The colours of Aro’
By Ivan De Stefano
Saverio Armenio, ARO ‘, was born in 1924 in Taranto. At the time, it was little more than a quaint old citadel squeezed around its harbor. The father works on ships, the mother, often alone, runs the house and six children with energy. Saverio appears different since the beginning: he wants to study, shows precocious talent and a vocation for drawing, unfortunately he is forced to go to work. But he is stubborn, motivated, imposes his needs and manages to attend an institute for technical designers. Artistically he is self-taught, even if, for a while, he follows the teachings of the painter and sculptor Francesco Paolo Como, author of the war memorial that adorns a square in Taranto. Arò turns out to be a strong personality who lives his passion as a necessity, an urgency to express himself. Rumor has it that he used his little sister’s cut hair for the first brushes.
After the war, in which he participated as a young radio operator, he moved to Rome, driven as many others by the internal migrations of the first post-war period. It is 1949. In the capital the phase of turmoil is beginning which is already a prelude to the “economic boom” and the “dolce vita”, the city lives in a magical suspension between the province and the world. Arò quickly established himself in the artistic environment concentrated around the studios, galleries, attics of via Margutta which, at that time, was a permanent meeting point for already established artists and for those who perhaps will become one. In these areas Rome is close to Europe. Arò moves for a period of time to Paris, where he attends the Nude Academy at the International Artistic Association, and comes into contact with the Parisian artistic bohème environment. He returns to Italy and meets … the woman who will become his wife, a girl from a farmer’s family in the Marche region, who will often be his model for paintings and sculptures. It is a positive and euphoric time for Arò who sees all his aspirations come true. And his canvases light up with vivid colours.
Later he settled, with his family, permanently in Rome, where his two children Antonio and Maria were born. At the end of the 1950s Arò lives off his artistic work. The house has an adjoining studio and there he produces art works tirelessly, attends and often happens to receive artists such as Guttuso, Mafai, Attardi, Manzù and other characters of the Roman School, and more. He is present, more and more often, in exhibitions all over Italy, personal and collective, alongside today’s well-known artists. The official culmination is represented by the participation in several editions of the Quadriennale of Rome. His art works are requested and purchased, they enrich many collections of individuals, banks and public endowments, including that of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni or that of Giulio Andreotti.
The sixties still belong to a naive era, the artist is not a manager of himself, between him and the collector the intermediation of the market and its agents is not yet so strong. A fundamental promotional role is played by public, local and private institutions which not only organize exhibitions, but also buy the art works directly from the artist. Only later, with the social transformations and the advent of Bolaffi, the situation begins to change, Arò escapes this new market logic, its bureaucratic shackles and the idea of having to pay to be considered an “artist”. Thus he renounced enrolling in the famous Bolaffi catalog which, in the following decades, would become an important and at times decisive tool for the evaluation of artists and their quotations.
During the same years, due to family needs, he was forced to accept a secure job as a technical designer at the Ministry of the Navy. But he does not stop painting and exhibiting his paintings. He manages to reconcile the tendency to an ‘aesthetic’ life with a strong sense of responsibility towards family and work. He is also very sensitive to the feminine charm which he often cannot resist …
Painting only partially reflects the restlessness of its existence. His work is highly materialistic, social and naturalistic. The subjects can be the boats, the seagulls, the olive trees of his adolescence, the primitive granite of Sardinia, loved and often visited, or the flexible women of his nudes, the characters caught indoors while the outside world of factories looms; and the theme of the non-innocence of industrial development prevails. It is most of the times a squared and volumetric painting style, even in portraits.
In the eighties Arò kept on painting, mostly for himself, yet he took partin some exhibitions and competitions, but he began to isolate himself more and more, even geographically, taking refuge in a remote Tuscan village on the slopes of Pratomagno. Until, also due to an impending partial blindness, he ends up interrupting his relationship with the art world and with all kinds of social activities.
Arò dies, following an accident that occurred for unclear causes, yet unsolved, in 2000, in Rome, where his son Antonio uselessly attempts to bring him back in order to prolong his life. Today, keeping faith with a project and a promise made to his father, Antonio Armenio tries to bring to light the fifty years of Arò’s artistic passion, allowing a wider audience to enjoy the art works of this interesting and original artist.