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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Antonio Bueno

Antonio Bueno was born on the 21st. of July , son of a writer and journalist, Javier Bueno, then posted to Berlin as war correspondent to the Madrid daily "ABC", and of Hannah Rosjanska.
He spent his infancy in Spain but then the family moved to Geneva where, having attended the lyceum, Antonio enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts; he lived in Le Courbusier's Maison de Verre; he joined the Communist youth organisation..

Made his debut in Paris exhibiting illustrations of L.F. Celine's "Le voyage au bout de la nuit" at the Salon des Jeunes.

In January 1940 he moved to Italy with his brother Xavier and their mother. Reacting against the tuition of a late-Cézanne-like type he had received at the academy, he took an interest in the techniques of the primitive Flemish masters and the surrealists. He returned to Switzerland alone when Italy entered the war, to settle the question of his military service at the Spanish consulate in Geneva.

Having settled the matter of his military service and obtained a new passport from the Spanish authorities, he left Switzerland and returned to Florence; he made friends with Annigoni and other anti-fascists. He married Evelina Hay in the Church of San Domenico at Fiesole.

PHeld his first exhibitions in Milan (Manzoni and Ranzini galleries) and Florence (Botti gallery) with his brother Xavier and painted very polished pictures, mostly still lives and portraits. His first son, Francesco Saverio, was born.
Came into contact with "I Pittori Moderni della Realtà" (Modern Painters of the Reality) and with De Chirico (in whose Memorie he is mentioned as one of the ten best painters he ever met) but immediately takes his distance in an open letter published in "L'Europeo" in 1948; his first invitation to the Rome Quadrennial.
Worked in Florence in the ambit of the abstract art magazine, "Numero", becoming editorial secretary ; he painted some geometrical pictures followed by his first neo-figurative works which tended to recuperate some aspects of the Italian metaphysical school; he got to know Edoardo Sanguineti and Albert Camus.

Presented by Sanguineti, he held a personal exhibition at the La Bussola gallery in Turin.

Exaibited compositions featuring clay pipes, egg shells and spools of twine, which the critics defined neo-metaphysical, at the Venice Biennale.

Went on a study trip to the United States where he held a number of exhibitions; on his return he applied for Italian citizenship, but his request was turned down by the Italian Home Office. His daughter Maria Isabella was born.

The metaphysical period of the "clay pipes" came to an end.

In Florence he became one of the Quadrante team; he exhibited in Paris at the Cinq peintres de Florence , presented by G.C. Argan and at the Strozzina, where, with S. Loffredo and A, Moretti, he proposed Italy's first ever Nuova Figurazione (New Figuration) exhibition.

Promoted an operative meeting between avant-garde painters, musicians and poets in Florence, and the following year, with them, he founded the Gruppo '70; with P. Scheggi and P. Manzoni he organised the first ever Italian exhibition of monochromatic painting: near-abstract pictures using of the imprinting technique.

At Palazzo Strozzi, under the patronage of Florence's Municipal Authority, he organised an international "La Nuova Figurazione" exhibition; he took part in the San Marino biennial on the theme "Beyond the Informal" and presented a "Technological" exhibition with L. Pignotti and G. Chiari, at the Quadrante.

Sent a selection of his works to the "España Libre" exhibition and was invited to present his "Homo Technologicus" at the first exhibition of visual poetry organised by the Gruppo '63 at Reggio Emilia; a year later, in Florence, he organised a national exhibition of show-art entitled "Mostra Luna Park" [ Fair Ground Exhibition], repeated in June 1966 at Ca' Giustinian, Venice. He created (large) works in wood representing puppet-theatre characters as well as multi-material reliefs. His third child, Tommaso, was born.

At Venice's Numero Gallery presented a series of cartoon- paintings created with the collaboration of Emilio Isgrò. He carried out experiments in "audio-painting" using a typewriter; he held an exhibition at the Naples Guida Bookshop (introduction by Achille Bonito Oliva and Gillo Dorfles).

With S. Loffredo he directed the Paris G 30 gallery which featured exhibitions by avant-garde Italian artists. With Umberto Eco he instituted the "Fata" anti-award. An exhibition entitled "Atti Impuri" [Impure Acts] was held in Peking.

He was present (with monochromatic reliefs) at Venice's thirty-fourth Biennale (presented in the catalogue with a poem by Sanguineti, Musica Humana per Antonio Bueno) and took part in the "Sixth Annual New York Avant Garde Festival".

