Telematic interview to Anchise Picchi
( The first telematic interview of BTA )
ISSN 1127-4883 BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, July 11th 2000, n. 124 (April 16th 1996)
I found out about Anchise Picchi from a public message on the Internet, distributed by his nephew Lido Pacciardi in English. The interview that I am publishing now has been given to me kindly as I have never met with the artist. I wanted to try a new form of the electronic mail interview. Even though there is much confusion now in the Art the uncle, Anchise, has incredibly precious and clear ideas.
Thanks to Lido Pacciardi and to the artist who feels younger at hearth every year because of the energy that art gives to him.
Question: I read your biography on the Internet and I would like to know more about your life as an artist. Who did you study with at the Art Academy of Rome? Did you meet other artists or intellectuals in Rome?
Answer: I didn't spend much time at the Academy in via di Ripetta because I had to prepare for the State exams to teach design and the history of art. I received a diploma from the Artistic High School by studying externally (I taught myself how to be a painter and a sculptor). I think that it was 1936-37.
I took the written exams in Bologna, because it was the closest place, and the oral exams in Roma. I used to go to Roma occassionally to meet with the professors of that period: Prof. Dasdia, Prof. Duilio Cambellotti ecc. I also became reunited with Fortunato Bellonzi, a friend from my childhood, and Oreste Piccioni who then worked with Enrico Fermi.
Why did you go to Roma and then to Salonicco?
I went to Roma first to take the exams at the Artistic High School, and then the State exams, and as I already mentioned I sometimes went to the Academy to practice my technique in painting and sculpture.
I didn't have a lot of money then, so I got my diploma as quickly as possible while keeping good grades ( I was number ten out of 108 people to pass the exams in all of Italy).
I applied to teach schools everywhere because it was easier to get a job outside of Italy, and the pay was higher. My preference was Greece since it was the birthplace of art. I was there until 1941. During the second World War I was forced to leave the country. When I returned to Italy, I was able to completly dedicate myself to painting and sculpturing which was my true passion.
Which past artists do you feel closest to?
It's obvious that I most admire Michelangelo and all of the great artists of the `500s, and of course the ones that came previously. I really like the school of Macchiaioli, particularly, Fattori, Lega, and Signorini. I was in contact with Gioli and especially Luigi. I made the head of an older man from frassino wood with a little knife, and gave it to Luigi as a gift. In return, he gave me a painting of a country market. During wartime I didn't have any gouge, so I had to improvise. My paintings were then influenced by the macchiaioli's school. The years of `47/48 I began to only work on original paintings and copying famous works, for example, "Madonna della Seggiola", "Madonna del Cardellino". The copies that I made were exclusively for practice, and they allowed me to make them directly in the Galleries. The paintings of Giotto and of Beato Angelico are so innocent and pure that I feel deeply connected with them. This kind of "francescano" spirit I always tried to incorporate into my works.
Was your nephew Lido responsible for introducing you to computer graphics?
He didn't push me into it. He only showed me the possibilities for using colors of the new electronic medium. When I saw this, I wanted to try it and I found myself immersed in an extraordinary world of light and colors. I couldn't avoid it. I always looked for light and color, a perfect harmony. In front of me was a pure light, a palette of an infinity of colors. How could I resist? There isn't much of a difference between a paint-brush and a mouse. The quality of a poem does not depend on the type of pen used.
In your works, one can tell that you have a "divisionista" style: which painter do you most reflect?
It's true! I am happy that you noticed it. Annigoni always used to tell me the same. I don't reflect anybody specifically: for me it's something that comes naturally from the research of the poetry of the light and color. This mode of working is strictly mine, of my feelings, even though my works are diverse in technique.
Today, Art isn't discussed very often in the mass media. In reality maybe it's different: What do you think about it?
The power and the flexibility of the media could be instrumental for the diffusion of culture and art. At least it could assist in efforts to save and respect our unique and rich culture. As anyone can see, the media doesn't do this except on rare occassions. Perhaps what the media shows is politically motivated. Italian art has a unique history which could never be repeated. We have the greatest heritage of art and story in the world, and everyone else knows more about it than us.
