Salvatore Scarpitta, American (1919 - 2007)

Painter-sculptor Salvatore Scarpitta was an artist with wide-ranging modernist expression that included wrapped canvases symbolizing death and survival and sculptures of cars and sleds as a metaphor for travel.  He was born in 1919 in Manhattan, and was raised in Los Angeles, where his Italian-born father, was commissioned to do the bas-relief sculptures on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building.  His mother was a part-time actress.

Scarpitta graduated from Hollywood High School, and then went to Italy where from 1936-1958, he lived in Rome, and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts.  He was in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and served as a "monuments man", meaning he was part of a multi-national effort to find, catalog and rescue fine art stolen by the Nazis from individual and national collections and also identify monuments and historical sites so that Allies could be alerted to avoid them.  After the war, he remained in Italy until 1958, and became well acquainted with Leo Castelli, gallery owner in New York.  Castelli then promised Scarpitta gallery representation if he would go to New York.

Scarpitta left for the United States, and in January 1959, the Leo Castelli Gallery held an exhibition titled "Extramurals", which featured Scarpitta's 'wrapped' or 'bandaged' canvases.   He had exhibited these 'bandaged' paintings at the Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome, in 1958, shortly before showing them at the Castelli Gallery in January 1959.  They were called "bendati" or "bandaged" paintings because the artist cut and slashed the canvases, before recombining the lacerated parts. Most of them were monochromatic, and symbolic of a birthing gown or rebirth, were bound in webbing that the artist had obtained at surplus stores.  

From that time, Scarpitta would have ten one-man exhibitions at Castelli from 1959-1992, in addition to his participation in group shows there.  He became a well-known member of the avant-garde art scene in New York, well thought of by Abstract-Expressionist artists including de Kooning, Rothko and Kline, and their supportive art critic, Harold Rosenberg.

In 1966, he became a visiting critic at the Maryland Institute of College Art.

Essentially a Pop Artist utilizing found-object collage in early paintings, and fascinated by the automobile and racing cars in his sculpture, Scarpitta used car and machine parts, even skis and sleds to express movement as "a metaphor of existence."  (Shattuck) This interest stemmed from growing up in the automobile culture of California.  One of his pieces, Rajo Jack Special, was a reproduction of the first race-car driven in competition by an African American.  Another work, Lynx, was a replica of an armored car.  Not only did Scarpitta create sculpted versions of vehicles, but he also raced them on a dirt track near his home in New Oxford, Pennsylvania.  The name of his crew sponsor, the Leo Castelli Gallery, was painted on the side of his racecar.

In the 1970s, he directed his creative talents to constructing sleds from found objects such as chairs, hockey sticks and Christmas trees---items he found in trash barrels.  He also wrapped his sleds, as though they had protection from skin.  Willem de Kooning purchased the first Scarpitta sled.

Salvatore Scarpitta exhibited twenty paintings at the Fonte d'Abisso Gallery in Milan in 2001, including X Caged Poncho, 1974, which he had exhibited at the Art Car Museum of Houston, Texas.

His work is represented in the collection of Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Torino, Italy. A catalogue of Salvatore Scarpitta's work, edited by Luigi Sansone, was published by Mazzotta, in Milan.

Salvatore Scarpitta died on April 10, 2007 at his home in Manhattan.  Survivors included his wife, two daughters, and five grandsons.

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