Many definitions for Norberto’s painting have benne coined, that range from the naif stereotype to the worn figurative one. I have no wish to add another to the long list. I am not an art critic and aesthetic codes bewilder me and leave me full of doubts. I will, therefore, try and explain what i fell when i set foot in Norberto’s studio, lying on the top of the hill in Spello. The hosue and the study are set apart from the town itself. They seem to nestle automatically amidst the olive trees. They have been built with refined good taste in an old desecrated church. The green valley streches at their feet from Assisi to Foligno. Noises are scarce. Down the plain a train whistles occasionally. It seems dreamlike: time stands still. Silence and vague thoughts become a tonic for the soul. Norberto is a modest, tranquil man within this gentle, domestic universe. Not for him the eccentricities and bizarre temperament of the artist. He has remained a simple person – a solid surface beneath which flow lymph and spirits. Fame, success and well-being have left him unchanged. He is known more for his powers of listening, than of speech, for his modesty rather than public confessions, for his thrifty nature rather than for his lavishness. Spello lies before him throughout the day. Norberto does not look at it. Better still: he contemplates it. He knows that most of his life full of sacrifice, hopes and fears has been spent between its iron-like walls. Up the steep ascent that with difficulty opens out into a small square he walked as a young boy and street flower painter, a shop boy and young man in love. Now he brings these age-old stones both fame and glory. He gives his soul to this town as if he were a lover infatuated with his love. Norbert’s study is on two floors. The largest room is on the ground floor. It resembles more a personal picture gallery. His favourite paintings hang on the walls: fields of ripe wheat, that are a hymn to life, the meekness of the lion which changes into a lamb, the spiritual lightness of the title monks, the hills of Umbria, the region said by Salvatorelli to be closest to God. Then comes Francis, a roughly sketched saint who seems to be the very essence of unshakeablefaith, of tangible poverty, the force of a destiny which has remained unequalled. Here it was that I saw the paintings Norbert is about to present in Perugia. As always, they gave me a comforting impression.
Each time I see his paintings, I am overwhelmed by a virgin sense of peace. This artist seems to ignore day-to-day worries, or how slowly time the hours and days pass. Unknown to hirr is the anguish of the present which offer, taints both heart and thoughts. His skiei are always bright blue, it never rains Even when nature sheds its midday splendour, it never turns to rain-clouds or storms. Norberto ‘s snow has a dreamy magical quality. Its mantle is a calm quilt of surprise and abandonment. His wind never devastates or shakes violently. At most it plays with clothes and roofs. When it bares the trees, the leaves float like golden petals. The north wind, on the other hand, is a sinuous gleam but the artist’s palette remains clean and knows no dark colours. Norbert’s materiality can be seen only in the architecture of his compositions. The arcades, precipitous mediaeval buildings, the towers, slits, windows thai are as narrow as blades, all contribute to give the painting a static monumentality. An era is enclosea within a painting; it is an almost iconographic reduction of a world oj splendour and gloomy shadows. The artist dominates, as few are capable oj doing, both mass and volumes, well aware of the lessons given by the great masters from Giotto onwards, who have moved through the towns ofUmbria. As for the rest, Norberto’s painting becomes disembodied. Bodies float, the monks kick the moon, the wolf bleats. He recreates an Eden without sin or false praise, a fairy garden where fountains gently splash and rivers carry elixirs. Perhaps the first morning of the world was like this; or even better, a poet’s soul can be thus preserved. But Norberto does not hand out holy pictures and consolation. He emerges from a hard, difficult urban world.
A short memory or escape from reality often forces us to turn past things and feelings into myths. Within our towns, however, lives of sacrifice and desperation were wasted away in a layered society which permitted very few breaches and little redemption. Norberto has been through this existential universe himself. He reproduces it in this exhibition with startling intensity because it is the very essence of his being. Light illuminates the inn and the tailor’s shop, the drawing room which was the stage for every story and happening, as well as the townsman. Many of these humble players in the so-called history of monuments. This does not seem to me to be a mere flash of the artist’s imagination. It appears to be a subconscious devote gift to he who has been unable to escape from the world of anonymity. Norberto has prepared this exhibition well. It is virtually the blessing from his homeland. For he who came from afar, Itaca takes on a more intense, hidden significance. At the end of his Logbook, Corrado Alvaro wrote this existential saying: “I am more interested in the fairytale of life than in life itself. I hope Norberto will continue to tell his delicate fairytale of life for many years to come. For me, Norberto is first and foremost a friend rather than a painter. Let me explain what L mean. He’s a person L could befriends with if it were not for the fact that too many things divide us whether we like it or not, because L am an intellectual and he is not, he lives in a small town and L live in a large city, all of which leads to two different mentalities and a very different outlook on life. L believe friendship to be a special individual thing; L consider various people as friends of mine but each one is separate from the other. He believes in a network of people and a series of places in which to settle down. However, Norberto is a self-made man like me.
