Free of all academic influence, Nino Longobardi (Naples, 1953) nourished his education as an autodidact especially by spending time with artists, critics, gallerists, among which Carlo Alfano and Joseph Beuys. His encounter in 1968 with Lucio Amelio led to a personal and professional partnership that would continue until the gallerist’s death in 1994. After showing his work in 1978 at the studio of Gianni Pisani, Longobardi developed a pictorial and figurative research in which the human figure becomes the prevalent form, built up with a strongly expressive sign in pencil and charcoal.
The earthquake that struck Campania on November 23, 1980 catalyzed new tension and enhanced the power of the artist’s language, turning the gesture and the compositional expression into a cathartic experience which assumes and offsets the tragic sense of life. Surprised by the earthquake while preparing his works for a second solo show at Amelio’s gallery, the artist reverses his sign in front of nature’s destructive power, realizing works like Terrae Motus (1980), now in the collection of the Madre. These works underscore the cathartic experience of art, designing human figures that dominate, by treading on them, the gigantism of the underlying skulls. In the work Untitled, now housed in the Terrae Motus collection in Reggia di Caserta, Longobardi uses a swimmer, the only one to have survived death, to express the sense of catastrophe.
In the 1990s the material undergoes a further stripping of the flesh, becoming more essential and dry, and thus emptying out the figure, which now becomes shadow, trace. The themes and iconographies of these works are taken from the cultural stratification of Naples: drawn, painted or sculptural skulls, at times even with organic bones, and cross-references to the contradiction inherent in the life/death relationship, upon an uncertain edge, poised between the abyss and rebirth, beauty and violence, catastrophe and culture. Bronze, clay, plaster, pencil and painting, shades of white or the low tones on the chromatic scale, are the codes, materials and techniques with which Longobardi proceeds in a key that is never autobiographical, but rather inclined to touch universal notes.
Parthenopean culture, perceived as part of History, permeates the artist’s conventional vocabulary, which is also structured through more or less explicit references to the icons of the local culture, from relics of Saint Januarius to the plaster casts of Pompeii. In 1999 the artist had a solo show in Castel Nuovo, in 2001 at the Naples Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and in 2013 at the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, within a context that from a historical point of view owes him the insight of the expression Terrae Motus, deeply linked to the history of contemporary culture in Naples and in Campania.