Paolo Spinoglio, the artist in search of a primitive balance

Living and working far from one's homeland has the value of generating a constant sense of discovery, of creating unexpected encounters with ever-changing places and forms of thinking, expression and culture. There are things, however, that can surprise you more than anything else, like when you enter the home of a new Italian friend in Shanghai and end up discovering a piece of the history of art and thought of your native country. Francesco told me that his father was an artist. He told me so simply and naturally, without any emphasis or ostentation, that in the beginning I didn't give him the right attention. Then I entered his house, saw some drawings hanging on the walls and finally opened my eyes and the book on Paolo Spinoglio. I was immediately overwhelmed by a sort of ancestral pathos in front of works of a singular, “raw” poetry and by a human and intellectual fascination in front of the figure of the artist himself.

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Book about Paolo Spinoglio. Author Adriano Olivieri, Editor Silvana, 2013

I immersed myself for days in an artistic universe that, even if so contemporary - we are talking about a production that goes from the 70s to the beginning of 2000 - seems to exist in a dimension outside time even if full of temporal references. Paolo Spinoglio, born in 1956 and raised in Turin in a family that is passionate about the classics of the visual arts, grew up surrounded by paintings and sculptures and was influenced by a father who was both an industrialist and an artist.

He started drawing at the age of eight and did not stop for the rest of his life.

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Paolo Spinoglio in his Atelier. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

Since 1970, he devoted a lot of time to Turin Art Galleries and, attending them, he was influenced by different and fundamental areas for the artistic culture of those years: post-impressionism, abstract art, pop art and conceptual art. He began his assiduous production of drawings, paintings and photographs in which he experimented with more techniques and began to outline his poetic intention and his personal view of the world. 

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Sinfonia, 1979, Oil on Canvas, 90x120cm. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

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Untitled, late 70’, mixed media on paper. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

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Untitled, 1980, mixed media on paper. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

Later he approached Arte Povera and became friends with personalities such as Michelangelo Pistoletto and Mario Merz. He goes through a period of strong experimentation, so pushed to the limit that, after insecurities and second thoughts, he decides to move away from art and works in his father's company. This choice creates a new need for research and, this time, he responds by travelling. He moved to Madrid and then ventured into the ocean with some fishermen, returning home with a collection of photographs and a reborn artistic conviction. He began the production that best represents Paolo Spinoglio's formal, expressive and conceptual research, that of sculptures. This is also favored by his move, together with his wife Raffella and three children, Pietro, Francesco and Marta, to Mombercelli, in the countryside of Monferrato. Far from the city, the artist began the search for his ideal archetype and created a studio where he could produce large works.

It is between the 80s and 90s that there is an acceleration of his professional growth, accompanied by works commissions and an entourage of gallerists and collectors.

After years of artistic and intellectual restlessness, of spasmodic research of his creative aspiration, he achieves an ideal of "primordial" balance.


Untitled, late 90’s, charcoal on paper. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

His work becomes more and more intransigent, he does not accept compromises and aspires to formal and conceptual purity, taking inspiration from ancestral elements such as the earth and the human body and the models of classicism. He begins his creative relationship with stone, terracotta and bronze. The material becomes an extension of his soul and he works it in a spasmodic attempt to create forms that express a universal gaze on the human, a gaze that digs into you, like the hands that dig and smooth the stone to clean it of the superfluous, bringing out the essential. With his hands full of aesthetic experience and primitive vigour and his mind full of artistic references, from his model Arturo Martini to the masters of the 20th century like Brancusi, he creates above all women's bodies, symbols of the creative force and at the same time holders of the elusive mystery of life.


Busto di donna, 1998, bronze, 62x49x24cm. Private Collection. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio


Monolithic and impressive works, even considering their dimensions, express accuracy and seriousness with respect to life and have their gaze lost in infinity. Through them the artist's austerity exudes, together with his compassion, his attention to others, to the last, to the weakest, also showing political and social commitment. For example, in the late 1990s and early 2000s he created a series of sculptures dedicated to Afghan women covered by the burqa, where he exasperated the denial of somatic features to mean a gaze that observes us but that we cannot see. They represent a warning, they depict themselves as sphinxes that disturb us, impenetrable, as an inaccessible truth, as the mystery of life.


From the left: Donne afghane, 2001, charcoal on paper, 60x40, private collection; Donne afghane, 2001, charcoal on paper, 50x50, private collection. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio


Busto di donna afghana, 2001, fire clay, 565x38x25cm. Private Collection. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio


Collection of Donne afghane, 2001, fire clay. Private Collection. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

He stretches the figures to give them an exasperated totemic and transcendental value.

The beginning of 2000 unfortunately marked the destiny of the artist, struck by a serious illness that led to his premature death. During these years Spinoglio continued to work assiduously and arrived at formal and conceptual solutions even more charged with inquisition and research into the meaning and mystery of life. One of the emblematic elements of this period is the removal of the eyes from human figures, which are reduced to the barest and most absolute essential, the oval of the face with the hair. This choice is dictated, on the one hand, by the artist's long research of essentialized plastic resolution and, on the other, by the more intimate reasons of his pain, as a metaphor for closing his eyes in front of destiny.


Testa nera, 2000, black Belgian marble, 100x53x32cm. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio


Figura seduta, 2001, fire clay, 61x40x45cm. Photo courtesy of Associazione Paolo Spinoglio

He died in 2002, leaving his artistic and human heritage to his family, today managed through the Associazione Paolo Spinoglio. I feel so lucky I met his son Francesco in Shanghai; otherwise, I would have probably never discovered this considerable piece of art, thought and poetry of Italy.

This discovery also gave me the opportunity to stop and reflect on the fact that there is so much research and artistic production of great quality and intellectual honesty that has never reached the general public. Why? I attribute it to the fact that, sometimes, the humility, the obsessive search for the ideal and the dedication consumed day after day in an atelier do not leave much time and space for visibility and promotion. That's another job.