Giuseppe Franco Angeli was born in Via dei Piceni in the San Lorenzo district of Rome on 14 May 1935. He was son of Erminia Angeli and Gennaro Gennarini, an anti-Fascist; like his brothers Omero and Othello, he took his mother’s surname. After his father’s death, to provide for his ailing mother, Angeli began working at only nine years old: first as a storeroom boy, then in a car body repair shop, and, lastly in an upholsters, where he handled fabrics, templates and scraps of cloth that he was later to use in his paintings. In addition to these jobs, he also worked for a radio station, where he sang for the Allied troops in Italy.
Having never attended regular art classes, Angeli began painting in 1957 when stationed in Orvieto on military service, because as he explained later: “when you feel a deep malaise, you must look for a way not to be lonely. In short, you need to find an interest that will accompany you in life.”1 After returning to Rome, he was stationed in the Granatieri Barracks in the Prati district, near the Vatican. At this time, he met sculptor Edgardo Mannucci, a friend of Alberto Burri. Angeli was fascinated by Burri’s work and was even to borrow the worn-out materiality of the Catrami (Tars). Significantly, on the subject of one of his own paintings, E da una ferita scaturì la bellezza (Out of a Wound, Beauty Pours Forth; 1957), a work based on the memory of the aerial bombing of San Lorenzo on 19 July 1943, he was to write: “Matter for me is a fragment of this huge wound that devastated Europe; my first paintings were like that, like a wound from which I removed pieces of bandage.”2 His initial approaches to painting were also marked by his membership of the Italian Communist Party, which he quit, however, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and drew clos- er to the more radical left and Maoist movements. In March 1959, in a joint exhibition with Tano Fes- ta and Giuseppe Uncini, he showed his works for the first time, in the Galleria La Salita, owned by Gian Tomaso Liverani, in Rome. In autumn, he featured together with Agostino Bonalumi, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg and Mimmo Rotella in the magazine Azimuth, founded by Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani. In January 1960, he was given his first solo show by the Galleria La Salita: the works were characterised by veils of oil paints and nylon stockings, stretched tight and covered with gauzes. The effect of evoking memories and absences was described by Cesare Vivaldi as the “tears of things”.3 In 1960, he also took part in a collective show, again at the Galleria La Salita, curated by Pierre Restany and entitled 5 pittori. Roma 60 (5 Painters. Rome 60): Angeli, Festa, Lo Savio, Schifano, Uncini.
He now receive official acknowledgement, including a prize awarded by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, while in a short film directed by Mario Carbone, Inquietudine (Disqueit), he illustrated his painting technique.
In 1962, he took part in “New Perspectives of Italian Painting”, a collective exhibition at the Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Bologna. Angeli showed a series of works with the first symbols of power, initially swastikas, crosses and half-moons. “As Boatto has written, by covering his symbols with a veil, Angeli tends to filter out the objective violence.”4 That violence of real events was deeply significant for him and he was to continue to refer to it in his works. One example is the series entitled Cimiteri (Cemeteries) from the early 1960s: the sequences of white crosses recall the power of Mauri’s Schermi (Screens) and the Achrome (Achromes) by Manzoni, with whom he was in close contact. Angeli portrayed fragments of history and recorded traces of contemporary events, creating works such as O.A.S. (1961), alluding to the illegal paramilitary French organisation during the Algerian war; Cuba (1960), on the other hand, was occasioned by the United States embargo shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolutionary forces had overthrown Batista’s dictatorship; and 25 luglio (25 July; 1964), commemorates the fall of the Fascist regime in 1943.
