I was born in Rome the 10th of August 1941. I started drawing at the age of 6 on the rolls of Fabriano paper, that in the hard times of the postwar period my father, architect of the State Railways, was able to get hold of in his studio. I attended the Art High School and the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome in the years when Turcato, Consagra and Mafai taught. My artistic training, however, also took place, and above all, among the group of fantastic peers who at that time had as a meeting place the "Ferro di Cavallo" bookshop, managed by Agnese de Donato where Schifano, Novelli, Burri, Perilli, Sinisgalli, Pagliarani, Giugliani used to hang out. We were a group of youngsters on foot who every day landed in that trident of streets that lead to piazza del Popolo and in via Ripetta, we had created our camps in rooms and premises that at that time were easy to rent. We were joined by a passion for the great realist cinema of our childhood and for the Antonioni dell’Eclisse e della Notte. We had endless discussions on Le Corbusier, Wright, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Kline, Burri, whose iconographic supports were captured at the "Ferro di Cavallo". We moved in groups to discover other cities. I remember in 1961, a landing in Venice, on the occasion of my first personal exhibit at the gallery "Il Traghetto". In January 1962 I met Folco Lucarini, an incredible mix of craftsman, graphic designer, boxer, gourmet and libertine, who convinced me to leave with him on the spot for Milan. I installed myself in his graphic studio in the via Verdi of the sixties. Above the huge black tables, the only furniture in the large room where I spent my hours (except for the evening shows at "Jamaica"), there were paper, glues, magazines, which became the characters of the stories I was inventing. It was there that I discovered the sign as a story, prompted by the incredible confessions of a neighbour who came to confide me her phallic terrors. Thus were born the Stories of Agnese Crotti (as the girl was called). In that room, of which I keep an olfactory memory of printed paper, cow-gum, damp and iron, I learned to love the works of Michele Provinciali, Pino Tovaglia, Giancarlo Iliprandi and Folco Lucarini, printed in the "Quaderni Imago" edited by the Bassoli Fotoincisioni. Those years in Milan were a great lesson in method and inventive freedom, which made me discover my dual nature as a narrator between graphics and painting, which insists on not erasing the ambiguous margin between sign and colour.

From 1964, the year I returned to Rome and opened my first professional studio, my work has embraced publishing, politics and the cinema, interests I have never abandoned. I designed several children’s books for Bompiani and for Emme Edizioni; for the AMZ of Milan an industrial fable about the poison cloud of Seveso. For the Nuova Italia Scientifica, the graphics scheme. The new graphic layout for the Genova daily paper “Il Lavoro”. For the electoral campaign for the 1972 political elections, a series of posters for the PSIUP. From 1973 to 1977 I organised the graphics for the press and propaganda section of the Roman Federation of the PCI. I have organised the graphic part in numerous cinema exhibition like “Le Giornate del Cinema Muto”, “La Mostra Internazionale del Telefilm”, “La Commedia all’italiana”. I have created many graphic logos for cinematic series for the RAI. Alongside these activities I have always continued my work as a painter with a graphics-painting journal which has led, over the years, to the creation of stories such as Alfazoo, The flying Carpet, The American eye, Mary’s armchair, Sling-shot days. In 1985, invited by Francesco Moschini to retrace the “voyage of my stories” in an exhibition, I realised that to illustrate it to others I would have to show the sequences. Thus was born “Il percorso di un segno”, which is also a commentary to my one-man show at the Galleria A.A.M. di Roma, which was put up in September 1985. My work has been published by: Nuvum, Art Directors Club Milano, Idea, Graphicus, Modem Publicity, Visual Design, Pubblicità in Italia, Deco Press, Graphis, Linea Grafica, Italian Illustrators, ABC Verlag Zurich, Ottagono, Domus, Japan Pubblications Trading Co.


It all started after his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts: the meetings at the Ferro di Cavallo bookshop (with Schifano, Burri, Perilli, Sinisgalli), the short stay in Milan (in the golden age of the "Quaderni Imago" of Provinciali , Tovaglia, Iliprandi and Lucarini) and, in 1964 with the return to Rome and the opening of his studio.
The list of works carried out is long, and goes from children's books (for Amz, Bompiani, Emme Edizioni) to the coordination of the image of cinematographic initiatives (the days of Silent Cinema, Teleconfronto), from the short themes for Rai to political graphic work for the press and propaganda of the Italian PCI Federation, the Manifesto, the setting of the last series of Rinascita and the first editorial project of Liberation. But beyond a first (necessarily summary) list, it seemed important for us to mention his subsequent move outside a dimension, the Roman one, which he believed had become much less stimulating than in the past. The choice to go and live with Carla Conversi in Monticchiello concurred with a very important phase of his activity in those last years. He works for the Teatro Povero, whose image he created in 1987. His relationship of reciprocal exchange between painting and graphic sign finds new strength and expressiveness in this new dimension.
The more recent years have seen him at the centre of an intense network of exchanges, comparisons, discussions (with his friend De Bartolomeis in particular), passionate interventions and full of the will to affect reality. The deepening of his research discourse (carried out in collaboration with his son Brando) saw him continue in the coordination of the image of an industry (Gabriele Centazzo's Val Cucine), bringing together the entire evolution of his recent production oriented in a formal sense. It is probably in the intuition of the 1980 series of oils “Painters' camps” the sense of the recovery of gesture, of matter, of the sense of colour; the dimension that best summarizes the meaning of his activity, his feeling of being a painter even against the limits of the horizons of many of the figures active in the field of Italian visual communication. It was a cycle that was closing, a return to the loves and passions of his youth. A personal path, strict and without easy concessions, but always extremely open to comparison, to the richness of the reality in which he acted. An indication, a way of working and living.


