Gianfranco Zappettini was born in Genoa in 1939. In 1962, he held his first solo exhibition in his hometown. Genoa began to live exciting years of art that featured the tenure of Eugenio Battisti at the University and his Museum of Experimental Art, the years of the Il Deposito and La Polena galleries, the years in which Germano Celant prepared the debut of Arte Povera at the La Bertesca gallery and the years in which Konrad Wachsmann was designing the skyscraper within the Italsider area.
It was with the German architect that Zappettini worked and through Wachsmann, Zappettini learned formal precision, the importance of tradition and also attention to innovation. His first works (1964-1969) reflect the attempt to give order to the surface while leaving space for the artist to manoeuvre, without allowing preconceived programming to reign over his work.
These were difficult years for those who, such as Zappettini, identified themselves as “painters,” an anachronistic definition at the time. The conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth wondered how it was still possible, in 1969, to “think in terms of painting.” Zappettini identified the problem of painting: not what is seen on the surface but, rather, a worn-out language incapable of worthily confronting the new art forms in those years of profound change.
In 1971, Zappettini was invited for the first time to the Westfälische Kunstverein of Münster for the exhibition Arte Concreta in Italia curated by the German critic Klaus Honnef. However, the need to re-establish the painting idiom was already a mature idea in Zappettini’s mind. He believed there was a need for an analytical investigation, not so much of the structure of the surface or its perception, but rather of the simplest grammatical elements: surface, colour, process, canvas, frame, and the material used.
The painter also had to immerse himself in the reality of his work (a hot topic of debate in that era) and thus the process becomes fundamental in the analysis. The developmental phases must be recognizable. The materials utilized were no longer to be those of traditional “fine art,” but taken from the artisan and industrial world. It was to be these points of reflection that were to generate the “white paintings” in 1973.
Zappettini found his closest artistic harmonies in Europe. From a young age, he was accustomed to meeting the greats of continental abstraction, visiting the studios of Max Bill, Sonia Delaunay, Alberto Magnelli and Richard Paul Lohse. It is thus easy to see in major affinities in the work of Raimund Girke, Gotthard Graubner, and Jan Schoonhoven.
In Italy, he frequented the neighboring Albisola and therefore met Lucio Fontana, Mauro Reggiani, Piero Manzoni, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Wifredo Lam, in addition to Francesco Lo Savio in Rome. These personal acquaintances, united with a strong propensity for structuralist reflection, brought him close to the critic Honnef. The two men made a concerted effort to give a key to more stringent reading to what loosely defined as “Nuova Pittura”.
Thus was “Pittura Analitica” born 1974, identifying an exclusive number of European painters who worked on a limited number of themes: the creative process, the operative method, the choice of materials, the role of the spectator, the absence of autobiography, the lack of references to any pictorial tradition, the importance of seriality.
The bianchi (whites), which from 1975 accompanied the series of Tele sovrapposte (superimposed canvases) were shown in Europe throughout the decade in public museums and private galleries. The solo exhibitions included those at the Galerie Loehr in Frankfurt, the Westfälische Kunstverein in Münster, the Galerie Artline in The Hague, the Internationaal Cultureel Centrum in Antwerp and the Galerie Karsten Greve in Cologne.
Zappettini was also present in group exhibitions such as Concerning Painting which travelled between three Holland museums (Museum Van Bommel-Van Dan, Venlo; Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam; Hedendaagse Kunst, Utrecht), Bilder ohne Bilder at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, and Abstraction Analytique at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.
In 1977, Gianfranco Zappettini was invited to Kassel for documenta 6. Painting had by now rediscovered its raison d’être and the pendulum was swinging back towards figuration. Meanwhile, the artist began a phase of introspection – not looking for his own raison d’être rather than that of painting. He travelled to the East and enriched his predisposition for reflection with meditation practices and the wisdom of the western tradition.
Zappettini’s painting over the last fifteen years is the result of this phase. The series La trama e l’ordito was born in the early years of the third millennium. The painter has drawn on the macramé tradition, both Ligurian and that of his family: daily work on the loom is symbolic of the ordered work by the artist. Colour has become a protagonist for its symbolic value: blue, red and even a return to white. The materials, as in the 1970s, are of humble origins: cords, vinyl resins, acrylics, the wallnet and the fassadenputz used by plasterers to finish walls. Zappettini lives and works in Chiavari, where in 2003 he established the Fondazione Zappettini for contemporary art.
In 2007, the VAF Foundation (Frankfurt, Germany) dedicated to him an impressive monograph.
Among the latest collective exhibitions must be mentioned Pittura analitica. I percorsi italiani. 1970-1980, Museo della Permanente (Milan, 2007), Pittura aniconica, Casa del Mantegna (Mantova, 2008), Analytica, Annotazioni d’Arte (Milan, 2008), Pensare pittura (Thinking Painting, Museum of Modern Art at Villa Croce, Genoa, 2009), Analytische Malerei, Forum Kunst (Rottweil, 2011). Among the personal exhibitions over the last fifty years dedicated to him from both public and private spaces, must be mentioned: Westfälischer Kunstverein (Münster, 1975), Internationaal Cultureel Centrum (Antwerp, 1978), Museum of Contemporary Art at Villa Croce (Genoa, 1997), CAMeC-The Centre of Modern and Contemporary Art (La Spezia, 2007), Forum Kunst (Rottweil, 2007, with Paolo Icaro), Lucca Center of Contemporary Art (Lucca, 2012), Janus Pannonius – Vasarely Museum (Pécs, 2015).