Throughout Pietro Antonio "Tony" Narducci's long artistic life, our father was unendingly committed in his pursuit of what he had always termed, "Sacra Mantra"-- the sacred search or journey! Perhaps this term helps to shed some light on his life's philosophy, and his subsequent approach to making art. There was, for instance, his refusal to show and become embroiled in the business end of the art world -- because he felt very strongly that it would somehow destroy his independence and purity of work -- values that he fiercely embraced all of his life. In addition, there was his strong feeling that there was always much more to discover, to create!
Looking back to the late 1940's, 50's and 60's -- his initial years of involvement in Abstract Expressionism, Narducci had this to say: "We were on the right track! . . . Abstract Expressionism was a step in the right direction. We had one foot off the ground . . . but there was more!" Perhaps this view of his was what, in part, contributed to his turning away the well-known New York Art Dealer Leo Castelli, and others, in the 1950's and beyond, saying, "I'm not ready to show."
Our father's creative abilities exhibited a highly talented, multi-faceted approach from early on. For instance, as a young, outstandingly talented student at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in Greenwich Village in the 1930's, he had won all First prizes in the various mediums of painting, drawing and sculpture, not to mention a huge classical fresco of wild stallions, nominated for the prestigious "Prix de Rome" award. This was followed by decades of dedicatedly making art -- which not only included designing a version of American Airlines' eagle logo, still in use today -- but also participating in breaking new ground with Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940's, 50's, 60's and beyond, taking abstract painting into the realm of even further creative explorations -- painting with sound, and with sunlight.
He spent the next decades, from the 1960's through the 1990's, choosing to remain in his studio in Denville, NJ, totally involved in making art and continuing to explore various approaches to his work. His desire to take Abstract Expressionism even further was expressed by his saying to me, "I want to find a way to enter nature from the back door! . . . This is the only way I can express it." He lived his philosophy of independence and purity of work by using his studio windows as the only venue in which he allowed his work to be shown! Each night of the year, he would put a painting in the window, and quietly light up his work to share with anyone who passed by.
His studio was limited in both space and light: several modest rooms, some without windows, and most with a heavy, thick, gray-colored (from smoking) stucco covering on the walls and ceilings, creating an almost cave-like space . . . yet our father's animated personality and creative energies lit up the studio space, always strongly engaging and inspiring anyone who entered. His paintings, whether hung or stacked up against the walls, fairly danced toward you with their intense colors and vital, life force! Classical music always played quietly in the background, and shelves of art books and the smell of paint drying on canvas created an atmosphere that spoke loudly, "Art is taken seriously here!"
The dark corners of his studio walls held unexpected gifts -- his handwriting in Italian or English, expressing his creative insights or perhaps a quote from Dante, the poet. For teaching purposes, a blackboard of sketches, showing a Narducci-style elegant, classical renaissance face turned into a Narducci-abstraction. Behind some of his brushes, rags and paints in a corner work area, for his big, powerful abstractions -- including paintings that seemed to capture nature in the very act of birthing herself -- he had kept taped to the closet door for inspiration, for over 45 years, old and torn pages of Masaccio's painting of the Old Testament's Genesis story of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden of Eden.
Interestingly, when visitors would inquire about an abstract work in progress, they say that he often would wave an arm upward and simply reply, "Oh, God is working on it now!"
Though he always chose to stay away from the limelight, our father was intensely interested in how other artists were doing, and he kept up with what was happening. He carried many of the art magazines and would give instructions on picking up certain books, delighted if we surprised him with "a good one." He loved to discuss books about Stravinsky (the composer) for whom he felt an affinity of sorts, and whose "Rite of Spring" composition was first heard by him as a young man circa 1940. Though highly trained and gifted in the Italian Renaissance classical style of fresco, oil painting, sculpture, drawing, illuminations and engravings, it was this work of Stravinsky's which had galvanized him into committing himself to exploring an abstract expression instead!
But mostly, my sister and I grew up listening to life stories in his studio kitchen, while he cooked us an Italian-style Sunday dinner. Above all, he loved to talk about the Cedar Bar days and his old friends, Franz (whom he was closest with until Kline's death) and Nancy, Conrad Marci-Relli, Peter Agostini, Bill and Elaine, Jackson, etc.* Then one day, I remember calling him with the breaking news of Willem de Kooning's passing, and my father's quiet and deep emotional sense of loss and loneliness . . . Bill was now finally gone, too!
Our father, shortly before his own passing in 1999, told me, "Toni, I think this is the direction where painting will go in the 21st Century." He called his new technique, a totally intuitive style of painting from circa 1984 to 1999, "Quintessential Aesthetics." He felt it to be a legitimate breakthrough next step, in the direction that he and his friends had explored with abstract expressionism. Narducci's committed, long artistic life allowed him to pioneer ever deeper levels of his creative consciousness and look anew at the world around him, finally forging a new technique to embody his feelings and intuitions. We believe that the legacy of this artist's powerful life work is very important. It shows us all that there is something much more intimate about our human relationship to the universe.
The emotional and powerful physicality of the work is hugely impacting!
The confident freedom demonstrated with such sophisticated color dynamics invites our awe!
The fierce expressiveness and/or elegant beauty of the work captures our heart!
And often, an aura of spirituality felt within the harmony of the work offers us inspiration!
These are the feelings of not only of the Narducci family, but also of friends, artists, art students, and others who were allowed to enter his studio space. And it is the feelings of those strangers who drove past his lighted studio windows at night, and found joy in looking up at his work. How do we know? Because he told us that occasionally he would find a simple note left tucked in his front door, expressing gratitude for his presence and his art, blessing their small town of Denville with both culture and beauty. Those gestures gave him pure joy.
Daughters of Pietro Antonio "Tony" Narducci, American Artist
* Franz Kline, Nancy (Elaine's twin), Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Conrad Marci-Relli, Peter Agostini, I. Lassaw, and others.