Recognition of the work of the graphic painter Alfredo De Santis (1941-1998)

Leading representative of the Roman school of graphics, Alfredo De Santis (1941-1998) defined a completely personal graphic language, characterized by a continuous mix with cinema, painting, drawing, creating graphics with a strong pictorial value. Despite the importance of his contribution, the sudden and untimely death and the structural lack of attention to the history of graphics have helped to hide the traces of an atypical figure, for whom artistic research and communicative practice have constituted a single indissoluble path. In his own words, everything he created belonged to "a matrix of ideas, symbols, emotions, even in the case of strictly professional work". The presence of a rich private archive, kept in Rome at home by his wife Carla Conversi, who has always also been a workmate, and today a precious and essential witness of his work, allows us to give the right tribute to a great interpreter of the visual communication of the twentieth century. In addition to commissioned works, partially summarized by De Santis himself in the monograph Alfredo De Santis The path of a Sign (1986) until the mid-1980s, through the archive it is possible to reconstruct his entire creative-design process. In fact, envelopes with sketches and notes are preserved of the works carried out, but also a number of notebooks that show the brainstorming of a designer who essentially relied on the expressive freedom of the sign, able over time to encode recurring elements - - the wheel, the tree, the man, the eye, the hand, the Italian peninsula - capable of expressing issues that have never been overcome - racism, the mafia, the environment ... - topics on which he intervened and which he brought as a topic for discussion and planning in teaching at the IED in Rome. This attention to the social impact of creative work is also found in some pictorial cycles that tell crucial moments of contemporaneity: such as the pictorial series Signs on the wall, from 1990 in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Surgery in 1991 for the Gulf War, as well as the graphic projects on Eastern Europe and Sarajevo, conducted with Gianfranco Torri. Each of De Santis’ notebooks contain a graphic dissertation on topical issues, such as the study of the image for the political elections in Italy in April 1992, which then gave rise to a black and white lyrical story on the end of the First Republic ( see attached images). Born in August 1941, he began drawing very early thanks to the availability of paper, even in wartime, given by his father's profession, architect of the state. After studying at the Academy of Art in Rome with Turcato, Consagra and Mafai, a stay in Milan in the studio of Folco Lucarini is essential, where he comes into contact with the forge of Italian graphics, in Milan, the capital of publishing and industry in expansion. In 1964 the young man decided to return to Rome and bring the laws and requirements of a new graphic language into the purely artistic environment of the capital. The Ferro di Cavallo bookshop in Rome (like Milano Libri, in Milan) is the meeting place for young artists and intellectuals who, even before painting, shared a great love for cinema, from the neorealism with which they grew up to Antonioni's cinema. Between the end of the sixties and the early seventies Alfredo De Santis realizes some editorial projects for children: Alfazoo published in 1968 by the Emme editions of Rosellina Archinto, and game-books for Bompiani (I play you play we play and Just a sheet of paper, 1971-72). Since 1971, he has had numerous graphic themes for the RAI film cycles: Cinema 60s, La Commedia all'Italiana, Teleconfronto (1983-86), The Silent Film Days. After all, the wide cinematographic culture and the inclination for the moving image determine the figure of his graphic language. In 1982 he draws the identifying image of the "Days of silent cinema" festival in Pordenone and in 1985 it is the image of a research project on Italian comedy, as well as the logo and many posters for the Poor Theatre of Monticchiello. Cinema is certainly the main muse of De Santis, father of a graphic image in motion as well as of a design method that develops in a tight sequence of images (like the frame of a film) where creative intuition finds its unfolding until the final image, an aspect detailed in his Storyboard book. Animation graphics. Signs, sequences, stories (La Nuova Italia Scientific, 1989), conceived among other things as an educational basis for his courses at the IED in Rome. The other essential aspect of his graphics is the definition of the visual communication of newspapers and the propaganda of the PCI from 1973 to '77. In 1979 he redesigned the Genoese newspaper "Il Lavoro", in 1984 a subscription campaign for "La Repubblica" and from 85 the illustrations "il Manifesto" and the redesign of "Rinascita". In addition to his contribution to politics, his graphic work was used in defining the coordinated image in the sports sector - for the women's world ski championship in Piancavallo in 1986 and for the European basketball championships in Rome in 1991 - and businesslike , for example. for Gabriele Centazzo's Valcucine. A professional and creative path to be reconstructed, also on the basis of critical literature and the publication of his works in the main graphic magazines, both Italian and international: "Novum", "Art Directors Club Milano "," Idea "(Japan)," Graphicus "," Modern Publicity "," Visual Design "," Advertising in Italy "," Graphis "," Linea Grafica "," Italian Illustrators "," Ottagono ", “Domus”, “Japan Publications Trading Co”.

