“The possibility of art is infinite, so pure without limits, but in the order of the limits is the path of thought, of sensitivity, of human beings. Art is about humans even when humans do not appear. Humans and their reality are not important. What matters is the idea of humans, a higher reality”
Antonio Calderara (1903-1978) is an artist known for his in-depth investigation into colour, form, and the nature of painting. His early career work is characterized by his misty impressionistic portraits, landscapes, and still life, inspired by his secluded surroundings in Lake Orta outside of Milan, Italy.
Self-taught, Calderara at age 31, moved from Milan to Vacciago di Ameno at Lake Orta in 1934 with his wife Carmela, where he would work for the rest of his life. He was described as an enigmatic and hard to classify artist, drawing broad influence from multiple early 20th century movements ranging from Novecento and it’s associated revival of realism - to Spatialism, while still maintaining autonomous personal vision. Calderara conducted his work in almost ascetic isolation, working at a modest scale up until his death, deeply investigating the nature of painting, and drawing inspiration from his serene immediate surroundings.
The portrait and still life Il Turco was made during his transitional period away from figuration, shortly after encountering the works of Mondrian which had a profound effect on the artist. In Calderara’s autobiography, he described his thought process in 1957 shortly after completing this work “my commitment is an interest in light, in the light that invades everything, that destroys everything in order to be the only protagonist” - the soft bright light of Lake Orta was a continuous point of inspiration - seen clearly in this work.
Although Calderara led a secluded life, he is remembered for his deep relationships with his family, as well as an extensive network of Italian and international artists which influenced his practice. The Fondazione Antonia and Carmela Caldera is a testament to both his connection to Lake Orta and his relationship with his fellow artists, housing Calderara’s extensive personal collection of works made by the artists and his friends and contemporaries.
Nicholas Logsdaill describes the experience of meeting Calderara and encountering his work at Calderara’s Palazzo at Lake Orta, in the Essay ‘Love Story’:
“I saw my first painting by Antonio Calderara (1903-1978) with the collector Dr. Owen Franklin and his wife Sonja, in London in 1968. It was love at first sight. How could this small panel be so beautiful? The Inner Light and profound poetic presence of this quietly powerful work was like nothing I had ever seen. Hovering over the surface, there seemed to be the same floating veil that I had encountered in works by American artists such as Mark Rothko and Robert Ryman. However, Dr Franklin explained to me that Calderara's paintings were inspired by the particular, special kind of light that reflects off the waters of Lake Orta, which nestles next to the great Italian lakes of Maggiore and Lugano. (Abridged) We decided to make it into a road trip, with a stop to visit Calderara at his home and studio in the small village of Vacciago di Ameno, on the eastern shore of Lake Orta.
The artist and his wife Carmela were welcoming in that old-fashioned way, with tea and cakes already prepared. Then they showed us around their 17th century palazzo and their extraordinary collection of works by artist friends from Calderara's generation, including Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Josef Albers, Lucio Fontana, and Max Bill, not to mention many of his own paintings from the past and those still in progress. Calderara worked serially on a number of works in the studio, contemplating and comparing them. Also, as he worked in oils, he explained, they needed time to dry between applications of paint.”