Franco Rognoni

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Franco Rognoni was born in Milan on 20 September 1913 to Giuseppe, a commercial agent, and Giuseppa Carabelli. He grew up in a lower middle class family that, due to unfortunate vicissitudes, went from a reasonable economic condition to a very difficult way of life. Since childhood Rognoni had expressed a great passion for drawing and painting, an interest which he had to give up in order to earn a diploma as a textile expert, in order to then start working at the Italian Cotton Industry (one can only imagine with what kind of earnings!). 
 This experience, to his great relief, did not last long and he started to take evening courses at the Castello Sforzesco High School for the Arts in Milan where the painter Gianfilippo Usellini taught Applied Arts. His artistic training, almost all self-taught, brought him to quickly appreciate and understand the new forms of art and to admire artists such as Modigliani, Sironi, Licini and the foreigners Picasso, Chagall, Rouault, Beckmann, Grosz, Klee and Komoschka.
However, the turning point of his artistic training occurred through visits to the library of the art critic Raffaello Giolli, rich with information, where through reproduction he studied the works of foreign artists that perked his enthusiasm and that stimulated him more than that of the Italian tradition studied in the academies. It was the critic Giolli (antifascist who died in the concentration camp of Mauthausen in 1945) who discovered a promising talent worth consideration in the young man.Franco Ciliberti shared Giolli's opinion, he was an intellectual who paid particular attention to the new forms of art, and he demonstrated esteem for this young man noticing his qualities. Following the deaths of these two critics and after having spent a brief period in a group of artists united by the  movement of "La Rotonda", contemporary with "Corrente", Rognoni, that in 1946 married Mariuccia Noè, was backed by the art galley owner Bruno Grossetti, owner of the Gallery dell'Annunciata in Milan, where he would exhibit his work for over thirty years starting from 1949/1950.  In this environment he formed relationships of esteem and friendship with philosopher Dino Formaggio and intellectuals such as Adalgisa Denti and Luigi Rognoni (his namesake), both founders of small avant garde publishing house (M. A. Denti and Minuziano). He mixed with other artists and poets such as Salvatore Quasimodo and Alfonso Gatto and, with his love for music; he followed the new forms of dodecaphony, a method of musical composition, with great interest thanks to his dear friend Riccardo Malipiero. The architect Giò Ponti was interested in the works of Rognoni an invited him to the VIII Trienniale of Milan for the realisation of sketches. The meeting with the entrepreneur Giovanni Botta is of noteworthy importance, the latter was a passionate lover of drawings, engravings and ex libris and he commissioned Rognoni to realise an impressive illustrated work of some of the primary European literary masterpieces (The Betrothed, The Divine Comedy, the Poems by Carlo Porta, Don Quixote, Les Miserables). The exceptionality consists in the fact that these texts were copied by the hand of Botta himself to be in turn illustrated directly on large format drawing paper, following page by page, to be subsequently elegantly bound in one single volumes. The drawings, of which the quantity is very high given that the total illustrated volumes are over twenty, were designed for the most part in watercolour.As an independent artist, Rognoni began on a solitary journey far away from the seduction of new avant-gardes, that, moreover, offer forms that he was already well aware of since the thirties (Licini, Melotti, Veronesi, Soldati), devising his world in the continuing research of his own personal language. This was his period of reflection, during which he alternated and developed different culture methods; from the French culture of Matisse and Dufy, to the German expressionistic tendency of Beckmann, Grosz and Dix and also extending his interests to Chagall and Kokoschka. At the end of the world war, Rognoni found himself in a situation of conflict: on one hand he was driven by a strong motivation to participate, with his own work, in political and social movements, on the other hand, due to his pessimistic outlook, profoundly shaken by the event of the atomic bomb, he deemed the function of art and painting in particular to be out of date, especially that on stands. He is more inclined to the idea of mural painting recognising its efficacy as it was exhibited in 1933 by the mural painting Manifest (Campigli, Carrà, Funi, Sironi).
Consequently he plunged into an existential crisis that he got over by temporarily dedicating himself to illustrations for the book trade, to political and moral painting beginning, between 1939 and 1943 in the Illustrated magazine "Il Popolo d'Italia", for which the most important name was Mario Sirioni. Some time after the end of the war, in 1947, he began to work with the newspaper  "Avanti!", according to the tradition of greats such as Scalarini and Galantara. On 30 April 1950 Avant! dedicated a page to the primary artists of the daily newspaper and the following was written about Rognoni "...then closing himself into a strict and arduous self-teaching, stimulated by restless satiric spirit against any type of artistic, social and moral conventions."He dedicated himself to being a set designer, even if not strictly in a professional manner, working for the Piccola Scala in Milan ("La donna è mobile" by Riccardo Malipiero), the Fenice of Venice ("Il Circo Max" by Gino Negri), The Regio Theatre of Turin ("El Retablo"  by De Falla), the Politeama Margherita Theatre in Genoa ("Battono alla porta" by Riccardo Malipiero on the book by Dino Buzzati), as well as experimenting new solutions for television, invented recently, with set designs and costumes for the opera by "Mavra" by Stravinsky.
However, it was not easy for Rognoni to reconcile his inner conflict: given he found it difficult to identify his aesthetic ideals and even more so those of an ethic nature. His various experiences and, above all, intense activity that arose from the work with others in the theatre and in publishing allow him to escape the existential and artistic solitude. His painting that in the sixties was dark, tormented, at times overloaded, became less obsessive acquiring freer forms and a fantastic bright vision with flashes of irony where his unmistakable design achieves a particular "esprit de finesse" that becomes his signature.
This biographical synthesis cannot ignore the depth with which Rognoni performed his human, cultural and artistic stimuli. His friendships are a confirmation of the aforementioned as well as the intense mixing over the years with the poet and contemporary Vittorio Sereni, with the philologist Dante Isella and the working and affectionate relationship with Ricardo Malipiero. Amongst the most significant encounters of his maturity also the one with Leonardo Sciascia stands out a limited edition of Sciascia'book "Storia della povera Rosetta" was illustrated with six etchings by Rognoni.
One of the most important places that influenced the artistic and humane life of the Master was the already mentioned Galleria Annunciata,  managed by Bruno Grossetti. It was a meeting point for the most significant literates and artists at the time. Franco Rognoni, after over sixty non-stop years of activity as an artist, died in Milan on 11 March 1999 and is buried in the cemetery of Luino in the family crypt. For an in depth view of the work of Franco Rognoni, please see the documentation at the bottom of the catalogue "Franco Rognoni - "Interni/Esterni" by Luigi Cavallo, Silvana Editoriale, 2003.