Eugenio Carmi ritratto da Ferdinando Scianna

A Brief Outline of The Artist

His Training, Life and Works

 

A Brief Outline of The Artist

Eugenio Carmi (b. Genoa, 17 February 1920 - d. Lugano, 16 February 2016) has been a leading exponent of Italian abstract art since the early 1950s. For two decades he devoted himself to Art Informel and, from the end of the 1960s onwards, he adopted the rigour of geometrical forms, which he gradually developed over the following decades. Although the majority of his works are paintings on canvas, his works on paper, those made with iron and tin plate, multiples and sculptures are also important. He made two kinetic works; it was thanks to one of these, SPCE, that he was invited to participate in the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966. From 1956 to 1965 he was artistic consultant to the Italsider steelworks (located in Cornigliano, on the outskirts of Genoa) and in 1963 founded the Galleria del Deposito. A member of the Alliance Graphique International, he is still regarded as one of the innovators of the language of graphic arts in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, the daily constant of the painting he has produced in his studio has never been a purely personal matter. Always in contact with the world and other people — assistants or other artists and intellectuals of international standing — he has often played a leading role with the ability to catalyse talent. Eugenio Carmi has never ceased to intervene in the world: first of all with his art, also verbally with an active presence in international meetings and conferences and through teaching. His friendship and collaboration with Umberto Eco resulted in the creation of three fairy tales — subsequently translated into many different languages — and Stripsody, a work that owes its unique quality to the profound harmony in artistic and human terms between him, Eco and the American mezzo-soprano and composer Cathy Berberian. Over the years, Carmi has shown his works in numerous solo exhibitions in Italy and elsewhere. His works are to be found in collections of museums and institutions in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland and the United States. Since 1971 he has lived in Milan. He describes himself as an ‘image-maker’.

Eugenio Carmi at La Chierasca estate in Piedmont, 1937
In 1920 with his father, Attilio Carmi.
Eugenio’s mother, Maria Pugliese
Eugenio in his father’s arms.
Eugenio (left) with his brother, Marcello
With his parents and his brother, Marcello, and sister, Lisetta
Eugenio Carmi’s first cover when he was 17 years old. In 1937 he took a photograph of the astronomical clock in Prague and sent it to the journal Sapere, which published it on its cover
A page in one his chemistry notebooks when he was at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
Eugenio Carmi in Zurich, c. 1940
In Zurich with his fellow students, c. 1940
Libera Stampa, 1944: one of the publications sent to Zurich from the Canton Ticino. The address is that of the Piero Gobetti club that Eugenio Carmi founded in Zurich with his fellow students.
Kiky Vices Vinci in 1946, aged 20
Eugenio Carmi with one of his paintings of the 1940s. Photo Ferdinando Scianna, 2003
In his first studio in the early 1950s. Photo Lisetta Carmi
Eugenio Carmi photographed by Lisetta Carmi
Galleria del Deposito in Boccadasse, Genoa. Photo Ugo Mulas.
Eugenio Carmi working on the sculpture All’Algeria (To Algeria) together with workers at the Italsider steelworks in Cornigliano, 1962
Eugenio Carmi and Kiky Vices Vinci with their children Francesca (right), Antonia and Stefano (in his mother’s arms).
At the home of Eugenio’s parents
Conference of the Alliance Graphique Internationale. Photo Gilbert Fankhauser
Eugenio Carmi with Rocco Borella at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan
In the 1960s, the artist in front of one of his works of that period. Photo Ugo Mulas
With Valentina.
The artist in his studio
Eugenio Carmi, Kiky Vices Vinci and Konrad Wachsmann in a restaurant in Fiascherino, Liguria
Eugenio and Kiky. Photo Lisetta Carmi
Eugenio Carmi with one of his lithographs on tin plate. Photo Lisetta Carmi

