The Cry of Nunzio Bibbò
Drawings and graphic works at Contrast Gallery
CONTRAST Gallery has displayed drawings and graphic works of famous Italian sculptor Nunzio Bibbò, the artist who was presented with retrospective exhibitions of sculptures, paintings and graphic works in the exhibition hall of the Union of Bulgarian Artists in 6 Shipka Street in 1989 and in the Gallery of Foreign Art in 2011. It is not by chance that his plastic works of art are a part of the Panorama of the 20th Century Art displayed at the National Gallery (KVADRAT 500) in Sofia.
In fact, who is Nunzio Bibbò who passed away three years ago (in 2014) – this Italian of short and stocky stature always wearing the same felt hat, the man of strong emotions, open heart and social sensitiveness who had been related to Bulgaria not only via his friends, but also via his marriage to Bulgarian Ekaterina Bibbò who was his wife and companion in the last decades of his life!?!
Being a disciple of Arturo Martini and Medardo Rosso, Nunzio considered that true art could not be produced without mysticism: by doing this one would eliminate one of the fundamental elements of art, i.e. the Charisma. Famous Italian critic Cesare Zavattini wrote about him on the occasion of his exhibition in Arezzo in 1979: ‘… The style of Nunzio Bibbò carries ardour and deep sounds of moaning as a dramatic appeal coming from the Mediterranean region where Bibbo was born and became one of the most brightly expressed interpreters of modern life in the southern part of Italy’. Nunzio was also a student of Emilio Greco – a representative of classicism in the modern art of sculpture, of Augusto Perez and Umberto Mastroianni with his abstract art, as well as of Marino Mazzacurati related figurativeness so topical of the time.
Nunzio Bibbò arrived in Bulgaria in 1980 with an exhibition following the exhibition of Ennio Calabria famous for his expressive and socially oriented works of art. With him Nunzio also brought the spirit of those born in the Mediterranean part of Italy. He was the genuine bearer of the rustic tradition abounding in anachronisms and solidarity which is so typical of his birth place (Castelvetere in the region of Alto Sanio in the Province of Benevento). This place is famous for its terracotta artists – the masters of traditional work with clay which became one of Nunzio’s famous materials and he preserved his affinity to this material to the end. He was also a part of the specific atmosphere of timelessness so characteristic of this region where you first de-mystify and then mythologize whatever surrounds you. And not only this. Being a bearer of the traditions of this region, Nunzio also possessed a number of features of its austere aesthetics which is so attractive with its genuineness and force. In his paintings, as well as in his graphic works, the landscapes of areas of successively arrayed houses, walls and narrow streets running through them were the bearers of historic memory and radiated special austerity. The same would also refer to the series of ‘stone’ cities where we can sense something archetypal, something of the natural form prior to lava being poured over, something preceding Creation. In this way ephemerality and solidity, improvisation and stability of forms are interwoven in his own original manner which not only does not neglect amazement and mystery of creation, but they are defined and emphasized in a way to remind us of the Supreme versus the self-oblivion of Man who has gone conceited due to the potential of technological progress. The cities of his paintings and graphic works grow up from the earth as an original archaeological evidence full of life, as a purely his modelling of history. The same feeling is also provoked by the groups of people clustered together in times of trial. And, if we take a look at his characters in the paintings and in his plastic works, they are: short, dark, with round heads, big eyes and thin lips – their ancient archetype has nothing in common with the Romans, nor the Greeks, the Normans, nor with any other nation of conquerors who has ever crossed their lands. They refer to the ancient Italic figures and his series of drawings and graphic works of women dressed in simple clothes remind us of contemporary Madonnas via his precise strokes and spirituality.
In the 70s and the 80s Nunzio lived in the below-the-ground premises in Vittorio Square close to Termini Station and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The premises were both his home and his studio. The place resembled old catacombs. The underground area below the square was converted into premises for residential and work purposes. The narrow terracotta floored corridors were scattered with parts of plastic works and any type of materials he needed for his work and the only living area was furnished with an iron bed and a low table with a few items for tea or coffee on it. Otherwise, one could have pizza anywhere in the numerous small restaurants, pizza and coffee shops all around the square. However, it is in these catacombs where the most interesting ideas and projects of Nunzio were conceived and developed, such as the relief of the doors of the Reggio di Calabria Cathedral, which was finished later (1988) and some of the paintings and the graphic works which are exhibited at Contrast Gallery, Sofia at present.