He paints groups of houses frozen in time which bring to mind certain 16th century illustrations of incunabula, of fields cultivated with great care, almost with love, scenes of peasant life, neat strikes and monks, lots of little monks working or playing, with their white robes blowing in the wind. His paintings overflow with a sense of a placid, even satisfactory life. One of his most recent paintings is an ode to peace. Norberto himself appears to be satisfied. Not that his life is without problems, but I have the impression that he overcomes them with ease. He can often be seen taking long walks in the woods to pick herbs or mushrooms which he will then cook himself. During these walks I know he likes to stop and observe the light and listen to the noises in the wood, to take pleasure in these moments of solitude which act as a contrast with his family and social life. This is one of his qualities which I appreciate most: knowing how to listen, not only to nature but also to people talking. He likes listening, just as he likes a friendly chat. Nearly every evening he meets his friends just for the pleasure of being together: to laugh, play cards, billiards, to talk about sport. Perugia is a stone’s throw from Spello and when the Perugia football team was in the First Division, everyone went to the stadium. To be brief, that kind of country, or at most, provincial life which we hardened townspeople try to live but from which we inevitably escape from at the end of each weekend. Norberto has nothing from which to escape. He is happy where he is. An occasional trip to follow one of his exhibitions or simply out of curiosity, always with friends, but always with the return home in mind. What kind of painting can such a satisfied man produce? It is usually called naif. And this would lead to a long discussion if I were an art critic. I am not and therefore my observations are to be considered with some reserve. First of all a general observation. Since naif paintings are a sub-species of painting, we may consider it to be the freer, more authentic wing of pictorial expression, less conditioned by educational or cultural influences. But where do these naif painters come from? Most of them are ordinary people, including Norberto, and therefore folklore gives them their inspiration and strength and range of communication. Norberto’s case is different, however. His early paintings do not belong to this genre, but are nearer to the impressionists and those that I have seen are extremely well done. In a way, Norberto has worked in the opposite direction: starting from traditional figu¬rative art he has managed to express himself fully by simplifying his inspiration to the point where he has now become what is commonly called naif. Norberto, however, is not at all happy with this label (as he himself admits) and in fact his recent works show attempts to use themes which fall into the general evolution of contemporary art. If one looks at the painting mentioned earlier, it is a homage to peace, not only is it the subject matter which strikes one but also certain details. The main part of the painting consists of four animals, a lion, a tiger, a wolf and a lamb. They are painted in great detail just like (the quote is paradoxical, but it makes sense) hyper-realism. One cannot say it has been done on purpose, for reasons other than artistic ones. I have already said that Norberto paints by instinct and what I meant was that painting for him is the fruit of an unconscious psychic process which in many other painters is an intellectual speculation. He is a painter who paints and composes his pictures by instinct, in fact he does not carry out any previous sketches or drawings. He puts his colours and light directly on to the canvas. And this is why his paintings have such an utterly sincere quality about them. Norberto has been influenced by the land in which he was born. His pictorial poetry is none other than the search of an understanding between man, his footprint’s throughout history and the world of nature.
