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Written in Stone

Italian sculptor Fabio Viale works with marble and has honed his craft since adolescence. He began his career producing architectural design components and statues for a cemetery in Milan before moving onto contemporary sculpture as an independent artist. He has exhibited his work in Italy, New York and Russia. In 2014 he won the prestigious Cairo Prize in Italy, and began collaborating with Poggiali Gallery in Florence that led to a 2016 exhibition that featured, for the first time, two contemporary sculptures in the famous and historic Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Viale's Lacoön. © Fabio Viale

Can you tell us a bit about yourself - what drew you to work with marble?

Everything happened very quickly: when I was in High School, my art Professor recognized something in my hands, because I was capable of moulding clay although I had never done it before. So, one day he brought me in front of a dark stone and he said: “Fabio, now work on this small block of marble”. I took the hammer and chisel and I suddenly saw a white brilliant shard getting out from the marble. Let’s say that in that moment I decided to be a sculptor.

Nike © Fabio Viale

Your art balances material and nature with appearance and perception, resulting in marble being made to resemble other materials, like polystyrene. What is the significance behind this transformation?

I try to exalt the potential of the material, through surprising juxtapositions of different kinds or by disguising specific functions and qualities, always adapting it to the demands of my imagination. I do not want to provoke: attraction and pleasure, surprise and wonder, evocation and dissimulation, these are the values at play.

My purpose is the celebration of the formal properties of the stone and the conceptual and figurative properties of human imagination.

The tattoos that decorate your marble sculptures range from Russian prison tattoos and traditional Japanese imagery often associated with the yakuza, to early Renaissance paintings inspired by Dante’s Inferno. What led you to combine classical sculptures with tattoos and how do you choose which imagery to pair with a particular sculpture?

In terms of tattooing marble, my goal is to create a double identity sculpture: tattooing old masterpieces means donating a second life and, in a contemporary way, a new collective image. Today, tattoos could be considered as a suit that everybody may wear, old statues too! Changing ancient statues life builds a temporal bridge towards universal beauty.

Images: Laocoön; Venus de Milo; Venus of Canova; Kouros. © Fabio Viale

Your exhibition, Acqua alta High Tide, in Florence earlier this year deliberated on the theme of decay and reconstruction, with the installation Emergences displaying 18 tonnes of stone pieces and marble sculpture fragments you had pushed down into the ravaneto section of a marble quarry. Why did you choose this method of breaking statues and what is the significance of damaging them in this way?

I decided to use the ravaneto as a sculpture’s tool.

From Michelangelo to Arturo Martini, artists thought to take sculptures and push them from the top of ravaneto with the aim to purify the sculptures from excesses. I took this idea literally! It was a great performance, fraught with energies, fatigue and success.

In Galleria Poggiali - Florence, I carried the results of this performance, tons of stones: from amidst the formless mass of rubble, there surface here and there truncated statues, shards of marble vessels, busts, limbs and heads of stone, weathered by time and by the tumbling fall. In the Renaissance, the impression of transience and the end of civilization was conveyed through corresponding images and symbols such as broken pillars, ruined buildings, sculptures rendered shapeless by the slow laboring of time.

Now, in my studio, I can’t wait so long: every artwork is the result of a project, split into different and severe phases.

Images: (L-R) Ravaneto; 'Emergences'. © Fabio Viale

One of your most recent exhibitions, ‘Truly’, is an exploration and reflection on the isolation period that Italy experienced earlier this year. How did you approach this theme artistically?

In Sant’Agostino Church (Pietrasanta), I put three female sculptures: they are three forms of human appearance defined only by the play of folds in the fabric of the garments they are wearing. The subject is three women originating from Ghardaia, an Algerian city that is home of Ibadi school of Islam, where the women wear the traditional haik, a loose, white, full-length garment wrapped around the head and body, leaving only one eye uncovered. The sentiment of mourning and suffering refers to the Islamic tradition that denies women many of their essential rights to satisfy moral prejudices and an undeniable desire for possession by the male that is imposed and disguised by religious and ideological arguments that are intolerable outside that context.

These reflections are joined by others, conditioned by the dramatic times we are living through, in terms of health, the economy and democracy. We are experiencing the limitations and the obligations of the “state of exception”. To defend ourselves against the pandemic, we have undergone restrictions in the freedom and choice of our movements and even our dress. While on the one hand, the use of the face mask protects us, on the other it obliges us to conceal our faces, inhibiting our facial expressions and one mode of our communication.

Images: Pietrasanta square, Italy; David; Le Tre Grazie. © Fabio Viale

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