Mario Schifano (Homs, Libya, 1934 – Rome, 1998), a restless spirit and an extraordinarily prolific artist, was a tireless experimenter with the plurality of pictorial languages : from his early monochromes in the 60s to a personal Pop reappropriation of mass culture, the “rediscovery” of painting and the synthesis between painting and multimedia. His early work, still collocated in the context of research into Art Informel, already revealed uncommonly felicitous chromatic qualities. Subsequently he painted monochrome pictures, with the painting becoming a “screen”: an object transformed, or rather transfigured, from function to icon, the surface of an event denied, in which later emerged numbers, letters and fragments of symbols taken from the consumer society, reflecting an independent sensibility yet aware of American Pop Art, which the artist discovered as early as 1962, during a trip to the United States, where he was impressed by the work of Jim Dine, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.
His experiments with film, conducted parallel with painting, date from 1964, revealing the critical attention the artist paid to the uninterrupted flow of images produced by technological civilization, in which reality is progressively replaced by its “double,” whether photographic, televisual or cinematic. Working in ironic terms he reappropriated figurative elements: this was the period of his Paesaggi anemici (“Anemic Landscapes”), seascapes and views of the city. At the same time he devoted himself to a revisitation of art history: Piero della Francesca and Malevich, Duchamp and Picabia, Balla and the Futurists. In the seventies, he developed an obsession with television as an omnivorous visual diaphragm that presents simulacra of reality. Schifano’s cinematic approach, beyond the political and sociological appearance that references the documentary construction, reveals a continuing pictorial and spatial interest, closely related to his interest in media, through which he explores the codes and languages of art. In its illusory reality his filmography encompasses declarations of gesture and body (Carol + Bill, 1964); the dilation of the ambiance of relations (Rome overrun by tourists in Souvenir, 1964); perceptual abstractions (Film, 1967); political commitment (Vietnam, 1967); intersubjective situations (Schifano, 1967) and the trilogy Satellite (1968), Human not Human (1969) and Transplantation and Consumption, and the Death of Franco Brocani (1969), a film which as a whole can be interpreted as a dreamlike journey of the artist “in quest of man.” In Naples, his work is related to the activity, among others, of the Galleria il Centro and the Galleria Lucio Amelio.
Produced in different versions, Alla Balla (“À la Balla”, 1963) is one of the most important works of Mario Schifano’s “Futurist” period, in his personal tribute to Giacomo Balla. Inspired by the famous Girl Running on a Balcony (1912), it emphasizes the work’s photographic approach, focusing on the detail of the composition of the feet, “frozen” in the walking repetition of the movement in sequence. In this work Schifano seems to revive the reflection on movement that Balla studied, among other things, in the same years as Marcel Duchamp (Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 was likewise painted in 1912). In the studies underlying their compositions, both artists started from the chronophotographs made by Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge (who produced a famous series of photographs of the same subject as Balla and Duchamp, Woman Descending a Staircase, 1887). As can be deduced from other works by the artist inspired by Futurism – such as When I Remember Giacomo Balla (1964 exhibited in the same year at the 32nd Venice Biennale) and the multiple versions of Futurismo rivisitato (“Futurism Revisited in Color”, 1965) based on the famous photo that portrayed Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini in Paris in 1912 – Schifano’s decision to “revisit” Futurism corresponded to a desire to explore the expressive, imaginative and short-circuiting potential of painting, and it was at least in part related to that historical and critical activity which, starting in the late fifties, refocused on the study of this movement, ignoring ideological stereotypes, and is found in the work of scholars such as Giulio Carlo Argan and Maurizio Calvesi.