Carlo Zinelli

Italian, 1916–1974

156 followers

Carlo Zinelli

Bio

Italian, 1916–1974

Followers
156
Biography

Ironic, insightful and intelligent, Carlo Zinelli is an acknowledged master of art brut, whose shocking anti-war output was inspired by, and a result of, his experiences as a soldier in the Italian military.

Born in San Giovanni Lupatoto, near Verona, Italy, Zinelli spent much of his childhood as a farmhand. Conscripted into the Alpini in 1936, he was then coaxed into volunteering for the Spanish Civil War in 1939. Within two months he returned, severely affected by what he had seen and experienced.

In 1947, Zinelli’s family suggested he move to accommodation at San Giacomo hospital. It was here, in 1957, that he developed a creative practice in an on-site art studio, conceived by sculptor Michael Noble and funded by his partner, Ida Borletti.

Zinelli embarked on an astonishing body of work. For eight hours a day, he recreated in silhouette the beloved wildlife, landscapes and characters of youth, alongside the circuses and stripshows of adolescence. These were presented against a backdrop of battle and hand-to-hand combat, laid out within dense frames of swirling text.

Thanks to Borletti and Noble, Zinelli’s distinctive double-sided artworks were exhibited nationally. Zinelli blossomed: his practice evolved, and his demeanour softened. Gone was the young conscript, traumatised by war; and in his place, a witty and self-confident artist, communicating a trapped interior with a powerful, idiosyncratic style.

Essays by Dino Buzzati and Alberto Moravia grew his cult status. In 1963, Zinelli’s friend, the young psychiatrist Vittorino Andreoli, presented some works to artist Jean Dubuffet. Dubuffet initially felt the material too refined for his art brut project; but persuaded by surrealist Andre Breton, he bought Zinelli’s artworks for the collection.

In 1971, the San Giacomo Hospital closed. The 55-year-old Zinelli was reluctantly transferred to a new facility. The artist did not adapt, and his artistic practice came to an end. He died in 1974.

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Artforum
Biography

Ironic, insightful and intelligent, Carlo Zinelli is an acknowledged master of art brut, whose shocking anti-war output was inspired by, and a result of, his experiences as a soldier in the Italian military.

Born in San Giovanni Lupatoto, near Verona, Italy, Zinelli spent much of his childhood as a farmhand. Conscripted into the Alpini in 1936, he was then coaxed into volunteering for the Spanish Civil War in 1939. Within two months he returned, severely affected by what he had seen and experienced.

In 1947, Zinelli’s family suggested he move to accommodation at San Giacomo hospital. It was here, in 1957, that he developed a creative practice in an on-site art studio, conceived by sculptor Michael Noble and funded by his partner, Ida Borletti.

Zinelli embarked on an astonishing body of work. For eight hours a day, he recreated in silhouette the beloved wildlife, landscapes and characters of youth, alongside the circuses and stripshows of adolescence. These were presented against a backdrop of battle and hand-to-hand combat, laid out within dense frames of swirling text.

Thanks to Borletti and Noble, Zinelli’s distinctive double-sided artworks were exhibited nationally. Zinelli blossomed: his practice evolved, and his demeanour softened. Gone was the young conscript, traumatised by war; and in his place, a witty and self-confident artist, communicating a trapped interior with a powerful, idiosyncratic style.

Essays by Dino Buzzati and Alberto Moravia grew his cult status. In 1963, Zinelli’s friend, the young psychiatrist Vittorino Andreoli, presented some works to artist Jean Dubuffet. Dubuffet initially felt the material too refined for his art brut project; but persuaded by surrealist Andre Breton, he bought Zinelli’s artworks for the collection.

In 1971, the San Giacomo Hospital closed. The 55-year-old Zinelli was reluctantly transferred to a new facility. The artist did not adapt, and his artistic practice came to an end. He died in 1974.

Career Highlights
Learn more about artist insights.
Group
Group show at a major institution
Museum of Old and New Art
Publication
Reviewed by a major art publication
Artforum
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