Posts Tagged ‘ Enrico Donati

Organic Surrealism

In the second part of today, it will be the Organic Surrealism and Enrico Donati’s works.
First of all, he was the last one of the Surrealism member – Andre Breton accepted him in 1939-.
He was an Italian but moved in SUA in 1934.

Let’s see why organic, shall we?

In the dictionary
a : of, relating to, or arising in a bodily organ
b : affecting the structure of the organism

a (1) : of, relating to, or derived from living organisms (2) : of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides
b (1) : of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds (2) : relating to, being, or dealt with by a branch of chemistry concerned with the carbon compounds of living beings and most other carbon compounds

a : forming an integral element of a whole : fundamental
b : having systematic coordination of parts : organized
c : having the characteristics of an organism : developing in the manner of a living plant or animal

Donati was interested in archeology and anthropology. Maybe that’s why … he combined them to … this!

sources: collections

In most of his work can be seen various organisms – from unity – that live in water or air and floating or simply step into the new dimension.
There are formations that remain at the stage of amoeba or simply they turn in others – a woman’s leg remains almost or completely disfigured, the body turns into another ‘ weapon’ – arms are some spindles-.
The colors are composed and decomposed in a room full of blue – and all its shades-.
Red is sometimes shy, but sometimes covers the whole space, very little appears the yellow.
The Donati’s world is organic because all his figures grow like plants or animals that ingest or are either predators or prey.
It’s like a battle of survival.
Not to say that since 1965 Donati has a perfume?
Try one! 😛

Here I will put in front of you the Donati’s interview from 6 September 1968.

Oral history interview with Enrico Donati, 1968 Sept. 9, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Interview with Enrico Donati
Conducted by Forest Selvig
In the artist’s studio in New York City
September 9, 1968


The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Enrico Donati on September 9, 1968. The interview was conducted in the artist’s studio in New York City by Forest Selvig for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.



FS: This is the first tape of an interview with Enrico Donati in his New York studio on Monday, the 9th of September, 1968. The interviewer is Forrest Selvig. We’re sitting in Mr. Donati’s studio overlooking Central Park. Now we can just converse as though this tape somehow doesn’t exist. Mr. Donati, you told me that you came here for the first time when you were 27.

ED: No. I came in 1934. I was 25. And I spent three months visiting the country, particularly I came because I was interested in Indian art. So when I landed in New York by boat naturally I went directly to New Mexico and Arizona. And I started to visit the different Indian villages and tried to get acquainted with their ways of living, their habits, their art, their tools. I spent about a month with them. And I collected already at that time . . . I exchanged all sorts of gadgets that I had brought from Europe to try to collect some Hopi Indian cachina dolls and other Indian objects.

FS: May I ask you, Mr. Donati, how is it that you who are a native of Milan would have this great interest in American Indian art?

ED: There is a museum in Milan . . . there is a Natural History Museum, not in the park but in the gardens of Milan near the Cosa Venezia and I used to visit it. There were a few examples there, but just examples, maybe 3 or 4 pieces of Indian art and masks and objects and maybe one or two Eskimo objects. Then I went to Paris and in the Trocadero — in the Musee de Trocadero — there was a larger collection of the same things. I was mostly interested in the idea behind the objects; why they made these masks and these cachina dolls; what they were used for. And then the idea of the painting on the wood, not only the carving but the painting on the wood and the painting on their masks, on the faces, and what it meant started to puzzle me. And I couldn’t find anything else in Europe with the exception of a number of books in Germany that had been published, but neither France nor Italy had anything published in Indian art. So it was — how would I say it? It was just a crazy interest of mine to get involved in Indian art. There were two things that I was mostly interested in: one was the Indian art and the other was Eskimo art. I tried during the three months’ period that I was in America for the first time in 1934 to cover this as much as I could. I traveled extensively. And I went up to Canada, to British Columbia, and up to Hudson Bay. I tried to find where Eskimo art was. I didn’t really find it personally but I found traces of it. And in Montreal I found collectors that had objects, particularly ivory objects and wooden masks that came mostly from the Baffin Islands. And I started to be apassionate of this type of art. First of all, being a youngster, I didn’t have the money to buy it. I only had to money to come and I had probably enough objects that I had brought along to exchange. So it was really a trade.

FS: I’m very curious about the particular appeal of North American Indian art to you other than, say, primitive art of other areas, African and so on. Why was it specifically North American Indian art or Eskimo?

ED: Well, for one thing, the North American cachina dolls are very highly painted and they’re very eloquent as objects and they’re very human. For me they were more human than the African masks or sculpture that were sad in a certain way. And being Italian and liking color, I found that the American art that was painted on wood had much more appeal than plain objects coming from Africa that normally were painted probably black and white or brown and white, or something, but not highly painted like the American Indian’s.

FS: I see. This is, of course, after you’d been at the Accademia? You were at the Accademia in Milan, weren’t you?

