Mario Schifano (born in Homs, Libya in 1934; died in Rome, Italy in 1998), made his first important appearance with the exhibition "Five Roman painters: Angeli , Festa, Lo Savio, Schifano and Uncini" presented by Pierre Restany in 1960 at the Galleria La Salita in Rome. He attracted critics’ interest with his monochrome paintings which gave the impression of a screen which subsequently displayed numbers, letters, road signs, and the Esso and Coca Cola trademarks. He signed an exclusive contract with Ileana Sonnabend. In 1962 he made his first trip to the United States, and was intrigued by artists like Dine and Kline. He spent a great deal of time with Frank O'Hara, Jasper Johns, Rothko, Andy Warhol and Gregory Corso. He exhibited at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York in the exhibition The New Realists.
After solo exhibitions in Rome, Paris and Milan, he returned to the United States. He was at the forefront of criticism and won several awards including the Premio Lissone (Lissone 1961) , the Fiorino award and La Nuova Figurazione (Florence , 1963). In 1963, he ended his collaboration with Ileana Sonnabend who was left baffled by the change in his artistic production which was so far removed from earlier work. In his new works there started to appear images from the history of Italian art. The first of his Anaemic Landscapes also appeared, which he presented at the Venice Biennale Exhibition in 1964 upon invitation, followed by works dedicated to Futurism. His first short films in black and white –most of which are silent - come from this period.
He started his exclusive collaboration with Giorgio Marconi which continued until the end of the 1970s. He participated in international collective exhibitions (i.e. group exhibitions) including events at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1964, and in 1965 at the San Marino and Sao Paulo of Brazil Biennial exhibitions, as well as the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. In 1966-1967 he conceived the series "Ossigeno Ossigeno", "Tuttestelle", "Oasis", and "Compagni, compagni". In 1967-1969 he presented the feature film "Anna Carini vista in agosto dalle farfalle" at the Studio Marconi in Milan, which was followed by the trilogy of films "Satellite", "Umano non umano", and "Trapianto - Consunzione e morte di Franco Brocani". He took part in a collective exhibition at the Galleria La Salita in Rome where he did not exhibit paintings but projected photograms on the Vietnam War. And it is precisely this interest in contemporary history and his social commitment which led to a crisis of ideology and identity, resulting in his declaration that he wished to abandon painting.
In 1970, together with Tonino Guerra, Carlo Ponti’s screenwriter, he travelled for the last time to America, to search for filming locations for Laboratorio Umano, a film which finally was never made . Once back in Italy, and having lost his patience with the long waiting periods involved in the dynamics of cinematography, he began the series Paesaggi TV where he transferred television pictures onto canvas using the technique of photographic emulsion. Initially the photographs he took in the US were used for this series (which led to works including Pentagono, Medal of Honor, Era Nucleare, Le sale di trapianto a Huston, La Nasa, Alamo Gordo dall’Archivio di Los Alamos) , then a wealth of images that television stations broadcast daily and incessantly. It was not TV culture which interested him, but the culture that develops from the televised image. He travelled in Laos and Thailand, and later in Africa.
In his works, Schifano preferred to use enamel paints made for industrial production because of their ability to preserve the original brilliance and because they dry quickly, enabling him both to paint the picture in the exact moment of its appearance and to provide him with the opportunity of increasing his artistic production. In 1971 he exhibited at “Vitalità del negativo nell’arte italiana 1960-70”, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva. He had solo exhibitions in Rome, Parma, Turin and Naples. In 1973 he took part in the 10th Quadriennale Nazionale di Roma and in Contemporanea, which was also curated by Achille Bonito Oliva . In 1974 the Palazzo della Pilotta (Salone delle Scuderie) in Parma hosted the first major retrospective of Schifano, curated by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, which enabled visitors to fully appreciate the breadth of his work./p>
An ideological and existential crisis brought about periods of isolation in his studio where he created "d'après", reinterpreting Magritte, De Chirico, Boccioni, Cézanne, and Picabia. He remade his own works from the sixties in the series "Sintetico dall’Inventario " In 1976 he was present at the exhibition “Europa/America, l’astrazione determinata 1960-76” held at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna. In 1978 he returned to the Venice Biennale Exhibition with the series "Al mare" and "Quadri Equestri", works painted with extreme grace and lightness, constituting an example of a newfound creative freshness. Invited to “Art e Critica” in 1980, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, in 1981 he participated in the exhibition “Identité Italienne” , held at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The series entitled "Architecture", "Cosmetics", "Planes" and "Botanical gardens" date from that period. His works appeared in the exhibition “Avanguardia / Transavanguardia” at the Mura Aureliane in 1982. Marco Meneguzzo curated a solo exhibition at the Loggia Lombardesca in Ravenna. He conceived a series of large paintings including “Biciclette e Ballerini”. Once more he was present at the Venice Biennale Exhibition.
In 1984 he was invited yet again to the Venice Biennale Exhibition, and at the same time Alain Cueff presented the series " Naturale sconosciuto" where Schifano’s focus on nature emerged. This is when we see his water lilies, wheat fields, waves, and paintings about deserts using sand for an exhibition in Jordan. The paintings donated to the community of Gibellina after the earthquake in the area were also the result of this new, seemingly unstoppable, energy. In 1985 in Florence, at Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in front of six thousand people, he painted La Chimera, a monumental work four meters by ten, inaugurating the exhibition on the Etruscans. He married Monica De Bei with whom he had a son, Marco. His painting started to become denser and richer in suggestion. In 1988, the Adrien Maeght gallery in Paris inaugurated his solo exhibition “Le secret de la jeunesse éternelle: un Faust dionysiaque”. Passionate about cycling, Schifano is the only Italian to have twice worn the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. In 1989 he was among the protagonists of the exhibition “Arte italiana del XX secolo” , organized by the Royal Academy in London. Solo exhibitions were held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Ferrara.
In 1990, after a decade of intense, vibrant and sumptuous painting, where he produced many of his most exciting works (e.g. Estroverso da Mazzoli in Modena ) he inaugurated the reopening of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome with Dante’s “Divulgare”, a collection of works of exceptional size created with the first digital technologies. The reproduced pictures united the reality filtered daily by television at the unconscious level. The works represented new satellite images, environmental emergencies, and war. Few artists ventured so deeply into recent conflicts in the Middle East as he did. His commitment extended to works in support of campaigns by Greenpeace, UNHCR and many voluntary organizations. In 1991 he created the designs for the theatre set for Vincenzo Bellini's “Norma” at Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari. The 1993 Venice Biennale Exhibition, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, offered him a room of his own in the section “Slittamenti”. In 1994 he participated in the exhibition “The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943-1968”, organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 1996 he exhibited in Spain and in Latin America with the solo exhibition “Musa Ausiliaria”, a homage to television, seen as the inexhaustible flow of images.
The works of these years testify to his interest in science and technology. The telecommunications company Stet commissioned him to design new digital images. Schifano immediately grasped the possibilities of the Internet, which extended the expressive possibilities of the visual arts with its unlimited access, and the potential of fiber-optic communication that accelerated communication. So great was his enthusiasm that he created a work of art entitled “Fibre-Ottiche” which became the symbol of the new mass media. During one of the trips to Brazil he created a happening in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, painting a shanty white in protest at the city mayor who ordered all the favelas to be painted green in order to standardize them and make them "invisible " . In 1997 he participated in “Minimalia” at Palazzo Querini Dubois in Venice . He died in Rome on 26th January 1998.