Carlo Zinelli

1916 to 1974, Italy

Carlo Zinelli was born in San Giovanni Lupatoto, in Verona, Italy. His mother died when he was very young and as a child he had to work on a farm to provide financial support for the family.

He did not learn to read or write. At the age of about 18 he was working at a slaughterhouse in Verona and this was when he began to draw. In 1939 he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but was discharged after only two months on health grounds. From 1941 onwards he spent various periods in psychiatric clinics, and from 1947 he was hospitalised in the San Giacomo hospital in Verona, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He lived in almost complete isolation at the clinic. Initially he drew on the floor and made engravings on the walls with a stone. In 1957 he was accepted into the graphics workshop of the hospital, which had been founded by the Scottish sculptor Michael Noble and the psychiatrist Mario Marini. He spent his days there on a regular basis. From 1966 onwards he was promoted by the new director of the workshop, Vittorio Andreoli. Zinelli’s main motifs are double-sided gouaches. These are pictures in silhouette form of stylised figures, between which are letterforms or graphic details such as stars. His figures, which are sometimes two-dimensional, often feature holes, which are characteristic of his style. Free of realistic size ratios and perspectives, the images give the impression that the human silhouettes and animals are floating in the picture. In 1963 Harald Szeeman organised an exhibition in Bern, where Carlo Zinelli was the only Italian painter who was actually present. Somewhat later he was discovered by Jean Dubuffet who bought some works for his collection. Carlo Zinelli continued to paint until 1973, and died the following year from a lung infection in a hospital in Verona. The Museum of Everything showed 50 works by the artist as a “Collateral Event” at the 55th Biennale in Venice in 2013. Zinelli’s first solo exhibition in the US took place in 2017 in the American Folk Art Museum, New York. His work can now be found in all major Art Brut collections.

 

Selected works