Mario Schifano, Khoms 1934 - 1998 Rome
Often called “Italy’s Andy Warhol,” Mario Schifano was born in 1934 in Libya—then an Italian colony—and moved with his family to Rome in the years after the Second World War. Though never formally trained as an artist, by 1960 Schifano had begun to create the works that established his reputation—the series known as Monocromi, in which each canvas consisted of an energetic field of a single colour. Benefitting from the economic aid of the Marshall Plan, Rome in the early 1960s had become a fast-living city of conspicuous consumption, entering the age of la dolce vita. Schifano joined the group of artists known as the Piazza del Popolo school, who responded to the changing streets around them, and especially to the abundance of advertising posters. Schifano’s canvases adapting and reworking the corporate logos of Coca-Cola and Esso are among the most famous works of all Italian Pop art.
Schifano cultivated a rock star persona, even starting his own short-lived band. At the centre of a group of glamorous friends and acquaintances that included the painter Cy Twombly, the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, and various rockers, Schifano threw infamous parties at his lavish Roman apartment, drove around the city in a Rolls Royce, and had countless girlfriends, including model-cum-actress Anita Pallenberg and singer-songwriter Marianne Faithfull, who left Mick Jagger for the Italian artist. Jagger and his fellow Rolling Stones member Keith Richards appeared in a film Schifano directed, Umano non Umano (1968), and the artist inspired the band’s song Monkey Man, on the album Let It Bleed. In the mid-1960s, Schifano moved for a period to New York, where he shared an apartment with the poet Frank O’Hara and kept company with Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. In 1963, Schifano was one of the few Europeans to show alongside Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in The New Realists, the landmark Pop art exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery. Schifano died in Rome in 1998, after decades struggling with depression and substance abuse, leaving an eclectic and highly compelling body of work.