Spirituality is important in every thing you do!
A talk with Eugenio Carmi, artist and designer.
Eugenio Carmi (Genoa, February 17th 1920) since the ’50s is among the greatest exponents of Italian abstractionism. In the first two decades with informale painting and from the ’60s with the strictness of geometric forms, that will develop in the following decades.
From 1958 to 1965 he is in charge of the communication and creative direction for the steel factory Italsider and from 1966 collaborates with Umberto Eco in the production of three children tales.
Palazzo Ducale in Genoa will host Speed Limit 40, a wide retrospective of his work, until the 17th of May.
I have a natural respect for who combinate the designer job with the artist work. So have been Max Bill and Bruno Munari, so is Eugenio Carmi, who has always brought together art and design, reaching an optimal synthesis with his work for Cornegliano steelworks before and Italsider then, bringing art into the factory and the factory out in the world, generating culture.
The artist-designer have formal strictness, wit, consciousness of his role, sensibility and is aware of performing a function that can make good as much as it can be harmful. A position of responsibility.
It may be because of this that the most sincere designers demonstrated a great attention to childhood: “we must make tales for children” one day Umberto Eco said to Carmi in his house in Boccadosse, a small town out of Genoa. The kids had to comprehend what still wasn’t clear to adults: that all men are equal and that war is bad. Simple but not obvious thoughts that Carmi translated in 28 illustrations for two books written by Eco, The Three Astronauts and The Bomb and the General, then published by Bompiani in 1966.
They were a failure, “parents didn’t like a general downgraded to hotel porter after dropping the atomic bomb to obey to warlords”. Same fate was up to The Three Astronauts where a black man, a Russian and and an American, all equally capable, landed to Mars at the same time.
The turning point came unexpected in the ’80s, when Eco called Carmi from the Frankfurt Book Fair asking if he still had the original illustrations: an article published on the Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung was asking where Eco and Carmi’s books ended up. “I still have them, but they don’t look good to me anymore!”, “we must -again- make some new ones then”.
And so happened and to those two books a third was added, The Gnomes of Gnu, commissioned by Stefanel and also published by Bompiani that “tells of an utopian, very different from ours, world where all runs right”.
Those books are today published in the world, “I recently had the Russian and Ukrainian edition, I had some in language I can’t understand, Chinese, Japanese, Korean!” and the American the theatrical director and producer Grethe Holby is working on a play based on The Bomb and the General.
As we talk it often recurs the need, to make art but not only. “Since the human began walking erected he always felt the need to express himself through art” Carmi replies to me asking what is the role of the artist in the society, “a minority satisfied this way its need of expression, representation and spirituality”. Then also through writing, music, architecture, but only after the invention of the wheel, “one of the greatest inventions ever” he tells me fascinated like who, never addicted to the world, watches at it from a wider perspective. “With the wheel the human could move and farm”, he opened himself new possibilities.
So has to do the artist: to be engine and stimulus to progress.
The progress recurs when I ask him about a subject that fascinates me as much as I find it hard to comprehend, the spirituality in the arts. I met it in Rothko, Albers, Kandinsky like when you pass by someone that you feel you have already met.
Maybe it’s him or maybe they just resemble.
And you stay in doubt. “Spirituality is important in every thing you do. You find it in intellectuals and also in the Italsider workers I worked with, it is connected to creativity but it requires meditation and time and today there is no time, all is super fast. Technology brought many advantages but the people’s common life has not improved. It goes towards an unknown future.
Once you had calm to think, now it is hard to find”. Spirituality has nothing to do with something mystical as I always thought. It’s so simple, it is reflection, it is removal of contingency and material. It is to have wider, universal vision, it is thinking great, thinking to the world and never get accustomed to it. It is the wheel against the latest iPhone.
Images from these two books:
The three Astronauts, by Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi
TheBomb and the General, by Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi
When: until the 17th of May.
Where: Palazzo Ducale, Giacomo Matteotti Square, 9, Genoa
All artworks courtesy of Eugenio Carmi
Portrait photo by Ferdinando Scianna