‘For me, art and life run parallel to each other. On one hand, I made art mythical. On the other, I wanted to understand what lay behind it and I wanted for people not to feel stuck in front of a work. I found that to be too automatic a position. I wanted the audience to be shaken, to love art while discovering that life lies behind it. I understood that life could be combined with art, as had already been done in the past.’
– Carla Accardi
Born in Trapani, Sicily in 1924, Carla Accardi is celebrated for her rich iconography of flatly rendered ciphers and symbols, and her radical approach to painting. Working at the forefront of the post-war Italian art scene, Accardi helped to revolutionise painting in the wake of World War II. Emerging from a world ravaged by trauma and destruction, her art shone as a beacon of hope, light and promise. Her new pictorial language sought to simultaneously express aesthetic beauty whilst revealing the artifice behind it. ‘For me, art and life run parallel to each other,’ she once declared. ‘On one hand, I made art mythical. On the other, I wanted to understand what lay behind it and I wanted for people not to feel stuck in front of a work. I found that to be too automatic a position. I wanted the audience to be shaken, to love art while discovering that life lies behind it’ (C. Accardi quoted in H. U. Obrist, ‘To Dig Deep’, in Flash Art, No. 260, May-June 2008).
In 1946, Accardi left her hometown for Rome, where she became enamoured by the avant-garde art scene. She began to take a more experimental approach to painting, disregarding traditional painter’s tools such as the easel and opting to work directly on the floor or a table instead. The following year, she became a founding member of Forma, a group comprised of artists based in Rome who defined themselves as both Marxist and formalist. Associated with the Arte Informel and Arte Povera movements, Accardi’s work was exhibited alongside eminent Italian artists including Burri, Capogrossi, Fontana and Moreni. Later still she was to establish Rivolta Femminile in 1970, Italy’s first feminist group and publishing house. Her lyrical style developed throughout the various passages of her life, shifting from monochromatic canvases to black and white paintings in 1960, and into a period of vibrant and intense colours in the mid-1960s. Characterised throughout by an unbridled syntax of abstract signs, her style reached its pinnacle in her ground-breaking compositions on the transparent plastic Sicofoil. ‘This material was brought to my studio one day because they wanted to make a reproduction of my work,’ Accardi recalls. ‘I was curious of course. I thought: I want to try using it, this way I can reveal the mysteries hidden behind art. My interest was in the transparency, and it was possible to see the frame. … I wanted to make everything around us transparent’ (C. Accardi quoted in G. Celant, Carla Accardi, catalogue raisonné, Milan, 2011, p. 19).
Bianco Oro (White Gold), 1966, and Segni Oro (Gold Signs), 1967-76, beautifully exemplify Accardi’s Sicofoil paintings. Inspired by her Mediterranean upbringing, the use of plastic enabled Accardi to simulate the bright, translucent light of Sicily. The swathes of gold in Bianco Oro spiral across the surface like blazing rays of sun. Stapled to a canvas support, the white gleams through the plastic creating a dynamic interplay between the two colours. In Segni Oro, the Sicofoil has been directly attached to the stretcher of the painting, exposing its skeletal frame beneath. Painted on both sides of the plastic, Accardi has created a golden crisscrossing pattern which weaves atop the pictorial plane like glistening waves. The very materiality of these pivotal works becomes a compelling metaphor for the artist’s search for transparency: playfully subverting the totemic value of painting, Accardi’s work speaks to a new pictorial language freed from the constraints of tradition.