The American Dream of Italian Artist Angelo Formica

Angelo Formica, Primo Tempo, 2013

Let’s start from the beginning: where are you from, and how did you end up in Milan?

I was born and grew up in Milazzo, where I’m currently on vacation; Milazzo is a peninsula city inhabited by almost forty-thousand people on the north-eastern coast of Sicily: the city is located behind the Etna volcano right in front of the Aeolian Islands; here you can find the biggest castle in Europe, that reflects the main cultural dominations that have followed one another in Sicily throughout time – talking about the Arabian and Spanish invasions, for instance –; the castle is on top of a promontory where you can find a spacious cave that, according to a popular ancient myth, would be the fantastical cave of Polyphemus – the giant mentioned in Homer’s Ulysses.

At age 21, in 1997, I moved to Milan, the city drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci. Here, I attended university and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. It’s also here that I started making collages and met Italian gallerist Franco Toselli. From Sicily to Milan, it’s been and continues to be a trip throughout my country in a direction opposite to that of German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

What is your relationship to your origins and your cultural identity?

There can be no easy answer to your question. Sicily is a holy land. Here, different cultures, feelings, and natural landscapes converge in a place that goes beyond its physical boundaries and, through our imagination, turns into a symbol – a source of symbols. It’s a state of mind. A region of the soul. And, especially by making art, this whole definition results into an amplified version of itself. Sicily is the heart of Art – not only in Italy, but also in the rest of the world.

You are obviously a poet of the unknown, which is typical of old-school academic Italian artists. What are the analogies and differences between Northern Italy and Southern Italy, in your opinion? 

Italy has always been a country of emigrants and travelers, each characterized by a specific identity. Without going too far back in time, the first exhibition of Richard Serra in Italy was inaugurated in Rome, Italy in 1966 by Galleria La Salita. Back then, some of the most important Italian galleries opened their doors to the public: Gian Enzo Sperone in Turin, Luicio Amelio in Naples, and Franco Toselli in Milan.

Today, Italy continues to be a country centered on a certain awareness of the art phenomenon, where it’s hard to emerge anywhere, with no difference, in that sense, between Northern and Southern Italy. A country that has had a constitution since 1947, which makes us younger than the United States. In Northern Italy, I’m under the impression that I can out things and feelings in order – everything appears to be easier and possible, almost as if it were a kind of Americanized Italy, which, however, doesn’t limit the possibility of art and creativity spreading in the North as well as in the South, in Italy as well as in the South, especially today in such a globalized, Internet-centered world. As a person, as an artist I was born in the South and became who I am in the North, where I was forced to confront myself and finally choose who to be: this experience makes me 100 % Italian.

Work by Angelo Formica, courtesy the artist

That’s quite an interesting perspective over the Northern/Southern Italy internal debate. A while ago you said you wanted to exhibit in America. Do you know any other Italian artists, especially Southern, who have successfully shown their works in the States?

I’m thinking about Francesco Clemente, Nicola De Maria, Mimmo Paladino. And Gino De Dominicis, who refused to show his work in the States and even refused Leo Castelli’s invitation to show at his gallery. The only place on the American soil where De Dominicis has accepted to exhibit so far has been the Institute of Italian Culture of New York.

Well, that inevitably leads to the following question: what are, in your opinion, the main analogies and differences between Italy and United States? 

More than through analogies and differences, perhaps talking about roots can answer your question better than anything else. Leo Castelli, for instance – one of the holy names of American art –, was born and grew up in Trieste and opened his first gallery in Paris. Only afterwards, in 1940’s, due to the racial laws, he moves to New York, where his then showed the work of Pollock, De Kooning, etc. Salvatore Scarpitta was born in New York by an Italian father and a Polish-Russian mother and attended the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome.

Italy and United States are anterooms of two antithetical labyrinths. America is more organized than Italy; regardless, my country remains a place where to foster brilliant ideas and make great art. A place where art keeps self-renovating while thriving for excellence. It’s no coincidence that American artists have always wanted to exhibit in Italy – it’s the ultimate consecration: just think about how much of the Italian thought can be found, nowadays, in foreign artists’ works such as, for instance, Jeff Koons. Art’s travel through history and culture is stateless.

Works by Angelo Formica inspired by Neapolitan cards and saints, courtesy the artist

It sounds like, aside from the common goals, there may be quite a cultural abyss between Italy and the States, after all. Have you been able to develop your own American-market approach strategy in response to the above-mentioned needs and differences, yet? 

My strategy consists of making more artworks for my audience – that’s all.

Ok, that’s clear, but how can your work fit in a system that both conceptually and financially appears to be centered on the intersection of creativity, sensationalism, and innovation?

I don’t believe in sensationalism, however, I think there’s more to American art than that.

Vergin Mary’s popsicle stick in one of Angelo Formica’s works, courtesy the artist

Your work conveys more of its Italian/European heritage than it does of any outside influence. How does that relate to American art history with a particular focus on the history of collage? 

When I started working as a professional artist, art for me was nothing but Painting – a language where the subjects represented were mostly saints and angels: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Antonello da Messina, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Pontormo, Raffaello, Tiepolo: all works that you can see in Italy, not only in museums, but also in the same churches were ordinary people express their faith and fears every day, so I decided to inaugurate the beginning of my path by talking about my Sicilian origins; my first collages, indeed, are made of the same paper used for the oranges meant to be exported from Sicily to other regions of the European continent; another recurrent element in my work are the same figurines of saints that you can find anywhere in Sicilian small towns as well as Southern Italy in general – churches, church parties, etc. From Braque and Picasso on, collage brought unexpected reflections of daily life to the attention of local artists until it contributed to filter collective conscience through subjective perception.

Your work, indeed, very well summarizes everything ancient and contemporary that tastes like your hometown, which allowed you to take over the Italian art world in very few years, so since you have already conquered Italy and made some small steps towards Asia, what not to take over Africa first, considering that it’s geographically closer?

I have already been think about Africa as a second home.


Where would you like to exhibit your work, if you had a chance to show, let’s say, in NYC?

In a venue conceived to give the right valInerue to my work. Each artwork is an opportunity to find out more about one’s self, and that’s what really matters to me – everything else is relative. In my wildest dreams that place is enshrouded in a mysterious fog and is the guardian of an eternal secret.


Deianira Tolema

Deianira Tolema

Deianira Tolema is an Italian writer based in Salerno, Italy. She's intrigued by culturally, historically relevant and meaningful contemporary art that challenges conventions. Her goal is to explore everything innovative and out of the ordinary concerning the socio-psychological and conceptual aspects of art-making.

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