When we look at Norberto Proietti’s work over the last few years, we are tempted instinctively, almost mechanically, to dig deep into our memory in order to assign him with a label, to be able to catalogue his work and politics. Sometimes we suspect a lack of respect on the part of people who write about art when they attach a mentor to whoever makes a living by painting. Why should an artist always have to have a mentor? I think that more than a mentor, Norberto Pro¬ietti has a symbolic mother, that is his homeland. Not the land of cultivated fields, but rather that of impressions, atmospheres, colours and memories. In the Sixties and Seventies Proietti was, without doubt, a painter who looked at the world around him spellbound, amazed, naive: he portrayed his world as if it were the imaginary projection of his inner self. But he was not a Naif painter, he described but he did not nar¬rate. The culture of the naif artist has a limited vocabulary in which only the story counts, and there is no room for communication, at least not in the way we use the word today. Proietti’s cultu¬re, on the other hand, seems to come from far away: it is closer to the manuscript of a mediaeval scribe rather than to “commedia dell’arte”. He is not interested in what happens in the world of nature or of man, but rather in transcribing — or, dare I say, transforming— reality as perceived by an adult who is now disenchanted by culture and his interlocutors. These are things which a naif painter cannot even understand because of his very nature and language. A naif painter portays daily life without adding anything from his own imagination because he considers reality to be only what he can see; his subject matter is somewhat simplified, usually bucolic and decorative in a formal way. Typical of a naif painting is the river, field, the seasons, rhetorical country life; the pictorial grammar does not quite live up to expectations; the choice of colours is poor and only agreableness pervades. From this point of view Norberto is not a naif painter, nor has he ever been one. Until now the critics who have written about Norberto Proietti have all been literary people. Was this a good thing? Of course it was. The literary person, unlike the militant art critic, does not work according to scientific methods, he does not base his ideas on a priori concepts. He is very much like a deep sea diver who explores the sea bottom and who with sleight-of-hand brings to the surface things of great value which have until now remained unknown to most people: with his cultural background that lacks preconceived notions or dogmas, the literary person lives in a world where symbols and impressions open up new horizons. He who has written previously about the works of Proietti has found himself facing an unusual poetic quality. We know all too well that these are not lyrical times. The world that revolves around Norberto’s dreamy microcosm is full of clouds and uncertainty. The signs are anything but evangelic. But he takes no notice and describes “something else”, whereas other contemporary artists (the majority) declare the “fin departie”. They lucidly describe the macrocosm, at times without hope; some of them pronounce their declaration figuratively, as has been done for over half a century, others use informal grammar. Apart from these two means there remains only clear radicalism without any culture. How does Norberto Proietti react in the midst of all this uproar over pictorial trends, of false problems, of suddenly fashionable styles?How does he respond to all this? With poetry. Is he being naive or provocative? It’s probably more of a challenge than anything else. / have already mentioned the joy of the person who looks at paintings without preconceived ideas and dogmas, in other words, in total freedom. There can be a lot of surprises. If we simply sound out Norberto’s canvas, we discover above all c mysterious abstract object which has beei lost, filed away among contemporar painting, erased from our consciousne: a long time ago.
It is a figurative m naturalistic quality, yet it is poetic. Norberto Proietti is a self-taught pain who has neither mentor nor master, it only means he has to compete with the world is his own artistic consciousness, his own oneiric eye which gathers and selects external images, transferring them on to the canvas with pictorial music. The grey contemporary committed and uncommitted mentors of art are divided into two opposing battlefields. One side meekly defends the survival of art, under certain conditions, whereas the other proclaims its inevitable end. Both sides find it hard to put up with a third unwanted party, which neither wars nor advanced technology have been able to suppress – the meaning of life. And this is the precious pearl we went to look for at the bottom of the sea abandoning ourselves to taking a free look at Norberto’s canvases. His compositions contain a vital passion with a precise message of joy and happiness. There is, above all, the ability to sing which becomes reality in that immediate, happy form of communication called painting. The daily life described by Norberto does not consist of day-to-day events but of rituals and they become the power of conscience to live. It seems useless, therefore, to attribute this artist with a mentor, to create false scaffolding or cultural labels around him. It would be unfair to him to asso¬ciate him with a well-known artist just to classify him, merely to please the eternally dissatisfied public who cannot understand his works and who cannot pay them enough attention. To be an orphan