Monday, December 24, 2012

LA DOLCE VITA: REMEMBERING NINO FRANCHINA

That drawing on my wall!

Something occurred to me recently while lost in the haze of a gaze at a drawing doing its thing on my wall, as drawings are want to do, their thing, whether anyone is looking or not, that thing, patient, dancing, posing, strutting, gesticulating, or simply being. So I was admiring this drawing, a drawing I have had for almost 50 years, as it spoke to me in soothing tones, as it gently showed me the way for the umpteenth million time, while I have been stupid and arrogant and off course and flailing about, and once more it whispered to me in its way, kindly, generously, without force or noise or fanfare, like some tree that silently gave me comfort and shade and solace. 

Now it makes me sad. I never told it. I never told the artist who made it and gave it to me so long ago. I never told him how of all the people who have taught me, mentored me, influenced me, some powerful, some famous, that  it was his mark that left its mark on me. I never told him and thanked him and celebrated him and rewarded him and hugged him for it. Maybe he knew how profoundly he had affected me and the course of my life. Maybe, or maybe not. I'll never know. Makes me feel sad, makes me feel like a jerk, and makes me want to be better. Fiercely determined to be better. 


Me & Xeni on our terrace at Via Margutta 48

This started in about 1962. In Rome. Via Margutta. Number 51. He had a studio off the far right side of the courtyard. We lived next door at 48, and because I had a beautiful studio there that had supposedly belonged to Raphael, the other artists called me Piccolo Raffaello.  After school or on the weekends, I would quietly inch my way into the doorway of his studio trying not to disturb him while he was working. I was about 9. If he wasn't welding, he would have been grinding and hammering metal,  or drawing, goggles still on his head, face blackened where they weren't, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He would let me watch, and would go about his work. He knew I was there. Soaking it all up. Learning. Dreaming. Taking note. Because this was it. The way. 




There isn't enough time to tell this story. But when I look at my life now, when I look at my work, I realize that this is where it all came from. Every bit of it. The spirit. The form. The contemplation. The work. The way. 

                                           


Brain experts say all we do is model. We model on things, after things. We don't really have ideas. We just model. Unconsciously. And to a certain extent for once I would have to agree. This was my model, and I never even realized it. When it finally struck me, thunder struck me, it rushed in like water, the floodgates opened wide. Overwhelming me. Spinning me around. Carrying me upward.  It was all there. Everything.




His work stood up, tall, vertical, abstract, but still a figure of sorts, with wings, like an angel, like a light, like a plant, a tree, a flower, a fountain, a spring of life! The radiant life-giving force. The shine. The shine within all things. Sentinel. Standing guard. Guardian. Standing strong. The protector.  Noble.  At the ready. The champion. The knight. The angel Gabriel. Avatar. His Avatar. A modern day avatar channeling the old world chivalry and valor and virtue of the sacred knights of centuries past charged with the quest, the good and humble devotion to the service of all humanity. Art. Artist. Do some good.


Sculpture was my first love. One of mine.
Wall drawings of mine that sprang from doodles

And there it was in the drawing hanging on my wall, and I stared at it dumbfounded. That star. That beacon. And this has always been the driving force in my work, swirling around inside of me, all my life, in every doodle, in every image sense inside me, waiting to come out, and finally emerging, in sculpture and then painting over the past tens years, once I stopped pursuing the gallery machine, once I just started working for what it was all about, for the pleasure of it.



With Sandy Calder

And this sculptor that I had watched work so often, he labored, he pursued his quest like the knight. He hammered and cut and welded steel. He shaped steel. He made it shine. He made it fly. And he was not a world famous artist that I was aware of. Because he did not act important. He did not act celebrated. He did not strut. But famous and important artists knew him. Alexander Calder, David Smith, Gino Severini, DiChirico, Fontana, Pomodoro. Their works all hung on his walls, and so did mine. I met them on his roof deck, laughing, drinking, talking up a storm, while he operated the grill like the artist he was, like the creator, at the forge, in the fire, squinting, cigarette pursed in his mouth, gesturing with tongs in hand. When I saw his towering piece in Spoleto at the first festival there organized by Giovanni Carandente in 1964, I have to say I was, well, ok, about time! We were Carandente's guest on his beautiful roof deck. Carandente, Italy's foremost and most beloved art critic, appreciated his work! 



Next to his sculpture in Spoleto
When my family was away I would stay with this sculptor and his wife. Together the three of us watched The African Queen in awe on a little black and white tv in their little flat high up over his studio, magnificent with views of the domes of the ancient city, more intimate and family like than I ever knew. I make a fuss about the fact that the wife bounced on Picasso's knee as a child. That her father was the seminal Italian Futurist Master, Gino Severini. That she dragged me by the hand to get mural instruction from her famous aging father when he was in Rome. That he explained how one could find inspiration in the patterns formed by casting sand across fresh plaster. I make a fuss about that. I wear it like a feather in my cap. I never spoke, never once, about the quiet but indelible inspiration of the sculptor who gave me it all. I never spoke about the artist who was somewhat crusty on the outside,  but of such a kind and generous spirit, like that tree. I never once mentioned Nino Franchina.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, Dec. 2012





Nino and Gina Franchina, Via Margutta 51 studio


1964 Mostra D’Arte Dei Cento PittoriRome, Italy
My sister DD watching my paintings at Via Margutta 48


No comments: