While still an adolescent, Sandro Chia began cultivating his ambition to become a painter. He attended the Istituto d’Arte in Florence, his birthplace, before enrolling at the Accademia di Belle Arti, graduating in 1969. His student years were marked by intense changes in the Italian social and political fabric, and the art world became involved with ideological issues. To the young artist, academic painting seemed to be the least compelling and least revolutionary form of visual expression he might pursue. He frequented museums, visited Paris to see an important Picasso retrospective, traveled in India, Turkey, and Europe, and then in the early 1970s moved to Rome. His first exhibitions showed the influence of Conceptual Art, but he subsequently turned to painting as the most suitable means for recording the emotions of the moment. His work evolved naturally toward a free, uninhibited style of painting, at once intense and suggestive, and dense with iconographic references borrowed from ancient and modern art. Art represents a sought-after and conquered freedom and pure energy, and the artist is a heroic individual distinguished by a spirit of rebellion and animated by the need to affirm himself. For Chia, painting is a volitional act, a combative activity, and the figures that populate his canvases are animated by this same intense energy that we find in the man. It is a world without limits or boundaries, and his works are tools for allowing himself to pursue adventure or confront challenge.
Appropriating from the enormous patrimony of figurative painting, which he interprets and makes his own, Chia reintroduces into his canvases the use of colors and forms, narrative and dream world, all of which can be seen in his works in the Castello’s Collection. In Bruti protagonisti della fantasia erotica di una scimmia (Brutish Protagonists of a Monkey’s Erotic Fantasy), 1979–80, the monumental figures are immobilized in their mute existence and stand out against a vividly animated pictorial surface, made up of intersecting lines, marks, and filaments. Stains of color and broad brushstrokes sustain the forms. It is a universe of legends, a vision that embraces all that is visible and imaginable, humanity in all its possible expressions. Sinfonia incompiuta (Unfinished Symphony), 1980, alludes to painting with Chia’s typical ironic thrust. A figure depicted from the back, its face turned back toward the viewer, occupies the space. A painterly landscape acts as a background and frames the action. Painting, like music, is man’s inner expression. It is the desire for which we yearn, a liberation from instinct. Figure con bandiera e flauto (Figures with Flag and Flute), 1983, is a pastoral scene that touches on the literary tradition. Two figures sit outdoors in a nocturnal setting; one concentrates on playing a flute, while the other holds up a flag. Whether they illustrate humble or sublime themes, the figures that animate Chia’s canvases always come from painting and move toward painting. His heroes are presences with massive forms that experience the challenge of everyday life.
Dense paint, crowded with forms and colors, is also found in his sculptures, as seen in Senza titolo (Untitled), 1984; poses and stances quote famous old master works using a personal calligraphy. The extreme position of this figure, the torsion of its chest, its eyes, twice the normal size, that roll with vitality, betray the need for life. Uomo in rosa (Man in Pink), 2001, depicts the discrete presence of a human body, represented in all its beauty. The artist’s world is governed by passion and reason and is both Apollonian and Dionysian, classical and contemporary. It reconciles different positions and opposing directions and projects images from the past into the experience of the present, to create a painting characterized by visionary accents.