In our cities, we are in constant contact with art. It's in every corner of every street. However, very few ever pay attention to it. Many people don't even know how to recognize it's value. The splendid marble of the Duomo in Pisa, not too far from where I live, is covered with awful scribbling.
The state should be responsible for taking care of things like this. After that, at least the local administrations should. The media only covers stories that will make money, so they treat art with disregard. I think that it would be a good investment for people if art is discussed intelligently in the media. It would benefit everyone.
In the end, what is the ultimate goal of art?
As I live it, artistic creations become an essential part of my life. For the artist there isn't a beginning or ultimate purpose. It's only pure necessity, satisfaction, and anxiety. But art, considered in the grandest sense, not individually, is a production of civilization which all fits together. Finishing something gives an artist the greatest feeling of relief, and it represents the end of his idea which has materialized in the work of art. At that time the work begins to live its own life, and the artist is disconnected. Then the work is interpreted differently by everyone who sees it, and it becomes a part of them. What is the ultimate goal? It's a very important question, but it's impossible to answer. Maybe it is to win our pure rationality? Maybe it is to enter into the world of dreams and poetry?
We don't know now, and we never will.
We know that a society without art is one without a story. Such a society would never exist. And I don't think that it ever has.
Art is born from myth. Art is myth. Art speaks to us from ages past, and from the depths of ourselves like from the darkness of the time of the prehistoric cave paintings. The art is there for no apparent reason (is there one for the universe?), it renders a little liberty to us in our weak human condition. I don't know what else to say, and I'm not sure that I answered your question.
In your works, I see the revival of the Rennaissance artist-scientist. Do you think so?
This is true. Yes! I see myself in what you say. Just for curiosity, I developed some techniques to save the Tower of Pisa. Often I make my own instruments. I always try to experiment with new techniques. My nephew knows that very well. When he threw the line (i.e.,the computer), he was sure that he would catch me!
Can you tell us some interesting stories about your life as an artist?
I can tell you one curious story.
Many, many years ago the copy of the "Madonna della Seggiola" exposed in Venice. I don't remember where.
Giovanni XXIII, who at that time was "patriarca" of Venezia, saw it and fell in love with it. He asked about buying it. Monsignor Capovilla, secretary, let Giovanni know that the work was made by Raffaello for a private family and not for the church, so it was not consecrated. They couldn't buy it. The copy remained unsold and I was poorer than ever.
This experience made an impression on me, and since then it has made me think about the different events that a painting, even if it's a copy, will find in the world after its creation.
All this gives me new arguments to try to reply the previous question, about the ultimate goal of the art: to help itself to live again every time. The real and perfect work was never born. It was only in the mind. It lives its own life there.
We would like to thank the following for working on the English translation:
Meredith Mason and Rita Di Pietro.
Interview by dott.ssa Chiara Casiraghi to Anchise Picchi (Catholic University in Milan - For her thesis on Art psychology)
When did your artistic activity begin?
I have always drawn… I began trying as young as five , to reproduce on the walls of the house in the hamlet where I lived in Crespina ( Pisa ), figures of animals and farmers. my real artistic activity officially began after Liceo Artistico and the Accademia of Belle Arti in Rome , in about 1935. I then began as a sculptor.
Can you point out some important differences between your art during those years compared to the present? Can you give some examples?
