Salvatorre Scarpitta: Journey in Satchidananda

"The Uprooting of an artist is measured by the auto-biographical intensity of his work. The work of Scarpitta is intensely autobiographical: whether is about him, in person, as in the canvases, or about the life of the drivers he somehow recovers in the racing cars. Of course this is an autobiography experienced of inside the things he makes, not expressed through things" Tomaso Trini-L' Uomoe I'arte Gallery.

Salvatore Scarpitta's father was born in Palermo and was himself a successful sculptor and teacher. After the family moved to New York where he father taught at the Art Student League, and created several works including sculpture for the Holy Apostles Church. The family soon moved to Los Angeles where his father continued his investigation as a sculptor creating bas­relief for the Los Angeles Stock exchange and County General Hospital. Scarpitta's mother was a film actress in Hollywood. His father studio in Hollywood became a center where actors, actresses, directors, and wealthy industrialists often came to have their portraits done in marble or bronze. Scarpitta would look back as his decision to become an artist as "inborn".

By the 1930s' the young Salvatore Scarpitta was a constant presence in the stands of the local car racetracks. He become fascinated by the drivers especially those at the Legion Ascot Speedway where he meet drivers, mechanics. He would later describe this experience as a "metaphysical pre-destiny". He states that "I like to draw cars reviving their splendor with my imagination" His wondrous with cars would return in his adult drawings featuring automobiles with precise descriptions of the technical characteristics such as the 1964 "1932 Green Spl 227, Cu in H.A. L.", or" Ford B: Hal D.O. 1931".

By the 1960's Scarpitta would build a racing in memorial to Ernie Tripplet accidentally killed at the racetrack. This would lead the artist into a series of sculptural objects that would play off of the concept of mobility and dirt track cars. The decline eof the Legion Ascot racetrack would coincide with Scarpitta's departure for Italy where he initially studied at the Fine Art Academy, Rome. Years of study in Rome, the impact of WWII and a subsequent long stay in Post-war Rome kept Scarpitta away from the United States for a long period. Although he had previously visited Italy with his family in 1927, 1931, and 1933While in Italy Scarpitta receive access to copies of Life Magazine which kept the young artist abreast of events in the American Art Scene.

During this period his family temporarily moved to Rome where his father has received a commission to create an equestrian statue of Mussolini financed by Italians in America (the work was destroyed by bombing before it was finished only features of the horse's head survive. Another work was created by his father before the war, The Falconer for which Scarpitta was the model, a large statue of carved marble made for the Fiso Italico (International Tennis Tournament) in Rome.

In Rome Scarpitta formed friendships with a number of Futurist painters including Sante Monachese, Enrico Prampolino Toto. These friendships were important for his artistic evolution than his experience in traditional contexts such as museums or academy. This is not surprising given at the time the director of the Academy was Carlo Siviero a conservative, not open to young people and new art. Scarpitta briefly returns to Rumania where he completed a series of painted portraits returning to Italy in 1940
In 1938 through an invitation of the American consul Scarpitta spent four months in Bucharest, Rumania where he made a number of paintings, drawings mostly portraits. Upon his return to Rome he became associated with he director of the American Academy Chester Aldrich who offered him a studio at the Academy. Scarpitta who eventually graduated from the Fine Arts Academy of Rome at the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War. . Upon his return Scarpitta faces the reality of war and bureaucratic difficulties of the American /Italian authorities. The family had not been able to return to California. This period becomes a difficult time for his survival. As American citizens in Italy in 1940 during the deterioration of diplomatic relations between Italy and the United States he was sent into forced residency in the Lake Bosena region. This internment lasted until the first half of 1943. Scarpitta has moved to Scanno in the mountain region where his parents had fled in the summer of 1943 having bee evacuated from Rome. The zone where Scarpitta of his war stay was often searched by German troops. Although is struggle was one of day to day survival he was still able to execute some drawings and portraits.

During the 1944-45 period Scarpitta served with the U.S. Navy in Italy. , With whom he had enlisted. He served as interpreter at the naval base in Palermo. He also contributed drawings to the weekly "Pal-Nob News" (PNN) published by Educational Service and Training Division of the U.S. Naval Operations Base at Palermo. In 1946 Scarpitta transferred from the Palermo base to San Pedro California. After spending several weeks with his family whom had return to the U.S. he returned to Italy settling in Rome and keeping a studio at the American Academy for the next three years.

