Gianfranco Zappettini is born in Genoa in 1939.
He attends the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara. Between 1962 and 1963 he works as an assistant to the German architect Konrad Wachsmann in Genoa, from whom he acquires fundamental skills for his future artistic research, such as formal and expressive precision, as well as the relevance of tradition and experimentation.
In 1962, Zappettini has his first solo show at the Society for Fine Arts in Genoa. In 1965 he exhibits at the Galleria La Polena and in 1968 at the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice. His first works from the mid-1960s, such as the Strutture and Tavole (Structures and Tables), represent an attempt to give a new order to the surface.
During his frequent visits to the neighbouring Albissola, he meets artists such as Lucio Fontana, Mauro Reggiani, Piero Manzoni, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Wifredo Lam and, in Rome, Francesco Lo Savio. His visits to the studios of Max Bill, Sonia Delaunay, and Alberto Magnelli with the German painter Winfred Gaul are fundamental to confront his research with that of German, Belgian, Dutch, and French contemporaries.
The “Analytical Painting” – as labelled by the German critic Klaus Honnef in 1974 – originates from such cultural context. The current is described as the analysis of painting and its compositional and creational elements; a way of “returning to the profession” but conceptually; the application to painting of the same “analyticity” employed by conceptual artists. Consequently, painting itself becomes the artist’s object of analysis through the investigation of the pictorial practice and its internal mechanisms, along with the relationships between the founding elements of surface, support, colour, and sign.
In the 1970s, Zappettini creates a series of iconic works associated to “Analytical Painting”, such as Superfici acriliche (Acrylic surfaces), Superfici analitiche (Analytical surfaces) and Tele sovrapposte (Overlapping canvases). During this decade, the artist has solo exhibitions at the historic Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa and the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster, amongst others. In 1977 he is invited to documenta 6 in Kassel.
Although the “Analytical Painting” ends in that decade, Zappettini’s practice continues towards new explorations relating to Zen, Taoism and Sufism, which will be part of his works’ conception and realisation. Despite such continuous development, there are elements that remain constant in his practice in the 1960s and 1970s: a precise methodology; the use of an essential “alphabet” that involves “line-point and surface”; and a renewed interest in the symbolic, both from a formal and semantic point of view.
After a meditative period of travels and reflections in the 1980s, he creates the series Al fine che transpare (To the End Shining) and Sullo sfogliar del fato (Leafing through Fate). In these works, the pictorial element of the petal becomes a symbol of the solitary, evolutionary journey of the soul: a recurring theme that gets sublimated in Il petalo d’oro (The Golden Petal), one of his most recent bodies of works (2018-2019).
The 2000s represent another period of creative energy. He creates the series La trama e l’ordito (The Weft and the Warp), in which Wallnet – an industrial material – appears for the first time and subsequently leads him to the production of Trame (Wefts). Other relevant series are Il codice degli dei (The Code of the Gods), La Luce Prima (The First Light) – in which colour is in dialogue with blacklight – and the recent Con-Centro, where the circular motif becomes the symbol of the search for our “inner centre”. Zappettini envisions a “journey” into self-awareness using gold as a symbol of God, the absolute, and the Sun. Gold has been used since the ancient times by masters, such as Fra Angelico, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini, as mentioned by Zappettini.
“Painting […] is a spiritual experience, as it has always been to the ancient painters of icons or the traditional artists of the East. It is an “initiatory” journey that leads back to the Centre, that makes of the artist who officiates a ritual and of art a sacred instrument of knowledge. ” G. Zappettini
Among the institutions that have hosted Zappettini’s works are: Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam; Hedendaagse Kunst, Utrecht; Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn; Civic Gallery, Modena; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara; Museum van Bommel van Dam, Venlo (Netherlands); Vasarely Museum, Pécs; Museum of Contemporary Art of Villa Croce, Genoa; CAMeC – Centre of Modern and Contemporary Art, La Spezia; Estorick Collection, London; Internationaal Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp; Fortuny Museum, Venice; Forum Kunst, Rottweil (Germany); Forte Belvedere, Florence; Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; Palazzo della Permanente, Milan; Palazzo Reale, Genoa; and Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna.
He participated in documenta 6, Kassel, in 1977 and in the Venice Biennale in 2011.
Zappettini currently lives and works in Chiavari. In 2003, he founded the Zappettini Foundation for Contemporary Art in Chiavari. The artist’s Catalogue Raisonné, curated by Marco Meneguzzo, was published in early 2022.