a convulsive beauty
Dino Buzzati and Alberto Moravia took up their pens in the late 1950s to draw the world’s attention to the great creative spirit that had just come to light at the San Giacomo asylum in Verona. Carlo Zinelli was just beginning to use paper for his paintings, featuring the motifs that he had once roughly gouged into the asylum walls using stones and bits of brick.
Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974) started out as a farmhand and later found work in abattoirs. Though always a solitary man, he was known as something of a dandy and enjoyed drawing and music. The war years, which he spent in a battalion of Alpine hunters, exacerbated his schizophrenia. His art – a kind of autobiographical narrative, blending together events from before his internment – represents a real revolution in formal terms, characterized by iteration, dislocation, multiplication, atrophy, stylisation, lack of perspective, variations in viewpoint and scale, writing in the gaps that throbs like a pulse, and color that lends his silhouettes a palpable density. All these elements give his compositions an intense rhythm of frenzied modernity.
Those who knew him said that there was no intentionality behind his art, or indeed awareness that it was art. However, by the time he died in 1974, he was estimated to have produced some three thousand works, most of them double-sided, though only a third of this number has been located to date. Jean Dubuffet and André Breton understood the futility of trying to decipher the meaning of Carlo Zinelli’s art, while admiring its beauty which, as Breton wrote, “if it exists at all, does so convulsively”.
Interned at 31 years old after participating in the Spanish Civil War, Carlo Zinelli is now seen as a major figure of art brut. Like tales illustrating episodes of his life before his internment, his iterative and dislocated drawings in which perspective is abandoned and replaced by interstitial writings seem to proclaim the concept of « modernity ». Honoured in many international exhibitions, Carlo Zinelli was exhibited in the Giardini at the 2013 Venice Biennale. A significant number of his works was donated to the Centre Pompidou in 2021.
Preface : Daniela Rosi
Forewords : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition Carlo Zinelli : a convulsive beauty, from june 10th to july 23rd, 2011.