Scarpitta's interest in the natural environment would greatly be impacted by his father encouraged his interest in Native American culture often taking the family on vacations to Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. During WWII Scarpittta spend considerable time in the mountainous regions around Scanno with partisans, antifascists and escapees and deserters. The environment would have a major impact on his life while the California experience shaped his fundamental fascination with nature. His life in Europe greatly affected his aesthetic point of view.

In 1947 Scaripitta exhibited at the First National Painting "Premio Perugia" and the First Exhibition of the Provincial Union of the Figurative Arts in Rome. In Rome he renewed friendship and this became a vital period for Scarpitta, as these were the reconstruction years, a time of significant cultural ferment in the fields of the visual arts and an enthusiasm for rebirth in a new Italy. Scarpitta recalled that he had a long interest in the antifascist avant-garde, given he was essentially an abstract artist. Scarpitta mentor during the period was Roberto Melli. In 1948Scarpitta traveled to Paris where he met Constantian Brancusi, Milton Resnick, Man Ray, Geno Severini, Edward Weston, and art dealer Diane Vierney.

In 1948 Scarpitta painted two canvases on the theme of the bicycle a vehicle he referred to as the simple vehicle so necessary in the period of reconstruction. In the years until his return to the United States in 1955, Scarpitta would participate in many group shows in Italy including the Venice Biennial, and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome. During this period he became part of the debate between the supporters of abstract, avant-garde art and those of the figurative art, and socialist realism. Scarpitta showed with the abstracts artists in exhibitions organized by the Art Club Group, although he was never officially part of any specific group like the Franote nuovo delle arti; Origine, Forma 1, The Group of eight. The objective of Art Club was the development of an independent contemporary art. It aimed to be completely autonomous with respect to e ideology and politics. Scarpitta became a "member " of the association in the early years of its existence. The center of their activity was the osteria of the brothers Domenico and Naride Menghi's restaurant where cultural figures intermingled with political personalities.

The artist's first solo show entitled "Scarpitta-Pitture 1948-49" took place at La Vetrina of Tanina (Gaetano) Chuirazzi in Rome, May, 1949. In spring of 1950 American film director Fred Zinneman
in Italy shooting the film "Teresa" called upon Scarpitta for consulting and had him as assistant director. By 1951 Scarpitta makes his first appearance in a group show in Milan at Galleria Caisola with Cagli, Guttuso, Leoncillo, Mafai, Scardia and Zancanara. The same year in May his second show opened at Galleria II Pincio. The work included in this exhibition included painting burnt by white limes or black charcoal crossed by red and blue cuts. Some of the works grafts figurative elements onto abstraction of a cubo-futurists origin. These compositions focused more on inlaying of colors and dynamics of lines than on evoking figures. Many of the works were connected with an American context as evident by the titles: "Peace Demonstration in New York", "tribute to Paul Robeson" "Northern Negroes". In an earlier exhibition at the Premo Suzzara" Scarpitta had exhibited large'Tribute to Robeson" to commemorate the singer's courage in battle against racism. Scarpitta in a letter to the editor of "La Liberta d'Italia" noted that his work was aimed at being a tribute not to the undoubted artistic qualities of Paul Robeson, but to the courageous battle of the great Negro singer against the principles of racial inequality.

The desire for justice and peace is always present in Scarpitta's art. The 1950s paintings were documents of the struggles of workers, peace demonstration, protests, battles of equality, the civil rights movement, all forms of oppressions. These themes are also present in a series of drawings the artists executed that appeared in numerous newspapers and magazine at the time including "L' Unit", "La Tribuna dei Ferrovieri", "Pattuglia", II Mondo Futuro" .

In 1953 the American television program " This Is Your Life" which re-united families separated by the war allowed Scarpitta and his wife and daughter to visit Los Angeles in order to see his mother. Scarpitta showed three works at the annual exhibition of Californian artists organized by the Los Angeles County Museum but by the end of the year Scarpitta had returned to Rome.

