Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more WORKS FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION, LOTS 106, 112
Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)

In tolda

Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)
In tolda
signed, titled and dated 'S. Scarpitta 1958 'in Tolda'' (on the reverse)
bandages and mixed media
21¾ x 27 5/8in. (55.3 x 70.2cm.)
Executed in 1958
Galleria Notizie, Turin.
Private collection, Turin.
Private collection, Milan.
Galleria Paolo Toni Arte Contemporanea, Turin.
Galleria Il Chiostro, Saronno.
Galleria Fonte d'Abisso, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010.
L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta. Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 2005, no. 214 (illustrated, p. 165).
Bagheria, Civica Galleria Renato Guttuso di Villa Cattolica, Scarpitta, 1999, no. 29, (illustrated upside down, p. 72), no. 29, p. 143.
Milan, Galleria Fonte d’Abisso, Italo Americani, 2009-2010, no. 32, (illustrated in colour, p. 63).
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Lot Essay

‘I kept the attention on the canvas, to make it that the canvas was always the star […] although it wasn’t the gesture that interested me, but rather just the quality of the canvas, the quality of the material […] I always tried to increasingly identify with the material, in its ways of presenting itself and of being.’ – Salvatore Scarpitta
(Scarpitta, quoted in G. Celant & D. Eccher., Salvatore Scarpitta, exh. cat., Turin, 2012, p. 45).

‘At some point in my life, around 1957, I decided that the oil paints that I was using were kind of slipping away, slipping off the canvas. They were losing their presence. To staunch the flow of losing paint, I started to wrap them, treating them as if they were objects that had been wounded in some way or another, or that required healing in some way or another.’ – Salvatore Scarpitta
(Scarpitta, in A. Woolfe, dir., Art & Racing: the Work and Life of Salvatore Scarpitta, 1998, accessed via, 4 Sept 2019, 19.05).

Dating from 1958, In tolda is among the very first examples of Salvatore Scarpitta’s ground-breaking wrapped canvases or extramurals, a pivotal series of works with which the artist successfully challenged and subverted the very concept of painting itself in the post-war era. Rome, where the artist was based during the late 1940s and much of the 1950s, was filled by an overwhelming spirit of freedom and regeneration following the end of the Second World War, driving artists towards a radical re-thinking of the artistic gesture: ‘[T]here was an atmosphere of extraordinary energy,’ Scarpitta recalled, ‘we were survivors, and the happiness and desire to live were so great that we created a new art’ (Scarpitta, quoted in L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan, 2005, p. 60). Like many of his contemporaries, Scarpitta felt that the traditional means of pictorial expression were no longer adequate in the aftermath of the conflict and instead sought a new, more direct and visceral mode of working, which led him to enter a period of fervent experimentation and evolution in his art.

The famed bandaged works evolved from Scarpitta’s ‘torn’ compositions, in which he shredded a number of his canvases, slashing and tearing them before reconfiguring the fragmented pieces on a frame. For the artist, this was a powerful act of catharsis, freeing him from the weight of the past and allowing him to move his art in a radical new direction. ‘I started ripping up the oil paintings, the canvas that had become an utter enemy for me,’ he explained. ‘It was a necessity connected with my human experience; the war changed me, the fear and desire for vendetta, I needed to run the risk of leaving fingerprints. I wanted to come into contact with the hidden, most difficult nature of things. Otherwise I would never have been cured of the war’ (Scarpitta, quoted in ibid, p. 65). Over the ensuing months, Scarpitta sought to refine this revolutionary approach to the canvas, aiming to ‘clean up what had been a rather exasperated gesture. I somehow had to recover the 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 ibid, p. 66).

The resulting works, in which the artist ‘binds’ the canvas using lengths fabric stretched across and around the stretcher, resonate with purified simplicity, directly representing nothing, but nevertheless conveying both feeling and atmosphere in a distinctive brand of emotive abstraction that harnessed texture, tension, light and space. In In tolda, the pieces of fabric are held taut in a complex pattern of overlapping forms by a carefully constructed substructure of wires, stretching the bandages in multiple directions and infusing the composition with a sense of suspended tension. The title, a sailing term which translates to ‘on deck’, transports the viewer to the heady atmosphere of sea-faring vessels, the overlapping stretches of fabric calling to mind the intricate rigging system of the sails of a ship, pulled taut by an imperceptible wind as it hits the canvas and propels the vessel towards an unknown destination. Several compositions from this period carry similar maritime-inspired titles, from Ammiraglio to Flying Dutchman (n. 2), perhaps influenced by the artist’s memories of his time in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.

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