ORAZI (1906-1979), painter of the French School (mentioned as a member of the "School of Paris") impresses by reason of his exceptional creative talent, and vast and solid culture, a genuinely humanistic formation delving deeply in the refined European cultural climate of the early Twentieth-century as well as for his technical knowledge in the domains of the History of Art and Painting.
Educated in Classical Studies and Literatures, ancient aesthetics, history, history of philosophy and music (in his youth he was a pianist and composer), since high school he devoted himself to the study of painting. This cultural legacy would be the basis for all his future experiences. Art and painting were to be his calling, his passion, and his unique vocation in life. As the French art critic, Hélène Parmelin, affirmed in her Homage to ORAZI, written for his1980 post-mortem exhibition at “Gallery 222”, Paris, “How can we speak of this unforgettable lord-friend? How can we express the vitality of his intelligence … the painter –“the very very painter”- [peintrissime in the French version]. Only one thing possessed as well as exalted him … painting. Only one adventure made demands on him, and that was painting. Painting was his way of life, his master and his torturer. It was the probing and the breathing.”
The name he used throughout his career was, simply, ORAZI. A name deriving directly from the Roman antiquity; a name present in the artistic field since the 17th century through a gallery of personalities, originating from central Italy and operating in France.
He was in Venice in the late Twenties, in the international and fascinating environment of such artists as Filippo De Pisis and Leonardo Dudreville. ORAZI must have integrated perfectly in this milieu since Dudreville drew a splendid portrait of him in 1927. He certainly participated in the 1934 Biennale.
He was always on the move, eager as he was to gather new artistic experiences; however, by 1932 he had settled in Paris.
In that same period he also worked in Milan. The artwork from this early pictorial period, now on display in the Milan public collections, shows that he was rapidly becoming well-known. For example, the portrait in memory of Mrs Teresa Vanoni Viglezio’scharitable activities was commissioned to him in 1936 by the “Ospedale Maggiore” Art Foundation. The portrait of Totò Grugnola (1937) was commissioned by the “Trivulzio Foundation”, an institution engaged in supporting young artists that rewarded him with the then considerable sum of 2,400 Italian Lire.
In 1935 he was also in Rome at the second “Quadriennale d’Arte Nazionale.” His participation is documented by the painting Sieste or Jeune femme qui repose avec son chat, dating from 1934, which was purchased in 1935 and is currently on display at the “Modern Art Gallery” of Udine.
In Paris he established his Atelier in Montparnasse in 1934. Then - as it is documented - he kept the same address from at least 1937-1938 until the end of his life.
He took part in the intense intellectual life of Montparnasse, which made of this area the meeting and starting point of new artistic trends from the Twenties onwards. In 1937 he exhibited at the “Galerie de Paris”, Faubourg Saint-Honoré. In 1938 he exhibited at the Deuxième Salon des Jeunes Artistes, held in the same Gallery. In the aftermath of the Liberation and after the years of anti-fascist mourning, he was among the artists of the new-born Salon de Mai - an Association officialised in December 1944. The Salon de Mai was held first at the Gallery “Maurs”, later at the Gallery “Arts” in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and thereafter for over twenty years in the rooms of the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. ORAZI steadily exhibited until his death at the Salon de Mai, of which he became a historical member, following the Salon from 1967 to 1978 through its further relocations in the “Salles New-Yok” and at “Paris la Défense”.
The work of this period (from 1935 to 1948 approximately) -still lives, landscapes, portraits, compositions- highlights the distinctive elements of ORAZI’s painting, which was characterised not only by its ties with the historic Avant-gardes, but also the great names of the French Post-Impressionist Art.
In his portraits and landscapes, rapidly, the line distils the forms, and colour takes an essential place in the physical representation: these pictures already look ahead to his informal period. It is evident, for one, in the Mediterranean landscape from 1950, defined by pink hues, which resembles a painting publishedin 1953 in Les Lettres Françaises, the most important French artistic and cultural review of the time.
From the late Forties ORAZI’s artistic path underwent an autonomous and certainly very original development. It is attested by Painting of Movement (approximately 1948-1956), which caused remarkable interest in the press for its dynamic and plastic effects. ORAZI was noted thanks to his painting Corrida, exhibited at the 1949 Salon de Mai. The Parisian review Les Lettres Françaises published an article entitled “ORAZI’s Works Express Life”, penned byan art critic known with the sobriquet of ‘Jean-Pierre’ (Pietri). Two paintings fromthe Painting of Movement period are therein reproduced, and his forthcoming exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in Paris announced. Les Lettres Francaises, at the time in its ninth year of existence, enjoyed a considerable reputation. Now directed by Claude Morgan, it had been founded by Jacques Decour, who had been shot by the Germans, and whose memory remained intense. Some passages of the article are noteworthy: “through a construction based on spirals … thanks to the rational distribution of the colours, either dynamic or static according to the circumstances, ORAZI forces the glance along the canvas on a path of eternity, itself the path of the birth and development of movement ... with him movement is passion … painting moves.”
