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Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)
Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)


Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)
signed and dated twice ‘1960 SCARPITTA SALVATORE SCARPITTA 1960’ (on the reverse); titled “DEPART” (on the stretcher)
bandage and mixed media
33 5/8 x 29 7/8in. (85.3 x 76cm.)
Executed in 1960
Galleria Notizie, Turin.
Galleria Ippolito Simonis, Turin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990.
L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta, Catalogue Raisonne’, Milan, 2005, no. 260 (illustrated, p. 175 and p. 317).

Los Angeles, Dawn Gallery, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1961.
Turin, Galleria Ippolito Simonis, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1987 (illustrated).

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Alessandro Diotallevi
Alessandro Diotallevi

Lot Essay

'De Kooning, who in my opinion was the most intelligent painter in America in the last hundred years, told me: "You look like someone who wants to break the window of a jewellery store with his fist. And what counts isn't the jewellery, but the broken window." He truly understood the significance of my works... He also said: "Burri makes wounds, but you heal them!"' (Scarpitta, quoted in L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, Milan, 2005, pp. 65-66).

Dating from 1960, Depart is an early example of Salvatore Scarpitta's distinctive and influential bandaged canvases. The importance of this picture is reflected in the fact that it was shown, only the year after its execution, at his one-man exhibition at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles, where Scarpitta had grown up. That exhibition had taken place only a few years after Scarpitta's return to the United States from Italy, where he had spent around two decades of his life and which had been the arena for the pioneering developments that underpinned works such as Depart.

Scarpitta had been working in Rome when he had made his discovery of the bandaged canvas, the technique used a few years later in Depart. He had been working in an increasingly abstract manner during the post-war years. Over that period, he had become an important part of the artistic revival of the avant garde in Italy, taking part in a form of reconstruction that was opposed to the overly-figurative tradition which had its roots in the art of the previous millennia. Bucking that conservative trend, artists such as Scarpitta sought instead a renewal. He therefore found himself associating with artists such as Piero Dorazio and Alberto Burri, as well as intellectuals and members of the Italian Resistance, some of whom he had come to know during his own flight from the authorities during the Second World War, when his American citizenship had made him an enemy alien. Scarpitta had managed to join the Allies towards the end of the Second World War, during the invasion of Italy, serving first as one of the 'Monuments Men' helping to safeguard Italy's cultural heritage and later working as an interpreter for the US Navy. It was in that capacity that he had managed to travel to Milan in 1945, encountering figures such as Lucio Fontana and Roberto Crippa.

In a sense, the swaddling of Depart recalls the protection of monuments during the final period of the War and its aftermath. At the same time, it also reveals the sense of renewal that underpinned so much of Scarpitta's work. In both contexts, this is a picture that has the notion of healing at its core, as the bandage-like strips of material are bound again and again around the frame. It is telling that these works emerged in part through Scarpitta's frustration, and then reconciliation, with oil and canvas. During 1957 and 1958, when he was sharing a studio space with Cy Twombly, Scarpitta had become increasingly aware that his abstract paintings were not moving forwards. He had even gone so far as to tear up canvases and reassemble them. Paintings like Depart and its precursors from Rome showed his own response to that destruction: an act of creation, of almost sculptural celebration of the base materials of painting itself. Eventually he would incorporate many other sorts of found material within these works. He described it as 'a work to clean up what had been a rather exasperated gesture. I somehow had to recover that lost material, so I polished this idea that was rather iconoclastic, and took the canvas from a dilapidated state to a more "surreal", almost abstract condition, due to the raw, plain canvas, no longer ripped but pulled' (Scarpitta, quoted in L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, Milan, 2005, p. 66).

With these notions of healing so prominent, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dorazio believed the origin of these bandaged works to have lain in the swaddling clothes of Scarpitta's own daughter. Recalling Scarpitta in the preface to an exhibition catalogue, Dorazio recounted:

'Sometime between '54 and '58, after the birth of his daughter Lola, Salvatore took the bands of cloth used to swathe the baby to his studio, and after having wrapped them around a wooden frame, he stiffened them with glue and painted them, monochrome, white or dark red, or blue, leaving gaps between the layers of the wrapping. These empty spaces were like open cuts, like wounds. These works impressed me for their originality and for their value as an extension of his experience as a painter: they represented the first case of a step forward after the provocation of Burri. So when Fontana came to Rome I took him to Salvatore's studio... The next year I went to visit Fontana and his studio was full of canvases with the famous slashes, which could only have been suggested by the swathing bands of Scarpitta' (Dorazio, quoted in ibid., p. 68).

Scarpitta had first revealed his bandaged works to the world in an exhibition in 1958 at the Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome, where he had been living at the time. Dorazio and his dealer at the time, Plinio De Martiis, had both introduced the New York dealer Leo Castelli to Scarpitta and his works; this resulted in a one-man show in New York, and also to Scarpitta's decisive return to the United States. Depart was created only a year later; perhaps its title is a reference to that move. In New York, the artist became exposed to a whole new world of painters, becoming friends with figures such as Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston.

Scarpitta's works were admired by Franz Kline, who visited one of his shows in New York. This connection appears all the more pertinent when one looks at Depart: the bands of material create a composition that itself recalls Kline's own paintings. However, in Scarpitta's work, there is no white surface left in reserve: instead, there is raw, naked space. There are potent gaps within the fabric of the painting that emphasise the sheer materiality of the whole. In this way, Depart becomes a sensuous celebration of the act of artistic creation. Its zigs and zags draw the eye hither and thither on a rollercoaster ride; at the same time, its refusal to involve figuration, its insistence on its own objecthood, means that it stands alone as a monument not to the outside world, but instead to itself.

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