His Training, Life and Works

Eugenio Carmi was born in Genoa on 17 February 1920 and, when he started to paint at the age of fifteen, he was already taking his first painting lessons. From 1938 onwards he lived in Switzerland, firstly in Zug, where he completed his secondary education at an Italian boarding school and then in Zurich, where he stayed until the end of the Second World War, graduating in chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule or ETH). In the cosmopolitan city of Zurich he came into contact with its stimulating cultural and artistic milieu, and it was here that he started to appreciate the work of the leading exponents of twentieth-century abstract art. Together with a group of expatriate students, he founded a club dedicated to the antifascist intellectual Piero Gobetti. When he returned to Italy after the end of the war he resumed his artistic studies, in 1946 in Genoa under the guidance of the sculptor Guido Galletti and, in 1947 and 1948, in Turin as a pupil of the painter Felice Casorati, whom he had encountered during a lecture and series of lessons in Genoa. He continued to be inspired by Casorati’s work until the beginning of the 1950s, when his painting evolved from a figurative to a non-representational style and he started to produce collages and works on paper as well as those on canvas. In 1945 he met the young artist Kiky Vices Vinci, who, although she was born in Naples, had grown up in Genoa. They shared a passion for literature and films and, above all, art, especially painting. As they went round Genoa, they drew and painted their city, which still bore signs of wartime damage, with views expressing its atmosphere on small canvases and paper that, although still figurative, heralded the abstraction yet to come. They married in 1950 and, in 1956, moved with their first daughter, Francesca, to Boccadasse, an old fishing village located on the edge of Genoa, where Antonia, Stefano and Valentina were born. Here he set up his first painting studio, while, at the same time, he worked as a graphic designer and, in 1954, became a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale. Throughout his artistic career, Carmi has continued to focus on painting, the sine qua non of his creative practice. Every day he is at work in his studio, dividing his time between painting and the other professional commitments to which he has devoted himself with infectious enthusiasm.

Flavio Costantini, Kiky Vices Vinci and Emanuele Luzzati in Moscow, 1962. Photo Eugenio Carmi.
Kiky Vices Vinci, Eugenio Carmi and Emanuele Luzzati on a platform in Warsaw station on their way to Moscow, 1962
1965. Carmi, a small town in Illinois, USA. Photo Kiky Vices Vinci
Eugenio Carmi in Carmi, Illinois, 1965.
1965. Kiky photographed by Eugenio in the United States.
Eugenio Carmi in his studio while working on a lithograph on tin plate. Photo Lisetta Carmi.
Eugenio Carmi and Kiky Vices Vinci. Photo Kurt Blum
1962. Eugenio Carmi and David Smith in front of a sculpture Smith made in an abandoned welding shop in Voltri for the ‘Sculture nella città’ show, held in Spoleto
1963. Carmi and Max Bill at the preview of Bill’s exhibition at the Galleria del Deposito in Boccadasse, Genoa
Kiky Vices Vinci in his studio. Photo Lisetta Carmi.
The artist with the proof of a screen print, Boccadasse, 1963. Photo Lisetta Carmi
Eugenio Carmi, Kiky Vices Vinci and Carlo Fedeli in a gallery in Bern. Photo F. Meyer-Henn.
Eugenio Carmi with Kiky Vices Vinci and Pierre Restany at the ‘Superlund’ exhibition in Lund, Sweden, 1967.
Warsaw, 1968. Eugenio Carmi is the Italian member of the jury of the International Poster Biennale. Photo Merek Holzman
Kiky and Francesca in Ronchamp, in front of the church designed by Le Corbusier.
Valentina in Ronchamp

From 1956 to 1965, when Carmi was given the task of promoting the image of the Cornigliano (later Italsider) steelworks, he brought contemporary art into the factory, coordinating the visual and cultural elements that served to enhance the firm’s corporate identity. In this period, iron and steel became an important artistic stimulus for him: in 1958 the critic Gillo Dorfles organized his first solo exhibition at the Galleria Numero in Florence with enamel paintings on steel. From 1960 onwards he executed works in welded iron and steel (including the Appunti sul nostro tempo [Notes on Our Times] series) and, from 1964 onwards, lithographs on tin plate. This was a period when he struck up friendships with numerous artists and intellectuals — for instance, Victor Vasarely, Umberto Eco, Max Bill, Konrad Wachsmann, Furio Colombo, Ugo Mulas, Kurt Blum, Emanuele Luzzati and Flavio Costantini — and collaborated with other creative figures. In 1963 he founded the Galleria del Deposito, which, with his multiples (1967–69), was intended to offer art accessible to a wider public. In 1966 he illustrated fairy tales by Umberto Eco, which were published by Bompiani; republished in 1988 with new illustrations and the addition of a third story, these were then translated into many different languages. In 1966 he also produced the illustrations for Stripsody, a musical work based on the onomatopoeic sounds of comic strips conceived and interpreted by Cathy Berberian. Inspired  by the growing interest in technology, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he experimented with kinetic and audiovisual art and also created the imaginary electric signs that were to be at the centre of a provocative installation in the streets of the Caorle, a small town on the coast near Venice. In the same year he participated in the 33rd Venice Biennale with the electronic work entitled SPCE (‘struttura policiclica a controllo elettronico’ [‘electronically controlled polycyclic structure’]), which resulted in the critic Pierre Restany inviting him to show his electronic works at the Superlund exhibition in Sweden in 1967.

