Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Honoring the Greats: Piero Fornasetti

Italian artist Piero Fornasetti is legendary in the design field for the creation of several fanciful patterns and ceramics.  Most will probably recognize the artist from the plates, candles, and other decorative objects he made that feature the face of opera singer Lina Cavalieri.  Fornasetti saw Lina's face in a 19th-century magazine and was instantly captivated.  He once asked, "What inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman?  I don't know.  I began to make them and I never stopped."   

{Tamra Sanders' SoHo loft featuring Fornasetti plates, photo via Erika Brechtel}

{Piero among his many plates}

Piero was born in 1913 Milan to a wealthy, bourgeois family.  As the firstborn and the son of an accountant, his father envisioned him leading a prosperous life in the world of finance.  But Piero had other ideas- As a child, his mind would constantly race with fanciful ideas and motifs that he began to draw in notebook after notebook.  Common themes in Forensetti's sketches were the sun and moon, playing cards, butterflies, hot-air balloons, and architecture.  It soon became obvious that the only path for Piero was to become an artist.  At the age of 17, he enrolls in Milan's prestigious Brera Academy of Fine Art.  However, much to Piero's frustration, the self-taught artist finds little help in developing his skillset at the school.  After clashing with the faculty over several issues, Piero finally decides to leave in 1932.  

In every infamous designer bio, there's a turning point or certain event/chance meeting that catapults the person's career. For Piero, that did not take long.  After finishing up school and taking a bit of time to travel and work on his designs, he returned to Milan and began creating hand-printed silk scarves that were displayed in the 1933 Triennial di Milano.  The scarves caught the attention of Gio Ponti, an Italian architect who was very entrenched in the Milan design scene. Ponti became Forensetti's most important and loyal patron and whom he collaborated on furniture designs and large scale interior decoration projects (NY Times).  One of my favorite patterns Forensetti developed was this whimsical malachite swirl, shown here on a 1950s trumeau:

This pattern was later developed in to a Cole & Sons wallpaper, which continues to be a designer favorite today:

What is so interesting about most of Piero's designs is that during a time of restraint and minimalism, his maximalist designs truly thrived.  Here are just a few examples:

  Today, Piero Fornasetti's son Barnaba manages his Milan shop and oversees his business.  While preparing this post, I came across Fornsetti's website and enjoyed the interactive biography shared here.  

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