Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 36 Wild Onions and art

Somebody turned to Mario after dinner and said, "I can't imagine what's in you head that you come up with all this."

The "all this" was an array of paintings Mario has created in the last four years, each conveying a sardonic message: A Caravaggio study he did 30 years ago emblazoned with the words, "Enjoy your coke"; a more recent enormous canvas he unrolled for us that spells out "I love New York." It looks like the words are made up of pretty flowers. Look more carefully and you'll see they're not flowers but cockroaches, some of them dressed up in green sparkles for a night on the town. 

He painted some of them as performance art. On a stage, a canvas in front of him, a row of paints lined up, a piano or a jazz band beside him, he worked to the rhythm of the music, letting it carry his hand to colour and shape. And at the end of the performance, he smears red paint on his own lips, and it is his kiss that forms the mouths of the figures he creates.

We met Mario Catalano through our hostess Paola, who herself only met him for the first time shortly before we did even though they both have ties to Martignano. We all took a liking to him, and he to us and soon enough he invited us to his home, which he shares with his parents. 

Mario was born in Martignano in the house whose back garden abuts the studio where my painter housemates work.  His parents, Antonio and Tomassina, moved the family to Lecce when Mario was a toddler. They opened a grocery store and ran it for almost four decades. They're in their mid-80s now, warm and charming, the pair of them.

Mario has his mother's gentleness of manner and his father's sharp wit.

Paola grew up in Northern Italy but her father was a native of this little town. Through talk around the dinner table (lasagna, followed by sausages, wild onions a la Calabrese and so much more that I don't even remember what else) Paola and Mario discovered they had grandmothers who were sisters.

Mario lived in London for 15 years and came back to Lecce some six years ago after a series of motorcycle accidents. For years he had worked as a manager at a hoity-toity restaurant called Daphne's, where all the glitterati hung out. But the accidents made it impossible to continue that kind of work, he said. In Italy he supports himself the way many artists do: he works at a bar/restaurant in the centro storico part-time and paints the rest of the time.

His parents says little but they beam when he shows us his work.

Mario stands in from of his Caravaggio study, his parents are at the table.

This is the only painting Catalano has named: Malata, Malata, Malata, Malata, Malata, Malata d'Amore

1 comment:

  1. such a brilliant and fun night ... how good are his folks!?!!! !

    I can t believe these are photos from your phone ... why doesnt my phone take good photos?

    Elvira I love your blog !