by Neil Tetkowski
Rare are those moments when extraordinary circumstances bring unique people into your life, and the result becomes a truly meaningful connection. So it was for me when I first met the artist Fabio Mazzieri (1945-) in his hometown of Siena, Italy. This lovely Tuscan town that once battled Florence hundreds of years ago is also where I began elementary school in the early 1960s. I have always considered those formative years in Siena as the sweetest most innocent times of my youth. Ten years ago I returned to Siena, hoping in part to connect that early chapter of my life with the present. Initially, I was introduced to Fabio Mazzieri as il grande pittore or, the important painter who at that time was also the director of the Istituto d’Arte “Duccio di Boninsegna” the art school in Siena. I saw his brilliantly colored canvases exhibited in the fortress of the old city and was instantly enthusiastic about the work. The following day, with anticipation, I walked through the medieval streets of Siena on my way to visit Mazzieri himself at his studio.
There on the ground floor, an antique doorway opened, leading into a series of cavern-like spaces with high ceilings and spectacular ancient brick archways. Mazzieri’s artwork lay everywhere, hanging and leaning against every surface. Huge colorful canvases spread the distance of the walls and the interior balcony. Dusty notebooks, brushes and drawing materials surrounded the workspace where studio chaos is transformed by Mazzieri’s deliberate creativity. Entering this environment is a pleasure and a privilege. One knows immediately without question that they have come upon an artist’s space. The only thing that might momentarily eclipse the artwork is the artist’s own animated personality and his interesting background.
In Tuscany everyone knows Mazzieri. Except for a few years studying and teaching in Florence, Siena is where Fabio has lived most of his life. He has organized and participated in countless exhibitions in central Italy and has done innovative installations interacting with ancient architecture. Comprehensive solo exhibitions are currently planned at the Modern Art Museum in San Gimignano, and the Art Museum in Pienza. In Siena it seems like he has been everyone’s teacher at one time or another.
Over the past ten years, I have watched the artwork develop and evolve to a new level. During the 1980s and 1990s Mazzieri’s paintings included abstract landscape and figurative works that neatly fit into the Italian modernist tradition. The influence of Georgio DeChirico, and the Futurists are evident as is the Sienese School of pre-Renaissance Italian painters; Duccio di Buonisegna and the Lorenzetti brothers. It is also worth noting that in the 1960s while he was an art student at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, the art academy in Florence, Mazzieri had such a strong interest in the work of Lucio Fontana that he chose to make that artist the subject of his graduation thesis.
However, it is the full development of Mazzieri’s artwork over the past decade that has been especially fascinating. At this point, Mazzieri has successfully synthesized these varied influences to create a remarkable signature style abandoning the human figure and the limits of a traditional rectangular stretched canvas. Like my first meeting with Fabio Mazzieri, one could say that it was a simple twist of fate that brought the artist into a more mature and meaningful connection with his own creative essence.
A few years ago Mazzieri discovered an old chest containing hand-woven cloth crafted by his mother and grandmother. Long pieces of natural muslin-like fabric had been carefully folded and stored away as part of a family wedding dowry. Some pieces of linen were over 100-years-old, but none were wider than 70cm, the width of the primitive loom the family owned. The flax had been farmed, harvested, and spun by Mazzieri’s ancestors. Going back to the nineteenth century, Mazzieri’s mother and grandmother were weavers in neighboring Perugia, Umbria.
The discovery of the chest inspired Mazzieri to paint on these precious fabrics. Instead of using them like a blank canvas or a fresh sheet of paper, Mazzieri chose to collaborate with the past. His intuition took over as he responded to each fold and every uneven discoloration. Little by little he responded to the surfaces with fresh brush strokes and new colors of paint. This experience has become the source of his new series he calls Tesi, Piegati e Aperti which loosely translates as “Draping, Folded and Open”.
Though Mazzieri’s instinct has always been to discover something new with each artwork, today this desire to invent extends to each installation. A given work may be exhibited or hung in multiple ways. Mazzieri will not make final decisions about the hanging of an artwork until he is actually in the unique location where the artwork will be seen. He says that each space is different and that changes how the piece is seen. Recently he exhibited his canvases freely on the floors of an ancient Tuscan monastery in Monticiano. The dynamic between the uninhibited artwork and the structured historic edifice was like a dialogue between odd friends. When Mazzieri exhibits the same painting in a gallery with sterile white walls, the installation may be completely different. In some situations, long canvases have been draped from high ceilings intentionally extending onto the floor. Multiples of such works become an environment in the gallery taking on an architectural scale like pillars that may confront the viewer. Some of the canvases are very large, measuring up to twenty meters in length. Like the dowry fabrics, more often than not, these works are folded or rolled up when being moved or stored.
For Mazzieri, the creases or marks left in the material are an important aspect of the work. There is no need to flatten them out. As Italo Calvino said, it is the “memory of the material” that tells the story. At any moment in time, the artwork may change, its surroundings may change, and the viewer may change, just as the viewer’s response may change. In the Buddhist tradition, our temporal world is reflected in the temporary nature of all things and for this artist it is also the temporal presentation of his paintings. Mazzieri knows his artwork is in flux, just as he knows the world is in flux.