THE PAINTING/THE OBJECT – Francesco De Bartolomeis – Torino 2 / 6 / 1982

It is easy and perhaps common to note that many elements in Alfredo de Santis’ drawing and painting are derived, purposely, I am sure, from his experience in graphics: In any case, an artist is a product of his own experience… but also the continuity of attempting to liberate himself from inside, with a return to areas that seem to precede gains, is a proof of secure ability. To return into uncertainty, to accept actively the loss of significances everything that is necessary.
Thus taking away, a reduction, a refusal of narrative support, concentrating however on an object, on a gesture paradoxically closed. And thus the space is purely mental: there I not a distinction between the background and foreground, and, on the other hand, there I no need to resort to optical illusion.
And again: objects with function, elements that balance themselves above and beyond their recognizable difference. And an ulterior result of mental existence, of abstraction: Painting becomes the protagonist as symbol: it yields either figuratively (the palette, painting, canvas) or in the structure of light and transparent brushstrokes. And the distinction/fusion re-proposes itself in chromatic solutions: balance of colour independent from the realistic exigence of the object.
Why painting, a painter? A kind of re-flexion transferred to his own profession. The professional of drawing and painting, the manipulator of image, the person in grips with relationships, with significances, the graphic artist anyway objectifies some symbols of his work or his entire self. And from inside his daily work emerges that which wants to be different. Painting inside painting as theatre inside theatre: something in his double speculative sense but with a a share of ambiguity and pretence that is nothing other than creation. The canvas and the page are not only the specific support of painting, they are the space, the symbol of all space, and thus the artist cannot occupy only one part of something that is not completely available.
In the space, a few details, each barely accented. Man is also a detail: and this doesn’t diminish him because he brings it to an indefinite totality. The man in the landscape as an armchair or easel in the landscape. Relative: no one thing is preponderant when it is alone. The isolated accentuation, which interests De Santis, to build images and illuminating emotions together with nature. The artist doesn’t want to appropriate from nature because that would signify violence, the opposite of the perennial presumption of man. He moreover searches for participation that finds the way to images via synthesis and condensation. From those trees, armchairs, easels as discreet models, that live from their existence, without clarity and realistic differentiation. Models. Thus symbols? Inevitably. But not symbols or the weight of metaphor and allegory. Happenings and things b chance, but with the necessity of that which resorts to experience, as well as dreams. Alfredo De Santis figurative. But in what frame of reference? With what appearance? First the general problem.
It is critically acknowledged that abstraction does not irreversibly link the evolving line of figuration. On the other hand, one can not say that it is a typical meaning of the qualitative differentiation of results to distinguish that which is research and that of premeditation.
Certainly De Santis is among the searchers with an inventive re-flexion on painting as a means and as an object. The concept is not only the visibility of painting, the theme, indefinitely varied of the “painter and the model”, the tubes that drip colour (Arman), Jim Dine with his almost catalogue of colours, Toy Lichtenstein with his brushstrokes, isolated with a large and sinuous gigantic brush on the dotted field of the cliché. It is as a conversation with themselves and together abstraction is taken to the limit: it is not the content of the painting but only the means of painting. Thus concept, visibility, and pretence. It was not thinkable that before the complexity of reality, to the unevenness of the experience, to the mix of conscious/unconscious, memory/present, project/chance, various forms of abstraction and jeopardize, pop, conceptual art, etc., that a decade ago was the avant-guard, doesn’t feel the need to open a new road by unhidden figuration. The exigence of the image as a new research was born, that knows the progression from figuration to photography, cinema, TV and not as a return to the past also though, in this movement surface allusions to the art of the past infiltrate citations that represent with ambitious intentions an homage to…. Before coming to the most recent and already appropriate revisitation.
As an attestation of pluralism, one thinks also of the possibility offered by the electronic elaboration of the form and colour in common transmissions as well as video art.
If the form is also to explore and to recombine in order to impose a new style it is already fashionable and easy to give confidence to the conceptual (that pretends to say much ore than it represents) or to an abstraction incapable of retaking its own comparison with reality. And maybe that abstraction at its birth gives force to the realistic, for example, like Kandinsky? Without fictional approaches (another thing is the histrionics of a product), without hierarchic debts, an evaluation of De Santis’ work remains in the field of the essential problems of art, especially the justification of art that is not secure once and for all.