In February 1963, he showed some works along with a poem by Nanni Balestrini in a collective exhibition of “13 painters” (13 pittori a Roma), in Plinio De Martiis’s Galleria La Tartaruga. In May the same year, he was at the Galerie J in Paris, together with Christo, Conner, Kudo, Todd and Mauri in an exhibition curated by Restany: L’Object Pressenti. Shortly after- wards, in June, he held a solo show at the Galleria La Tartaruga with a series of works in which the value of the symbol – obsolete, conventional or even tragic – acquires a different figurative dimension, as he went beyond the legacy of Arte informale. In 1963, he also collaborated with Mario Diacono and Elio Pagliarani on the production of limited editions of books with handwritten texts and original drawings. For a solo show at the Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan in January 1964, Angeli resorted to stereotype ideological urban symbols, emblematic of the rhetorical, celebratory character of the archaeological finds in the eternal city: “My first paintings describe my everyday contact with the street. I saw the ruins, tombstones, ancient and modern symbols, such as the eagle, the swastika, the hammer and sickle, obelisks and statues of the Roman she-wolves. They released enough energy for me to set out on the adventure of painting.”5 These works became the “Capitoline Fragments”, which he presented in a Roman exhibition in October 1964 at the Studio d’arte Arco d’Alibert, while in March he took part in a collective show with Umberto Bignardi, Festa, Giosetta Fioroni, Jannis Kounellis, Sergio Lombardo, Renato Mambor and Cesare Tacchi at the Galleria La Tartaruga. In June, he showed his work for the first time at the Venice Biennale (32nd International Art Exhibition). In the two selected works, La Lupa (She-Wolf) and Quarter Dollar, his use of the veil obscures the significance of the underlying symbol, pushing it into the recesses of memory.
In April 1965, he was one of the prominent artists of “A Generation”, an exhibition at the Galleria Odyssia, Rome, while in autumn he had two simultaneous solo shows – at the Galerie J, Paris, and the Galleria Zero, Verona – and was also present at the 10th National Art Quadrennial in Rome and in L’art actuel en Italie: semaines italiennes at the Municipal Casino, Cannes. He produced a series of dazibaos: Compagni, Berlino 1945 (Comrades, Berlin, 1945), Compagno vietnamita (Vietnamese Comrade), Occupazione di un monumento equestre (Occupation of an Equestrian Monument) and Abbraccio eterno (Eternal Embrace). The revolutionary lyricism of these works prompted Dario Micacchi to describe Angeli’s approach to painting as “seeing and mak- ing reality be seen politically”.6
“Angeli saw the coin as the ‘small symbolic world’ that he had been seeking for years and previously thought he had found in flags, coats of arms and stone inscriptions.”7 This was exemplified by the solo show entitled Half Dollar, which opened at the Studio d’arte Arco d’Alibert in January 1966 and his participation in several other exhibitions: Italian Art- ists Today in Bucharest; Aspetti dell’arte italiana contemporanea (Aspects of Contemporary Italian Art) at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, and Moderne Kunst aus Italien (Modern Art from Italy), Dortmund. In October, the exhibition America America (Half Dollar) opened at the Galleria dell’Ariete with veiled gilded eagles in hues of blue, white and red. The same title was used for a solo show at the Studio d’arte Arco d’Alibert in March 1967; in April he took part in the collective show of eight Roman painters at the Galleria De Foscherari, Bolo- gna, and in June he was one of “Eleven Italian Art- istsfromthe1960s” in an exhibition at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, where he met Marina Ripa di Meana (previously Lante della Rovere), marking the beginning of an intense, stormy love story, which filled the gossip columns for a long time to come. In September, he took part in the 9th São Paulo Art Biennial and made his first film, Giornate di lettura (Reading Days), followed by a long period in which he combined video, photography and the visual arts, as evidenced by films such as Schermi (Screens; 1968), New York (1969), Viva il Primo Maggio (Hurrah for the First of May; 1968), and Souvenir (1984).
In 1966, Sandro Franchina shot a film entitled Morire gratis (Die for Free), telling the story of how Angeli’s sculpture the Lupa capitolina (Capitoline She-Wolf ) was taken by car from Rome to Paris. In March 1968, in a solo exhibition at the Galleria La Tartaruga, he showed a series of works with metal inserts, grids, arrows and three-dimensional panels that prefigured the lowered ceiling of the installation Opprimente (Oppressive) created for “The Theatre of Ex- hibitions” at the Galleria La Tartaruga, a landmark event involving a host of artists, including Fioroni, Emilio Prini and Paolo Icaro, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Castellani, Paolo Scheggi, Mario Ceroli, Mambor, Tacchi, Alighiero Boetti and Mauri.
