Mario Schifano

Born 1934 in Homs, Libya.
Died 1998 in Rome, Italy.

Following the end of the Second World War, Mario Schifano moved with his family from his native Libya to Rome. Showing little interest in school, he soon began restoring ceramics, a trade learned from his archaeologist and restorer father. An autodidact, Schifano soon took up painting, initially producing bold monochrome canvases, with strips of glued wrapping paper and stencils applied to them. His work was critically acclaimed, leading to several exhibitions in Italy and later in the USA, capturing the attention of the internationally renowned art dealer Ileana Sonnabend. In the early 1960s Schifano’s interest turned to the urban landscape of Rome and he began using coloured Perspex, corporate logos and layered paper like billboards in an exploration of the street and popular culture. He frequently travelled to the USA, where his works were exhibited alongside those of American pop artists. In the mid-1960s, in parallel with painting, he started directing 16mm films, inspired by Jean-Luc Goddard’s principles of improvisation. 

In 1968, in response to the global wave of protests, Schifano made a number of political works. Among them are the three Comrades comrades 1968 paintings belonging to the Comrades series. Black spray-painted silhouettes of political protestors holding the Communist symbol of hammer and sickle inhabit these works. The same motif, accompanied by a political slogan calling for a fair solution to society’s social and political contradictions, is repeated across the series. While the silhouettes are fixed the background varies, shifting from bold block-like colours to decorative patterns. By endlessly repeating the same motif Schifano shows how protest, slogans and politics generally fall prey to serialisation. 

Lina Džuverović
September 2015