PAINTING AS NARRATION – Francesco Moschini

Many of us owe something to Mario Seccia, to his active intelligence, to his continuous portrayal, by excess of discretion, before the banality of daily life, with his frank logic of transgression to his unsettling silences, to his tragic consciousness of the useless of actions, accompanied by a perverse taste for a slow but sure cancellation of his own traces, almost excusing himself to have had the presumption to have left them. I would like, however, to avoid (as it seems to be happening for a long time) giving him a continual “transversal gratitude”, although that is certainly preferable to the regular direct hits to which we are all subjected, especially in this small but tormented ghetto of frustrated souls that is part of culture, and not only in Rome. This risks making one isolated, untouchable and always more distant. I also owe to Mario the fact that he helped me (along with others) to reconstruct the complicated knowledge of architecture in Rome during the 1960’s, and to have a close knowledge of a cultural reality of the most complex and political sort for a period of time, that for anagraphic and geographical reasons I was unable to personally experience. For years I have been searching to retrace and rethink that happy period in critical and historical terms, not for academic or sentimental reasons but because it seems to me to have been one of the last great lost occasions of Italian culture (and not only that of architecture) that could help us to better understand the current stalled situation. Alfredo de Santis is one of the silent protagonists of the years that Mario in his own way encouraged me to discover and to experience. And with him it seems that I am arriving at the conclusion of the restitution of my part in those years, as a kind of huge mosaic that I have learned to know. Attached to Rome, at first I only heard the names, then began to search for situations, roles, public virtues, and private vices, in order to finally reach a great family portrait. If today one can name the protagonists only by their names, if one can evoke extraordinary stories also only by citing these mythological characters, such as Franco, Mario, Duccio, Azio, Valentino or Alfredo, it is because their histories are intertwined with their destinies. They have constructed together with a few others, and undivided compactness, that, even after a distance of years, continues to feel their own insistence, their own generosity, and their euphoria of action implied in their cultural solidarity. For Alfredo, the dedication of diverse disciplinary environments from drawing to graphics, from illustration to painting, coincided, at least at first, with an attention spread to different figurative horizons of the past few years in Rome. This is in contrast with that which succeeded the situation in Milan, linked to the past-Fontana avantguardia and followed by the fragmented results of the cold “informal” of Piero Manzoni, both seeming complete opposites. If one goes farther on in the late inheritance of the polemica between E. Vittorini and P. Togliatti, and regarding the visual arts between L. Venturi and R. Longhi, continuing in the dawn of the warring presence of the protagonists of the avantguard Form 1 such as A. Perilli, P. Dorazio and others, to a declination specifically Roman, of the pop phenomenon. This had a slight characteristic romanticism in the image and in painting but without the “rigor mortis” that characterized the American experience of this period. It is this second aspect that de Santis, with his rapport over several years with Mario Schifano, seems privileged. But is is a kind of inversion of that operation with respect to the connotation of that figurative tendency. A dimensional exasperation substitutes the extremely small, in order to obtain an optic upset. An attempt to go out of the physical limits of the canvas, by a sort of uncontrolled vitality, contrasted with the idea of a fragment, an obsession with a concept of limitation, something quite unusual in recent years. With a taste for colour that shoots off, almost dropping along the canvas and substitutes the tense and terse background. Thus he changes the connotations of an experience already codified, and makes an exact collocation of his figurative discourse, making a world of his own signs that permit him to cross over the limits and separations of diverse fields of application. His result was then, as now, a continuing narration in which repetition should not be read as a coercion to repeat, as the “different repetition” from de Chirico on became qualified, following F. Fossati’s definition as “programmed painting”, but more as a continual process of small signs that operate progressively and with small narrative touches that continually enrich the complex signification. The sequences are thus linked to a unique image, such as Mary’s armchair, which obsessively return in infinite versions: a flying carpet, or more recently, the artist or a tree. This is not done to achieve a clear view of himself, following an optical concept for a better understanding but as an enrichment and continual registration of always new and diverse data. Because these “series” all should register the moment in which they were conceived, the environment that provided them, the memories that continually intercede and finally their subtle and melancholic way of being reduced to pure objects of affection. The cross from the privacy of their condition, almost an “ex voto” of Alfredo, to that of the clearest elements in continual narration. And if the painting seems to still have more body, in its accentuation of material, it is in that desert where the trees seem to be immersed and characteristic screaming gesture gives those signs almost a touching irony. It is the sense of panic of those figures that give body to the landscape, gradually liquefying themselves, revealing the sense of that evocation. And this is none other than the registration of the existence with his own weight, his hardness, but also his characterisation of fascination that still permits him to travel in “plein air” or to transform by enchantment the artist’s studio as mythical figures, the transparent presence of a micro-history, always brought to assume the tones of a higher order and the narrow gap between the microcosmic and the macro cosmic.

SLINGSHOT DAYS – Aldo Colonetti

Alfredo de Santis presents a story, “Slingshot days” through which the sign, transforming itself materially and spatially, communicates different events and adapts to different information strategies, where the only common element is an image that has no history. He has no history, because his story develops outside the traditional professional contexts: here, in fact, the images that reconstruct the history of the sling are presented. The sling here is an excuse, it’s a shape, it’s not a symbol; but its geometric structure allows the most varied uses. Alfredo de Santis researches as graphic and painter, the semantic potential of this tool, without getting lost in a sensation that is either exclusively decorative or strictly functional to the client. It is as if the design culture of de Santis, once set in motion around an idea, an intuition, stubbornly pursues a goal that is always beyond: graphics as a research for new communicative potential. This is the demonstration that a story can always be built, even around an idea or hypothesis that is still imprecise and poorly defined in its semantic comparisons; fundamental is the organization of the signs, their relationship with the text, the control of the parts. Consequently, the designer's culture becomes essential: the slingshot can be transformed into an image for the TV comparison, an international show of the serial; in a chromatic sequence for a calendar; or it can illustrate, changing the background and making it interact with other more or less allusive elements, a cover of Rinascita magazine, on the occasion of a debate on Chernobyl. At the same time, de Santis re-elaborates, separating it from the more strictly functionalist-graphic context, the sling idea-form; and here, then, the oils on wood and papier-mâché, wood and plaster, oil colours on wood and plaster. These are works intended for a different audience than that of a traditional graphic communication, but above all, aimed at research, all within a poetic where, this time yes, the symbolism and the careful use of some materials go beyond a narrow and sometimes cold need of a more traditionally professional type. Also this type of research is part of the culture of the project, but beware: not all those who have a double disciplinary training, graphic and pictorial, are then able to synthesize this accumulation of experiences, in a clear image where the ambiguity of the sign is under the control, even if partial, of reason. Alfredo de Santis is a designer who knows the limits of the two disciplines, so he uses their potential, without ever completely breaking through the boundaries of both: this quality is called professionalism which also means resign the ease of a hand and an artistic tradition, to highlight, instead, the ethical-political need for linguistic clarity and simplicity.