artist is not such a terrible tragedy. Other painters in Italy, such as Cesare Breveglieri, Fiorenzo Tomea, Nino Caffe have been, and are, similar orphans. Until now the official Manichaean critics who pick out the good artists from the bad ones have been unable to find a niche for these artists in history. However, just to look at and study their themes and admire their execution would be more than enough. Which is what Norberto’s public usually does, without being forced to do so. What are this artist’s roots, his points of reference? Norberto Proietti’s mother is the land of Umbria, tender, silent, overflowing with history. A single large fresco at his disposal. Norberto’s heart embraces this mother earth and transforms it with great humility. This is what I meant at the beginning when I said that Norberto comes from far away. Within him he carries the historic memories of an Umbria frozen in time, crystalised in the Franciscan mediaeval Utopia, where birds talk, angels have wings and monks are saints who, when they are not praying, are playing -piously. This self-taught artist has painting in his blood and justly brings his imagination to his art. The land he describes is, of course, not the one seen by tourists. Here are the corners, the narrow alleys, secret worlds. His little monks guard a snow-covered paradise where only the Poet and no-one else is allowed to enter. Norberto ironically spies on these little monks as they play ball or billiards, as well as the little houses perched high on the slopes where time has come to a standstill. For he who does not know it, he is a layman who lives isolated in his town of Spello, surrounded by hills and convent scenes as active today as in the past. Behind all his work lies a great deal of earnest practice. His pleasant fairytales, suspended between dream and realty, could not be so exactly composed if he were not to dedicate himself constantly to his palette. For him, painting is doubtless an outlet for his imagination but above all it means discipline. There is not one single canvas in which the light and tender shadows have not been studied precisely. If we examine his composition, we find that the variety of chromatic landscapes have been closely calculated, leaving nothing to chance, so that everything is justified. At times we wonder if certain shadows will give way to light or whether we are dealing with the melancholy of a forgotten fre-sco in some abandoned chapel in Umbria. Light and shadow unite with the architectural composition of the mediaeval urban landscape. The geometric and optic level reach an expressive synthesis of volumes where, in addition to the rigour of his composition, minute poetic details live side by side. From his Spello, from his isolated aristocratic retreat, Norberto sends out signals and messages which at first sight seem timid but which actually know how to express that universal language of a smile, a lay message of optimism, nevertheless. Norberto is a cyclic painter who has never shut himself up in either poetic or religious games. In all these years of naive hard work, recognition has been given to his harsh themes, such as those dedicated to “beautiful misery”, extraordinary compositions where the leading actress is a silent Christian “pietas”. And what can we say about his “Olive Pickers”? At times we would like to see these canvases transformed into rough frescoes. These are mute tales, dignified scenes, just as country work is dignified. Norberto has an extra¬ordinary capacity of self commitment in which pictorial strength combines with both sacred and profane contents. We have no need to use the events of an artist’s life to learn about him, because his works speak for themselves, nourished only by those aesthetic qualities which emerge from them. The sensations and emotions that the work itself stir within us, bind us to the artist with a kind of acknowledgement and affection which persuade us to get to know him better, to inquire into the various events of his life, in order to grasp those moments and aspects which help most to discover the personality and the artist in the man It is of no importance to know that he was born in Spello on 18th September 1927. He could have been born at any moment in any era because the feelings which interest him are common to men throughout the ages. It is more interesting to know something about his parents. Hisfatherwas an intermediary in the selling of livestock and he also sold farmers’ grain and oil. However, he also had a small restaurant, where, when business permitted, he felt the need to act as cook in order to fulfill his hidden creative and artisan needs. His mother, who looked after the home, five children and the restaurant, also found time to earn recognition for the harmony and excellent handiwork of the clothes she sewed for the children of Spello at their First Communion. The family atmosphere paid great attention to inner needs whenever possible and this is something Norberto took with him during his early school years. He has distinct memories of that period, for example, of how he knew when school would be over by the angle of a ray of sunshine through the window. This may appear to be a trivial interest in the phenomena of nature, but it is not as simple as that. His observation is directed at the ray of sunlight which creeps in between objects, and therefore not just at nature itself, but at the relationship between man and nature. The urban life in which he lives has always fascinated him but it is balanced by his careful interest in the way the people do their utmost within that vital space.
