Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974)


Carlo Zinelli was born in 1916 in San Giovanni Lupatoto near Verona, to a father who was a cabinetmaker and a mother who died two years later. He had to leave his family because it was too large, and worked on a farm from the age of nine before becoming an apprentice butcher who had a passion for music and drawing. He enlisted as a mountain infantryman during the Spanish Civil War, and returned two months later, very disturbed, and was eventually interned definitively in 1947 at the psychiatric hospital of San Giacomo alla Tomba near Verona. For a long time he drew graffiti on the floor and walls, giving up the establishment's 'classical' painting lessons until a free expression workshop was started in 1957 by the Scottish sculptor Michael Noble and teacher Mario Marini. For Carlo Zinelli it was the start of a huge production of almost 3000 gouaches on paper which was accompanied by the disappearance of his aggression.

These drawings are typical of schizophrenia – notably in the systematic filling up of the backgrounds, or the recurrence from 1964, of letters of the alphabet lined up without forming any words – and were executed on both sides of the paper at the same time, mostly rich in flatly-applied reds, blues and yellows, where perspective is rendered by the varying scale of the represented elements. They are populated essentially with human silhouettes, often combined with a whole bestiary dominated by the bird – recalling his obsession for transporting dead poultry in his pockets - and the mule (reminiscent of his past as a stretcher-bearer during the war). They also display various accessories such as vehicles (particularly a boat), weapons, houses, musical instruments and sometimes religious symbols such as the cross, whilst revealing the same obsession with the number 4 that he had in life.

Disorientated by his transfer to another hospital in 1971, the artist stopped painting and died from pneumonia in 1974.

Carlo Zinelli is recognised as an important figure in Art Brut. His work was the only means of expression of a man who had lost the use of speech, and translates unbridled imagination into an almost-musical harmony, where the compositions are brought to life by a 'childlike' stylisation and colourful dynamism.

He is represented in the Art Brut Collection in Lausanne, at the Lille Musée d'Art Moderne Métropole in Villeneuve-d'Ascq and the Carlo Zinelli Cultural Foundation, created in 1997 at San Giovanni Lupatoto.

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Art works from Carlo Zinelli




Carlo Zinelli Sans Titre, 1967 paper
Price to be negotiated