Eravamo agli inizi degli anni ottanta e ci davamo appuntamento a Roma per le prime riunioni di un progetto di Biennale della grafica italiana, e si discuteva molto di cinema e di politica. Le visite allo studio di Alfredo costituivano, per me, l’incontro con il suo mondo dei segni, il bianco e il nero assoluto: quello che sarebbe diventato la serie dei Giorni della fionda (1984). Pensavo fosse interessante riproporli, metterli in “circolazione” anche a Torino. Occasione che si sarebbe presentata con “Sisifo”, il periodico di idee, ricerche, programmi dell’Istituto Gramsci piemontese. Ne curavo l’impaginazione, proponendo l’incontro con le immagini di un autore che ritenevo particolarmente significativo. Nell’aprile del 1985 compare, così, la serie di interventi, realizzati da Alfredo, per la Federazione Italiana Circoli del Cinema sui film della Commedia all’italiana. Annotazioni visive per una serie di incontri, tavole rotonde e proiezioni: a partire da Vivere in pace di Luigi Zampa (1946) fino a Un borghese piccolo piccolo di Mario Monicelli (1977). Un cinema che discutevamo, che amavamo e che delineava il percorso della società italiana di quel trentennio. Alfredo così descriveva il suo lavoro:” inizio a disegnare silhouette dell’Italia al centro di una striscia di pellicola, poi disegno fotogrammi, fabbriche, cineprese, uomini che agitano lunghe strisce di pellicola. Scelgo l’uomo e la cinepresa, l’uomo e l’Italia e il fotogramma ben teso tra due pali”. I segni neri, stampati su una carta color paglierino, sono forti e si affiancano quasi contrapponendosi alle colonne dei testi pubblicati nelle 52 pagine della rivista.
Nei successivi due anni, dopo gli appuntamenti della mostra di Cattolica e quello torinese di Segnopolis, nasceva nella periferia della città il Mese della grafica di Grugliasco. Alfredo collaborava, con Mario Cresci, alla presentazione della prima edizione con incontri dedicati a insegnanti e studenti della città. Il primo appuntamento espositivo era dedicato al Manifesto francese di pubblica utilità ed era stato possibile grazie ai rapporti stabiliti con un folto gruppo di grafici e alla collaborazione con il Syndicat National des Graphistes.
Nel frattempo, a cura di Giovanni Lussu, iniziava l’uscita di una collana della Nuova Italia Scientifica dedicata a un primo gruppo di grafici italiani: Mario Cresci, Alfredo de Santis, Roberto Pieracini, e chi scrive. Presentata a Roma, alla galleria Architettura e Arte Moderna nel 1989 e in Francia al primo Mois du graphisme de Echirolles nel 1990.
Ma è la seconda edizione del Mese della grafica, dedicata al Manifesto dell’Est.
Polonia, Cecoslovacchia e Ungheria del 1989, che suscita l’attenzione di Alfredo. Mi propone di presentarla all’Istituto Europeo di Design di Roma, in cui in quel momento dirigeva con Carla Conversi il dipartimento di Grafica e Illustrazione e di realizzare una pubblicazione che documentasse i principali aspetti dell’iniziativa. L’impatto e l’interesse per le immagini che venivano presentate per la prima volta in Italia facevano riferimento a una storia, a una cultura (e a una censura) che caratterizzavano fortemente quel blocco che si era liberato dal controllo dell’URS e che guardava all’Occidente con grande aspettativa. Al centro dell’incontro l’attenzione ai linguaggi della grafica culturale e il loro intreccio con i forti cambiamenti sociali e politici in atto. Con discussioni che partivano dall’attualità per risalire fino a Walter Benjamin di “Strada a senso unico”. Emerge qui un altro aspetto non secondario della personalità dell’autore: una maniera di intendere il suo ruolo e la sua responsabilità a livello dell’insegnamento della grafica, intesa come continua attenzione e confronto con le tendenze non omologate nel campo della comunicazione visiva internazionale. Un filo che accomunava la sua attività alla necessità della documentazione e alla riflessione su quanto avveniva intorno a noi, in quegli anni. Un fare grafica, come nel caso dell’immagine e della comunicazione del Teatro Povero di Montichiello, che ho avuto occasione di presentare in una lezione all’University of Industrial Arts di Helsinki in occasione di un soggiorno di studio in Finlandia.
L’urgenza dell’essere presente, al di là della realizzazione pura e semplice dell’artefatto comunicativo, era, infine, alla base del contributo di Alfredo alla mostra “Sarajevo, urgente”, nel 1994. Il progetto, partito da Karel Misek a Praga, era stato ripreso in Francia (Centre Georges Pompidou, Mois du graphisme) e proponeva una serie di manifesti dedicati a Sarajevo, assediata dalle truppe serbe, come capitale culturale dell’Europa. La mostra era poi giunta in Italia (Mese della grafica, Galleria Aiap di Milano, Dopolavoro Ferroviario di Bologna) raccogliendo una serie di contributi italiani. Ma il rischio era quello di rivolgersi a un pubblico di addetti ai lavori, un contarsi tra quelli che erano già d’accordo nella denuncia dei fatti.
La proposta di Alfredo, oltre il manifesto, consisteva in un piccolo manuale di 24 pagine con esempi di quanto si poteva fare per comunicare in maniera diversa: con striscioni, adesivi, pieghevoli e locandine rivolti a pubblici di diverse situazioni in cui discutere e prendere iniziative. Segni semplici da riprodurre e moltiplicare nelle scuole, per le associazioni, nelle università. Una grafica effettivamente utile che cercasse di contribuire a mandare avanti le cose, cioè che servisse.
Nel volgere di quella decina d’anni, in Europa e in Italia, era successo di tutto, e non necessariamente di meglio. L’idea di Alfredo era quella di agire in uno spazio circoscritto ma con il massimo di intelligenza, di capacità di utilizzo dei suoi strumenti per essere presente e incidere nel suo e nel nostro tempo. Attivamente.