Presented by Lucien Goldman and Bernard Pinguad, he held a personal exhibition called "Mostra Noepassatista" [Neo-"pastist"] at the Paris G 30 Gallery in which he presented a painting entitled "Il pompiere e la modella" [ fire-fighter and model] , a fortunate theme which he continued to represent , with numerous variations on the theme to the end of his days. He announced his abandonment of Gruppo '70 and of avant-gardism in a letter to Sergio Salvi, defining himself a "neo-rearguardist" . He devoted himself from then on to the figurative representation of his famous little women, a subject he never abandoned from the on .

Obtained Italian citizenship and moved to Fiesole.

Became a professor at Florence's International art University.

Held his second personal exhibition in New York, presented by C.L. Ragghianti, a considerable success.

Designed the scenery and the costumes for the ballet "Pupazzetti" [Puppets] by Alfredo Casella for Florence's Teatro Comunale.

Massimo Carrà delivered a lecture on Antonio Bueno at Forte dei Marmi. An imposing monograph was published by Feltrinelli; introduced by an essay by Edoardo Sanguineti entitled Questo è questo [This is this] .

Was commissioned by Siena's Municipality to paint a picture on the fifteenth of August Palio [Traditional Sienna Horse Race] . The picture, signed by Bueno and nicknamed by the citizens of Siena "Palio a fumetti" [The cartoon Palio] created a certain uproar, and was won by the Civetta ward.

Founded and edited the art magazine "Visual" with the aid of Eugenio Miccini and some Gruppo '70 ex-members. Held personal exhibitions at Basle's International Fair and at the Toninelli Gallery in Rome.

Dedicated himself, with increasing enthusiasm to the 'd'après', which he had begun a few years previously with his first tributes to Picasso, Campigli, Seurat and Klee. He exhibited his d'après for the first time in Florence at the Galleria Spagnoli. Fabio de Poli made a film in Bueno's studio featuring the artist dressed as a fire-fighter. He exhibited his "extinguishers" at the Studio Inquadratura 33 [Frame 33 Studio] gallery. He held a new personal at ART in Basle and travelled to Paris and Spain.

In the spring he held personal exhibitions in the municipalities of San Giovanni Valdarno and Vicenza, presented by F. Menna. With the help and collaboration of Alinari, Cioni, Guarnieri and Miccini, he organised the collective exhibition "Ab Ovo" , also presented by Menna at Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. On the 7th of July his brother Xavier died after a long illness.

Between April and May, invited by the Tourist Agency , under the patronage of Florence's Municipal Authority and Tuscany's Regional Council, he held an anthological exhibition to inaugurate the new gallery of modern art in Palazzo Strozzi. The then President of Italy Sandro Pertini, visited and spoke at the opening ceremony. Bueno began writing his memoirs, which remained unfinished at his death.

After a ten-year absence he returned to Milan with a personal at the Centro Annunciata; he took part at the Basle, Stockholm and Frankfurt International Fairs. The Forni Gallery presented a stand devoted to him at the Paris FIAC.

In September, invited by Luino's Municipal Authority he held a personal at the Civic Museum and, with his friend Piero Chiara, presented lithographs for the illustration of a story by Piero Chiara called "Pierino al mercato di Luino" [ Peterkin at Luino Market]. Simultaneously he participated in the exhibition entitled From Metaphysics to Metaphysics via Surrealism at the Paris FIAC organised by Prato's Metastasio Gallery, with a catalogue care of M. Fagiolo dell'Arco.

Received invitation to the forty-first Venice Biennale. With a presentation in the catalogue by Giorgio Di Genova, he exhibited a large selection of his "D'après" , some of the most important paintings of his career. In June he took part in a retrospective of the Pittori Moderni della Realtà in the Armoury of Palazzo Vecchio, organised by Florence's Municipal authority. He died in Fiesole on the 26th of September, after a brief illness. In November a full-scale anthological show of his works was held in Bologna at the Galleria Maggiore, presented by Franco Solmi.

Macerata's Modern Art Gallery, organised upon an invitation an anthology presented by the journalist Everaldo Dalla Noce, as did Massa Marittima's Art Gallery. In the months of July, August, September and October an important anthological exhibition was held by the City of Anagni, in the City Hall's Sala della Ragione where the volume "Antonio Bueno . . . o della dissacrazione oculata" by Girogio Di Genova.

Between July and August : a large-scale exhibition of about 160 works (from various private Italian collections and from the family's collection) was held at the Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum under the patronage of the Latium Region and the Provincial and Municipal councils of Rome.

