Pizzi Canella was born in Rocca di Papa near Rome in 1955. His interest in art appeared in childhood. In 1975 he began studying painting at the Academy of Arts in Rome, while at the same time studying philosophy at the Sapienza University. He began his career producing non-representational paintings, but already in the works of the early period it is sometimes possible to divine simple figurative motifs behind the abstraction.
The pictures being shown in the Hermitage divide up into a number of thematic groups: cathedrals, vedute, geographical maps, clothing and the Salon de musique series. The “serial” principle is determined by peculiarities of the artist’s perception and comprehension of the world. His art grows out of associations and observations. Pizzi Cannella intuitively senses in a subject that has caught his interest many potential ways of working it up. As a result, the paintings are like a visual equivalent of musical variations on a theme.
The Salon de musique (or Music Salon) series occupies the central place in the display. It was created specially to be shown in the Hermitage and was inspired by the chandeliers that adorn its halls. While they remain outside the visitors’ field of view, as it were, the chandeliers play an important role in the creation of the grand palatial interiors. The artist used photographs in his work process, but none of the chandeliers have been copied directly. They are transformed into images devoid of the former materiality and weightiness.
Varying the design and size of the chandeliers, the artist displays virtuoso skill in conveying their shape as well as inexhaustible imagination. They appear on the canvases like a mirage, a vision or a recollection. They seem to retain within them the memory of festivities they have “seen”, the glittering balls and sumptuous receptions of a Russian court that has forever become a thing of the past. At the same time the artist does not in the least strive to specify the setting. The space around the chandeliers is not indicated in any way: they themselves give birth to it.
The series of works inspired by geographical maps carries a different intonation. Here the palette is lightened due to the predominance of white and light blue that is natural for maps. The viewer’s eye will occasionally detect the real-life outlines of islands or continents, but on closer inspection that similarity vanishes and it turns out that the artist was attracted only by the decorative aspect.
In Synoptic Map (2012–15), for example, text is superimposed on a semblance of a geographical chart, producing a fairly distinctive effect.
The multiple layers and multiple levels of interpretation of the works are predetermined by the creative process itself. The artist, who has been shaped by Mediterranean civilization, wanders freely, crossing the boundaries of cultures and ages. Some objects may be created with the aid of others that had their genesis centuries back in another tradition, such as those made on canvas using old Indian blocks for printing on cloth – Indian Stamps I and Indian Stamps II (both 2014).
A separate group of Pizzi Cappella’s pictures can be classified as fantasy landscapes or urban views. The artist uses a minimum of paints to produce an image of a city woven from creations of world culture, imagination and memories.
In the work entitled To Spend Nights by the Sea (2014), the domes of a spectral city seem to be descending to the sea, above which twinkle stars that call to mind those of Van Gogh. This work is marked by an astonishing, yet at the same time seemingly organic combination of the real and the fantastic. And even the placement of the stars here can be taken as an only slightly modified version of the constellations Ursa Major and Minor.
Piero Pizzi Cannalla’s images, whether “interiors”, cathedrals or views of cities are a fusion of historical and personal memory, imagination and reality. Despite the monumentality of his canvases, he remains a “chamber performer”, even an intimate artist. And although there are no human figures in his works, they are ultimately addressed to people, to the world of their knowledge, experience, feelings and emotions, to the world of imagination and dreams, and to the world of the history that shaped us.
Five works featured in the exhibition – Salon de musique (2016), Salon de musique (2012), To Spend Nights by the Sea (2014), Untitled (2014–15) and Musical Stave (2015) – have been donated by Piero Pizzi Cannalla to the Hermitage.
The exhibition curators are:
• on behalf of the Hermitage, Natalya Borisovna Demina, researcher in the Department of Western European Fine Art
• on the Italian side, Danilo Eccher, art critic
A catalogue has been prepared for the exhibition: Salon de musique and Other Paintings by Piero Pizzi Cannella (Il Cigno GG Edizioni, Rome, Italy, 2017), with contributions from Natalya Demina, Sergei Androsov (head of the Department of Western European Fine Art), and the Italian specialists Danilo Eccher, Francesco Nucci and Lea Mattarella.