Interview of Francesco De Bartolomeis to Alfredo de Santis

(for a major exhibit, then suspended, to be held in Turin in 1998)

The graphic designer's work has become very complicated to the point that it can be said that, like the director, he doesn't do everything himself. It puts us in front of different skills and respective levels (from creative to technical) that must be able to collaborate.

I would not like you to think immediately at the computer, which is now essential. It is not possible to avoid the issue of relations with technologies which also means collaboration of different skills. This is not in contradiction with the fact that, at least in my work, a large part, the material execution, is not just graphic. Often I really need to build objects, which implies the knowledge of materials and procedures. Sometimes I start from the sign I get on a linoleum, but also that I engrave on lead plates to make tiles. The research on the quality of the sign has a central place in my work. There are many differences between thickness and grain. The black of the design is different from the black of the toner and this rather than lead to a replacement must stimulate and take advantage of the differences.

It seems to me that it is this research attitude that also enhances traditional techniques that characterizes you in a very precise way.

Of course, one must know all the strategies to obtain the diversity of the sign, so that it imposes itself, in varying, as a particular style. From the graphic sign I go towards the carving sign and towards the engraving sign. And I'm fascinated by the design and the scenography. As for the latter, what else does the graphic designer do if not staging images from which the utmost communicative power is promised?

It is not a bit stretched, speaking of style, to say that we are in the field of art, of an enlarged art. In your case you are dealing with art both as a graphic designer and independently.

The graphic designer, like any other artist, whatever the medium through which he uses, is in the contemporary, in the habitual. And this is what assigns him a client, that is, it pushes him to find certain shapes, to concentrate in a single image or to put them in sequence. So he gives life to symbols with a particular awareness. I am not speaking in general, I am referring to myself. Beyond professional practice, I feel the need to visualize my world. There is no doubling: my world is the matrix from which I draw both for professional clients and for my "free" activity as an artist.

I know that it can be said about art in general, but in your work I see the magic of transformation very evident. Perhaps transformation is a stronger, heavier term of creation.

Actually I need to start from particular things, which at times also seem distant from what I intend to arrive at. But then I realize that these things are essential to give the character of necessity, and therefore of a well-rooted symbol, to what I can do. I need to use my hands, to cut, to engrave, to assemble. These are not purely technical-manual operations because they involve a conception of life.

This is also for me the point that has a central position. The graphic designer, like the artist, cannot rely entirely on skill. He must have things to say, be pressed by the need to say them: to have a world that projects itself on things, on events and on every type of image to be transformed.

The graphic designer, as I intend it, participates in the vitality of problems, contents, solutions: you can feel the charm of the great myths (for example Pandora's box) and also common things that may hide deep symbols (for example, the slingshot that challenges the power with its toy simplicity). If I have to do the cover of a book I have to know it thoroughly to give the meaning, with the graphic medium, of my interpretation.

Art has always used the technologies available but according to its own purposes, so without any lowering of creativity, on the contrary, it had the opportunity to follow previously closed roads. Advanced technologies substantially modify not only the production process but also the conception, its developments and the quality of the product.

The computer is a powerful new opportunity and you need to know how to take advantage. There is no reason, using the computer to dematerialize, so to speak, the entire process, completely neglecting, for example, the characteristics of the paper support, and the contribution they can make to the effectiveness of an image. There is also no reason not to make the relationship between the graphic designer and the typography collaborative. Of course, the computer is a tool with a power and versatility that has never been so great. But the protagonist remains the individual (or the team) who recognizes the new opportunities and uses them for the benefit of a higher degree of research effectiveness.