June: an anthological showat Montepulciano's Municipal Art Gallery, organised by the town's Municipal authority, care of the Parnaso Association. July: an anthological exhibition at Cortona's Palazzo Casali, organised by Cortona's Municipality. December (1988)-January (1989): within the ambit of the XVI edition of Poggibonsi Arte he was awarded the Pennello D'Argento [ Silver Brush] Award and an anthological exhibition of his work was held in the Casa di Chiesina under the patronage of the Poggibonsi Municipal Administrative Authority and the Pro Loco organisation, with a catalogue presentation by Paolo Levi.

August: an anthology was held at Campiglia Marittima's Palazzo Pretorio by the town's Municipal Authority. October: an anthological exhibition was held by the Municipality of Fiesole, care of Parnaso.

January: an anthological exhibition was held at the Renzo Spagnoli Arte Gallery in Lugano, with a presentation by Mario Luzi.

From July to October a large-scale anthology , with over one hundred paintings, was held at Palazzo Challand in Aosta's archaeological area, organised by Valle Aosta's Autonomous Regional Council ; on this occasion the first volume of the "Catalogo Generale delle opere di Antonio Bueno" [ General Catalogue of the works of Antonio Bueno] published by Giorgio Mondadori was presented. In the autumn of that year the exhibition was transferred to premises of the Fondazione Bandera per l'Arte at Busto Arsizio.

An exhibition of some works from the "Pittori Moderni della Realtà" period were exhibited within in a collective entitled "Colloquio col visibile" [Colloquium with the visible] at Villa Renatico Martini at Monsummano Terme, under the auspices of the Ministry for the Cultural and Environmental Heritage, the Regional Council of Tuscany and the Municipal Authority of Florence.

Various drawings of his were presented at a collective exhibition on "Il disegno in Toscana, 1900-1945" [Drawing in Tuscany, 1900-1945] at Villa Medicea, Poggio a Caiano.

Florence, october-november: the Uffizi Royal Post Salon, anthological exhibition with seventy-nine paintings dating 1940-1984, care of the Cultural Office of the Tuscan Regional Council, the Superintendent of the Historical, Artistic and Demo-anthropological Heritage of the Provinces of Florence, Pistoia and Prato. The catalogue 'Antonio Bueno. Variations on the theme of a lucky painting' presented and editet by O.Casazza and A.Paolucci.

2002 Pietrasanta (Lucca), July - September : Antonio Bueno, other 'Variations on the theme of a lucky painting' Sala dei Putti e Sala del Capitolo, Chiostro di S.Agostino. Anthological exhibition with forty-seven paintings dating 1940-1984, organized by the Cultural office of the township of Pietrasanta, in cooperation with the Superintendent of the Historical, Artistic and Demoanthropological Heritage of the Provinces of Florence, Pistoia and Prato.Exhibition care of Ornella Casazza, Marco Moretti, Isabella Bueno. Committee scientific: Isabella Bueno, Tommaso Bueno, Ornella Casazza, Marco Moretti, Antonio Paolucci, Edoardo Sanguineti. Catalogue by Giunti, Florence.

(By Isabella Bueno)


Of Antonio Bueno's three children, I am the last, the youngest. When he died in 1984, I was not yet twenty; therefore I think I really knew only the latter part of his life, that is the phase when his fame was secure and well-established. I learnt about his eventful younger days, the trouble-ridden pathway he had to follow before reaching artistic and personal maturity, all those events which probably comprise the more fascinating pages of his biography, mainly from his own accounts.later, when I felt the urge to go into the question more deeply, I was able to avail myself of the treasure trove of documents left by my father, above all his writings, his memoirs and diaries.

The origins of Antonio Bueno's family are of such a novel and atypical character that it is almost impossible not to refer to them. His father, a Spanish journalist and writer of a certain fame, was undoubtedly a restless and "troublesome" character, so much so that ten years before the Franco regime came to power he was obliged to leave Spain for political reasons. His mother, more or less a voluntary exile like her husband, was a Polish Jew. Bueno's childhood and early youth comprised an endless series of journeys and changes of abode. He was born in Berlin in 1918, but almost immediately his family took him for shorter or longer periods to live in Spain, France, Switzerland and England. Between 1925 and 1938 he lived in Geneva where his father worked as an executive at the League of Nations.

