Mario Schifano

It was Mario Schifano’s destiny to represent an era of radical change.

O sole mio
Mario Schifano O sole mio


Zoom on Mario Schifano

Born in Khoms, Italian Libya, where he stayed until the end of the war, Schifano (1934-1998) was the son of an archaeologist. 

After his family returned to Rome, Mario had no desire to study, so his father let him assist in restorations at the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. He once told an interviewer that when he found himself alone in the museum, instead of cleaning pottery fragments he would pick up a brush and create.

His first exhibition was at Gian Tommaso Liverani’s Galleria La Salita in Salita di San Sebastianello in Rome. He showed there with four other Roman painters: Angeli, Festa, Lo Savio, and Uncini.

In 1960, he had his first solo at Plinio De Martiis’ Galleria La Tartaruga at Via del Babuino 196.

Schifano, in 1962  was invited to be part of The New Realists exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York.

He embodied the extent to which Italy managed to engage with Pop Art, a new concept from England made famous in the United States that started spreading throughout Europe in the mid-1960s.

After his early Monochrome paintings, Schifano quickly moved on to representing aspects of contemporary life like the famous Coca-Cola brand, also a favorite of Andy Warhol, whom Schifano met in New York in the early 1960s.

Schifano was like a seismograph, recording changes in an ancient country where art in the 1950s was still stuck in more archaic parts of the imagination, where the only artists for the new generation to follow or refer to were autonomous ones like Burri or Lucio Fontana.

Mario Schifano soon decided he wasn’t just an artist; he was also a rock star. His clothes were very fashionable. He wore the latest styles and then became an early adopter of ripped jeans and cowboy boots. He started playing rock music with his band “Le Stelle di Mario Schifano” and was one of the first in Italy to get behind the camera and direct the likes of Carmelo Bene, Alberto Moravia, Sandro Penna, and Ungaretti — all these great poets and actors before the camera lens of his larger-than-life persona. 

Throughout all this, he painted reams and reams of canvases and frescoes.

His production was endless. It was also tied to a turbulent personal life marked by drug addiction, arrests, and beautiful women. With a young Anita Pallenberg, he would meet Warhol and the Factory, Frank O’Hara, and Jasper Johns in New York.

Marianne Faithfull and other women important in his world would follow.

Gianni Agnelli and Mario Schifano

He was basically a Renaissance man; He was an extraordinary figure who could bring diverse worlds together, clear in the famous anecdote about Gianni Agnelli and his wife Marella asking him to fresco Agnelli’s famous Roman palazzo. Schifano decorated the walls with strikers dressed in red, along with the hammer and sickle, and Mao’s little red books in their hands.

The Agnellis didn’t appreciate his work, so he removed it without protest. He called it merely decorative, so he replaced the workers with rather more soothing Palm Trees.

This little story depicts a remarkably creative figure who left an extraordinary mark on Italian and European art from the 1960s to the present.

Among his best-known series are Monocromi (Monochromes), Paesaggi anemici (Anemic landscapes), Propagande (Propaganda), Ossigeno ossigeno (Oxygen oxygen), Tuttestelle (All-stars), Oasi (Oases), Compagni-compagni (Companions-companions), and Sintetico dall’Inventario (Synthetic from the Inventory).