I spent the first years in study and meditation, aquiring the knowledge and methods of the great ancient Masters, especially those of the Renaissance. I was and still am convinced that mastery in drawing and modelling is of fundamental importance. From these bases one can fly towards other lands, but only after a hard and constant learning discipline. One doesn't improvise anything in art. What is produced and expressed in the finished work, is always a deep trial of a more conscious elaboration of personal cultural capacity driven by imagination and by personal feeling, often arisen from the awareness of one's own technical ability. Today, unfortunately, also famous names of art, often potentially and really able to operate, choose the most comfortable way of the market, complying with the fashions of the moment, for a too easy affirmation that doesn't find comparison in the quality of the produced artwork. Obviously I won't mention any names. But they are numerous. The real freedom in art is not to do what we wish, often in an eccentric manner, but in the best manner we will be able to do it, intending it to the highest degree of our possibilities: of invention and technique. Each of us is a child of his time. More so an artist. So the artist who captures some kind of universality of meaning in his artwork, must participate in history and be aware of it; because the present moment in whjch he belongs was born from history and should be shared collectively. Today, for instance, in art schools they often denigrate, between young people, over who has the ability to draw. this is a serious error. The bases of art are still unchanged. Really, humanity has tried, since the first graffiti in the Neolithic painting caverns, to reach a finer representative ability, like that which exploded later in the phenomenon of our Renaissance. Therefore humanity is trying to endow itself more and more of proper tools (the "sfumato", the perspective, the technique of composition, etc..) for a fantastic translation of the world. This didn't impede or prevent, the realization of works that, in their representative strength may go far beyond reality. In their vital symbolism they shine with new fresh and autonomous life.
Which are the events in your life that influenced your art in a fundamental manner? Is it possible to find trace of these events in your work now? (Do you remember some instance?)
I admired, as you have already understood, the Renaissance's great Masters... The paintings by Giotto and Beato Angelico inspired me deeply, for their ingenuous and fresh touching purity. my admiration towards the genius of Michelangelo is also too obvious, for his actuality over the time. I love the "macchiaioli". To them I am debtor for my first experimentation in painting. I always lived near Leghorn and I had the opportunity to appreciate the "labronica" painting, particularly that one by my dear friend Renato Natali. I knew Gioli in Fauglia ( Pisa ). To Luigi Gioli I gave a head of an old man carved in pear wood with a penknife (it was the war period, and I didn't have proper tools. The troops had destroyrd my sculpture studio and I had lost everything...). From Luigi Gioli I received a beautiful painting of a fair in Tuscany in exchange . I knew Pietro Annigoni... But the emotion of the knowledge of the primitives (particularly Giotto) had been fundamental for me. This feeling I have tried to transfuse, from the beginning, in my art. It's the sense of acceptance, of life and death, the poetry of pain, that I have tried to translate in the uncertain horizons lost in foggy and smoky backgrounds. Hidden faces, figures that seem to come out from the painting itself , situations only alluded to and thus given to the imagination...
Could you point out which were the principal changes in your creativeness during your artistic career?
After my first admiration and research of a primitive purity I passed, then, to the experimentation of different techniques. I began, as already said, as a sculptor, even if I had already worked with the brush. The trauma of the total destruction of my studio in 1940 brought me, over several years, to devote myself exclusively to painting. In recent years I have returned , in part, to sculpture. I used oil, acrylic, crayon, chalks, colour dust, mixed different techniques, etc., always with the purpose of endowing myself with the best tools according to the feeling and the ideas of the moment. Summarizing: firstly a "postmacchiaiolo" period ; secondly a period with mixed techniques that I used to attain certain contrast and light effects in the artworks carried out in the middle period; thirdly a neodivisionist technique on bases, however, entirely personal and new, to obtain fusions and particular dusty effects. But my way of painting is that of using, according to the work I'm doing and the emotional pushes of that moment, the technique which, among the others I could choose from , I feel better using according to the project or the idea. I came from a rural world of farmers (I am 92 years old, now, and I have crossed all the twentieth century). I have been drawn , therefore, towards the most different representations and varied subjects: always inherent to life, to daily events, to man in his job and pains. I want to devote a big part of my work to the difficulties, to the activities, to the pain and to the poetry of this world and of its strong protagonists.
Do you imagine your own growth as a man and artist being like a continuous process, or do you consider it as being more as alternate non-homogeneous phases?
Artistic maturation is something enigmatic and not systematic. It proceeds down unknown paths to the artist himself. It is affected and conditioned by the events of personal life, family, community, the world. Just like everything else … A tension of the beautiful, the production of the beautiful (or what we so consider it as being) is a continuous effort that goes through periods of stagnation and revival. From these one again leaves, with renewed ardour, pushed by an uncontrollable need to work, by translating on canvas what overflows from the soul. Once completed the work, the artist almost disavows it, he, then remains extraneous. His artwork becomes everybody's patrimony. A message released to the need of existence's mystery ; it's like a hand offered towards the observer who looking at it will recognise himself. In this manner artwork adjoins to religious sentiment, it's finally an invocation and an offer to the Gods.