Eugenio Carmi and Umberto Eco.
1968. Carmi with Monica Vitti wearing fabrics designed by him on the terrace of her house in Rome. Photo Pino Abbrescia
Eugenio Carmi and Konrad Wachsmann. Photo Lisetta Carmi.
Taranto, 1969. Encounter with primary school children.
Taranto, 1969. Encounter with primary school children. His daughter Francesca is with him
Carmi with Pierre Restany in front of a light-art work by Carmi
Carmi in his Milan studio, 1975
Carmi in his studio with his assistant Hiro Okumura
Eugenio Carmi and his son Stefano in an art gallery
Eugenio Carmi executing a painting on the paving stones of Piazza del Duomo in Prato, 1973.
Carmi with the art critic Vera Horvat Pintaric in Premantura, former Yugoslavia (now Croatia).
1986. Carmi with Carlo Fedeli and Massimo Kaufmann (right) during the installation of his retrospective in Macerata
1986. Carmi with Mauro Mancia during his retrospective in Macerata.
Carmi’s retrospective in Macerata, 1986. The artist is standing in front of his portrait of Kiky.
Milan, 1986. Nicola Bertasi, Francesca Carmi’s son, with his grandfather Eugenio. Photo Valentina Carmi
1987. Private view of the exhibition of the ties designed by Stefano Carmi for Ermenegildo Zegna. In the photograph, Umberto Eco and Stefano and Eugenio Carmi.
Kiky, Eugenio and Valentina at home in Milan
Eugenio with Valentina. Photo Lorenzo Ceva Valla
Kiky with her grandchildren Nicola and Giulia Bertasi, Francesca’s children, and, in her arms, Benjamin Orloff, Antonia’s son, in the garden of their house in the hills near Lavagna, Liguria. Photo Lisetta Carmi.
Valentina with her nephews Benjamin and Nicola in the garden of their house in the hills near Lavagna.
Carmi’s grandchildren Beatrice and Oliver Carmi in his studio in the Porta Romana area of Milan. Photo Valentina Carmi
Oliver Carmi. Photo Valentina Carmi
Stockholm, 1993. Photo Ferdinando Scianna
Stockholm, 1993. Photo Ferdinando Scianna
Eugenio Carmi and Ferdinando Scianna in Stockholm. Photo Valentina Carmi.
2003. Private view of the exhibition that the Museo di Villa Croce in Genoa devoted to the entire activity of the Galleria del Deposito. From the right: Emanuele Luzzati, Carlo Fedeli, Kiky Vices Vinci, Valentina, Eugenio and Francesca Carmi.

While in the 1960s and 1970s his artistic work was often closely linked to projects and initiatives in the industrial and cultural worlds, in the following decades Carmi focused primarily on working in his studio, which, in the meanwhile, he had moved in Milan (in 1971). Despite occasional forays into other parallel fields, such as the creation of mirrors and stained glass, painting and, more rarely, sculpture — which he had first become interested in when working for Italsider — were his principal activities. And it was at the beginning of the 1970 that he developed the geometric style he had already employed a number of times before (accident prevention signs for Italsider, multiples for the Galleria del Deposito and the Imaginary electric signs), replacing the Art Informel style of the two previous decades. From the 1980s onwards he started using jute as a support, foreshadowing his subsequent return to emphasis on the materials used. His art evolved gradually but continuously with rigour and consistency. Also through geometric abstraction, his archetypal forms came increasingly closer to a relationship with spirituality, thanks to the use, however, of more sensual, natural materials. Umberto Eco described him as ‘an eminently urban creature’ in his book Carmi, una pittura di paesaggio (Carmi: landscape painting?). He continued to be an urban creature in the following decades, but, in his later works, there has been a radical change of course. In recent years, ‘the image maker’ — as he styles himself — has engaged in a continuous dialogue with nature, as represented by its mathematical laws. Pythagoras’s theorem and the golden section were his keys to entering nature and celebrating it, together with a further change of  direction: the geometric forms were now much more closely related to the materials used and thus alluded to his Art Informel works of the 1950s and 1960s, as in a circular dialogue. And, in this imaginary circle, his mathematical training when he was studying at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich should not be underestimated. In these years, too, critics and intellectuals who shared his aesthetic and social vision wrote about him. A constant presence in this period has been his passion for teaching, for which he developed a keen interest in 1973 in the United States, when he held seminars at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. In 1990 the municipality of Milan staged a retrospective exhibition of his work, curated by Luciano Caramel, at the Padiglione Rosso of the city’s Spazio Ansaldo. In 1992, another exhibition devoted to him was held at the Historical Museum of the Royal Palace in Budapest and, in 2000, he was invited to display his current work at the Chamber of Deputies in Rome.