His family, as we have seen, did not live a life of ancestral poverty as many farmers did, but nor could they be said to be “well-to-do” upper class. The dignity of poor people is a great virtue, unknown to most, but which calls for sacrifices and requires the cooperation of the entire family. Norberto, too, had to choose how to cooperate. When he was little more than twelve years old, we find him in Rome, in Trastevere, at the home of his uncle, a tailor. His choice of a manual creative trade was not made by chance. Rome had a great influence on the young Norberto and here too, he united close observation of that extremely rich gallery of characters in Trastevere in that dramatic period around 1940, together with the obvious tourist-cultural attractions. He found it very hard to fit into this difficult world, accustomed as he was to the methodic peace of a healthy family life, fust to keep certain delinquents at bay in Trastevere was a hard job in itself. Many of the dramatic episodes he lived through seem to come out of a story book, but he survived them, thanks to inner resources he did not even know he possessed. If getting adjusted to Rome, and to Trastevere above all, did not become a traumatic experience, he owed it to his precocious maturity and common sense in his evaluation of each episode.However, historic events changed rapidly and in 1942 he was forced to return to his home-town of Spel¬lo. This period at home was a new experience. He continually compared his Roman experience with his own land, his people, the different ways of living and of facing problems. His enlarged cultural background enabled him to look at the frescoes in Assisi and the Baglioni Chapel in Spello with renewed interest. We are now in 1946. The return to normality is always hard, but it has to be faced. Norberto was sent to Bergamo to follow his uncle, still as a tailor, and it was in the splendid upper part of Bergamo, so rich in architecture and with such different atmospheres, that his emotions were intensely and continually aroused. The years in Rome and Bergamo turned him into an excellent tailor, even at such a young age. Everyone was surprised, except he himself. He already realised that his hands possessed an extraordinary talent and that he could take on and resolve any task whatsoever. All this caused Norberto, if not exactly anguish, at least strong emotion. He was unable to establish the precise limits of a relationship which had to exist between this ease of being able to do things and the constant power which pushed him to understand, observe, evaluate and compare the inner depths of men and objects. In 1950 his desire to open his own shop and to return home to Spello actually materialised. But whereas the outer aspects of daily life gradually fell into place, his inner problems, now that he had more time to reflect, returned to the surface with ever-increasing intensity, accompanied by his usual anxieties and doubts. Confusion risked becoming anguish and so, in 1951, Norberto decided that, as he obviously had something to say, he would paint a picture. His work was greatly admired by the small group of followers who visited his workshop daily. But Norberto was profoundly disappointed. That painting, and the few others that followed it, did not unravel his confused thoughts. But he realized that he had identified a negative experience and this convinced him that a new inner process was gradually unfolding and would lead him to a clearer vision of his inner self. He was calm but not immobile, however, because he continued to fill time saved from his work. He continued to paint a few pictures and he travelled a great deal to fill his cultural gap with an important heritage of direct perso¬nal experiences and interpretations which proved more worthwhile than any accademic description. This interval of time ended in a significant decision: the opening of a shop in a central point in Spello, destination of tourists and onlookers. In this shop, or rather just outside the shop, he successfully turned to a new activity: sculpture. He sculpted pieces of stone, large beechwood tables, but above all trunks of old olive trees which he embellished with black nails like those the craftsmen use to decorate rustic doors. Perhaps this was Norberto’s first step in the field of art, certainly his first step towards “fame”. His sculptures, although there are only a few of them, thanks to the enormous amount of work involved in making them, have gone to enrich private art collections throughout ltaly. It seems absurd but his name now became an added tourist attraction to Spello. People came to see him working, to see this new sculptor. Well known people from the world of culture and art also came to see him. During those years he met Giovannino Guareschi and Ghigo De Chiara who have always spoken of him with esteem, admiration and encouragement. Apart from his artistic and financial success, Norberto derived immense satisfaction from this work. And this made him reflect even further to find the reason within himself. He soon identified this reason in the very nature of the materials he used: stone, olive wood, black nails, all created that ancestral bond with the day-to-day habits of his homeland. Was this land the common element between his inner joy and his sculptures? If so, why? And therefore his surrounding environment returned foremost to his thoughts. He no longer viewed it with the nostalgia of someone who was born there. It is a more detached relationship generated by a profound, meticulous analysis. He wandered seemingly regardless through the streets of the town, nevertheless paying careful attention and observing everything. The idle at the inn, the craftsmen at work, the housewives gossiping, and a procession of monks absorbed in meditation as they silently slip round the corner of the alley. He climbed the country lanes and stopped half-way among the olive trees to con¬template the plain below, the town and the hills all around. His gaze devoured everything, and he avoided reason in order not to spoil all the emotions which had to remain immune from any conditioning. Images followed one another quickly and rapidly disappeared but not before they had left a profound impression on his soul. Saint Francis’ cassock. The wheat fields. Scenes from Giotto. Olive pickers. Saint Francis’ cassock. The pink stone of the towers. The geometry of the roofs. The silver olive trees. Saint Francis’ cassock.
