Mario Schifano

Celebrated as a father of Postmodernism in his native Italy, Mario Schifano was a painter and collagist, as well as an occasional film-maker and rock musician. Between the 1960s and 1980s, he experimented with Pop art, Arte Povera, Conceptualism, gestural abstraction, geometric abstraction and even landscape painting.

Schifano was born in 1934 in Homs, Libya, which was an Italian colony at the time. His family moved to Rome shortly after World War II. His first job was working alongside his father as a restorer at the city’s Etruscan museum in Villa Giulia.

Schifano was a largely self-taught artist. Amongst his earliest works were the ‘Monocromi’ series — large canvases painted in a single, vivid colour, such as amber, indigo and scarlet. They were also often adorned with stencils, parcel paper or sheets of Perspex.

By the start of the 1960s — like his Pop art contemporaries in the United States — Schifano developed an interest in the rise of conspicuous consumption and turned to the theme of advertising. He started reworking the logos of corporations like Esso and Coca-Cola for paintings generally now considered to be Italy’s biggest contribution to the movement.

In 1962, Schifano’s Pop art paintings were included in the show New Realists at New York’s Sidney Janis Gallery, alongside others by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Wayne Thiebaud. The exhibition is now credited as helping stake the popularity of Pop art and boosting Schifano’s international profile.

Around the same time, Schifano also began exhibiting in Paris at the Sonnabend Gallery, which played an important role in championing Pop art in Europe.

Later in life, Schifano turned to landscape painting, making works with thick, fluid brushstrokes and impasto surfaces heavy with enamel paint. His work also became more and more politicised, addressing issues like the Vietnam War.

Schifano died from a heart attack in Rome in 1998 at the age of 63. His obituaries noted his colourful life; he managed his own rock band and drove a Rolls Royce around Rome’s cobbled streets; he dated the model and actress Anita Pallenberg; his social circle included the artist Cy Twombly, the film-maker Jean-Luc Godard and the musician Mick Jagger, whose partner Marianne Faithful left him for the Italian. However, the papers also discussed how Schifano struggled with addiction and the fact that he went to prison for drug offences no less than six times.

Today, Schifano’s most sought-after paintings tend to come from the first half of the 1960s, like the 1962 work La stanza dei Disegni, which sold at Christie’s in October 2022 for €1.3 million. His later paintings, however, still regularly sell for five or six-figure sums.

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

La stanza dei Disegni

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

Concetto spaziale, Attese

MARIO SCHIFANO (1934-1998)

Grande Particolare (Large Detail)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Cleopatra's Dream

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Paesaggio anemico I

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Particolare di propaganda

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Paesaggio anemico III

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Grande particolare di paesaggio italiano a colori (Big Detail of an Italian Landscape in Colour)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Elemento per paesaggio

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Da destra verso sinistra

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Da Freud al Mandrax: ultimo congresso 1972

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Particolare del disegno di energia bianco

MARIO SCHIFANO (1934-1998)

Cementoferro 6 (Concrete iron 6)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Ai pittori di insegne

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Il tratto appenninico (particolare)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Particolare di paesaggio

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Cielo speciale con anima

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Tableau peint pour raconter l'inquietude amoreuse de Susi

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Compagni Compagni (Comrades Comrades)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Paesaggio anemico (Anemic Landscape)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Paesaggio anemico

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

N° 2 dagli Archivi del Futurismo

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Veduta interrotta

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Fantasia del paziente naturale (Fantasy of the Natural Patient)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Senza Titolo (Untitled)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Veduta interrotta

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Paesaggio anemico

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Segno di energia (Sign of Energy)

Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Volo felice da destra verso sinistra n. 2