The last decades were dedicated by Nunzio to the idea of establishing and organization of the activities of The Cry Art Group. The idea to form the group was initially conceived by lawyer Marco de Bonis, a collector of works of art and the aim of the group was to unite in a circle artists of various generations, but having the same needs and requirements and sharing the same desire to make their voice heard by the public. In addition to Nunzio Bibbò, the Italian section of the group of artists, who decided to neglect generation differences in order to find the common grounds of artistic quest, also included painter Giovanbattista Kokolo, sculptors Nino Polini, Leonardo Lottici and Aulo Pedicini, as well as photographer Niko Marziali. They had to be joined by Bulgarian artists Lyubomir Dobrev, Stanislav Pamukchiev, Ivo Hadzhimishev (photographer), Vladimir Chukich, as well as by Dutch artists among whom was Marko Markov, his Bulgarian friend and already naturalized Dutch citizen, and Anthony Den Ridder. Emanuela Gregory and me, your humble servant were appointed curators.
Heterogeneousness of the group was guaranteed by the common quest of artists of various generations who shared the same need and desire to ‘produce’ art inspired by the common reflex to the topic of isolation of modern man. The organization of a group of this kind was the result of the extraordinary efforts of each and every person, hence of every artist living in our frenetic modern times. The original manifesto read that to unite with and follow others is an artist’s inherent need to hear one’s own voice on one hand and, on the other hand, it means to open oneself to the others and become richer via exchange of ideas and opinion.
By the end of the 80s Nunzio had moved house and settled down in one of the suburban areas of numerous densely developed new residential buildings where, were he still alive, Pasolini would find a story for his next film. I would call it a neo-Pasolini atmosphere where the seeming idleness with the sounds of the new residents coming out of the numerous windows of the new stone-built urbanized areas. Italian southerners gave way to the new settlers coming from Asian, African, Eastern and Slavonic countries.
The concept-appeal of The Cry Group was conceived in this very new studio in Casilina Street and it was mainly inspired by Nunzio Bibbò. Nunzio’s studio was on the ground floor in a huge yard in the form of a spiral accommodating a multitude of garages whose roofs were decorated with gardens and even flower beds and a kids’ playground. The children were playing on the roofs instead of in the street, where our generation used to play carefree until late in the evening and invented incredibly amusing games and we were not aware at the time, but we are aware now, how happy our generation was going through a natural childhood.
However, this spacious studio and home of Nunzio, which was hardly ever lit with sunshine, was one of the warm asylums of a great number of travellers from our artistic circles, who visited, passed through and left Italy. The interior, as it was always with Nunzio, was simple, sufficiently comfortable to sleep over for those colleagues from our guild who had already been left without the patronage of the state, as well as to organize meetings and discussions of ideas.
There, in this enormous studio, Nunzio used to create his pastel drawings of exquisite female figures emanating the fine eroticism of love poetry. A number of them are exhibited at Contrast Gallery. Displayed at the same place with the graphic works, they reveal the connection with everything happening around us, with the changing world of ideas and of life as a whole, and the terracotta and plastic works of tar collected in this home-studio expressed most explicitly these visions. They resembled warriors engaged in futile defence against the simplified world penetrating our pores. Externally they reminded us of knights in armour, but on the inside these heroes were hollow – empty of content. In addition to colour, with them he used tar in order to add a variety of shades to our perception of them. The tar in combination with materials ‘at hand’ reflected his southern temper most fully reaching exaltation in the language and the artistic rationalization of our new existence.
Nunzio Bibbò, whose drawings and graphic works are exhibited at Contrast Gallery, went through life and art as an active witness of time and the passions of this time, as an artist on a continuous quest of new means of expression to be employed in his works of art. During my last visit to his studio (Nunzio had passed away in October 19. 2014) the characters of his cycle Warriors (drawings and plastic works of art) looked like a guard of hieratic figures crowding the lower floor as ancient guardians of memories and eternal human virtues. They were reminiscent of the non-existent any more hidalgos hesitating about where their place was between modern times and their mythological significance. Among his many favourite subject-matters of landscapes, couples, lovers, women and groups of people, the subject of the warrior comes to my mind first – not of the warrior coming back victorious from his battles, but the warrior of our new millennium, made of waste materials, iron and tar with stains of blood on his torn body, shortly, the impotent warrior, the unarmed warrior, the warrior who can no longer have an impact on the processes of today. With his failure, Bibbò’s warrior, both in his drawings and in his works of plastic art, calls on us to think about our new defender, about our new savior, who could be any, but not the one of today, made of the waste we dispose of. This is in fact the message of this exhibition, The Cry of Bibbò reverberating after him and still topical today.
Exhibiting the works of Nunzio Bibbò at Contrast Gallery we expect that this is the message to be decoded by those who would like to remember Nunzio Bibbò. A message which is also topical today and reminds us all of the main function of art – to interpret the meaning of life.