At home the family spoke three languages: Spanish, their father's native tongue; German, spotted with Yiddish terms, as spoken by their mother, and French, the language of the official world and of study. Although his artistic passion nipped his academic career in the bud, Bueno never suffered from any kind of cultural drawback, thanks both to his innate, omnivorous love of reading and an inclination to carry out in-depth investigations and increase his knowledge, a gift he inherited from his father the latter too, in his way, an irregular and self-taught intellectual. The family environment, cosmopolitan and open-minded, provided as good a training-ground as any of the universities Antonio Bueno ever attended.

A talent for painting first manifested itself in his brother Xavier, two years his senior and in many ways his only true teacher. Extremely precocious, from their adolescence the two brothers formed an artistic, creative and material alliance so great that it brought them to interact and at times even mix their brush-strokes on the same canvas. Rather than devote time to following academic dicta, they decided to trace figurative art back to its origins on their own behalf, visiting museums and studying in art book reproductions of the great Italian, Spanish and Flemish masters of the past. Thus they succeeded in summing up and reviving for a time a painting technique, which in the twentieth century seemed extinct.

The two young artists settled first in Paris, renting a studio. Their subsequent transfer to Italy in 1940 was due mostly to chance. Originally their trip was meant to be the classical voyage en Italie that every European artist must undertake sooner or later;instaed they were destined never to leave Florence and to spend the rest of their lives there. The Tuscan capital was to be, in theory, simply the first stage in their journey of discovery until that drôle de guerre which prevented them from returning to Paris came to an end, but when a few months later Italy too entered the war, their plans had to be changed. Similarly, their first Italian exhibitions were also a matter of chance, unplanned. At the time the two artists painted to practice, to fill up by painting from life the gaps they judged their academic training tohave left. They were not remotely thinking of painting for a public. They corrected, erased, and to save material, occasionally painted over already finished pictures. Therefore, the success of their first personal exhibitions came as an authentic surprise to them.

But why Florence? This is a question that the Bueno brothers were obliged to ask themselves many times afterwards. The provincialism of the environment did not offer particularly promising career prospects and it probably did not appear very stimulating to the two young painters who had lived in Paris and who were imbibed with cosmopolitan culture. Yet for the kind of solitary and highly personal research they had in mind, perhaps the Tuscan capital was a more fitting place for them than Paris. By 1945 they felt tied to Florence, mostly for practical reasons: here, they had established themselves as portrait-painters, they had set up a consistent upper-bourgeois clientele, and both had families and children.

Life in Florence was always hard for Antonio Bueno , especially in the period following his definitive "divorce" from his brother Xavier (1949); but the difficulties were principally the conseguences of his own precise choice. Had he wanted he might have enjoyed a solid local fame continuing, for example, to paint portraits. He preferred, however, to isolate himself in eccentric positions, making choices which at times looked forward, at others looked back. His constant quest for originality was rewarded only towards the end of his life and at a very high price. In the Forties Bueno undertook work of refined and incomparable realism, which proved, however, not devoid of risk: the critics, ignoring the "pauperist" intent of his still lives, accused him of reaction. Between 1952 and 1959 came the period of the "pipes" : in the paintings of this period, which strove to achieve a compromise between abstract and figurative art, all human or "natural" presences were replaced by objects with a metaphysical significance -clay pipes which, in fact, Antonio and Xavier smoked when they were students in Geneva, egg-shells, pencils, paint-brushes. Bueno's activity reached its apex during the Sixties, when he became, for all practical purposes, the coordinator of the Florentine avant-garde, giving rise to exhibitions and initiatives of all kinds and, at the same time, devoting himself to rather provocative forms of art - monochromatic painting, "technological" and multimedial art, visual poetry, painting by the yard, audio-painting, more or less explicit references to the world of pop-art.

The Fifties and Sixties, except for the occasional, short parentheses, were times of great difficulty and worry for the artist and his family. Bueno's pictures were hard to place on the market; what is more, they seemed to win greater favour in Milan than in Florence, abroad than in Italy (his first truly successful exhibition was held in New York in 1959). Besides the constant torment of economic difficulties during these two stormy decades Bueno had to fight against both personal and artistic isolation, the result of his position as an exile: he was finally granted Italian citizenship in 1970, after two refusals and various bureaucratic vicissitudes. It is possible to interpret his participation in the various avant-garde movements and currents during that period ("Gruppo '70", "Nuova Figurazione, etc.) as an attempt to win the esteem of critics and colleagues.