You speak of self-commissioning, the one that leads you to look around, to keep a diary of signs that grows and changes with the work.

As I recently wrote, the diary of signs consists in "visualizing concepts, places, links, pieces of history, daily reading of the newspaper, talking to people, the need to make certain objects visible"...

Unsuspected artists like Kandinsky and Mondrian have a positive concept of function: it is stimulating instead of producing a decline for utilitarian reasons. Two great artists therefore on the side of graphic designers, not to mention the many artists who were revolutionary graphic designers such as, for example, Schlemmer, Moholy Nagy, Rodcenko, El Lisitskij

The graphic designer is a multimedia communication expert and has the problem of helping to improve communication as widely as possible. It is not a question of anaesthetizing communication but of giving it forms and structures that allow it to achieve its goals, eliminating the disturbing elements. Scripts and images that refer to common everyday things must also be taken care of. Therefore the first problem is ordinary communication in different situations to favour understanding and relationships instead of misunderstandings and unfamiliarity.

In what you say I see implicit a concept that has always interested me very much, that of widespread beauty. Beauty should not be reserved for works of art segregated in museums but must be mixed with the common things of life such as a beautiful day, the colours of the flowers, the pleasantness and comfort of street decor …

This is one of the fundamental objectives to which I try to be faithful. It is something that can be understood if you understand the graphic designer's way of working. If we do not formalize ourselves on words but consider the technical and creative qualities or, as you say, the processes of transformation of experiences, always giving great importance to a good knowledge of materials and tools, the competence expands without knowing how far it will go. . It expands by taking on new responsibilities.

SYMBOLS AND MYTHS – Francesco de Bartolomeis

(First notes after a meeting in Monticchiello 8 December 1998)

