Friday, January 4, 2013

The Skinny -- Fornasetti

Piero Fornasetti
You probably know his work even if you don't know his name.  Piero Fornasetti's art is instantly recognizable and graphically stunning.  He was not only a painter, but also a sculptor, interior decorator, designer, printmaker, and engraver. He created more than 11,000 products from his art, ranging from furniture to ceramics to wallpaper. 

Born in Milan in 1913, Fornasetti attended, and was expelled from, Brera Academy, where he studied drawing, in the first two years of the 1930s.  A year later, in 1933, he exhibited his very first piece of art in a student exhibition at the Milano University.  Fornasetti also designed a group of silk scarves, printed with newsprint and architectural motifs, exhibited at the Milan Triennale. 

He was conscripted into the Army during WWII, but instead of fighting, he was given the task of painting the regimental barracks in the Piazza San Ambrogio.  He was exiled to Switzerland from 1943 to 1946 to avoid more military service, but continued to produce his art throughout this time.

In 1940, Fornasetti met Gio Ponti, an Italian architect and designer, and designed ‘The Lunar’ illustrated Calendar book for him.  He worked continuously with Ponti until his death in 1979.  They collaborated on designing art, products and furniture, as well as interiors, such as the complete interior of the Casa Lucano, the ocean liner Andrea Doria, and the ballroom of New York's Time-Life building.

Fornasetti's most important contribution was the joining of design and art through furniture, interiors, and products.  He was one of the first to develop the idea of "branding" himself and serially producing his art for public product consumption.   

His work includes constant use of black and white, the sun and time. His style is heavily influenced by Greek and Roman architecture.  His most famous work is, without a doubt, his illustrations featuring the face Lina Cavalieri, an operatic soprano.  Fornasetti found her face in a 19th century magazine, turning the black and white image into an iconic representation of his work. It was known as the “Tema e Variazioni” (theme and variation) plate series.  He said:
“What inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman? I don’t know. I began to make them and I never stopped.”  

Tema e Variazioni

Fornasetti's work faded in popularity throughout the 1970s, but with the opening of the design store, Themes and Variations, in London in 1980, interest was reawakened. He published a book in 1987, a collaboration with Patrick Mauri├Ęs that illustrated his collective works.  Piero Fornasetti died in 1988 at age 75.  His son, Barnaba Fornasetti is continuing his dad's legacy by continuing to produce his work.

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*Information from, wikipedia, and

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