Luigi Mainolfi stands out among the Italian artists who, beginning in the late 1970s,pursued new paths in painting and sculpture, attempting to link them to their country’s cultural traditions. He has consistently elaborated his own personal visual language and employed it in the creation of sculpture from natural materials, such as terra-cotta, plaster, wood, and lava stone, as well as in cast bronze. In his sculpture, Mainolfi mixes elements of past and present popular culture, mixing them with the memory of his own artistic identity.
Colonna di Rivoli (Rivoli Column), 1987 –88, consists of a long, slender column of terra-cotta that is part of a themed series in which all the pieces, created in similar fashion, are installed in the same way, adjusting to the height of the spaces in which they are located. Bringing to mind Brancusi’s Endless Column, this arrangement evokes a virtual continuation of the work. On the shaft of the column the artist has stamped an uninterrupted series of small figures, which represent the dwellings of a vertical city, a theme Mainolfi has developed with other formal solutions as well. The image of this city which appears both fairytale
like and archaic typifies the artist’s visual repertory. Over time, Mainolfi has built his own unique fictitious realm, in which these two characteristics have become distinctive features. His artistic investigations all move toward reestablishing the sculptural act, beginning from the “origins” of the earth. Terra-cotta (in this case literally signifying earth)is an element that can be manipulated and shaped with greater immediacy than conventional sculptural choices. It is also a humble material, used to create domestic implements in primitive communities, and it remains tied to popular forms of expression. The artist attempts to bind himself to these roots through the elaboration of images that recall the places and times of the traditions of his native Campania, Italy. Mainolfi ’s personal, poetic investigations have resulted in a transfiguration of these sorts of references, based on the fanciful invention of a zoomorphic or phytomorphic universe based on different types of nature (Column, for example, is reminiscent of the trunk of a tree). References to the archaic occur, but are not driven by an anthropological interest; instead, they exist freely, poetically, to create figures close to the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Colonna di Rivoli also enters this parallel and organic universe, bearing the small emblems of a civilization that is entirely reinvented but also embedded in the contemporary culture, in which it functions as an, often forgotten, foundation.