Venice Biennale and Schifano is also present at the Italian art exhibition in the 20th century organized by the Royal Academy of London.
He is present at the 1982 and 1984 editions of the Venice Biennale.
In this period he also held personal exhibitions at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and at the Contemporary Art Pavilion of Ferrara, where, under the title Inventano “with soul and without a soul”, he collected a series of canvases representing the summa of his research in the naturalistic field. This last exhibition will then become itinerant, touching several Italian cities, to finally arrive in France, at the Center d’Art Contemporain of Saint Priest (1992).
Attention to nature characterizes all of Schifano’s current research: landscapes, water lilies, wheat fields, movements of the sea, stretches of sand are recreated, reinvented, filtered through memories, impulses, sensations, outcrops of the deep , sequences of images conveyed by television sets, by advertising, by magazines, and are therefore configured as memory geographies.
In 1990 the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, on the occasion of its reopening, dedicated to him a review entitled “Disseminate”, with large-format works created for the occasion.
Three years later he presented in several Italian galleries the cycle “Reperti”, dedicated to the animals of the prehistoric world, a theme whose first examples had already appeared in the personal exhibition by Maeght.
In 1996 Schifano pays homage to his auxiliary Musa, or television, understood as a continuous flow of images that can be structured as a true and unique totalizing reality of our age.
If at the end of the Sixties he confined himself to extrapolating from the television programs of the single frames and projecting them decontextualized on the canvas, now, instead, he intervenes on the pictures pictorially changing them further.
He sets up with about forty such paintings and a thousand hand-retouched photographs, a large exhibition that was first hosted at the Memorial da America Latina Foundation in San Paolo del Brasile (1996), then at the Fine Arts Museum in Buenos Aires (1997); during 1998 it will be presented at the Wifredo Lam Foundation in Havana and in Mexico City.
During a trip to Brazil he makes a happening inside a favela in Rio de Janeiro.
In 1997, on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the building of Santa Croce in Florence, Schifano obtained the San Giorgio di Donatello Award for having created the polychrome stained glass windows located in the crypt of the Basilica.
In the same year he curated the scenographic preparations of the Rome carnival.
Mario Schifano died in Rome on 26 January 1998.