ORAZI stands out again at the 1950 Salon de Mai with the painting Rome Open City. By taking its cue from the homonymous 1945 film directed by Roberto Rossellini, Rome Open City evokes the confrontation between the people of Rome and the Nazis in the liberation days of 1944. The review Les Lettres Françaises published a large-scalereproduction of this painting, and linked ORAZI’s name to Pignon’s, a painter soon to become one of his lifelong best friends. The plastic intensity of this work once again attracted the attention of the critic, Jean-Pierre, who dubbed ORAZI “the unique fresco painter capable of approaching great historical painting. This work delivers new elements: movement and the sense of the human group.”
Indeed, it is thanks to the interventions of the art critics of the time that this pictorial period of ORAZI would be named Painting of Movement. The strength of colour –the expression of life and human gesture- and the representation of movement in its becoming characterise the Painting of Movement, as shown for example by The Footballers. The Painting of Movement would be enriched with characters drawn from the circus -clowns, circus riders, ballerinas-, a group of paintings (often in tempera) exhibited at his personal exhibition at the “Bernheim Gallery” in Paris (1954).
In the context of this pictorial experience, we also find fascinating historical battles and military representations, some of which were exhibited at the 1955 Salon de Mai in Paris, and in Milan at the “L’Annunciata” Gallery in 1959.
ORAZI never abandoned his passion for landscape as the physical evidence of the power of Nature, ever changing on Earth. During those same years, other quests would drive him to far away Sardinia and Mexico, regions of pristine landscape where man followed ancestral traditions and ancient rhythms. These stays, spanning from 1953 to 1957 - during which he also practiced photography, another of his talents - lead up to two series of paintings, rich in extraordinary atmospheres. Recently, a series of paintings from the Cycle of Sardinia has been purchased by Gavoi City Council, in Barbagia (Sardinia). The paintings from the Cycle of Mexico were exhibited in 1957 at the “Vendôme Gallery” in Paris.
Thereafter the passion for landscape brought ORAZI back to Paris. As a city in the midst of a change brought in the name of an often violent modernity, Paris had seen some of its historical features disappear. The paintings of the Parisian Cycle, gripping and melancholic in their essentiality, develop from these premises. They are views of Montparnasse, where big blocks with houses and small streets once inhabited by the artists were torn down. Above all, there are the views of the banks of the Seine, in the new quarters scattered with building sites, dense with those cranes whose vertical lines clash with the lines of the anchored barges, the symbols of the past.
Interestingly, a few of these paintings, exhibited in 1959 at the Gallery “L’Annunciata” in Milan, already announce ORAZI’s break away from the classical figurative experience.
In point of fact, from the late Fifties on ORAZI’s painting resolutely turned towards the Informal, a dimension in which his sensibility for colour would find fascinating expression. In this pictorial context we class the 1961 personal exhibition at the “Gallery 7” in Paris that was praised by the critics.
However, after the late Fifties another search, once again founded in his need to work on plasticity, dominated the creativity of this Artist. It was an experience that brought outstanding results: the Painting of the Matter, otherwise known as Painting in Relief.
The work of this phase was exhibited at several Salons de Mai in Paris and even in Tokyo, as well as in many other shows, notably the 1966 personal exhibition at the Gallery “du Passeur” in Paris. Nature –its elements, its forms, its phenomena- always forms the basis of this search. Relief embosses from the frame and the canvas, and colour contributes to defining form. Matter, relief are the support of colour. Contemporary critics were very appreciative, as testifies an article by Raoul-Jean Moulin: “… the painter puts under test the stone, the plant, the air, the light…. Natural materials, harsh and whirling, flows of erupting lava, petrified meteorites…moments in the formation of the universe.” Similarly, Georges Boudaille writes, “Matter is embossed now like the crust of the Earth, now like the petals of flowers; forms proliferate and leave the limits of the frame to invade space…they are lands, but also volcanic lavas, tree barks, rocks, mountains.”
This period (approximately 1958-1968) was marked by a great intellectual intensity that fully reveals ORAZI’s amazing imagination as well as his mastery over technical matters and his passion for colour.
As far as the Artist is concerned, quite often Painting in Relief shows a strong tendency towards the circular definition of forms. This allows to get a glimpse of what was to be his final manner of painting, which he called Circular Line (1969-1977). This latter pictorial period coincided with the final years of the Artist’s life, when his strength weakened and the Painting of Matter may have required too much of a physical effort. During this pictorial phase there are no more references to the powerful and even convulsive spectacle of the manifestations of Nature, but only to the other dimension of our universe, its harmony, to birth and the rhythms of the planets, the vastness of the firmaments, represented through soft and tender colours, strong and supple at one and the same time.
This pictorial period was the focus of the 1980 post-mortem exhibition, in occasion of which the critic Hélène Parmelin proposed her Homage to ORAZI (cited above). Her words reveal the personality of this solitary Artist, voluntarily remote from fleeting mundanity, “never envious, never embittered, housed within the proud natural stronghold of painting.” These are traits that may be found in ORAZI’s last writing, a metaphorical tale beyond time and circumstances, published in 1974 by the Parisian publisher Christian Bourgeois. On the front cover there is the reproduction of the main character of the book, a painting that belongs to a group of pictures from the Circular Line series, notable for its “Landscape-Heads”.
Landscape is a dimension that remains essential for the Artist. It always reappears in his painting - from his youth through his final search to his death. In the few paintings from this concluding period, the Earth is perceived in the essence of its forms and colours, in its generosity and tenderness.
Francesco Negri Arnoldi – Art Historian in Rome.