ED: I was not. I started with music. And I got a doctor’s degree in science at the University of Pavia to make the family happy. And that was about that. But particularly I wanted to be a musician, a composer. I started to work with 2 or 3 very famous teachers in Milan. One was Amfossi and the other one was Apiani, both from the Conservatory. I was fairly good at piano. But particularly I was interested in composing. Also, since I was born in 1909, during the period in which I started to become a man and understand about the facts of life, the Fascist regime was there and everything was guided in such a manner that even the most advanced composers were not recognized by the Italian regime. They were not allowed to be played. I’m talking now about composers like Prokofiev, Honegger, Francis Poulenc of France, and others that you probably know. At the same time as music was not allowed, let’s face it, surrealism that existed in France was not allowed in Italy and was not considered art. So in consequence, the more something is forbidden, the more you are attracted to it.

FS: Yes.

ED: So as a composer I wanted naturally to get involved in that type of music that was not allowed in Italy. So I was naturally thrown out by every music school because I was composing things that were probably considered as crazy as John Cage was considered crazy here 20 years ago and who is no longer considered crazy. You know what I mean. Like Varese. He composed all his life and he had little recognition at the end of his life. The same thing! So in consequence I was so antagonized by the music teachers as well as by my family that my mother ended up by selling the piano and not allowing me to work anymore. I kept on stubbornly working and I went abroad when I was 15 years old. I went to Germany. I went to England. I went to Czecho-Slovakia. I went all over Europe. So I was aware of what was happening outside. But then when I came back I didn’t have the opportunity to develop anything constructive because it was always taken apart. So in consequence I was a frustrated musician, I would say. And I was trying to create in music somehow what I tried to do later in painting — express my emotions and put them into sound. And, unfortunately, I was completely torn apart by the regime plus the family plus Italy at that time. So it was kind of an escape for me to go abroad. I went to the Germans and to the English and to the French to try to learn something and read into them. My first opportunity to come to America was ideal because I was getting out and breaking with what was a regime.

FS: Had you already decided then . . . were you already a painter when you came to America the first time?

ED: I was always interested in painting. I had several friends that were painters. I had gone to school and learned about painting and drawing but I had never taken it seriously. I took it seriously when I went back to France from America in 1934. I stayed in France for a few years, then came back here. I went up and down with America. But basically I took it up when I went back to France. In France I joined a group of friends, musicians and composers and we all had a studio in Montmartre, up on the ninth floor with no elevator, a walkup. And in this studio that was way up on the top of this building, the name of the type of floor is mansard, just smack under the roof. We had two little bitsy rooms there and we were, I think, nine artists working together.

FS: Who were the artists? Were they Italians or Americans?

ED: No, they were everybody. There was an Italian called Cesare Brero, a composer that was fairly successful. He went to South America afterwards.

[Telephone ringing — FS: “I’ll get it.” Tape runs silently for about 9 minutes]

ED: One of my teachers was Robert Hale who was teaching anatomy. I took a couple of years with him in anatomy. Then I wanted to learn about designing and I wanted to learn about script and lettering, and I worked with Trafton who was a very famous teacher at that time. He even invented the Trafton script. I wanted to experiment. I wanted to try different things. And I got involved in that.

FS: By this time you felt completely committed to the visual arts, I take it?

ED: Yes. Completely. I was involved not only a hundred percent but I’d even tried to get a job. First of all, I wasn’t ready to have a show yet. Secondly, I was in the process of thinking and trying to create an idea in my head and not just to paint a painting. I didn’t want to paint a painting. I wanted to paint an idea, to express an idea on canvas. I had to be ready physically to be able to paint anything so that I could paint an idea. So I went through the entire routine of school with Agars, is it, to be ready to express an idea on canvas. It took a long time before I was able to create an idea. It was a long struggle. And it was not only the technique that counted. It’s not really the painting per se that counted for me. It was what am I going to express on the canvas? What am I going to put on the canvas? I started to read a lot. I started to absorb a lot of what the Surrealists were doing. And I started to meet a few artists. And I started to, let’s say, develop a little library in my own head. It’s by the thinking more than the working that I started to build an idea. I came across some books in which the Legend of Mandragora was for me the opening of a new world. You probably know what it’s all about. Mandragora is a root . . .

FS: Mandrake root we call it.

ED: . . . that was found under the gallows nourished by the sperm of the hanged man. And this thought about the root that had a physical human connotation, let’s say, born by the sperm of the dying man was like a continuation of life in a different form. Right?

FS: Yes.

ED: So, in consequence, it started to build with me the idea of life and rebirth. On one side there’s the destruction of life and on the other side there’s rebirth in a different form. So this started to become my metaphor: the destruction and the rebirth. I started to build a world of Mandragora. Instead of being just a world of the Mandragora, the root of the legend, mine became a more universal Mandragora, by being in other forms that I could find, perhaps maybe animals had created another form of rebirth. You walk into the forest and you pick up a root of any kind, maybe it hasn’t got human features but maybe it has another type of features, maybe animal features. Maybe it’s a rebirth of another type of situation.

