‘Among the many images, there is one I like particularly. On negative it didn’t really engage me, it didn't invite me to get it printed. I believe this is one of the last pictures of him that I took: it was snowing, the bamboo in his courtyard as a background; him holding a white canvas. After a long time I like this image very much, as it has everything you need to understand. Inside this picture there is everything... and nothing. Everything because it lets you understand how great Piero was, how he could give life to something absolutely necessary and explosive from a white canvas. From nothing he was able to create images I cannot part from. Images that have contribuited to elevate and enrich many lives, and, despite him not being here anymore, still continue with the same energy and desire ’ (“Il mio lungo viaggio con Piero Dorazio” una testimonianza di Aurelio Amendola, raccolta da Federico Sardella).
Enrico Castellani was born in 1930 in Castelmassa, in the Rovigo province. In 1952 he graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti of Brera and moved to Brussels straight afterwards, where he obtained a degree in Architecture in 1956 at the Ecole Nationale Supériore de la Cambre. Back in Milan, he began to work for Franco Buzzi’s architecture studio. It was during this period that he also started working on his first pieces, which were somehow in the style of late Art Informel, but already looking towards new pictorial horizons. The key turning point for the artist is to be found in the summer of 1959: whilst in 1958 the surfaces of his canvases were enriched by moderate protrusions - paddings highlighting the pictorial trace - starting from 1959 painting - meant as mark and gesture - totally disappeared from his works. The following period is defined by sequences of reliefs and hollows endlessly combinable according to the infinite possibility of digits’ compositions. The resulting method, that the artist experimented in the first place, is still effective and very actual nowadays. On 4 December 1959, Castellani and Manzoni opened Azimut, a gallery in central Milan that premiered with Linee, an exhibition by Manzoni. Azimut’s aim was not purely commercial, but was rather a manifestation of the newness and experimental spirit of the time. In 1960, the gallery hosted Castellani’s first solo exhibition, including a series of those studded surfaces that we would now define as “classic”.
At the same time, the two artists founded the magazine Azimuth. The first issue gave an accurate account of cultural facts and relevant references from the time, as well as a summary of the artistic expressions that interested Castellani and Manzoni. The issue presented articles by Gillo Dorfles, Guido Ballo, Vincenzo Agnetti, Nanni Balestrini and others. It also included a blue piece by Klein, a plate by Tinguely and photographs of works by Castellani and Manzoni, Fontana, Johns, Mack, Schwitters, Rauschenberg and Dorazio.
The new artistic conception proposed by the two artists was encapsulated in Azimuth’s second issue, with the essay Continuitá e nuovo (Continuity and newness) by Castellani.
Piero Dorazio was born in Rome in 1927. He studied humanities and then architecture for four years. In 1945 he took part in activities organized by the Arte Sociale group and in 1947, together with Carla Accardi, Ugo Attardi, Pietro Consagra, Mino Guerrini, Achille Perilli, Antonio Sanfilippo and Giulio Turcato, he founded the Forma group. Alongside, they also started publishing the homonymous magazine. In the first issue they proposed and signed a group manifesto. In 1947 he was awarded a bursary for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he moved for one year and met all the most relevant artists of the time. Back in Rome, in 1950, together with Guerrini and Perilli, he opened “L’Age d’Or” in via del Babuino. The bookshop/gallery space then merged with Mario Balocco, Alberto Burri, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Ettore Colla’s Origine group in 1951, giving birth to the Fondazione Origine, within which Colla and Dorazio published the magazine “Arti Visive”.
A similar beginning, therefore, for Castellani and Dorazio, who have also shared throughout their lives a similar organizational commitment together with a constant production of theoretical texts. The two artists collaborated for the first time on the occasion of Azimuth’s opening issue, where Castellani and Manzoni published a photograph of a bronze relief by Dorazio, despite the initial scepticism of Dorazio himself as he belonged to a previous and more expert generation. In the following years they often collaborated or participated together on several projects. In 1960, invited by Udo Kultermann, they were the only Italian artists, together with Enrico Bordoni, Fontana, Francesco Lo Savio and Manzoni, that took part in the impressive international group exhibition Monochrome Malerei, hosted by the Städtisches Museum Schloss Morsbroich.
They were both included in the Nuove Tendenze exhibitions, first in Zagreb and then in Venice and they became involved by Otto Piene, Heinz Mack and Günter Uecker in the ZERO exhibitions too. Later in the 1960’s they were shown together at Plinio De Martinis’ Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome and at Beatrice Monti Della Corte’s Galleria dell’Ariete in Milan. In 1965, they both exhibited one piece in the memorable show The Responsive Eye, at The Museum of Modern Art of New York, whilst in 1966 they were given a personal room at Venice Biennale XXXII. In 1967, they were invited to show at San Marino’s VI Biennale dell’Arte.
From that year onwards, they continued to participate in group exhibitions together, both in Italy and abroad. They also took part in several two/three artists’ shows, facilitated too by the geographical proximity of their studios, which were no longer in Rome or Milan, but in northern Lazio and Umbria. In the early 1970’s Castellani moved to Celleno, where he renovated a medieval castle once owned by the Orsini family and where he currently lives. Dorazio, instead, moved to a Camaldolese refuge in Todi, called Canonica.
Their long and close friendship has never faded, as remarked by Castellani himself on the occasion of the Praemium Imperiale per la Pittura acceptance speech that he held in Tokyo in 2009. Being the first Italian artist to be awarded with the prize he decided to pay tribute to all those other colleagues that, due to a premature passing, could not have such a chance. Among them he mentioned “Lucio Fontana, who produced a true revolution in the conception of space and surface; Piero Manzoni, who gave birth to a new and original way of conceiving art; Alberto Burri, universally well-known for the invention a new kind of pictorial materiality and, in the end, Piero Dorazio, true friend, for the rigorous and analytical research of the pictorial surface.”