The ltaly. It seems absurd but his name now became an added tourist attraction to Spello. People came to see him working, to see this new sculptor. Well known people from the world of culture and art also came to see him. During those years he met Giovannino Guareschi and Ghigo De Chiara who have always spoken of him with esteem, admiration and encouragement. Apart from his artistic and financial success, Norberto derived immense satisfaction from this work. And this made him reflect even further to find the reason within himself. He soon identified this reason in the very nature of the materials he used: stone, olive wood, black nails, all created that ancestral bond with the day-to-day habits of his homeland. Was this land the common element between his inner joy and his sculptures? If so, why? And therefore his surrounding environment returned foremost to his thoughts. He no longer viewed it with the nostalgia of someone who was born there. It is a more detached relationship generated by a profound, meticulous analysis. He wandered seemingly regardless through the streets of the town, nevertheless paying careful attention and observing everything. The idle at the inn, the craftsmen at work, the housewives gossiping, and a procession of monks absorbed in meditation as they silently slip round the corner of the alley. He climbed the country lanes and stopped half-way among the olive trees to con¬template the plain below, the town and the hills all around. His gaze devoured everything, and he avoided reason in order not to spoil all the emotions which had to remain immune from any conditioning. Images followed one another quickly and rapidly disappeared but not before they had left a profound impression on his soul. Saint Francis’ cassock. The wheat fields. Scenes from Giotto. Olive pickers. Saint Francis’ cassock. The pink stone of the towers. The geometry of the roofs. The silver olive trees. Saint Francis’ cassock. The for the aesthetic enabled him to criticize his own paintings. There was something out of place. There were still problems from other points of view. The language his landscapes and figures used was not sufficient to evoke certain feelings effectively. The laborious heart-felt inner analysis which had followed him through all these years, now became methodic research, although still energetic and heart-felt in the same way as before. He worked continually, obsessively, changing colours, supports and materials. His constant attention and heightened sensibility helped him capture the most minute clue: the palet¬te he had worked with a few days before, mixing colours with certain oily substances. It had all dried to the palette and now vaguely resembled a stone with deep shades of colour, fust a glance and it went straight to his heart. It was the right material to express exactly what he wanted. In 1969 he presented his new paintings at the “Vitruvio” Gallery in Milan. Such was his success that the Gallery itself ordered his future works so as to be able to repeat such a success in 1970. Cesare Zavattini, who had followed his career for many years, insisted that he exhibit at the review of naif paintings which the town of Suzzura had successfully organized over previous years. Norberto, however, refused. He knew that the immediacy of his paintings was the fruit of a great deal of research into aesthetics as well as subject matter and he did not wish to confuse it with phenomena that were interesting merely because they happened to be fashionable. Zavattini, however, insisted. Norberto’s reasons were valid but the show in Suzzara was very fashionable with many visitors and could therefore greatly shorten the amount of time needed to make him well-known.
Although he disagreed, Norberto let himself be convinced. The great quality of his work was acclaimed and within a few years he was awarded the highest possible acknowledgments from that kind of exhibition. In 1971 he received the gold medal in Suzzara from the President of the Republic. In 1972 he was awarded first prize, the “lucia d’argento”, at the Varenna exhibition on Lake Como. In 1973 he won first prize at the exhibition by the “De Amicis” club in Milan. In 1974 he was given first prize by the audience voting at theAntoniano in Bologna. An entire room was dedicated to his paintings at the International Exhibition in the Museum in the Braschi Palace in Rome. He received the Riccione Award for his popularity. The critics all agreed. From Ignazio Mormino to Signora Nereo, from Antonio Amaduzzi to Toni Bonavita, from Franco De Martino to Renzo Margonari, from Nevio Iori to Mario Portalupi, from Agostino Ghilardi to Guerrino Mattei, from Giancarlo Politi and so forth. Zavattini was right. The important thing is to manage to show your works to as large a group of the public as possible, whatever kind of show it is, because the quality of the painting will always emerge beyond any definitions or labels.
