Artist GIANCARLO IMPIGLIA passes his passion on to his son.
"Be whatever you want to be as long as it’s not an artist,” my father laughed, brush in hand, as he counseled me years ago.
It was an obvious joke, but it still came as a bit of a shock. I come from a family of artists—writers, musicians and sculptors—so it seemed only natural that I too would join their ranks.
Clearly, my father was referring to the difculties all artists face in their careers, his own included. His father supported the family as an artisan furniture designer while also smuggling weapons to the Resistance in Nazi-occupied Rome.
My father supported himself as the country rebuilt after the war, and it was his art that allowed him to do so. In the early stages of his career, it wasn’t his painting but his music. While studying classical art at the Liceo Artistico and the Accademia di Belle Arti, where he studied under post-war greats such as Giuseppe Capogrossi and was infuenced by the likes of Alberto Burri and Gino Severini, he played the bass and sang in nightclubs throughout Italy and, eventually, the world.
His music brought him for the frst time to New York, where his iconic artistic style was born on the canvas. His classical education and study of Cubism and Futurism collided with the brightly lit modern city, creating a burst of colors and sophisticated lines.
He landed his frst major commission in 1974 when he was asked to paint a 60 x 6 foot mural for the lobby of the Great
American Insurance Building at 99 John Street, which launched his international career. But more importantly, it was in New York that he met my mother.
His trademark has always been faceless fgures. “It’s a satire on consumerism,” he says. “People have become anonymous, defned by what they wear. It’s all a superfcial façade covering their true identities.”
In 1980, his work led him to the artistic haven of the Hamptons, where I had the privilege of growing up.
Today, my father’s paintings, sculptures and jewelry can be found in hundreds of galleries, private collections, and museums worldwide. Big, the movie starring Tom Hanks, immortalized his 35-foot-long mural, Café Society, commissioned for the legendary New York nightclub of the same name. Absolut Impiglia became one of the official advertisements for Absolut Vodka.
His works also cross many oceans on Cunard’s cruise liners. My father’s nostalgic reinvention of Art Deco was in perfect sync with Cunard’s desire to uphold the legacy of ships like the SS Normandie.
I have witnessed a clear evolution in my father’s style since he decided, in 2007, to close his New York studio and work in the Hamptons full-time.
Faceless, geometric elements of his images persist, but naturalism has penetrated to the heart of his work: backgrounds of skyscrapers have given way to vibrant entanglements of vivacious fora and fauna, hard lines have become more supple and less defned.
What has also changed in my father’s work is his increased sensitivity to history. Growing up in Italy and travelling extensively throughout the world, he had always been exposed to the grandeur of ancient Rome and other past cultures.
But since moving to the Hamptons, his interest in the past has resurfaced and now blends with modernity. He recently added to his collection a series of chiaroscuro sketches in the classical style of Michelangelo and a life-size interpretation of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Sebastian. Not only do these emphasize his classical education, but they also bring with them further commentary on the modern world. Saint Sebastian, for example, in addition to serving as a celebration of the Italian Renaissance, also plays the role of a Byzantine icon, a symbol of eternal human sufering in the face of greed represented by the thick layers of gold leaf.
I watch his style continue to unfold into new visions each time I walk into his Bridgehampton studio. Now, a frame of camoufage canvas occupies his aisle, the fabric that he has used many times to draw attention to society’s inherent fascination with war.
My father has helped me every step of the way in my own artistic journey. One of his murals, containing two uncharacteristically defned human faces, graces the cover of my book, The Song of the Fall.
Back in his studio, a fgure is beginning to take form on the rippling shades of green, limbs and face yet to be defned. My father hands me his brush and tells me to fnish painting a portion of the canvas with a sharp shade of yellow while he mixes other colors. “So, you still don’t want me to be an artist?” I ask. He arches an eyebrow and says, “Did you ever really have a choice?”
Christopher Impiglia is a writer of essays, poems, short stories and screenplays. His work refects a keen interest in history, inspired by his extensive travels throughout Europe and Asia. You can view his website at: www.christopherimpiglia.com.