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Italian Artist Michelangelo Pistoletto

Art has been an enormous part of artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s life since his birth in 1933. He was born in Biella, Italy which is located in the region of Piemonte. He grew up under fascism during the war and was therefore made to believe in Mussolini. As a result of the chaos that surrounded him, church, and God brought a sense of hope upon Pistoletto. This hope and optimism helped inspire his works.


Art has been an enormous part of artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s life since his birth in 1933. He was born in Biella, Italy which is located in the region of Piemonte. He grew up under fascism during the war and was therefore made to believe in Mussolini. As a result of the chaos that surrounded him, church, and God brought a sense of hope upon Pistoletto. This hope and optimism helped inspire his works.

His goal was to help influence a positivity in a society where people did not have to suffer the way he did. He began his work as an artist at the young age of 14 as he helped his father in his workshop in Turin, Italy. His father, Ettore Olivero Pistoletto, was a profoundly deaf restorer and a painter. His mother, Livia Fila, was a student of his father. Michelangelo Pistoletto was able to form a great appreciation for art as he helped his father restore art pieces from famous artists. Since his father was a painter, he wished that his son would become one as well. Despite his father’s wishes for him, Michelangelo Pistoletto did not want to become a painter. He wanted to use art in a much more representational way.

In 1951 at age eighteen, Pistoletto became a student at Armando Testa’s advertising school. This schooling helped broaden his view and helped him understand that there was much more to art than what he had initially known. He previously only encountered the old art pieces that he restored at his father’s workshop. As he attended this school, he began learning of contemporary artwork for the first time in his life. He created his first self-portrait in 1955 and published Presenze in 1957. His wife Marzia Calleri was a coauthor of this journal. In this journal, two of his portraits were reproduced. Pistoletto and his wife Maria had a child in 1960. In 1961, Pistoletto began creating mirror paintings. The majority of individuals in his mirror paintings were those who were very close to him, including his family and friends. Previously, all self-portraits were created by artists looking in a mirror at themselves, then painting what they perceived on a separate canvas. The method Pistoletto used was much different. Unlike other artists, he made the mirror his canvas. There was no need for him to look back and forth from a canvas to a mirror because using reflective paint, he could see himself on the canvas.

 As Pistoletto began painting his face on a black mirror reflective, he came to a life-altering realization. This epiphany made him realize that he did not want to just create art, but create art that could somehow form a bond between himself and his audience. He wanted to create art that was inclusive. Rather than the viewer being an external factor of the art, and simply a bystander, they would now be a part of the art. Pistoletto’s intention was for the viewer to look at their self within his art pieces such as in the work “Man Looking at a Negative” and be reminded of the dimension of time. The audience is able to look at this work and see a man standing still, but also see themselves moving which represents static time and moving time.

Pistoletto is considered to be a very influential figure in Arte Povera, also known as impoverished art. Arte Povera is a term that means ‘poor art,’ It included numerous artists who wished to escape the status quo of the mainstream art world. Humble, and modest materials such as ropes and newspaper were utilized to show the relationship between the universe and humanity and escape consumerism. Pistoletto believes that the Arte Povera movement will be the last. His art piece entitled “Venere degli stracci” which means Venus of the Rags, is a well-known form of Arte Povera, and is a conceptual piece of art created in 1967. This theme of this piece is juxtaposition. An enormous statue of the Roman goddess Venus is a representation of love, beauty, fertility, and hope. She is made of white, Greek marble and also represents the history of Roman culture. She is faced with her back turned away from the audience in a very shameful manner, and is facing a heaping pile of old clothes. The clothes represent people’s journeys, they are clothes that are old and worn. This pile of clothes surpasses her height tremendously, which is also symbolic of the numerous amount of people who make up society. Venus comes for restoration purposes of these rags, people’s journeys, and their lives.

In 2003, he created a symbol known as The Third Paradise. This symbol depicts the fusion between two paradises, creating a third. It is a symbol of creation because it represents two opposites, creating something that previously did not exists. The symbol is similar to the infinity sign but incorporates three circles instead of two. Each circle represents a different paradise. The first represents the natural world, the third represents the artificial world, and the middle circle represents a combination of the two. It was created with the intention of terminating the clash between the natural and artificial world.

The first paradise represents pureness, and earthliness when society was a part of nature. This depicts the time before Adam and Eve had eaten from the forbidden fruit.  In contrast, the second paradise represents an entire form of artificiality. It symbolizes the way technology has altered the minds of individuals. Humanity’s needs which were once much more natural have become altered to a state of artificiality. The Third paradise represents artificial comforts, artificial needs, and artificial pleasures which were formed as a result of human intelligence and the rapid expansion of technology. The third paradise represents a balance between the artificial and natural, similar to that of yin and yang.

Pistoletto’s deep appreciation for linking the past to the present to compare time has served as an inspiration to positively impact the future as well. Therefore, he has returned to his hometown in Biella, Italy to create a large art complex referred to as Cittadellarte. Where Cittadellarte has been created at had previously been an abandoned area of mill factories near a river in Northern Italy. It has been transformed thanks to the work of Pistoletto. He purchased 5 acres of this desolate land in an attempt to unify society and art. Cittadellarte has become a community, where 400 artists visit each year to promote more ideas. Pistoletto made this region The Third Paradise. He was able to bring this symbol to life. It is impossible for humans to live in a world that is entirely natural and organic. Furthermore, it is also impossible for humanity to survive without nature and rely entirely on technology and artificiality. The purpose of creating this community was to inspire all of humanity to find the balance between the two lifestyles. His symbol of The Third Paradise is not copyrighted and can be used and by anyone around the world.

Pistolleto is currently 84 years old, yet continues to create. Pistoletto’s artwork has redefined what are can be, and how it can be created. Although many contemporary art pieces may not initially appear as very meaningful, the more they are analyzed the more symbolic they appear. Pistolleto is a highly regarded contemporary artist today, who continues to influence and inspire art and individuals all over the world. He never feared going beyond artistic norms. His artwork is currently being used as a method to transform society as a whole, which is exactly what Pistoletto was inspired to do.


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