Enrico Benassi

Domenico Gallizzi "Naif painter"

We are going to dedicate this profile to an author who has every right to be inserted in the area of naïf painters, as some peculiarities which are specific to this form of expression can be traced back to him. Here are some biographical details which we have collected from several sources.
Gallizzi was born in December 1953 in Limbadi (Calabria), in a peasant family, the third of six brothers. He attended primary and secondary school, and, in his spare time, and during the holidays, he helped his parents workings in the fields and looking after the cattle. The landscape around the village is made up of hills and a peculiar nature, where rocks and trees, and the ups and downs of the soil, create a different scenery according to the positions. All this remains in Gallizzi’s mind as a boy, and it becomes a precious source of inspiration to draw from later on, when he grows up. After 3 years of catering school, he enrolls in a nursing course, and after obtaining the diploma he finds a job in some hospitals in the area. In 1980 he gets married, and moves to Bosco di Rosarno, a group of houses scattered around a swampy reclaimed land: not far, narrow streets and paths go up towards the hill where he was born.

Until 1989 he leads a quiet life, divided between work and family : his only hobby, a day out in the countryside with the few friends who have remained around, because most of them have emigrated in search for a job which the area doesn’t offer. During a trip in the countryside, over the Easter holidays in 1989, he hurts his leg. After three days in hospital, he returns home. During his first day at rest in his house, he smokes five packets of cigarettes, from 8 to 19. The next day, he decides to do something, to make use of his time doing something different, and escape the forced rest. He begins to paint with his son’s water colours. He knows nothing about matching colours, he knows nothing about art, and he has only vague recollections of the basics of drawing, which he learned in secondary school. Painting prevents him from smoking, it fills his day and captures him. He continues with this activity even after he has fully recovered, after going back to work, out of sheer passion and without presuming to create art.
In 1990 an acquaintance who for some time lived in the Mantova province, sees his work and he enrolls a couple of them in the “ Rassegna dei Naif di Luzzara” : they are not accepted. The attempt is repeated at the following edition of the same exhibition, but without success. In the following years, he takes part, almost as a game, in a few collective exhibitions next to painters with academic background. During one of these exhibitions, he hears a painter whispering to a visitor that his paintings shouldn’t even he looked at. But Gallizzi is neither offended nor discouraged : he keeps painting, solitary and reserved.

He gets noticed by us at the end of 91’, through a wide photographic documentation; we noticed some compositive ingenuities typical of naïf, even though the groups of houses have been realized with regular geometry. But the use of colour is not harmonious : some parts of the painting are faded, others with pure, bright colours, spread with small, sometimes thick brushstrokes. There isn’t a fully developed unity of style, and we do have some perplexity, although there is a doubtless spontaneity. In July 98’, after a long pause, we received a further recommendation, complete with photographic material, and we noticed that some amateurish aspects and elements have been largely reduced or even disappeared. [...]
[...] The practice of painting has gone beyond the initial phase of simply being a hobby, a pleasant pastime, and it has become a real unsuppressible need. The characters which used to appear in the distance, almost as decorative elements of the painting, have now been taken to the front and have entered the heart of the story. At the beginning of this year we have had a way of examining a series of recent works and we noticed a further improvement. Now, the compositive structure has become richer and more articulate and it shows that Gallizzi has reached his own particular way of painting, of expressing the memories of his land, the landscape, the hills, the places of his childhood, revisited as if in a day dream, with a clear need to remember and relive the “ happiest period, although the poorest and filled with deprivations”, of his carefree youth, in his paintings, we also notice the presence of some recurrent styles (subjects), of some characterizing elements-as, for example, that of depicting horses with some streaks of their coats which bring to mid those on his parents’ farm in the days of his youth. [...]
[...] Gallizzi’s compositive freedom breaks away from all preconceived and pre-constructed pattern, of all themes frozen in rigid and ordinary patterns : so it is perfectly natural for him to set a “ nativity scene “ against the background of the places of his childhood, or to realize works such as “the mothers” or some “Crucifixions” in which religious themes, hinted at with great simplicity, are mixed with bits of everyday life.
Finally, not to underestimate and forget some pictorial episodes in which a vivid imagination crosses the border of the fantastic and the visionary, with surreal implications as in the work in which a strange bird holds among its plumage, as well as in his crest, some faces, while the vase containing flowers has been decorated with the images of one his typical horses.
Nevertheless, even remaining within his more “ordinary” works, simple and descriptive, it is impossible to escape the charm of its instinctive compositions with their lively colours, sometimes characterized by unusual chromatic shades, because you can hear the blunt, sincere description of a lived existence which comes from his memory, filtered through the enchantement of a not too far “golden age” .

Up until now, Domenico Gallizzi had never searched for opportunities to exhibit or sell his works; it was other people who noticed him and asked to buy his paintings. On the occasion of a collective exhibition, some time ago, he turned up the day after the opening and he saw that his paintings were not on the walls. He asked to an explanation, and , to his great surprise, he was told that they had already been sold. Until 1998 he did not even sign his paintings, happy with having realized them. “I would keep to myself everything I paint. I love to come back to my room, where I paint, in the evening, surrounded by all my works”.
Recently, he was presented at the Rotary in Palmi, during an evening in which slides of his works were shown, and he was deeply appreciated and praised. We are unable to foresee if Gallizzi’s works will reach a widespread popularity: we can wish him that they will, hoping that he won’t lose the spontaneity and freshness that make his present art so original. We certainly believe that we will hear about him again, and that his works will become part of the selected niche of authentic naïve representation.[...]

Dino Menozzi

Copied from: "L'arte naive-arte marginale" n°63 december 1999 - AGE Grafico Editoriale - Reggio Emilia

Courtesy of the author.

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