Barcellona di Sicilia, 1937
An artist but also a poet, writer, playwright and film director, Isgrò is one of the pioneers of the post-war artistic language. Born in the small town of Barcellona in Sicily, he moved to Milan in 1956, where made his literary debut with a collection of poems entitled Fiere del Sud. Despite not having started producing visual works of art before 1960, when the artist moved to Venice, Isgrò’s literary endeavors and love for the written word would lay the foundations for his later works of ‘Poesia visiva’ (visual poetry).
This new form of conceptual art emerged in 1964, when artists like Isgrò began to question the written word and its relationship to images in a world of over-information. Isgrò’s response was to use “black India ink to strike through great classics of world literature – from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Shakespeare’s tragedies – and a variety of brochures and newspaper articles. […] My purpose”, he explains describing his now iconic cancellatura (deletion) technique, “was not to destroy the word but to preserve it, by putting an end to the way in which it was emptied of meaning and significance through its communication by the media. […] We have been fed by such a rich array of words that in the end we no longer read them. But if they are taken away from us for a moment, then once again we rediscover their full force and power.”
The most powerful examples of Isgrò’s Cancellature can no doubt be found in the monumental works he undertook between the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he deleted three of the world’s most extensive encyclopaedias: Enciclopedia Treccani, Encyclopædia Britannica and Encyclopédie Larousse. He has since continued to work on rebuilding communication between peoples, words and images and his practice has evolved to combine cancellatura with images such as maps and paintings. New projects also include the cycle of sculptures Semi d’arancia (Orange Seeds) and Le api della Torah (The Bees of the Torah), a group of works featuring insects.
An artist in search of the re-founding of the fundamental relationship between image and word, Isgrò has transformed verbal operations into visual ones, and developed a new language, in which the symbiosis of word and image is achieved by enhancing meaning through deletion. His impact and significance on the modern artistic panorama are today being increasingly recognized, as demonstrated by the artist’s recent entrance into the collections of the Paris’ Centre Pompidou.
Throughout his prolific career, Isgrò participated in major artistic events, such as several editions of the Venice Biennale (1972, 1978, 1986 and 1993). His work was also featured in the exhibition ‘The Artist and the Book in Twentieth-Century Italy’, presented in 1992-1993 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and in 1994 at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. In June 2013 he was offered the solo show ‘Modello Italia’ by the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome, and from June to September 2016 Milan paid a tribute to him with a major retrospective held simultaneously in multiple locations: Palazzo Reale, Gallerie d’Italia and Casa del Manzoni.
© EMILIO ISGRO’, by SIAE 2023
exhibition catalogue edited by Tornabuoni Art Paris. Text by Ilaria Bignotti. B/w and colored illustrations, 63 pages, 9,6×6,8 in, French/English, 2020.
exhibition catalogue edited by Tornabuoni Art. Text by Marco Bazzini. B/w and colored illustrations, 320 pages, English/Italian, 2017.