Mario Barino explains Comensoli

How did you met the art of Comensoli?

I met Mario Comensoli in 1962 during his exhibition at the Walcheturm gallery in Zurich. He showed works recounting the alienation of the middle class in the metropolis: canvas with a heavy expressionist emphasis, with acid colors that were different from those that had characterized the cycle called “workers in blue” that I personally had never known but which made him well known among a wide audience. Eros Bellinelli, director of the culture department of RSI, invited me to that gallery and I had the opportunity to interview the writer Guido Calgari, a professor of literature at the ETH Zurich, enthusiastic about the work of Comensoli. His enthusiasm was contagious: a few days later, I went to Rousseaustrasse where I visited the studio of Mario Comensoli, a large room illuminated by a window, with an oil stove, a camp bed, a phone hanging on the wall near the door and many canvas against the wall. The painter, a tall and agile man, intrigued by my reaction, showed me his works. Since that day, I went many times to his studio, I often used to call him on the phone and he told me about his latest work, anxious to know my opinion. Frequently with my car, we went to the legendary restaurant Cooperativo, where we used to talk about everything: his stories were as effective as his paintings; he had in fact the descriptive skills of the great storytellers; people and situations coming out of his story alive, fed by an irony often bitter and corrosive.

Please tell us about the painter and about Comensoli as a man. Do you have some anecdotes?

Comensoli as a painter was a great worker. Usually at 7 in the morning, he reached by bike already in his studio, crossing half city. He was very interested in current events and his favorite newspaper – perhaps for its innovative layout – was “Il Giorno” from Milan. Although he was a self-taught artist, he built a strong personal culture with important readings: Foucault, Sartre, Moravia, Pasolini, among others, and in recent years, the philosopher Sloterdijk who taught at the University of Zurich. I remember that, from the first moments of our friendship, he gave me a book that I keep with care, a collection of poems and prose of Maïakovski translated into French and edited by Elsa Triolet.
I told about his interest in current events: his paintings cross a half century, since the end of World War II to the Nineties. It has never chronicle but a way to empathize with the spirit, the breath and in the most secret impulses of the story.
With an unpredictability result of an anarchist soul: see how he managed to remove the forgotten people of the “working blue” from the indifference of media and intellectuals; how he interpreted the protests of 1968 with a sarcastic painting; how he narrated the world of rock and clubs, or the punk utopias, and so on. He was very helpful, generous. But he had a big flaw: he required by his admirers an adherence absolute, unconditional. I remember for example when he had his moment of triumph, at the Kunsthaus Zurich in 1989: that day I was in Bern as a correspondent for Federal Palace and I did everything possible to be in that museum.
I quickly finished my editorial tasks and took a train that relentlessly stopped at all stations and I finally I arrived breathless at the Kunsthaus, after the inauguration speech, while Comensoli was signing catalogs. He greeted me with a chilling: “Ah, there you are” And then ostentatiously ignored me. That was a wound for me, even if the next day, when reading a newspaper, Mario Comensoli saw my article about the exhibition and called me to apologize about his behavior.

How was your Foundation born?

The family Comensoli had no children and the wife Hélène, from Basel, very fine and intelligent, was the vestal of the work of her husband. Inconsolable widow, she survived a year after Mario’s death, a year in which she was dedicated with great commitment and passion to collecting and cataloging the documents and the works related to the activity of the painter. Assisted by a friend who would later become the first President of the Foundation, Alfred Messerli, she laid the foundations of this institution, which has the purpose of ensuring the painter’s artistic inheritance and promoting his work. A farsighted initiative that allowed many of the most important paintings by Comensoli to stay protected in a space in Zurich.

What part had the Foundation in the exhibition organized by Artrust?

The Foundation took part with enthusiasm at the request of Mrs. Patrizia Cattaneo-Moresi to integrate with a dozen paintings the vast and rich collection Artrust. Ms. Cattaneo-Moresi, together with Pietro Bellasi
examined the collection in Zurich, choosing precisely the works that completed the path set by Bellasi and the Professor Bruno Cora, to create an exhibition of great expressive potentialities.

What do you think about Artrust exhibition?

It is a fascinating set of works that allow visitors to get an idea about his creative processes and his relentless pursuit of a new relationship with reality. Dance, acrobatics and sport against a world petrified motionless, which is the academic one that he always hated. In this exhibition, there is therefore all his willing to represent a youth against conformism of those who would stop the story and dampen its ideal impulses.

Which plans does the Comensoli Foundation have for the future?

We will continue the path taken by selective exhibitions in major museums and institutions. At the same time, we will keep the tradition that make the Foundation a point of exchange and documentation alive. For example, we constantly update the catalog of the pictorial heritage of Comensoli on a digital platform. Moreover, we are working on a series of studies, which aim to explore new aspects of the Comensoli art. We also intend to publish a diary of pictures drawn by Mario Comensoli in the last years of his life: particularly intriguing the fact that he used for his narrative an old volume of the Divine Comedy with constant references to the pages in his biographical sketches of Dante Heaven and Hell.

Mario Barino is the current president of the Foundation Mario and Helene Comensoli. He was editor for the television news and correspondent in Zurich for the italian newspaper “Il Corriere della Sera”. He made for DRS and TSI many documentaries on various contemporary artists and in particular on the life and works of his dear friend Mario Comensoli.

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