By 1954 Galleria La Tartaruga had become the center for Roman and American Art, Scarpitta was one of the first artists to show there. Among the paintings that the artist exhibited here was " Demonstration in New York (Vigil in New York ", based on the story of the Rosenbergs, members of the Communist Party, accused of spying for the Soviet Union and sentenced to death by electrocution in the United States. In the painting Scarpitta amidst police cars speeding by against the backdrop of the metropolis inserts inscriptions that are a cry of indignation against the sentence: " Rosenbergs must not die" and " Ethel must not die!" These messages are repeated throughout the surface of the canvas systematically repeated in order to fill the volumetric reality between the figurative and the abstract. Scarpitta has described his approach as" forcing lines deep within the space without breaking through it, playing with hiaroscuro and transparency." He creates a space where color abstractly indicates volumes, taking on the value of a symbol.

Throughout the late 50s Scarpitta exhibited in numerous projects and galleries including Galleria Schettini in Milan, Galleria del Naviglio, Galleria Selezione, Palazzodella Permaente, Milan, Galleria dell Academia, Florence, Galleria La Tartarugia, and the 29th Venice Biennial. In 1957 the publishers George Wittenborn released the volume "The World of Abstract Art" containing a series of contributions on the situation of abstract art in different countries, Scarpitta was included under the category of a new generation of artists deserving of recognition. In his second show at Galleria La Tartarugia Scarpitta exhibited a series of paintings some with bright colors charged with bonds of energy, with a "painting of resonant", interlocking of chromatic takes, filled with wrinkles and clots. These painting were close to the work of he American Abstract Expressionists. The paintings have been described as intense, lyrical, and simple concentrated in a series of thick materiality and contrast of colors.

In 1957 -58 Scarpitta shared a studio on Via Margutta with Cy Twombly and it was there that he made works with stretched strips of canvas, the first "relief" (bulging) canvases or works that concealed beneath the surfaces. These canvases were subtlety painted or left almost raw consisting of undulated metal structure that created bulges and hollows. Of these works Scarpitta notes: In my previous paintings 1 used oils, tubes and brushes, but I wanted to hunt the prey with my bare hands. I started upping the oil paintings. The canvas had become an utter enemy for me.... It was necessary to connect to my human experience. The war had changed me. .. the fear and desire for vindication. I needed to run the risk of leaving fingerprints. I wanted to come into contact with the hidden, most difficult nature of things. Otherwise I would never have been cured of the war.

After this breakthrough -the experience a lead to the first torn oils recomposed on a frame, Scarpitta began to simplify this gesture, or as he states, moving on -taking the canvas from a dilapidated state to a more "surreal" almost abstract condition due to the raw, plain canvas, no longer supported but pulled, evident in the work of "Admiral", "Tension", "Flying Dutchman". Scarpitta raises the canvases to the status of the material means such that the canvas becomes the medium. These works have neither neo-Dadaist nor symbolic value, but are simply anonymous material this bent, stretched, and cut. The colors in these works are organic wine (blood), coffee or earth, mould or lime. Cesare Vivaldi states that these new canvases became forms that are brought out by a color that is simply the sublimation of its natural
qualities ... ideological paintings. So open in their intention to create or re-invent a new and more assertive plastic dynamism.

Scarpitta moves from the "torn" paintings to a series of works described as "bandaged works" in which strips of canvas were stretched and soaked in plastic materials. Scarpitta used elastic strips soaked in glue to better convey the idea of tension radiating throughout the surface of the paintings. Amongst these works are "Helikon", "In Foragen for Planktur", The Parry, " Passage of the Red Sea".

Although Scarpitta had already met Leo Castelli in 1957 it was after 1958 after these breakthrough works did Castelli along with his wife Ileana visit Scarpitta's studio, and with dealer Plinto De Martiss propose an exchange show in 1959 of Rauschenberg in Rome, and Scarpitta in New York, with Castelli. In fact by late 1958 Scarpitta was ready to return to the United States permanently. By December, 1958 marks the definitive return to the States and beginning of his lasting relationship and working friendship with Leo Castelli.

