Meeting with Fidel Castro

The meeting with Cuba dates back to January 1992. Azzinari with two gallery owners attended an art fair in Miami and decided to embark for Havana, via Cancun. The magic of Havana gave them an infusion of joie de vivre. Azzinari was captured by the unique landscape of the island and they traveled as far as Camaguey. The countryside brought the painter back to his childhood. Images re-emerged from his memories – the old people… the roughness of their faces, their quiet work in the fields with the strength of their arms. Azzinari fell in love with the Cuba and promised himself to return with the palette and the colors to express on canvas those magical places and their unspoiled nature. Since then, he has made about 200 paintings and drawings of what impressed him most: man and nature. He portrays Alejandro Robaina, Compay Segundo, and Fidel Castro. Electa Editions published a catalog, including critical essays by Gianni Minà, Miguel Barnet, Sergio Zavoli, Carilda Oliver Labra and Raffaele De Grada. The exhibition, which portrays the Cuban adventure, opened at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana. A traveling exhibition presented by Vittorio Sgarbi and Pasquale De Marco traveled in 2002 to the cities of Riccione (Forlì) in the Castle of Agolanti and in Corigliano Calabro (CS) in the Ducal Castle.

A Painting that Grabs the Nature and Humanity of Cuba - Gianni Minà

azzinari_minaI am by no means an expert on painting, and my curiosity for images transferred to the canvas no more excites me than allows me to declare myself as a keen enthusiast for this art. And so being naïve regarding painting, I am more attracted to admiring landscapes and portraits especially when they are inundated with that particular light typical of the many Carabbean lands, and which from time to time are transformed, by some master, with the right shades and the right richness, into a work of art. Franco Azzinari is one of these masters and I like his devotion to naturalism which today, in a period of presumed avant-garde is, as Raffaele DeGrada says, very nearly a non-conformist.

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But a courageous choice. Azzinari, then, has chosen to depict a land now forgotten by the world, Cuba, the last remaining island where a historical revolution is still alive. And this is why I like him even more. Because, upon Cuba there is an immoral embargo, it has, for the last forty years, been the victim of an obsession on the part of a certain political system of the United States which has never been able to accept the novelty of a Caribbean island that chooses its own destiny (right or wrong as it may be) without asking the permission of Washington, as the many other Latin American nations have already done. Instead, Cuba has even dared to become, over the last forty years, a still vital political, cultural and intellectual laboratory although it has its limits. This role was usually the prerogative of powerful nations which "have made history" such as England, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, the United States and the "mother country, Spain" by whom Cuba had been colonized. Hence, how dared the island of Fidel Castro influence, with its ideas, shared or not, movements, longings, peoples' petitions not only in Latin America or Africa but also in Europe and throughout the whole self-important Western world? And how dare it continue to do so today, in an era of globalization during the various summits in Latin American countries or Fao conferences or against racism where Cuban ideas and proposals have always played and important role in the drawing up of the final documents? It well and truly involves a humanistic challenge, which is even more surprising, twelve years after the fall of the Soviet Union and communism, which, with a "domino effect", should have also disintegrated Cuba. Instead, Western analysts were mistaken and on the contrary, in the era of extreme capitalism, in the era in which free trade has crushed the last remaining hopes of Latin America, Africa and what is referred to as the Third World, Cuba, with its dignified poverty, shows that its choice of a different model of development was possibly not erroneous, if it is one of the few nations of the continent which, denying the formula of the World Bank's Monetary Fund, has its GDP (gross domestic product) in constant rise. And this has been achieved without betraying the cultural choice of the 'revolucion' which has opened to Cuba the doors of the film industry, the literature that counts, has made it a reference point in the art of dancing, music and recently even in the figurative and plastic arts, not to mention sport in which it is and has been one of the leading nations. It is possibly this view, this environment, this singularity of Cuba which lends itself to be, with all its political contradictions, a laboratory open to the new, without cancelling the old. It is this reality which has influenced Franco Azzinari, a man from the south in all his choices, and has made him choose to narrate, through landscapes of such real, not artificial, brightness, a frugal humanity where poverty is not a fault and must be endured with decorum. These feelings are very strong in Cuba especially among the peasants. Take for example the cheerfulness of the young girls' hairstyles in which, as Marilyn Bobes says: "Azzinari's sensitivity has been able to capture a new expression of beauty, possibly a little sophisticated, of our national soul". Frequently, even talented artists run the risk of being commonplace or are committed to representing things in a soulless mechanical, photographic way. I believe that Azzinari, in his representing the nature and the humanity of Cuba, has most certainly avoided these risks because as Raffaele De Grada has said in the pages of this catalogue, "he has chosen the heresy of art", in other words he has heeded the temptation of confirming his own way of understanding the world. A "world of nature" belonging to his childhood, nature in its primary country side aspect, explosions of flowers and fruit, of sunken and hollow or serene and peaceful faces, of people who are contented yet at the same time relentless, because they desire no more than the bare essentials to survive with dignity. And so, possibly without even realizing, Azzinari, in these Cuban landscapes has captured the secrets of the Antilles, a miracle attempted by many but not always successfully. This feat has transformed him, as Marilyn Bobes says: "into a poet whose light and mysteries create a syncretism which we perceive above all in his portraits". And which is the true soul of Cuba.

