I am spending a week in a lovely Medieval/Roman town in the Umbrian region of Italy called Spello. This town is not as touristy as its neighbours like Assisi and that’s how I like it. Sure, I cannot speak Italian and it has been tricky trying to buy food and telling taxi drivers where I want to go but I am getting by. One of the greatest experiences I have had so far was spending a morning with the famous artist Maestro Elvio Marchionni. His most famous work is the portrait he was commissioned to create of the Pope – 500 copies were created for art galleries and 50,000 limited edition prints were made and sold out.
I arrived at 10am as planned to watch Maestro Marchionni paint and create. He does not speak English so I watched him for half an hour as he painted and then etched the curves of a womanly body on the canvas. I looked around at my surroundings, paintings lent up against the walls and benches, the dining table made from a mixture of pieces of stone and painted objects, newspapers and paints everywhere. I think I counted five pairs of reading glasses on the fireplace mantel. It was organised chaos, a representation of what the mind of an artist may be like.
Then enters Francesca, Elvio’s assistant (also Artistic Director of Foundation Marchionni and coordinator of their art classes and events) who is always running around organising everything – a contrast to Elvio’s calm and laid back nature. They have a fun and dynamic relationship. Francesca is then a translator for me and we spend about an hour chatting to Elvio about life and his inspirations.
Elvio Marchionni was born in Spello about 70 years ago and to this day still lives in Spello. He loves Spello so much that if he has ‘holidays’ he stays in Spello or travels to somewhere that reminds him of Spello. He has his studio/home area across from the church building which now serves as a space for teaching children and also for creating his larger artworks he is commissioned for. The church is not used for religious functions anymore. It is called Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo; it is the site of Foundation Marchionni. Elvio is planning to paint the Church ceiling with the episodes of San Michele Arcangelo’s Legend, and he’s doing studies and research about this Saint thanks to the help of Monsignor Mario Sensi, a Scholar and Professor of History of the Medieval Church in the Pontifical Lateran University. His two apprentices also work in this building. He has a villa on the Spello hillside and loves to go walking to pick herbs and asparagus.
Elvio was born into a farming family who had no idea about art or its existence but when he was three years old he started drawing. To this day he has not stopped. There are a few artists that have helped this Maestro to develop his style over the years (which is ever-changing) including Michelangelo and the modern artist, Burri. The latter is a painter who uses used canvas, jute, burnt plastic, wood, iron, dust in his works. Elvio was inspired by the particular use and combination of those elements and started to work on ancient plasters, making them look like unfinished murals. The render/plaster from walls is used to make an aged look on the paintings. Elvio has then furthered this idea and started to etch drawings on this surface.
He believes that you have to be born with the talent to be a good artist but then you must continue to train yourself and nurture that talent. “I believe an artist should not only paint when inspired. He must be always ready to paint.”
Elvio Marchionni also works with children but tries to undo the teaching of the schools. He wants children not to think with ‘rules’ of what is right and wrong but to be free to express themselves. “There is an artist in every child.” He, therefore, is there to help the children when they feel stuck or have doubts about themselves and their work.
We asked what his proudest achievement in life is. “I am proud of the freedom I have in my life to do what I love most.”
Thanks to Max Brunelli for setting up the meeting with Elvio :). You can like Elvio’s Facebook page here.
May I introduce to you – A morning with Maestro Elvio Marchionni.