Scapittta's first show at Castelli occurs on January 1959: "Salvatore Scarpitta: Extramurals". The works have been described as wrapped paintings Scarpitta made between 1957-1959, inventions that have no reference points elsewhere for the simple reason that their physical identity is internal identity of the materials, their color, the tension of the visible. The paintings Scarpitta brings back to the United States after two decade in Europe were scraps of monochrome canvas overlapped and interwoven to form irregular, discontinuous surfaces ... an abstract clearly fresh.

These works had already as early as 1957 impacted artists such as Fontana and through him a new generation. Scarpittas relief paintings are arguably the first to be shown in New York. A few years later others artists would experiment with the relief paintings although they were more geometric. Relief paintings were crucial for late 20th century modernism, as they gave minimalist art a starting point, it become no longer about invading pictorial space but a sense of painting becoming architectonic.

Scarpitta immediately become part of the emerging New York scene. He saw Frederick Kiesler, whom he met in Rome, and soon meets Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, art critic Harold Rosenberg, as well as the group of Pop artists who gather around Leo Castelli Gallery. He also saw Marc-Relli, another friend from Rome. For Scarpitta these were years of friendship with Norman Bluhm, Costantino Nivolo, David Smith, Philip Guston and many other artists who spent time at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, the center of the Abstract Expressionist social world.

In 1959 Scarpitta continued to show in group projects in Italy and in 1959 he was included in the "Opening " exhibition at Castelli's new gallery that included Bluhm, Brach, Daphnis, Johns, Kahn, Rauschenberg, Sander, Stella, and Twombly. For a short time after his arrival in New York Scarpitta had a studio on William Street and then at the Chelsea Hotel where sculptor David Smith was living with whom he developed friendship. Later he moved to a studio at 253 west 18th street. He saw a great deal Frederick Kiesler and the two artists often along with Leo Castelli spent long vacations at Amagansett near the Springs on Long Island, New York. In Kiesler's book "Inside the endless Horse", published in 1966 shortly after the author's death he devotes considerable pages to Scarpittas artistic ideas, and their friendship. For the march, 1965 exhibition "Salvatore Scarpitta; Racing Cars" at Leo Castelli, Keisler had himself photographed at the wheel of one of the cars on display (HAI SPECIAL) 1964, beside Scarpitta's wife Clotilde. After Keiser death in 1965, Scarpitta was in Colorado Springs, teaching a sculpture course a local college. In the adjoining Rocky Mountains with the help of a group of students he did a tribute to Kiesler, reconstructing the model of the "Endless House".

In 1960 for his second show at Castelli, Scarpitta exhibited a group of works which were more controlled, part monochromes, constructed with elastic strips soaked in resin where he captures and freezes the tensions of the strips and convey the impression of a moment of rest and meditation. Included amongst the works in the exhibition are "High Bride", "The Parry", and "Grey Whistle". The "bandage " paintings linked to weaving, biblical lexicon (Lazarus awaiting to fatum), historical idea of the mummy), mythological (rinds, recesses wrinkles, clefts, graves). The use can be viewed as the bandages that transmit a sensation of force, defense, and protections. They symbolize conservation in the fundamental moments of life. The strips and bands reconnect us with the divine simulacra, the holy shroud. The "wrappings " were both a secular and sacred experience. The strip canvases revealed a new kind of space in Scarpitta's paintings. They display a spatial energy like wavelength that emerges from Futurism. The surface bulges, protruding outward take on a three-dimensional quality that physically alludes to the tangled space of reality. The materials belong to the plane of existence and the experienced. The fittings, wrapping, weaving, sewing talks to the notion of craft while the use of natural materials like wood, coffee stains give the work a rather monochromatic surface, but equally make the work suggest a earthy presence. His textures are restrained and uniquely natural.