Graphics can have all the characteristics to establish themselves as art in the most different forms. But there are also graphic designers who carry out an independent activity of artists, that is, they paint, model, engrave using mixed techniques etc. This is the case of Alfredo de Santis. On the other hand, if we consider how his graphic products are born, we avoid the misunderstanding of believing that he decides to allow himself the pleasure of switching to painting and other forms of expression within art, without there being an intrinsic reason. The fact is that the substance of de Santis' graphic activity is already artistic in a direction that is not only of painting. Therefore there is no crossing, no transition from graphics to independent artistic forms. This does not mean that in strictly graphic work there are new problems to be solved in order to correspond to a specific client. What does it mean that de Santis acts as a non-graphic artist in his activity as a graphic designer? Graphics is art, but here I want to highlight de Santis' particular way of practising it, which takes him to roads not usually covered. Many times he creates an object manually in which the symbols that strike him acquire stylistic originality. The products can be shapes (figures or things) cut out of lead sheets or engraved clay or lead tiles or assemblies of various materials that create micro scenographic: wire, twine, stone, cloth, lead and even painted parts. This artistic realization, which has its own autonomy, can be used to correspond, with necessary changes, to a particular client. The transposition into a graphic product takes place in various ways, depending on the needs: a sign, a poster, a logo. The cover of a book can use the photograph of an artistic object, to preserve the character and obtain effects not otherwise achievable. If the graphic solution requires an object made of a specific material, with a specific compositional physiognomy in which relationships of various elements and various dimensions enter, de Santis can only follow the path of manual construction. For this reason, the matrix of the painter and the graphic designer is the same and manual skills coexist with the use of advanced technologies. Perhaps “Mary's armchair”, a work marker on paper from 1974 can be considered the beginning of a history of symbols and a stylistic characterization. Not less interesting, of the same year, is “Armchair with cushion”, project of a large painting, of a mural. The design-graphic form introduces the pictorial solution. “Painter with cushion” from 1975 thanks to the reductionism of colour with the mysterious association of the image. The cushion, like the armchair, comes out of its representative determination and becomes a symbol in the 1980 Landscape Cushion. More specifically, in 1980/81 de Santis contradicts the certainty of skill and craft with painting tests. He focuses on that mysterious and revealing something that is the colour on the canvas from which an image is formed and whose meanings prove to go beyond representation. It is as if the artist wanted to experiment with very elementary forms an expressive occupation of space, involving both nature and a casual object and the tools of painting the painter outdoors in the gesture of painting. The artist presents, as if it were, a "program". In the first direction: Landscape with a tree, The red roof 1981; in the second direction: Armchair with tree 1981 and in the third, as if to underline the operating character, three works entitled Disegno dal vero 1981, in which the tools of painting are drawn, and also from 1981, Painter and landscape. It is the research for an attitude towards painting, in a situation that is somewhat discouraging if we consider, as de Santis himself says, that it is difficult to free oneself from the feeling that everything has been done in painting. He feels he has to start from the beginning. A story of painting as a method, highlighting its materials and tools, the drafting of colour. A non-linear story to capture essential aspects of reality. The ambition to bring clues to reality on the canvas is faced with a series of ambiguities: between nature and painting, between painter and painting, between inside and outside, between the limited space of the studio and the open without limits. In 1982 it seems that the image found an evident organization: the canvas-landscape is dominated by the gesture of the painter who, however, leaves no representative trace on the canvas. But absence has a weight. On the other hand, it makes no sense for de Santis to show off all the skills of the painter's trade. Therefore he avoids the shots that improve details, colour on colour that embellishes with variations and glazes, not to abandon himself to an ease of execution but to give prevalence to a long incubation of forms that are symbols that return. And it is as if painting could continue to live and define itself further without any intervention by the artist. Waiting for the painting to be fulfilled. "I too am amazed of how shapes and colours emerge". Sometimes the wonder seems to arise from a negative situation, when the painter is present even if in the landscape there are only large canvases and the tools of painting. Because painting is present. The title is essential to terminate the work even if very often the titles are common, they have nothing of Duchamp's objective irony or Klee's particular surrealism. In the works of 1982/84, the brushstroke, regardless of the width, comes from the sign. De Santis does not need to hide his being graphic when he paints. The morphology and anatomy of the paintings is controlled by the gesture, but it is a gesture-sign. The ambiguity is truly such if it remains inexplicable. The large canvas stretched out in the landscape is a canvas that becomes a tent or even a camp. To strengthen its presence in nature or not rather to avoid escaping, in seclusion and protection, the disturbing confrontation with nature? Another development of ambiguity. The painter does not aim to privileges, he is simply a man, he himself becomes a model subject, but he is on the canvas, absorbed by it. And the armchair that has been recurring since 1974 with the most diverse chromatic and compositional solutions? Character-object whose presence is not understood: in an interior that is equivalent to the outside or next to a tree or, later, complicated like other objects, with the sling symbol. Minimalism regarding the objects of painting allows them to be represented only by a rag with confused colours and a tube that has no more colour to give. Other times a zoom brings up details that are not waiting to be completed. The adventure of a humble slingshot, born from the artist's material construction, begins in 1987. An unassuming challenge against the terrible technological complications. The sling expands everywhere: Character and sling, Armchair with sling, Tiber and sling, all works from 1987. The sling is a personal presence on nature, on things. Later high persistent symbol, Pandora's Box; or rather a set of contrasting symbols that take on the form of myth. In 1988/89 a sort of regression intertwined (the series of First Steps) almost a beginning of learning and a marked interest in the contemporary that becomes a story. The interest for the story produces changes in the pictorial procedures and in the same conception of painting. The colour is more summary and simple. The Carrier emerges, a symbol of moving, of going to a place, or to communicate. But what and where? Determination would be against the typical way of being of de Santis's expressions as anchored to reality as they are open to the imagination, to the dreamlike, to inexplicable yet necessary events. "Dream in Val d'Orcia", in the dream that is freed, one sweeps away but also one feels suffering. The works follow one another as a sequence of an animated film, they build storyboards that collect symbols out of the dream. The daily routine expands to great themes and great tragedies of our time. In 1990 "Signs on the Wall", a response to the fall of the Berlin Wall. A need to narrate that tries to overcome the way of graffiti and to find signs in which there are not only history but also human emotions. As in Surgery 1991, the horrendous operation of the Gulf War. The non-irreversible departure from painting is complete when de Santis uses shapes cut out of lead to give greater weight to the "found" material. In 1996 he was Interno Italiano; 1997 Carrier (symbol that returns and gets complicated), Ties, T-shirt, Parade. In the same years de Santis creates works in which lead is added to other found materials (wires, stones, rags) with results unrelated to a new Dadaism. The result is micro-scenographic that are landscapes, interiors, the mysterious being together of symbols in an indeterminate place. But the most interesting aspect is that the connection with reality remains dominant even though he keeps away from realism. A reality with respect to which the artist takes a position, which is a necessity for the very stylistic physiognomy of his works.


1967 Alfazoo – Emme Edition – Milan

1971 Just a piece of paper – Bompiani – Milan

1971 I play you play we play – Bombiani – Milan

1974 The American eye – Rome

1976 Once there was a cloud – AMZ – Milan Edition

1986 The path of a sign – Vianello books – Treviso

1989 Story Board – Nuova Italia Scientifica – Rome


1971 Graphic and Serigraph – Arflex – Rome

1973 Italian Graphic – Lisbon

1977 Touch – Matter – Aosta

1978 Political Poster – Galleria del Leuto – Rome

1982 Visual Design, 50 years of Italian graphics – Milan

1984  Grafica di pubblica utilità – Cattolica

1985 The path of a sign – A.A.M. Gallery – Rome

1986 Graphic Image TV debate – Chianciano Terme

1986 Signs and dreams – Florence

1986 The days of the Slingshot – Alzaia Gallery – Rome

1986 Graphic project – Inarch Gallery – Rome

1987 Drawings for the Teatro Povero – Monticchiello (Si)

1989 Four ways to make graphic – A.A.M. Gallery – Rome

1990 Graphic month – Echirolles, Grenoble – France

1990 Dream in Val d’Orcia - Monticchiello (Si)

1990 Aspects of the Italian manifesto – Plzen – Poland

1991 The Italian manifesto – Pècsi – Hungary

1991 Dream in Val d’Orcia – A.A.M. Gallery – Rome

1993 Roman graphics – Pècsi – Hungary

1994 The talking carpet – Rome

1996 Fax against nuclear testing: Exhibition around the world

2014  Sogno in Val d’Orcia – Monticchiello (Si)

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