How long do you spend in carrying out your artwork? Is it immediate and quick or is it usual that in developing your artwork you slowly introduce changes and improvements as long as the material is taking form?
The times of production vary, naturally, according to the complexity of the work itself. A work is often abandoned for a lot of time. Recovered, then quickly completed (new ideas have now sprung up, new solutions, new desires...). Working too quickly is not in my nature. I need to reflect, to observe and consider the work in progress, to study the best solutions..., digest my emotions. This doesn't mean at all that the rationality of the technique kills the inspiration. Conversely, it often enriches it with suggestions that seem to spring from the progress of the work itself. When I work partly I'm into myself, partly I'm on the picture: in the colours and in the forms that I strive to represent and to carry out to life, in the material that I touch and shape. At the end of the artwork I come back to myself; it is the conclusion of something now living its independent life, finally free in its completion, from the author. I feel this, deeply, as the most beautiful, suggestive and mysterious aspect of art. Quite a mystic moment.
Did you have a particular period of your life where you had met some difficulty in creating art? If so, why and how did this difficulty arise? How was it overcome?
The destruction of my studio caused such a problem Ifor my sculpture activity as mentioned above: it was a trauma for me, then still in my youth and the death of some members of my family, and more than the death, the illness, the physical pain in its inexorable daily continuity. But then one rises again, retraces well known paths, one works again; somehow we are enriched with new experiences, even when tragic. The inexorable river of existence drags us between high and unknown riverbanks, like weak leaves. We can only get a sparkle on the tumultuous waters: of this we enjoy.
Have you ever left your artwork incomplete? If possible, do you want to explain the motives? What have you sensed?
Not many. Sometimes I have not succeeded in representing what I wanted or would have liked. I have always destroyed the work. I have not sensed it mine. Then, later, I have taken back that subject, that motive, that idea and, with little effort attained what I wanted. Why? I don't really know how to say it exactly... The conception of an artwork doesn't obey to structured rules: it is made of so many things that are woven with a mysterious syncretism: of feelings, of dreams, of remote echoes... When something doesn't arrive or doesn't work it is best to postpone it to better times. But what's inside us, what stays latent or what is hidden and escapes, then comes back to us, suddenly, to demand its space, take form and substance in the mysterious fulfilment of the inspiration.
I would like to know your point of view about the "unfinished". What does incomplete work mean for an artist?
The "unfinished" is almost never a deliberate action, at least in the great Masters. This can be due to some unexpected technical difficulties: of the material, or to motives of other kinds ... But the "unfinished", as the broken and lacking parts in the ancient sculptures, often confers a sense of non-expressed power to the work that strengthens its vitality and extends its meaning. It is the strength of the synthesis, idea, mass and matter that wants life, that doesn't need something more to live and to whom details add nothing... The deliberate "unfinished" may result, instead, merely a trick and so die of its evident artificiality.
To conclude: according to your ideas, how important is it for an artist to assume the function of a guide for the new generations?
To lead the new generations is an absurd ambition, in the mutable and fast change of the present world. There has never been a haven for humanity, or happiest or best generation. Life is always effort, pain, difficulty, contrast, difference. But the man in his millenary walking must work, according to my modest judgment, to try to be more and more human: to enrich his humanity extend knowledge and exchange relations with other human beings: whatever the ethnic group one belongs to and whatever country one comes from. Finally we must have the courage to abdicate to violence and war forever. We have the enormous fortune to live on a planet that is unique in its kind (at least in near space and time): with seas, rivers, forests, animals, the sky, the stars and us. We must completely have conscience of this. Art, as the noblest activities, can assume determinant importance for the acquisition of more concrete sensibilities, with education and teaching that can widely contribute to sharpen and free minds. Finally, I now want to paraphrase Ilia Erenburg: in this particular moment of explosion of new means and technologies, Art can help each of us, and particularly the younger ones, during future travels towards new attainments, to bring together increased technical-scientific knowledge even to a small yet precious twig of lilac.