In 1960, The Stadtisches Museum of Schloss Morbroich in Leverkusen held the historic exhibition "Monochrome Maleri" featuring works by Scarpitta, Fontana, Klein, Mansion, Rohto, and Tapes. The same year Martha Jackson Gallery, NYC organized the exhibition " New Media: New Forms in Painting and Sculpture" including the works by Burri, Scarpitta, Dine, Flavin, Grooms, Johns, Kaprow, Oldenburg, Rauschenberg amongst others. From the 1950s tot he early 60's Scarpitta created work that anticipated many of the significant trends of the avant garde art-assemblage, Fluxis, Minimal Art Arte Provera, Process Art and Installation. His work influenced a significant number of "major" artists at critical moments in their careers including Lee Bontecue, Piero Manzioni, Lucio Fontana, Frank Stella, and Julian Schnabel. James Harithas has refereed to Scarpitta's art as more radical than Pop Art with its historical baggage. Scarpitta from the outset to challenge traditional painting by unique ways of making art and by adopting utilitarian formats consistent with his humanist interest. His art us grounded in a popular working class culture rather than middle class consumer or formal aesthetic gestures. Scarpitta's art is both a precursor to Minimal art and installation, but it is also about real events, real experiences, while embracing the modern struggle with formalism. Scarpitta's art is part raw power expressed through it originality and spiritual needs.

"Core X" actually created in 1959 marks Scarpitta's first work with a structure in the form of an X. Until 1961 the form represented the central phase of the constructing the "X Frames" series consisting of planks of a canvas frames covered and wrapped in canvas, in which diagonal crosses emerge from the surface like ribbing in relief. Of the "X" structure Scarpitta has stated that the introduction of the x, grafted in the work altered the obligatory configuration such that they are less rectangular and become paintings no longer quadrangular, but opened up to different forms. Breaking the constriction of the rectangle, which was the only operative field, possible. He aims to make air circulate where the canvas with its forms, had become oppressive. The "X" graft becomes a constant in Scarpitta's work. . The recurrent X is simply a structural element but it is important for providing an intersection, a location of collision and change.    In 1961 at the Dawn Gallery in Los Angeles the artist showed works based on the X form alongside earlier paintings from 1957-1960.

For a brief period during the 1962-64 period in a series of work Scarpitta introduced materials drawn from the world of racing: "South Turn", 'Over the Fence", Racer's Pillow", "Raceroller". He used certain elements tied to the canvas such as seatbelts, buckles for harnesses, buckles from parachutes, aeronautical straps or strips from racing cars, exhaust pipes. The act of incorporating such fragments in is works was a manner of commemorating and expressing a life long fascination with young drivers who died in racing accidents. "Forty-four" constructed in 1963 pays homage to the driver Bobby Martin who died in a race. Scarpitta took the remains of the car, the cushions, seatbelts, parts of the upholstery and made a painting using the materials. These works shown at exhibited at Castelli revealed paintings with long cuts, like wounds represent a liberating act for the artists. The use of new materials means reveals Scarpitta with his "bandage "works, and the use of racing cars elements as an important force for many artists.

Scarpitta's paintings are complex entities; they become objects in flux, formless, faithful to a world of illusion, but equally aligned to a sculptural space. The planes, bulges, bristles, creating hod-like shapes, calling attention to the canvas surfaces-its thickness, weight, solidity, smoothness, fragility, lightness such that is has a inner system with a series of contrasting dynamics. These paintings are a combination of materials, shapes, textures, and tonalities.

Udo Kulterman in his "New Painting"(1967) includes Scarpitta among the international artists who had introduced new materials in their works. Gilles Dourfles had earlier described the importance of Scarpitta's use of new material in his work, "Ultime tendenze nell'arte d'oggi", in 1961. The year 1963 marks the publication of the magazine "Metro: catologo internazionale dell' arte contemporanea" a large catalogue of international art included Scarpitta's "Langhorne", and "Forty four".

During the 1963-64 period Scarpitta exhibited at Galeria Schmela, Dusseldorf, Beatric Monti Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan, Galerie Aujourd'Hui of the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Between 1965-69 Scarpitta taught at the School of Visual Arts, NY and 1968-70 he was invited to conduct summers courses at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. From 1965 to 2000 Scarpitta taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. Additional teaching activities included Yale University, University of Wisconsin, State College, Maryland, University of Houston, Texas, Tyler School of Art, Pennsylvania.

Having made works based on racing Scarpitta turned to a series of works in which he started to make automobiles, believing that "painting" had come too historical, depressing, and tragic. In a studio on the four floor of 333 Park Avenue South, NYC, Scarpitta used found materials and pieces he constructed "Rajo lack", unlike Sal Scarpitta Special a later work of 1981 and the cars raced by Scarpitta until the fall of 2002, the work was only copy, a replica or optical illusion. Although it appearance ix exact, using wood, casting of motor and elements that correspond to the exact proportions of a real racer.