The Challenge of Franco Azzinari - Miguel Barnet

azzinari_barnetNature is everything, even what we cannot see. And this is where the mystery lies, in that space that remains hidden until the artist makes us aware of it. Until, miraculously, what went totally unnoticed is revealed as something extraordinary. Only the really creative spirit can reach so deeply. Only the truly great artist can offer us an ordinary, everyday landscape, often invisible to us, with new features and new colours. Only someone who is capable of carrying on an inner, telluric dialogue with Nature, can perform such magic.

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When I look at Franco Azzinari's paintings, I wonder if the artist from Calabria feels a great joy and a profound happiness when he paints. I wonder also whether he has the feeling to be attached to the earth, going back to the origins, like clinging lichens and viscous resins. Franco Azzinari comes alive in the intensity of his paintings and, the latter are faithful to him and as docile as domestic animals. His paintings lack any falsely experimental artifices, or conceptualistic tendencies like those that so often transform the work of art into just an enigmatic object of reflection instead of a work of art that is able to arouse delight and sensuality. Azzinari, of peasant stock, has since infancy bathed in the ancestral lymph that the countryside and storms have to offer. The lack of urban luxuries and futile objects that are of no use, together with his sensitivity and love of Nature, have led him to wholly, devote himself to the importance of the values of the simple, ordinary man, and to where the primitive melts with the exquisitely intellectual. As a painter Franco Azzinari gives great importance to roots, but he is not a primitive artiste He followed the empirical school of thought and learned his trade as he went along, painting, painting and painting. This is why he is such a professional. He makes no concessions though, and his professionalism is more and more refined, more perfect and rigorous. Whether it's the budding of a flower or the ripening of fruit on a branch, the magic of creation is his main reason for painting. But these are not still lives wit ha purely ornamental and aesthetic function. These flowers and fruits are alive and breathing with a vitality that only he has been able to induce. His landscapes are alive, the skies open and transparent, fields of poppies or sunflowers that transmit seriousness and tranquillity, a natural elegance and full of sensations. In all of his works Azzinari displays drawings that are perfect, wavelike and almost mannered, but well-woven into a texture that is close to reality, or maybe, even, overly realistic where the movement of leaves and the depth of perspective remind us of Bonnard or Monet. Azzinari's drawings show well defined planes and a chromatic strength that has no equal. His management of colour is harmonious, without harshness, but enlightened by the magic of the artist's palette. In his paintings, we admire his excellent use of light in all of its intensities, sometimes depicting the clear soft quality of the countryside in springtime, or the brilliance of summertime, the reddish colours of autumn tinged with melancholia, or the greyness of winter. Furthermore, the composition of his paintings speaks to us of his duel with aesthetics, where the artist's ingenuity triumphs creating balanced shapes yet not aiming necessarily at symmetry. There is an inner violence that we perceive in the faces of peasants or in some of the stiff, pointed plants that seem to deliberately wound the delicate texture of the landscape. Azzinari is a painter of the masses and as such makes no concessions to mediocre tastes. By using colour he manages to give shape to what is in his heart and out of this struggle comes the Calabrian peasant, the lover of everything that Nature has to offer, everything that is alive and seen by the artist as something to treasure. In Franco Azzinari's works we find ourselves faced with a seducer who has put his imagination and talent to work for the most refined tastes. The realistic perfection of his paintings does not destroy his capability to seduce and dream. This is the perfect balance that Franco Azzinari has been able to keep for the whole of his career as an artist. Behind the orgy' of realistic images lies illusion, love of life and that erotic substance without which a man would not be a man. All of Azzinari's works are a metaphor of life itself. This is the reason why, in his landscapes, we can actually feel the freedom of unlimited space and the storms that hold our solitude to comfort us. Even though we know that he is inspired by his birthplace, Calabria, far many of his landscapes, we never feel the limits of the geographical location of his homeland, but we are transported towards some unknown place that could be located in any corner of the planet. Heir to Courbet, we are constantly struck by the pureness of the naturalism in all of his paintings, where he places it at the centre of a return to Nature, combining a I non lent of prayer with the new ecological tendencies. It is a challenge against a world alienated by tangible objectives, the most sophisticated technology, fiber optics and the Internet. The beauty and candour of his works contribute to a poetic expression that is hard to find today. In these paintings we find melancholia and nostalgia, pureness and spontaneity, all of which, with surprising naturalness distance him from any modern or post-modern school, making his works timeless with the characteristics of classic art. Azzinari's devotion to the Cuban countryside, to the living sculptures that are the vigorous but austere peasant men with their lined faces and calloused hands, is proof of his lave far the human being. Cuba has bewitched him and, yet, he has received from Cuba new, purer lymph without giving in to mercantile practices or stereotypes. In all of his Cuban works we find the powerful evocation of his birthplace, Calabria, both in paintings of the people and in those of the countryside and the forests. They express lyricism to the highest degree, an explosion of colours, sentiments and light, both mystery and synthesis. His painting is a chromatic song to Nature. Cuba and Calabria are united in an alchemy that the artist has been able to create admirably. The soft light of the Mediterranean melts together with the Caribbean's in a sort of nuptial dance. The memories of his homeland and the attraction he has felt for Cuba have enabled this great contemporary artist to achieve a multitude of very moving images, the offspring of the most authentically creative sentiment. Calabria is born again in Cuba, with new shades and new, hues, and Cuba receives this mysterious gift from Azzinari as evidence that it has become more fertile and mature. Nature is one all aver the planet and Franco Azzinari seems to cry out with all his strength we must go back to Her! His paintings are timeless. He belongs to the world.

Pictures with Leader Maximo Fidel Castro


Pictures winth personages of Cuba


Works made in Cuba