The world’s top collectors of contemporary art are hard on the heels of an Italian painter and sculptor who is about to shape a new artistic era
Once or twice in every generation, a visual artist emerges who stands out from the rest and who will go down in the annals of art history. For the early 21st century, that person has come into focus: Italian painter and sculptor Cesare Catania. His dramatic, colourful statement pieces are exhibited all over the world, from the Paris Louvre to contemporary art museums. He has the world’s top collectors of contemporary art on high alert. He has been hailed as the Modern Leonardo da Vinci. But his Italian background and creative talent is by far not all that Cesare Catania shares with one of history’s greatest artistic geniuses.
When Science is Art, and Art is Science
In fact, there is not one Cesare Catania, but many different versions. There is of course Cesare the painter and sculptor. But there is also Cesare the accomplished pianist. There is Cesare the mathematician who is fascinated by the laws, precision and language of numbers. Then there is Cesare the CEO who as a structural engineer and MBA-educated business and finance manager channels his expertise into his own civil engineering company that signs responsible for major projects such as the Armani Stadium, Milan Metro stations, and the Siemens Headquarters. And there is Cesare the photographer and videographer whose attention is captured by the colours and the camera’s ability to capture in one click all the strength and dynamism of moving scenes.
In his multimodal mind, none of these disciplines are mutually exclusive but on the contrary complementary and intertwined. He sees art in math… and math in music… and music in sculpture… and sculpture in engineering…. and engineering in art. To him they are all part of the same circle.
Where does this abundance of creativity come from? Part of it may be in his family roots. Cesare was born in Milan, Italy in 1979. His grandfather Michelangelo, a famed Sicilian luthier and violinist, handed down his passion for music to his grandson who at nine years old started playing the piano and would over the next years become highly accomplished. But it was not a career in music that Cesare was drawn to. Instead he opted to follow in his father’s footsteps. With studies in mathematics, engineering, and finance under his belt, he now runs Catania Group, a 45 year old renowned family business supplying structural materials for construction sites.
Under One Roof
But thinking that Cesare would comfortably lean back in his CEO fauteuil, is not knowing him well. Instead he discovered his love for photography, which – needless to say – he soon mastered like a pro. That in return soon led him from the role of the onlooker to that of an actor in the art space, expressing his emotions in paintings and sculpture. And that was also finally where he found the pathway to uniting all of his interests and talents.
His visual art is an explosion of colour, where architecture, geometry, cubism, curves, and symbolism come together to celebrate a joyful marriage with fanciful imagination. Cesare Catania’s paintings are snapshots of his inner self, “still images” of actions and feelings, the synthesis between obscurity and attention to detail. He channels Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall, liberally borrows from abstract, surreal, hyperrealistic, informal, and cubist art, throws in a soupçon of classic masters, uses various techniques and materials, and happily mingles everything into his own signature style, which is best described as “Catanianism”. His sculptures are dramatic works that defy artistic code by mixing “unmixable” materials from silicon and acrylic to steel, rope, and leather… or sometimes even his own trash, as seen in ReArt, the imposing piece commissioned by the Italian Government’s Ministry of Culture to highlight humans’ wastefulness.
The Observer and Transformer
Cesare’s work may be thought-provoking but it is never dire. On the contrary, it retains a musical… a jazzy quality, and raw energy is tempered with lightness and elegance. And there is a recurring theme: Harlequin.
Harlequin, in his trademark chequered costume, has the role of a light-hearted, nimble, and astute servant, often acting to thwart or expose the plans of his master. His physical agility and his trickster qualities. As you get to know Cesare’s work, you get a sense that Harlequin is an autobiographical figure. Cesare is an artist but he is also a socially keen aware observer who often hides critical messages in plain view in his paintings and sculptures. “The Man who does not See” for instance, is inspired by the reflections on the overall condition of the human race. This sculpture represents its creator, immersed in the society around him, blindfolded. Sometimes he tries to “take a breath of fresh air” like someone immersed in water trying to make it to the surface. The tones of cheerful and bright yellow symbolize a context of a “golden cage”, the expression of a society that appears serene and happy when viewed “with the blindfold”. In fact, this work was also conceived for the seeing-impaired who through the use of colour and materials can intuit it.
“I get my inspiration from the world around me,” Cesare tells us. “Simple everyday situations, or encounters with people from all walks of life trigger emotions in my, and with that, ideas. This is not always easy as I get bombarded with this every day, wherever I am. Emotions are dictates but people are interactive,” he explains. He bemoans that today, although people are communicating a lot all the time, everywhere, “we just speak, and do not listen. Listening is a key quality for an artist, as art is something you only feel when you listen inside yourself.” But this has also shaped his greatest strength: to be able to distance himself from personal feelings. “I take a step back, quieten them, and process them through my work.” Emotional slow motion, he calls it.
These relived emotions are present in his work, but where does the remarkable firework of color come from, we want to know. Cesare’s face lights up, a plethora of happy memories parading the catwalk in front of his inner eye. “I have two ateliers, one in Milan and one in Sicily. The one in Milan is where I find urban themes, but the one in Sicily, 35 metres from the sea, is what inspires my colours.” And it shows – the typical bright yellows, reds, blues, and greens, overexposed by the glaring Southern sun and the sparkling reflections from the Mediterranean Sea, and the muted green-greyish hues of local vegetation are vital components of virtually every one of his oeuvres.
But it is his home town of Milan, where he primarily lives and works when not spending time at his other homes in Monaco and New York. “To me, it is impossible not to live in my atelier. I sometimes get up in the middle of the night because an idea has struck me, and then I just need to go for it, right then and there.” While he declares his studio-cum-habitat “artistically messy”, his gallery in Milan is impeccably well-organized and chic.
Quantum Leap into Modern Art History
So much talent did not go unnoticed, and it did not take long until international gallerists and museums took note. Today, Cesare Catania is exhibiting in Paris, London, New York, Monte-Carlo, Lugano…. and his collectors come from every nook and cranny of the globe. His work sells for €50,000 upward, and up to half a million. If your checkbook is slimmer than that, you may be lucky enough to get one of the (maximum 8) copies he produces, with prices starting in the region of €5,000, and up to €150,000.
With so many talents, Cesare Catania is a privileged man, and he knows it. To him, this means a responsibility vis-à-vis the less fortunate. For one who has been so blessed, he is remarkable grounded. He is probably one of the most down-to-earth and affable ones you could ever hope to meet. This is why every year he gives some of his works to charity, benefitting, for instance, African children, or NGOs like Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).
And as if he had not enough work already, he is also a book author. His coffee table book “Genesis”, containing over 450 pages about artist’s artworks, his life and his techniques, can be ordered through his website or as a slimmed-down ebook version. “…When I wrote this book, I thought about communicating with everybody about that intangible part of my works, that part that can’t be seen; the inspiration,” he states.
A scientist and an artist, a multilingual, cat-loving world traveler, philosopher, and humanitarian…. Cesare Catania is a modern era Renaissance man in the word’s double sense. Calling someone “a genius” is a tall order but in his case, it may be quite fair, given the similarities with the one he is so frequently being compared to: Leonardo da Vinci.
All images courtesy Cesare Catania and used with his express permission