Ever since the end of the 1970s, Sandro Chia has been one of Italy’s leading contemporary painters. He came to prominence as a key figure in the Transavanguardia: a group of Italian Neo-Expressionists who returned to an art revolving around form and colour. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is delighted to be able to present Chia’s first one-man show in any Dutch museum since 1983. The museum’s Projects Gallery will be used to exhibit painting from his latest series, which features the vagrants and beggars who live around the fringes of Rome.
Chia paints things as he sees them in the real world, but also as his memories suggest. His latest series seems to be heavily influenced by reminiscences of the Bamboccianti, a flamboyant group of Dutch and Flemish artists active in Rome in the heyday of the Baroque. They spurned the gods and heroes of conventional art and covered their canvases with everyday scenes of idlers hanging about by the local limekilns, horsemen reining in at grubby taverns and brigands assailing travellers.
The Bamboccianti combined the Northern, ‘realistic’ tradition – an interest in ordinary, not particularly edifying scenes – with the influence of ancient Rome. Their interest in the everyday and in ordinary people is echoed in Chia’s paintings of people who exist literally on the margins of Rome, amid remnants of the city’s glorious past.
The process Chia uses to produce his huge, colourful canvases is in no way casual; they are built up layer by layer, idea by idea, with a mixture of swift and lingering gestures, and with swift chopping movements of the charcoal stick in his hand. To him, the canvas is like a body, as he himself puts it: “If a body is the place of many vital events, functions and positions, the stretched canvas I’m operating on is the ultimate body, the body supporting all the other bodies including mine with my action of painting. … My task and my mission … are to try to reanimate the body of the stretched canvas in front of me, as if it was a symbolic white wale found on a beach.”
Sandro Chia was born in Florence in 1946. He trained at the city’s Istituto d’Arte and Accademia di Belle Arti. In 1970 he moved to Rome, where he switched slowly but surely to a more figuratively style. Together with artists like Enzo Cucchi and Francesco Clemente, he constituted the Italian wing of the Neo-Expressionist movement, the Transavanguardia. These days he lives and works in Miami, Rome and Montalcino.