For “Turi Simeti. Works 1960 – 2020”at Dep Art Gallery in Milan, curator Demetrio Paparoni gathered works spanning 60 years of the artist’s career. The show is open by appointment until 22 December 2020.
Rather than introducing the Master (for this purpose, you will find insights at the end of this interview), I’d like to focus on the sensations that can arise in an artwork from the infinite variations of an identical form.
It has often occurred to me to observe Turi Simeti’s work walking back and forth in front of one or more canvases, all in the same color, but each with its decidedly unique atmosphere. Each seems to come forward to meet you, like a new dawn rising and changing into its own hues.
Turi Simeti’s works are projecting bodies that create a space of light, shadow and color, which moves in time and lives with the observer.
Over the course of his long career, Turi Simeti has experienced an artistic panorama shaped by a rich palimpsest of socio-cultural events and decisive epochal changes. However, the truth of his work has remained unchanged, not still.
Recently, I spoke to the Maestro over the phone.
Do you recall how you approached the oval shape and, above all, why you have never abandoned it?
Turi Simeti: One day the oval appeared before me, and the next day I made it again, and again, until it became truly mine, and I continued making it over the years.
At the outset of my career, when I was still a painter, I began drawing this shape with growing interest in its characteristics. I studied it from all angles and improved it to a point that for me is perfection.
I continued to imagine it in relief on the canvas, and to build it in space.
You studied law. Do you think this has somehow contributed to channel your experimentation, from the beginnings in Rome up to your artistic maturity and beyond?
Turi Simeti: I wouldn’t say so. More than anything else, seeing the work of others, what they were doing at that moment, was decisive for my research.
It really prompted me to try my hand in the field of artistic creation in the first person.
I met and hung out with Burri and many other artists, they invited me to their studios to show me their recent paintings. This was the push that above all led me to move forward.
I was born in Sicily and I went to Rome after school to work, not to be a painter. But there, unexpectedly, I met great artists in the most important galleries, and I soaked in everything until I decided to make my move, and I moved successfully.
I was invited to take part in an exhibition in Milan, and there I met friends, Castellani for instance, then I decided to leave Rome to start working here in Milan.
Subsequently, I lived around for a while. I was in New York and Rio de Janeiro, where I met my current partner, spending more time there.
After we returned to Milan, many galleries from all over the world started wanting me, and so I had exhibitions in Europe, America, Asia, everywhere.
The first ovals in 1962 were white or black, only later did you explore the potential of color.
In the creation process that leads from the idea to its realization, what comes first, color or structure?
Turi Simeti: True, at first I was only interested in form. First comes construction, then the layout. I start from the wooden frame, I have it cut according to the project, and then I build the structure. From there comes composition, orientation, height, etc. … and finally the colors.
I choose the color according to the work I’ve done so far or will do, its design. And if I’m wrong about the color, sometimes I change it. The shape does not change the color.
“Avoid rupture” is the title of Demetrio Paparoni’s text that accompanies this anthological exhibition at Dep Art Gallery in Milan. It’s about the way in which you stretch each canvas in order to obtain the relief. During creation, how do you avert the risk of tearing the canvas?
Turi Simeti: I build in relief both in front and at the back, with positive and negative devices. I try to realize what I conceived, moving from the idea to the work. I’m not worried about the rupture. I have decades of experience, I don’t make mistakes anymore. I know how to use the materials very well and I know how far I can go. Sometimes it happens that I go slightly further, but it’s enough to stop the process and start over again, until the operation, which has to be perfect, is improved.
Then is the body of the work what we see or what’s behind the canvas?
Turi Simeti: It’s what you see in front of you, there’s no doubt. There are sides, there’s a back, but the work must be observed in its nuances.
You have also engaged with “traditional” sculpture. How does the relationship with space and matter change?
Turi Simeti: There have been attempts, the monument to Gibellina and something else in bronze, which I have always commissioned to others on a technical and material level, taking care of the projects and executive details.
The reliefs are present in all my paintings.
The reliefs already exist without the need for sculpture.
I was not interested in a challenge with other materials, such as bronze, which I delegated to specialized workers.
I was interested in the technical execution of the project, the procedure, its result.
What is implicit in my work is that the canvas is the sculpture.
I make sculptures with the canvas.
My surfaces have positive and negative reliefs, the canvas moves, rises, lowers, following the base that I have prepared.
In an interview in 1980 you declared:
“… modifying a surface with a minimal intervention so that it loses any measure of neutrality, and creates a presence […] the silence of the space proposed is a hypothesis of perfection projected beyond the canvas.”
Can you share a reflection on your 60-year career?
Turi Simeti: My work designs space.
The things I do live in space, they are attached to the wall with a nail and find their own living space.
If I’ve done my job well, there is no problem.
Space is what I have, what I have created and what I have surrounded within the limits of the canvas.
There are life relations in the work and in the place where it has to live.
TRANSLATION BY Alessandra Alliata Nobili
SOURCES - Turi Simeti. Opere 1960 - 2020, a cura di Demetrio Paparoni | Dep Art Gallery, Milano: 8 settembre - 22 dicembre 2020 (link) - Archivio Turi Simeti (link)
Installation view: Turi Simeti. Opere 1960 – 2020, Dep Art Gallery, Milan