FS: Did this interest lead you to a study of the Hindu philosophies at all?

ED: The Hindu philosophy came so much later it isn’t even funny. No, I didn’t make any connection with it at all. I really studied the problem of the destruction and the rebirth. It has been a part of my life for maybe 20 years. It starts by, let’s say, the shell of an animal that is alive, and it dies and it petrifies, and then you find it in the form of a stone, fossil, and you break the stone and you find it’s alive again. It has a spirit that continues.

FS: Also, it seems to . . . it has a great similarity to the Christian doctrine about, you know, you have to be born again in the . . .

ED: It would be a rebirth.

FS: Rebirth! The old evil man dies and you are born again as the sinning man dies.

ED: Yes. So consequently, let’s say philosophically, my point of departure for creation of an idea was destruction and rebirth. And it was the Mandragora that started it all. I kept on working until I was successful in making a series of paintings that had the Mandragora as a world. At that time there . . . I don’t think you’re interested in knowing my historical background in my shows and what happened, but I’ll tell you an interesting moment of my life. Lionello Venturi, the famous art critic, came to one of my shows, to my first show to be more specific, and he said, “You must meet Andre Breton,” He sent me to Breton with a note saying, “I think this guy belongs more to you than to me,” because he was a specialist in Cezanne and the Impressionists. And I met Breton and I started to tell him all about what I was thinking. Then he came up to see some of my paintings and he was interested. He was convincing in the respect that he thought it was valid. I was uncertain of what I was doing. Let’s face it, I was much too young and I was not cocky enough to say this is it. He advised me to continue and to get involved more to really stay with it. I did stay with it for a number of years, and he made a preface later to my first show in a gallery. He liked my colors; he liked my blues. At that time I was doing a lot of paintings in blues. And he liked the idea of Mandragora. He liked the spirit back of it. I will say this, he was a wonderful pusher. He really pushed me to work and to produce. He came around — I don’t know — practically once or twice a week. And we used to have lunch together practically every day. Through him I started to meet the boys. I knew a few but I didn’t know them that well. I really started to get involved. I became a Surrealist with the Surrealist group for a number of years. And that was a fabulous experience because I don’t know if you realize what it was for a young kid to one day walk into a restaurant and see such a gentleman like him, lean and very — a man. He didn’t look like a genius, he just looked like a man. I was having luncheon with Matta and Max Ernst and Breton and the wife of Breton, at that time Jacqueline. And Breton jumped from his seat as if he had a spring under the seat and he went over to this man who was coming in to the restaurant. The restaurant was Larre here on West 56th Street. And he bowed in front of him like it was God appearing. That man was Marcel Duchamp. He had just arrived in America. And everybody went there and — it’s Marcel Duchamp. Naturally I found myself surrounded by a bunch of geniuses, a bunch of fellows who knew it all. Between them there were, let’s say, three young men, three kids; and the three naughty boys were at that time Matta, and another one with me was David Hare. David Hare at that time was a photographer; he was getting a little bit involved with sculpture. So we were the three young boys of the crowd, let’s say. All the others were masters. So you just shut up and sat down and let the boys talk and try to absorb as much as you could. I want to go back to one point now that I think is something that every student in the world should know now that I’m an old man because I will be sixty in four or five months, so I’m an old man. Now I can talk. And I’ve told this to every student in every class in which I was a speaker or lecturer or a visiting critic or God knows what. And when a kid asks me what should I do next? How can I develop my work? my first approach to him is this: do what I did and start to become the valet of a painter. You go in in the morning and clean up his brushes and wash his dishes and empty his garbage and just stay there and watch him work and try to absorb from the beginning to the end, and learn, and shut up, and sit down, and do nothing else. But just stay there with him and listen to him and discuss with him when he wants to open up his mouth. Otherwise you just shut up. But you watch and you see how he works and what he does and how he stretches his canvas, and what happens later. How he thinks and how he puts something on canvas and then he erases it, and then he starts again and then he destroys it. And what the processes of thinking are and what the processes of painting are. For me, if I had to start again, I’d start like that. And that’s what I did with Camillo Agars. That’s what I did with other artists with which I was just a servant. And there I learned more than going to school in any class, even of a genius. You wouldn’t learn a damn thing in school. You only learn with a guy sitting and living and eating and sleeping with him and absorbing. That’s the only way.

You can read more here:

His world is fluid. As it rises from the water, develops and dies still there. As if the universe itself had taken part in an underwater world – that’s his theme, organic (as the Universe develops itself in water through a plant (Algae) or animal (all shapes and sizes!)-.
Even his stones are alive and the fossils come to life.
Everyone’s is alive into his paintings, full of liveliness.
Although it can be included in Abstract Expressionism Donati remains a Surreal. And for me, an Organic one.

If you want to read more :