The Antonio Bueno I knew led a life quite different from that narrated so far. Towards the end of the Seventies he had accomplished his definitive separation from the avant-garde : the artist who had never denied the pre-eminence of figuration, however, returned to a declaredly "neo-pastist" kind of painting - , or to use his own ironic labels "neo-kitsch" and "pompierist". The season of struggles, experimentation, clamorous and iconoclastic alliances was over. During the last decade of his life he very rarely,quite exceptionally one can say, took part in collective exhibitions. His friendships became fewer as did his frequentation of mundane events, his travels and his absences from home in general. This brusque change of mood was due to two causes: his change of residence ( the family moved to a house in the woods about twenty kilometres from Florence) and above all the sudden deterioration of his health: Bueno suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, due, most likely, to continuous contact with the harmful substances contained in the paints and solvents he used.

During his latter years he devoted every moment and all his energies, without pauses or holidays, to his work, exploiting even those extra wakeful hours which insomnia imposed on him. He never forsook the strict rule underlying his drawing technique, his boundless care for accuracy and subtlety. Having reintroduced the techniques and modalities of the great art of the past, he seemed doomed to remain faithful to them forever. He was never able to taste the superior recklessness of a famous master, or live on his signature alone: every painting, even the tiniest, cost him several days'of work, up to the last. To keep the paint fresh from one day to the next and thus go on working, he mixed his colours with a solution of oil and petrol. Another useful expedient consisted in putting the paintings in the fridge during pauses between sessions. To absorb the surplus oil, he alternated between brushes and newspaper, opportunely ironed. He often used his bare finger-tips as tampons, a habit no doctor could make him give up.

His devotion to the easel naturally reduced the possibility of doing anything else, or even taking a break. That left him very little time to devote to his family. Apart from painting, he always showed a keen interest in music as the many Concertino paintings of his later years reveal. In his youth he had studied the violin for nine years, now music was a source of comfort rather than anything else, the sound track to his endless pictorial labour. Someone, usually my mother, had to help by turning the record on his old gramophone: if he did so himself he invariably left two or three coloured fingerprints on the records. He was able to dedicate himself to reading at night (again 'thanks' to his insomnia) : that way, in 1981 or 1982, he was able to reread the whole of Proust's Recherche at enormous speed.

His last important commitment, which required an great tour de force on his part, was preparing for the 1984 edition of the Venice Biennale, a few months before his death. For that occasion he wanted to paint a series of unusually large-scale d'aprés. He had begun to take an interest in d'aprés, (re-elaborations of more or less famous works by celebrated artists of the past) towards the end of the Seventies. Over the years this kind of painting had become the most advanced and personal aspect of his research. During the months he devoted to the work for the Biennale he was visibly ill and weak, but his enthusiasm for the paintings he had planned and the need to meet the commitment evidently gave him the strength to go on. He collapsed, in fact, a few days after the inauguration, at the beginning of June.

From the point of view of humanity and character, my father was undoubtedly an original kind of person, even if not quite so eccentric as one believes an artist of respect should be. He was impetuous, disorderly, at times irascible. His most characteristic trait was his forgetfulness which was capable of reaching unbelievable extremes. His constant absentmindedness obliged him to waste precious time, practically every day, searching for things that for him were essential (the things he mislaid were always the same, i. e. his glasses, his beret, the little book where he kept his telephone numbers). These quests were often desperate, endless, involving everybody and every room in the house. It was the same with his paint brushes, except for the fact that he had given them proper names which he used when searching for them as if the brushes were people ( one that I can remember was called Filippo).

Among other things he was a fascinating, torrential conversationalist capable of prolonging a telephone conversation beyond all reasonable bounds for no reason other than the pleasure of talking. During his last years, due to the lack of worthy interlocutors, he took to writing and delighted in putting down - with a great deal of grace, one must say - interesting pages of autobiographical material.

By way of a strange kind of compensation, the character of his painting appeared remote from his own was quite the opposite, in fact. The neatness and precision that he reserved for his paintings were totally foreign to his own temperament and were in contrast with his disorderly life-style : visitors to his studio were amazed by the chaos and dirt that prevailed there. He himself wore only threadbare jackets and baggy trousers, all stained with paint. The everyday man was always exuberant and expansive, while when he painted he became reticent and malicious. He scorned all forms of rhetoric and exhibitionism, content to make allusive remarks, to coin subtle metaphors.

I believe that this is an essential consideration for those who seek to interpret his art: those vacant faces, bewildered and amazed (amazed perhaps by the absurdity of life), betray almost no thought or feeling because they are so intent on keeping them "inside". His is the art of implication, never as simple or superficial as it tries to appear.

(By Tommaso Bueno)

© Antonio Bueno

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