Oreste Basaldella, known as Afro, was born in Udine on March 4, 1912. He trained in Florence and Venice, where he received his diploma in painting in 1931. The following year he spent some time in Milan, where, with his brother Mirko, he frequented Arturo Martini’s studio. There he met Renato Birolli and Ennio Morlotti, with whom he showed at the Galleria del Milione which would later host his first solo exhibition in 1929. Back in Rome in 1935 (his first sojourn there having been in 1929) he exhibited works inspired by Corrado Cagli and the Roman School at the second Quadriennale.
In 1936 the fascist regime removed the decorations he had made for the Collegio dell’Opera Nazionale Ballila of Udine, claiming they did not glorify the regime as much as they should. The following year he held a solo exhibition at the Galleria della Cometa in Rome and afterwards travelled to Paris, where he was profoundly inspired by the work of the Impressionists. In 1938 Afro participated in the Venice Biennale, and during World War II he taught mosaic-making at that city’s Accademia di Belle Arti. During this period Afro also made the cartoon for the mosaics at the Palazzo dell’ EUR in Rome, where the still lifes and portraits were clearly influenced by Cubism; this was the first stage in his shift towards Abstraction. In the U.S. he came into contact with the Art Informel movement, and his subsequent paintings showed the influence of Arshile Gorky’s work and Jackson Pollock’s Action Painting.
In 1950 he had a solo exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York, and in 1952 he joined the Gruppo degli Otto, with whom he exhibited in 1956 at the Venice Biennale and went on to win the prize for best Italian painter. In 1958 he painted a large-scale mural for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Two years later he received the Guggenheim Award in New York and in 1971 the Presidente della Repubblica Prize at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. He taught painting at the Florence Academy until 1973 and then moved to Zurich, where he died on July 24, 1976.