Mario Schifano - Italian Pop-Art Star

Mario Schifano- Italian pop-art star


Considered one of the most significant artists of Italian postmodernism, Mario Schifano worked in numerous media throughout his career but is perhaps best known for his collages consisting of advertising, scrap paper, and painted components. During the latter half of his career, Schifano's work became increasingly political as he explored issues of widespread social unrest through both film and photography. The artist led a colorful life, with his social circle including Cy Twombly, Jean-Luc Godard, and members of the Rolling Stones (in the late 1960s, Marianne Faithfull left her then-boyfriend, Mick Jagger, for him).

The recent surge of interest in international postmodernism has led to renewed interest in Schifano's work. He has been the subject of a major retrospective at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome and has had works included in The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern and the Center for Modern Italian Art in New York.

After moving to Italy from Libya (then an Italian colony), Schifano began his creative career by restoring ceramics, a trade he learned from his archaeologist and restorer father. The self-taught artist soon took up painting, initially producing bold monochrome canvases with strips of glued wrapping paper and stencils applied to them. These works earned him critical acclaim, leading to several exhibitions in Italy and later in the USA and capturing the attention of internationally renowned art dealer Ileana Sonnabend.

In the early 1960s, Schifano's interest turned to the urban landscape of Rome and the commercialization of culture. He created two sets of canvases in which the corporate logos of Coca-Cola and Esso were respectively adapted and reworked. These have become arguably the most famous works of Italian Pop art. Schifano isolated sections of each logo and used loose, painterly swirls rather than seeking to copy the slick, mechanical execution of the original signs. By presenting these logos in this "unfinished" way, he was, in a sense, deconstructing and undercutting the commercialization of Italian culture.

Mario Schifano
Material lithograph on wrapping paper
60 x 80 cm
Signed lower right

Mario Schifano
Particolare di propaganda, 1964
Enamel, oil and pencil on canvas
140.7 x 180 cm
Sold for €634,000 on 4 April 2019 at Christie’s in Milan

After his Pop Art phase, Schifano transitioned into becoming a Postmodern landscape painter, similarly to his previous move away from Monochromes. He experimented with using parcel paper as his canvas, which he coated with enamel paint intended for industrial use. The artist purposely left large areas of his landscapes unfinished, leaving the parcel paper exposed and challenging the traditional perception of art as a three-dimensional representation of reality.

Mario Schifano
Paesaggio Anemico
Enamel on canvas
90 x 100 cm

Certainly, in his political outlook, he insisted people shouldn’t take things at face value. In the late 1960s, Schifano became increasingly engaged in left-wing politics and donated large amounts of money to anti-government groups across Italy.

Recent years have seen post-war Italian artists like Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri achieve multi-million dollar sales at auction. Fontana and Burri both emerged in the 1950s, a decade before Schifano, and it remains to be seen if Schifano's market will follow a similar trajectory. According to Sotheby's Mei Moses, Schifano's works have an average compound annual return of 14%, with 88.9% of his works increasing in value.

Theodore&C. is delighted to offer works by this versatile artist.