Autobiography of Ilario Fioravanti

When I was around seven years old, I put together some money and purchased two things- a bicycle and a Melzi dictionary. Published in two volumes, it was a rich repertoire of images from which I would free-hand copy the characters shown in its illustrative tables, and I would look appreciatively at the reproductions of works by Masaccio, Michelagelo, Leonardo, and the many grand maestros of the past. I would spend much of my time filling small pieces of paper – tons of them – with drawings. Whatever I stumbled across, I would draw. Drawing was to me a necessity that even to this day lives very strongly within myself.

Photograph: Daniele Ferroni
My rapport with image, with art, began very early in my life. As a young boy I recall travelling with my brothers and my mother- Ferrara-born and married to a Cesena man- from our hometown of Cesena to visit our grandmother in Bondeno, a few kilometres outside of Ferrara. Whenever possible, we would take advantage of the discounted train fares included in the admission tickets to important art exhibitions in Ferrara. This was back in the Thirties. It was a chance for me to see some really extraordinary exhibitions. One in particular touched and struck me. It was organized during the celebrations of the Ariosto centennial and it was centred on the Ferrarese Renaissance painting.There I saw the “Lamentation” in coloured terracotta by Guido Mazzoni- an unforgettable vision. It was exhibited in one of the halls of Palazzo dei Diamanti in a dimly-lit and scarcely visible spot. This semi-darkness allowed me to discover it little by little, in a crescendo of emotions that left me speechless.

Later on, fulfilling my parents’ wishes, my brothers and I enrolled in a commercial school and graduated at the end of the course. However, my interests became more and more oriented towards art. In those years, I would buy art reviews like Ernesto Treccani’s “Corrente di vita giovanile”. Besides drawings by Treccani himself, it featured works by Mignato and Manzù. Another art review that really appealed to me was “Primato – Arti e Lettere d’Italia”, which saw contributions by Maccari, Morandi, Rosai, Mafai, Guttuso, Manzù, De Pisis, Carrà, Casorati and Tamburi.

Photograph: Daniele Ferroni

Drawing always came first to me, but after graduation I worked for ECA for two years as a bookkeeper. That was a period of great suffering and discontent for me and it nearly undermined my health. My parents understood my dissatisfaction and gave me permission to enrol as an external student in the “Liceo Artistico” of Bologna ( a secondary school specializing in art subjects) and then to continue my studies at the Faculty of Architecture of Florence. This decision allowed me to keep on drawing and to nurture my great passion for painting, sculpture and engraving. During my years of studying at university I had the opportunity to increase my knowledge, and I started to get in touch with some professors and architects whom allowed me to visit the studios of sculptors and painters. I continued widening my artistic culture. After graduation, towards the end of the Forties, I worked with architect Saul Bravetti. Thanks to him I began frequenting studios of artists in Rome- especially Pericle Fazzini, who became a good friend of mine. This was a very important learning experience because I had the chance to observe and deepen my knowledge of engraving, sculpture, and painting techniques which I had previously explored mainly as an autodidact.

During my years at university, Giovanni Cappelli and I opened a studio inside one the turrets of the medieval fortress of Cesena. I’d met Giovanni Cappelli some time earlier. He’d asked me if I could help him prepare for his entrance examination to the Liceo Artistico of Bologna after he’d learned that I’d graduated from the school the year before. We were later joined by a very young Alberto Sughi- followed by Luciano Caldari- but by that time my attendance at the studio was quite sporadic due to my university commitments.

I precociously disengaged from the way of painting that was taking shape within the walls of that studio. I felt that my path was a different one, and I started practising -with growing interest- le arti plastiche. Once out of university, I began my career as an architect- without abandoning my passion for drawing, which had always been a constant factor in my life. I would draft my projects by hand; I simply could not bind them within impersonal and rigid lines. I found great stimulus in architecture because it allowed me to see sculpture hidden in the shapes of buildings, just like the nuances of colours would remind me of painting and so on. All arts can be found in architecture, provided the architect works “with his heart”; otherwise he only exercises private building architecture, and that’s worth nothing.
Anyway, in the Sixties I dedicated much more time to sculpture, painting and engraving and realized that my relentless practice of drawing during those years had been the best schooling that I could’ve received. The mastery of the various art techniques comes from the ability to harmonize reality with the inner world. To this purpose, drawing was very useful to me. The rest was only practice.

Photograph: Daniele Ferroni
During those years I took part in a few collective and personal art exhibitions and created a few works for public places. However, my main activity remained focused on architecture. This somehow allowed me to live with greater intimacy and privacy in the other aspects of my creativity. Only relatives and friends really knew my works fairly well. It was only in 1990- thanks to the help of Giovanni Testori- that I realized my first important sculpture exhibition in Milano. It was Testori himself who offered to be the curator, and that fact alone gave me great satisfaction. At last my works were becoming alive outside my studio. Later, Testori became ill and my future projects dissolved, because at that time I seemed to me that he alone had caught the sense of my art in depth. The following years saw me participating in a few more exhibitions, but with dwindling enthusiasm, so that at one point I decided to hide my works back in my daily routine. However, in 1996 I was unwillingly convinced to organize a large personal exhibition at the Tito Balestra Foundation in Longiano. It turned out to be a great success and it was on that occasion that I met Vittorio Sgarbi (a brilliant Italian art critic), who from that moment on has dedicated much attention to my work.