In 1968, Angeli was preoccupied with the Vietnam war and the student protests, as he produced works such as Università Americana (American University; 1967) and Corteo (Protest March; 1968), created using the technique of social reportage.
In January 1969, he made his first trip to the United States, ahead of the collective exhibition entitled Italian Art Show: Franco Angeli, Cesare Tacchi, Tano Festa and Lorri Whiting, installed in the Contem- porary Arts Gallery, Loeb Student Center, New York in October and November. Meantime in Italy there were another two exhibitions: a solo show at the Galleria dell’Ariete in January and a collective show, Anno ’60 (The Year 1960), at the Galleria Christian Stein, Turin, in April.
In the early 1970s Angeli continued to focus on real political events as he produced a series of land- scapes, such as Dagli Appenini alle Ande (From the Apennines to the Andes) and Canto popolare delle Ande (Andean Folk Song), a geometrically inspired work dedicated to the coup in Chile of 11 September 1973; he returned to the Vietnam war in Anonimo euroasiatico (Anonymous Eurasian; 1969) and Com- pagni (Giap e Ho Chi Minh) (Comrades [Giap and Ho Chi Minh]; 1971), while he also addressed the military coup in Greece.
In 1975, he met Livia Lancellotti, his life partner, who gave him a daughter, Maria, in 1976. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, some “childishly joyful toy airplanes, bearing death in Vietnam,”8 began to appear in his landscapes and seemed also to recall the bombings of the Second World War: “For anyone who knows him and sees him, because of this attitude, he [Angeli] clearly has a narrative drive in which the threads of his personal life are inextricably intertwined with those of history.”9
Angeli’s deep interest in social and popular-culture issues continued in his works of the 1980s, when he returned to the theme of war in a series of exotic landscapes with pyramids, obelisks and airplanes that eventually became Esplosioni (Explosions; 1986). The stylized forms have spires, capitals and deserted squares as if in “a grandiose, excruciating sense of excavation in which history and life re-surface as perfect, intact geometric solids radiating fresh, fragrant pure colours – green, blue and red.”10 The theme of “puppets”, which he developed from 1984, became a kind of self-portrait that seems to foreshadow the last stage of his life: Franco Angeli died in Rome on 12 November 1988.
by Sibilla Panerai
1 G. De Marco, “Piazza del Popolo: 1950-1960”, in La Tartaru- ga, 5-6, March 1989, p. 107. “Anthology of Critical Writings”, p. 251.
2 De Marco, “Piazza del Popolo: 1950-1960”.
3 C. Vivaldi, in Franco Angeli, exh. cat. (Rome, Galleria La Salita, opened 20 January 1960), Rome 1960. “Anthology of Critical Writings”, p. 216.
4 A. Tugnoli, Franco Angeli, Pistoia 2001, p. 35.
5 Tugnoli, Franco Angeli, p. 159.
6 D. Micacchi, Franco Angeli, exh. cat. (Rome, Galleria La Nuova Pesa, opened 12 November 1972), Rome 1972.
7 M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, “Angeli, peintre-moraliste”, published in Angeli. Half Dollar, exh. cat. (Verona, Galleria Zero, opened 25 November 1965), Verona 1965.
8 M. Calvesi, Un pensiero sul destino, Franco Angeli. Quadri da una collezione, M. Calvesi and G. Speranza (eds), exh. cat. (Rome, Galleria de’ Serpenti, November 1991), Rome 1991.
9 M. Guercini, Franco Angeli. Smalti, exh. cat. (Rome, Galleria d’arte Ex Libris, November 1986), Rome 1986.
10 D. Micacchi, Franco Angeli. Quaranta smalti inediti, exh. cat. (Caserta, Salone Acquaviva, Belvedere di San Leucio, 5-30 September 1984), Naples 1984.