Galleria d’Arte Moderna
Via Francesco Crispi 24
00187 Rome, Italy
Il mondo non mi vuole più e non lo sa.
The world does not want me any longer and does not know it.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s complex personality and multifaceted creativity are displayed in full at the exhibition Pasolini Pittore at Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome. His artistic development and his clever experimentation were mainly expressed in writing and filmmaking. However, he loved painting and pursued this passion throughout his life in an amateurish way.
Pasolini’s most famous writings, such as the novels Ragazzi di vita (1955), Una vita violenta (1959) and Amado mio (1948), his poetry collections, Le ceneri di Gramsci (1957), La religione del mio tempo (1961) and Transumanar e organizzar (1971), and his essays, Scritti corsari (1975) and Lettere luterane (1976), are considered among the most accomplished texts in Italian literature. His films, such as Accattone (1961), Mamma Roma (1962), Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (1964), Uccellacci e uccellini (1966), Il Decameron (1971) and Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975), were nominated for and won prizes at the Berlin, Cannes and Venice film festivals.
His literary interests ranged from Dostoevsky to Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Rimbaud, and Greek and Italian classics in a continuous endeavour to learn and improve. He thought that art had to be revolutionary, an approach that aimed at constant renewal. The exhibition also commemorates a hundred years from his birth and gathers works from Gabinetto Scientifico Letterario Vieusseux and from Centro Studi Pier Paolo Pasolini in Casarsa della Delizia, with more than 150 artworks on display.
For Pasolini, painting was a constant interest; he studied famous contemporary Italian painters, such as Carlo Carrà, Giorgio Morandi, Filippo de Pisis and Renato Guttuso. He took inspiration from their work but also experimented with his own techniques, especially in self-portraits, portraits of friends, lovers and family members and in landscapes painted in the holiday resort he often visited, Casarsa della Delizia, in Friuli, the hometown of his mother’s family. The influential figures in his career as a visual artist were Fabio Mauri, who was a dear friend and his teacher and Roberto Longhi, the art historian, with whom he shared aesthetic theories.
His approach involved an authentic wish to understand what was happening around him, not only in the literary world but also in the social and political environments that for him were all connected. He was a controversial figure who received both detrimental criticism and enthusiastic applause. His works criticised what he called the ‘anthropological change’ of the 1960s and 1970s which was due to the effects of consumerism and, according to him, caused homogenisation and a loss of values. He compared the neo-capitalism of the hated bourgeoisie to neo-fascism, which enforced conformity to prescribed roles and caused a lack of certainties in life in general.
He spoke straightforwardly against the ideological crisis and the depravity, corruption, and complicity with criminal organisations, such as the Mafia, of the Italian political class, which was ruled at the time by the Christian Democratic party (CD). His allegations were eventually proved correct after two decades: in the 1990s, with the investigation called Mani Pulite (clean hands) in which some Italian political parties disappeared, political leaders’ crimes were exposed and even parliament was accused of criminal activities. His tragic death in November 1975 on a beach in Ostia where he was beaten to death, run over by a car and then partially burned, looked like the consequence of his outspoken attitude. At his funeral, Alberto Moravia remarked that ‘[a] society that kills its poets is a sick society’. A 17-year-old boy, Pino Pelosi, confessed to the murder, which was initially deemed to have a sexual motivation as Pasolini was homosexual and had been accused of obscene acts and the corruption of a minor some years previously. The circumstances of his murder were never clarified; however, one person alone could not have been responsible for such a killing.
Pasolini’s alternative to the widespread corruption was his search for the sacred, in which he referred to the classical world and to his Catholic background. In his investigation of purity, the humble people living in the countryside and in the outskirts of Rome and the degraded ‘borgate’ to which some of them migrated provided the narratives for his work. This is especially analysed in his writings and films, while his drawings and paintings are a side comment of sorts that points to his relations with the literary and artistic world of his time.
The human body is at the centre in his portraits and self-portraits and in his depictions of boys. The world of the cinema is present too, with portraits of Laura Betti and Ninetto Davoli as well as important figures of the cultural world, such as Maria Callas, Roberto Longhi and Ezra Pound. Most of the pictures are small and are made using an experimental technique, that is, oil on cellophane, which allows a transparent multi-layered texture and an uncertain outline. The portraits have an intimist, sometimes intimate, flavour; he called them ‘portraits of the soul’, and they reveal the vulnerability of both the subject and the artist. The manipulation of the body is therefore exposed in its inherent fragility that endangers our human condition. The exhibition also features some of Pasolini’s portraits made by renowned painters such as Renato Guttuso, Carlo Levi, Mario Schifano and others. A collection of the paintings he owned is also on display, and there are works by Massimo Campigli, Giorgio De Chirico, Renato Guttuso, Carlo Levi, Henry Matisse, Alberto Savinio and Andy Warhol.
The exhibition reveals a less known side, or perhaps the artistic and cultural career, of one of the most influential Italian intellectuals of the 20th century whose overflowing creativity and relentless exploration of new media encompassed different artistic expressions. His constant questioning of the far-fetched certainties of the society of his time made his work fresh and complex and showed a rebellious attitude that resisted the lures of the bourgeois consumeristic society in favour of renewed ancestral myths.
Carla Scarano © 2023.