An unexpected encounter with art

One day, as I walked down via Cavour, in the center of Florence, I stumbled upon an art book sticking out from a wobbly stack of assorted second-hand books on a kiosk. It was an edition of I disegni di Giosetta Fioroni.

I immediately experienced a vivid sense of déjà vu, a rush back in time, an emotional flashback. This collection of Fioroni’s drawings sent me on a trip to the deepest recesses of my memory. I was transported back to my own first childhood experience with art. I remembered sitting with my father, listening to stories about his childhood, his compulsion to draw, and his final exam at the art school in Milan. I remember him showing me his artwork. I was bewitched by it. I remember his figure drawings on brown paper, his soft, delicate brushstrokes, a faint line running over the paper. They were the skeletons of portraits, sketches, but to me, it was art at its finest. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Like me, Giosetta Fioroni grew up in a family of artists. Her father was a sculptor; her mother, a painter and a puppeteer. She lived and breathed art from her earliest moments. She grew up surrounded by words and images, poetry and theater, living among easels, puppets, sculptors, and stages. A childhood so abundant in creativity and imaginary worlds would inevitably provide the basis for her body of work as she matured as an artist. She often added a sense of theatricality to her work. Her childhood experiences would guide her whole career and dictate her vision as an artist.

Giosetta Fioroni,L’involucro, 1970

Giosetta portrays reality as if all life were a play – a place where anything is possible and where spaces are never clearly distinct nor limited by a frame. This element of space is notable in almost all of her body of work, where the work area is never delimited. Her work strains against the fourth wall. She has been called a Pop Artist but rejects the label, which she views as a distinct product of American culture. She differed from the likes of Andy Warhol, who tended to represent reality for what it is, as they saw it with their eyes. Instead, she belonged to the Scuola di Piazza del Popolo, a renowned group of Roman artists formed in the 60s in the post-war era. The group included internationally famous names like Tano Festa, Mario Schifano, Franco Angeli, and Cesare Tacchi, artists who were drawn to Pop Art and the nascent Arte Povera. The members gathered at Caffe Rosati in Piazza del Popolo or at the La Tartaruga art gallery, where the artists began to exhibit their work.

Her artistic divergences from her peers were most clearly pronounced in her constant and relentless exploration of femininity in popular culture. She was at pains to stress that her interest was not feminism but femininity. The distinction was paramount in this period of militant feminism. 

In a society where femininity is often expressed through sexualized or vulnerable female bodies, Giosetta Fioroni focused on her models’ faces, on their eyes. Rather than objectifying women by showing them naked and offering them up to the viewers’ appetites, Fioroni lets us into their secret inner worlds. Looking at the faces of her models, it is not clear who is looking at whom, and they give the viewer an uncanny sense of looking into a mirror. 

Giosetta Fioroni, Stavroghin, 2009, courtesyFondazione Parise

Viewing her work Bambino solo is enough to banish any doubts about her position as a modern master. Despite being produced in 1968, 54 years ago, the stirring portrait of a crestfallen child alone in the immensity of space with his back to the viewer, helpless to comfort him in his loneliness, continues to move anyone who sees it.    

Observing Gli involucri (1967), we find ourselves before a unique expression of elegance, self-confidence, awareness, and audacity. The daring bravado of this painting, with its disregard for edges, frames, or boundaries and its play with palimpsest, silhouette, and process, is so strikingly modern that we can scarcely comprehend how revolutionary it must have been given how thoroughly the advances she pioneered have since permeated modern art inspiring contemporary artists from the likes of Banksy to William Kentridge. 

One of her most well-known collections was exhibited recently in London at the Luxembourg + co. Gallery. Giosetta Fioroni: Alter ego presents her renowned and internationally praised Silver collection. The artworks are rendered in silver aluminum paint and graphite pencil. The artwork of Giosetta Fioroni, throughout her long career, has always exuded a haunting etherealness and vivid spontaneity, and the artworks on show at this exhibition are no exception.  

Giosetta Fioroni,Teatrino a 7 anni, 1979

Fioroni’s art, especially in the Silver collection, immediately transmits a great sense of calm with images seemingly suspended in mid-air, free, unlimited, barely opaque, almost indistinct from the space they occupy. She clearly sees and represents her subjects as intimate figures with psychological depth, turning them from mute objects into eloquent beings. 

L’Argento (Silver Collection) is also notable for having been Fioroni’s first solo exhibition in the United States in 2013, at The Drawing Center in New York – a great achievement. 

We often see silver in art, but, in Fioroni’s work, it doesn’t represent a precious metal. Rather, in her own words, silver is the quintessence of “non-color.” It can both absorb and reflect light. The artworks are nearly monochrome, like in the work of Yves Klein, but unlike Klein, Fioroni limited her monochrome techniques to an experimental phase.

Giosetta Fioroni,Ramo d'oro, 2014

Fioroni participated at the Venice Biennale in 1956 and 1964, and was assigned a personal exhibition space at the 1993 Venice Biennale. Finally, in 2003, her place of birth, the city of Rome, dedicated a retrospective to her: La Beltà exploring her career from the beginning up until the exhibition.

With her personal view of the world and femininity, she ultimately made her mark within a male-dominated society, and her pioneering work remains relevant today. From the beginning, Fioroni’s art has always been ahead of its time.    

A retrospective of her work entitled The Small Large Heart of Giosetta  – Giosetta Fioroni’s works from the 1960s to the 200s is currently on show at the Centre of Modern and Contemporary Art in La Spezia (CAMeC).

We thank CSArt – Comunicazione per l’Arte for providing us with the images.

Cover image: Giosetta Fioroni Exhibition, CAMeC La Spezia. Photo Enrico Amici