Yesterday, January 18th, was the 24th anniversary of the death of Renato Guttuso.
Renato Guttuso (1911-1987) was a communist painter who was born in Sicily. I found out about him watching a long fictional drama called Baaria (2009). Guttuso is not a main character. He only makes a “cameo” appearance but his artwork comes back at times throughout the movie re-enforcing the grand narrative about peasants and farmers struggle for justice and dignity in a society of fascism, poverty and corruption.
Many critics have panned Baaria, perhaps because of it's length but more likely, I think, because it stars a communist politician. It won an award at the Venice film festival and I liked it -- but that is for another review.
Renato Guttuso’s Italian-language Wikipedia page says that he was a militant anti-fascist. He chose anti-fascist themes during the Spanish civil-war. He dedicated some of his paintings to Federico Garcia Lorca, brilliant (and gay) poet, spokesperson for the Republic, and killed by fascists in the civil-war.
Under fascist rule, painters did not have the freedom to address pro-people and democratic themes in art. Yet Guttuso bravely did just that in his painting Crocifissione (1941). The work was declared revolutionary and heretical by the powerful Italian Catholic church. In a society where violence and militarism dominated, the painting was a bold statement against the brutality of war. The Vatican went as far as forbidding the religious from looking at the canvas.
After the liberation of Italy he produced many famous works of “social art,” focusing on the poor, peasants, and other working people. He was influenced by socialist realism as well as his colleague and friend, Pablo Picasso; and he engaged in the intense debates on style in critique of much abstract Italian art of his time. He also produced sensuous and erotic paintings.
During the Cold War Guttuso painted on a social backdrop of sharp class struggle. The Italian Communist Party, thrown out of an alliance in government, grew to be one of the largest Communist Parties in capitalist Europe but the left faced sharp political and ideological pressure as well as physical attacks, even assassination attempts of leaders. Washington paid special attention to Italy because of the popular support of the Communists. The CIA’s engagement in Italian politics worked to support big Italian capital, the reactionary side of the Catholic church, as well as the Mafia.
These were political forces that Guttuso dedicated his life to fighting, both in paint and in political discourse. He also became a voice for peace at a time when imperialism’s strategies potentially included the madness of a Third, nuclear, World War.
Later in life he left Italy. He first moved to Paris, painting the young militants of ’68. He taught and exhibited around the world including in the great art museums of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Like the character in the movie Baaria, Guttuso was elected and re-elected to the senate for the Communist Party of Italy.
One of his greatest works in his later life was I funeral di Togliatti (1972, below). Palmiro Togliatti was a resolute anti-fascist and leader of the Italian Communist Party. A million people marched in the streets of Rome for his funeral.
|I funeral di Togliatti (1972)|
We remember your art and your vision, Guttuso.
See more of his paintings: http://www.guttuso.com/