Eugenio in Zurich, April 2013. Photo Valentina Carmi.
Eugenio Carmi with the sculpture Il Teorema di Pitagora (Pythagoras’s Theorem), Milan, 2011. Photo Ferdinando Scianna.
Milan, February 2010. Party for Eugenio Carmi’s ninetieth birthday organized by Andrea Kerbaker at the Casa dei Libri. From the left: Tullio Pericoli, Claudio Cerritelli, Eugenio Carmi. Photo Ferdinando Scianna
February 2010, Milan. Eugenio Carmi with his grandchildren Nicola, Giulia, Oliver and Beatrice at his ninetieth birthday party at Andrea Kerbaker’s Casa dei Libri. Behind him is his brother, Marcello. Photo Ferdinando Scianna
Party for Eugenio Carmi’s ninetieth birthday at Andrea Kerbaker’s Casa dei Libri, Milan 2010. Left, Riccardo Leuzzi of the Galleria l'Osanna in Nardò and, just behind, Claudio Cerritelli. Photo Ferdinando Scianna.
Carmi with his daughter Antonia at the private view of his exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles, 2010
Carmi with his grandchildren Benjamin and Elliott Orloff at the private view of his exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles, 2010
Galleria Il Vicolo, Genoa, 2011. Eugenio Carmi with Bruna Pari Artisi (his first studio assistant in the 1950s, who was also a friend of Kiky and Eugenio’s) and his present assistant, Sara Villa.
Eugenio Carmi and Stefano at the Galleria Il Vicolo, Genoa, 2011.
Eugenio Carmi with his assistant, Sara, at the exhibition of watercolours by Antonia Carmi and Sara Villa at the Galleria l'Osanna in Nardò, near Lecce, 2011.
Eugenio Carmi and Antonia during the private view of the exhibition of watercolours by Antonia Carmi and Sara Villa at the Galleria Il Vicolo, Genoa, 2011.
Carmi in his studio with his assistant, Sara Villa, and the exhibition curator Maurizio Pradella.
Eugenio Carmi signs one of his stained-glass works created by the glass-master Lino Reduzzi.
2013, Boccadasse. Carmi with Clotilde Parodi, the then secretary of the Galleria del Deposito, during the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the gallery’s foundation. For the occasion, the space that housed it was reopened and its sign reconstruct
Carmi with Valentina in Zurich, April 2013.
Eugenio Carmi receiving the Gold Medal for Cultural and Artistic Merit of the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, from the minister of the cultural heritage, Lorenzo Ornaghi, Rome, 25 March 2013
1 January 2014. Eugenio Carmi in Solothurn, Switzerland. Photo Valentina Carmi
Carmi in front of a wall of Zurich cathedral: the slogan ‘Für ein gutes Leben: Kampf dem Kapital’ means ‘For a good life: fight capitalism’. April 2013. Photo Valentina Carmi.

In his long career, Carmi has had exhibitions in leading European and American galleries, as well as in a number of European museums and various Italian Cultural Institutes abroad. In 2011 he participated in the Venice Biennale for the second time. He has received international prizes and acclaim for painting and graphic design, he held seminars on the visual arts at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence in the United States and, in the 1970s he taught at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Macerata and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Ravenna. Over the years he has taken an active part in international conferences and, thanks to his understanding of the world of children, he was invited by primary school teachers to talk to their pupils. In 2001 he was elected a member of the Accademia di San Luca. Often commissioned by public and private institutions, aquatints and screen prints were made after his original works. He describes himself as an ‘image-maker’.