- Mario Schifano
- Smalto su Carta (Incidente)
- enamel and graphite on wrapping paper laid down on canvas
- 100 by 100 cm. 39 3/8 by 39 3/8 in.
- Executed in 1965.
Maurizio Calvesi, Mario Schifano - Una collezione ‘60/’70, Milan 1990, pp. 34-35
Seamlessly integrating Arte Povera’s bold materiality, Art Informel’s expressive brushwork, and Pop Art’s thought-provoking use of urban imagery, Mario Schifano’s Smalto su Carta (Incidente) is a dynamic canvas that is wholly paradigmatic of the artist’s unique lexicon. The work was bought directly from the artist by the present owner, the distinguished Italian photographer Ugo Mulas, and has remained in his esteemed collection ever since.
The work’s title Smalto Su Carta is stencilled in capital letters in the centre of the canvas. Literally translating to ‘enamel on paper’, the words denote the very materiality of the work and the means of its construction. As pointed out by the art historian Maurizio Calvesi: “Schifano’s practice is like a comprehensive reportage with its clear captions: sea, car crash, detail of a landscape, propaganda… Schifano’s emblematic words now give a title to the reality we encounter…. Away from the psychological and intellectual convolutions of a discourse, a word becomes like an image independent of the traditional pictorial context, and uniquely associated with a more advanced and continuous process of selective perception and immediate conceptual validation” (Maurizio Calvesi, Mario Schifano - Una collezione ‘60/’70, Milan 1990, pp. 34-35). Expressive layers of vibrant yellow, deep black and bluish grey are captured inside a window-like frame in the top half of the composition. Against the raw, unprimed background, the gestural swathes of paint take on a powerful vitality that echoes the vigorous emotive brushstrokes of Art Informel. Using enamel, a quick drying, durable paint most commonly used for painting houses, on ubiquitous brown wrapping paper laid down on canvas, Schifano introduces the everyday into the realm of high art. Herein, the quotidian materialism of present work chimes with the key tenets of Arte Povera.
Obscured by the vibrant strokes of yellow and grey, are the black outlines of a fragmented car. A continuation of Schifano’s 1963 Incidente paintings, which depicted images of car accidents, the subject matter recalls Andy Warhol’s concurrent Car Crash paintings. However, while Warhol’s Death and Disaster series was a provocative interrogation into the agencies of mass-media, celebrity and death, Schifano’s interest lay in the actual movement and speed of the automobile. Shortly before the creation of the present work, Maurizio Calvesi gave Schifano the catalogue of a Futurist exhibition curated by Enrico Crispolti at the Civic Gallery of Modern Art in Turin in 1963. As Calvesi recalled: “Soon afterwards Mario… took the catalogue to the United States where he started developing a series of works inspired by Futurism, which he continued to make until 1966” (Maurizio Calvesi cited in: Luca Ronchi, Mario Schifano Una Biografia, Monza 2012, pp. 59-60). Echoing the Futurists' call for an art that reflected the dynamism, energy and movement of modern life, the gestural brushstrokes of Smalto Su Carta (Incidente) capture a fleeting snapshot of the everyday.
A key member of the 1960s Roman Pop art movement, also known as the Scuola Romana, Mario Schifano is revered as one of the most important Italian avant-gardists of the later Twentieth Century. He first appeared on the Italian art scene in the early 1960’s with his striking monochromatic works. Schifano quickly garnered international acclaim and was taken on by the influential gallerist Ileana Sonnabend. In 1962 his works were included in the landmark exhibition New Realists at the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, alongside international heavyweights such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Yves Klein.
At once iconic of the artist's distinct casual brushstrokes and evocative of the very high point of the Roman post-war avant-garde, Smalto Su Carta (Incidente) is a true masterpiece of its time.