Home Magazine Mario Schifano: the painter as a movie director

In 2013 a new biography about Mario Schifano (1934-1998) was published by Johan & Levi written by Luca Ronchi. It was the first official biography about the Italian painter who belonged to the school of the Italian Pop Art in Rome. His first group exhibition was presented in 1960 at Galleria La Salita in Rome, in the group show “5 pittori/5 panters": Mario Schifano, Giuseppe Uncini, Tano Festa, Francesco Lo Savio and Franco Angeli. Ronchi was the one who made the essential documentary about the artist: “Mario Schifano tutto”, which was presented at the Venice International Film Festival in 2001. 

Related articles: A Modern Dandy: Mario Schifano - The origin of Italian Pop Art - Oltre la Forma

For art addicted and for a certain kind of underground and niche lovers, Mario Schifano is a fundamental character. Great personality, surely demanding for his way to approach life and with a “damned” behavior that made Schifano a sort of myth of his time. His life was a film: art and overstatements, drugs and women – from the Italian writer Nancy Ruspoli, to the beautiful Marianne Faithfull, that he took away from Keith Richards in the 60s. And lot of success when he was still young.


Mario Schifano, a tv painting.


Mario Schifano lived his life as a star. He was born in Africa, raised in Italy – Rome was his city – and often traveled to the United States. Warhol stated that, if he could have had the choice to born someone else, he would have chosen the Italian artist Mario Schifano. The American artist and the Italian painter had something in common, both artistically and humanly. During the 60s Mario Schifano needed a new medium to experiment: painting indeed was no longer sufficent to express his creativity and energy. He needed a new field to approach, a field that had to be immediate, complex and quick. Thus, his development of a certain visual communication began to grow towards a multidisciplinary aesthetics, and he started to work with a photo camera, then with video and, finally, he fell in love with television. Soon, his artistic research evolved into the video art field: his approach towards cinema was authorship, and he became an important character of the underground cinema both in the USA and in Italy during the 60s and 70s. A title that stabilized this gesture was “Umano non umano/Human not human” (1969). As Andy Warhol in New York, Mario Schifano in Rome became popular also thanks to his experimental films that were characterized by their rough style and the crooked framing. His non-narrative way of filming, his fragmentary editing, his variety of topics – mainly political and social – and his use of expired films (many of them in fact do not exist anymore) were details of his filming style and practices that Schifano was of course doing on purpose, as to annoying the audience.


Mario Schifano Tutto, frame from the movie.


Mario Schifano, the artist with his photo camera, courtesy the Archive.


In 1962 Carlo Ponti, the great Italian film productor, supported Mario to go to the Unites States to shoot his first full-length film. The screenplay was developed by Schifano together with Tonino Guerra. Schifano, Guerra and Ponti: the premises were good. Mario and his girlfriend of that time, Nancy Ruspoli, left Italy to reach New York, and then Arizona: the visited abandoned factories and neglected venues, they absorbed beautiful landscapes and met new people. They will be back home without a movie realized. A typical Schifano thing: it wasn’t his idea since the beginning, so he could not develop it. On the next years he realized some artist short movie such as “Round trip” (1964) and “Kozincev”, the story of a fashion photographer, both movies were shot in the Usa. In Italy he made “Carol + Bill”, performed by actors William Berger and his wife Carol, Renato Salvatori and Annie Girardot. And then, again, he created documentaries as “Ferreri” – a tribute to Marco Ferreri – and “Jean-Luc ciné” – about Jean-Luc Godard -. And then Schifano made the trilogy that consecrated him as a landmark for the underground cinema. He also works with Gerard Maranga, the artist and actor who became popular thanks to Warhol. The titles of the trilogy are: “Satellite” (1968), “Umano non umano” (1969) and “Trapianto, consuzione e morte di Franco Brocani” (1969). 

Schifano was then an experimenter and, still today, there always something new to discover about him and his art. 


Mario Schifano, tv screens.


Cover image: Umano non umano, Mario Schifano, frame from the movie.

Written by Rossella Farinotti

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