This wave of popularity encouraged Franco De Martino to mention him to the Russo brothers of the “Barcaccia” in Rome, “….the artist Norberto who exhibits his paintings at the Russo Gallery is beyond any binding definition. Norberto’s neo-primitive experiment overrides them and places him in an entirely personal world….”. This was how Vanni Ronsivalle spoke of naif painting quotations in a television programme on 10th March 1974, as he commented on the pictures at the exhibition in the Piaz¬za di Spagna Gallery. Norberto’s adventure ends here. From this moment on begins a series of exhibitions in the most important galleries in Italy. In 1978 a large monograph, edited by luciano Luisi, was published by Edizioni La Gra¬diva in Rome. Other people such as For-tunato Bellonzi, Franco Miele, Renato Civello, Ferruccio Ulivi, Donat Cattin were interested in him for awards, articles, film and television documentaries; his trips abroad and travels within Italy became more frequent. In 1980 Carlo Carretto, who was fascinated by his painting, met him and asked him to illustrate his latest book “I, Francis”. Twenty-four wonderful works illustrate the main episodes in the life of the Saint from Assisi. The book has been translated into ten languages and is sold throughout the world. When he and Norberto were invited by the Italian Television Company RAI to take part in a popular Sunday afternoon programme to present the book, Carlo Carretto said: “…a face was missing, a character who would have been both son and father at the same time to that entire reality and who gave his name to that age and to that presence within Norberto’s heart: Francis…”. He exhibited his large works for the first time at the Gradiva Gallery in Rome. On this occasion, Fortunato Bellonzi wrote: “…Images that arouse fairy-tale incredulity together with no¬stalgia for lost good… “Many organizers and patrons of cultural events were interested in the originality of his paintings. He was commissioned to paint many posters for important cultural events and many banks display his works on their walls. During the Christmas period of 1982, the Association of Via Frattina organized an exhibition of Norberto’s works in the shop windows.
The elegant book published speciallyfor this show was sponsored by Monte dei Paschi di Siena and contains an interesting presentation by Antonio Russo. In May 1984 the Italian Television Company RAI asked Norberto if they could show some of his works on the screen during the reading of a story in the programme “Primissima” by Gianni Raviele. Norberto actively participated in social and cultural life and he was always present at the most important events; however, whenever he can, he prefers to live far away from the large city centres, to be able to continue his accurate, precise research. We have spoken earlier of the extraordinary immediacy of his paintings and of how Norberto’s cherished dream of peace, without any intellectual dialogue, transpires from them by pure instinct. This is thanks to his scrupulous introspection before carrying out any of his works. Only when he is sure of what he feels, does he put hand to canvas. We are among the few people who have had the possibility of seeing him at work. It is a strange experience which contradicts certain suppositions in the rules of painting. Norberto mixes oily substances and colours which he then spreads over the canvas. He repeats this operation several times with extraordinary energy, using various different tools ranging from palette-knives to rags. Then he stops to observe the canvas. Shyly we glance at it too; a succession of spots and colours in perfect harmony. A spectacular result. And he knows it, he is convinced of it and thus the work is finished, his very soul lies before him. This is the moment when we can understand the joy of emotion. But Norberto is always worrying about letting others take part in that moment, trying to let it remain as instinctive as possible. Thus, once the brief moment of admiration has passed, he begins to dress it with symbolic language so that it leaves its mark without appearing too over-refined.
He starts at the top left-hand side, working very quickly with a brush and palette-knife and, without any trace of a drawing, he builds his structures in perspective and his imaginary characters. Material becomes colour, colour suddenly because clear reality. The painting is finished. To make it easy to use, all the logical rules of analysis and synthesis have been reversed. And if one day Norberto were to follow logic and go no further than the spots? But we cannot know the results of his constant research yet. At the moment, he continues to work to everyone’s joy, shut up in his retreat. His characters move with the spacious, regal gestures of he who is strong, well aware that he absolves a precise function and that he is necessary and important although not a hero, useful but not indispensable. That is why society wants to consider him a painter of popular origin. History, however, shows him to be the direct descendent of that aristocracy of art that was developed and matured in the mediaeval workshops of the great Umbrian and Tuscan masters. And from his workshop in Spello, a master without pupils, Norberto observes the world, bows his head, gathers his coloured thoughts in his hands and sings of the feats of a man at peace.