The automobile since the age of 13 for Scarpitta had been about its speed. His inner artistic necessity developed in the adolescence equated the racing car with the most precise way to reach a dialogue with oneself, or as he later stated: "It was my way of getting myself out of the studio, out of my solitude"

The cars for Scarpitta were always a mixture of true and false, only the wheels were definitely authentic. The purpose was to match the "real" and the "false" together in a race towards what the artist called " inner realities" The actual idea of constructing the sleds emerged from his working on a frame for a new car that lacked wheels.

The cars never explain themselves literary; they are not Pop Art objects. With their parts hoarded and hidden within them they are misleading, but ultimately anonymous sculptural images despite their bright commercial colors, strong blacks and clear whites, and conventional automobile shapes complete with names, numbers, trade marks (Champion Spark Plug, Perfect Circle Piston Rings, Olizun, Boyle Valves, Valvoline, etc). The cars are actually combination of paintings and sculpture. It is their presence more analogous to the metaphysical question implied through motionless cars that forces one to consider the realities of these vehicles beyond their full functions for one wants to see them move.

After construction of "Rajo Jack" in a studio on Stanton Street, Scarpitta built other cars: "Hal Special", " Ernie Triplett", "Railduster", " Sal Ardun Special", however in these works, the artist aims to make them not only functional, but also competitive. He wanted to give these machines, a "soul" so that those who viewed them would have the sensation of a living thing, not an antique. The cars are essential for understanding the complex personality of the artist and the relationship between him and his work. The exploration into the complexity of these works continued from 1964 to 1969 culminating into two exhibitions held at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1965, and Leo Castelli Warehouse at 103 West 108th Street in 1969.

The importance of these works is capture quite admirably in Carla Lanzi, 1969 work "Autoritratto".
Germano Celant in his work, "Auto" cites Scarpitta amongst those artists who accepts the natural, familiar status of the car in so much that it can visualize the vehicle as a fluid material.

One of Scarpitta most profound works in which the metaphoric is made emphatic is "Lince". Ironically Scarpitta utilized the wrecked parts to rebuild the Lince armored car making an instrument of war into an antimilitarist symbol of monumental peace. Scarpitta had collaborated with Italian car collector and friend Fulvio Carosi, an expert on the reconstruction of vintage vehicles with whom he planned projects such as the reconstruction of two Alfa 1900 models, known as "Panthers" because they were painted black when used by the police. In 1972 Carosi found in Gambettolo (Forli) at an auto wreck wrecking company, a Lance Lince, one of the small armored cars manufactured during WWII. In 1973 after a long painstaking series of welding, melting, and forging, the two reconstructed the entire vehicle making it functionally perfect no easy effort given that when the friends bought the Lince, the wrecking yard had cut the Lince horizontally into two parts and some of the pieces were missing. Scarpitta decided to give the Lince, a new "skin" something more " reassuring" in a pink sand color in contrast with the light gray tones of the wreck.

In October, 1973, in the courtyard of the Milanese Gallery, L'Uomoe I'arte for the exhibition," Carosi-Scarpitta, carroleggero Lince (1940)", the work was presented to the public surrounded by three large sheets with the symbol of the red Cross attached to form an imposing X.

The "X " form had straps, the seatbelts, recurring elements in the artist's work, appear from the first time as part of an installation. The crossed straps contribute to the sensation of immobilizing and "capturing" The Lince, an instrument of aggression, which was "tamed" and disarmed by Scarpitta. He blocks the machine gun, welding the opening of the barrel with a piece of iron. The artist for the exhibition matted the military color of the entire steel structure, replaced by a pink sand shade with grease. The tarps with red crosses were filled with water, as if the artist was attempting to purify and redeem the vehicle from its original history. Scarpitta has transformed a machine built to destroy into an instrument that suggest a symbol of how man can choose between good and evil, love and death.

Lince was shown in 1977 as part of a solo show of Scarpitta's art curated by James Harithas at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Texas. Again it is presented as a monument against war, Harithas writes for the exhibition catalogue that" (The Lince) is both directional and metaphysical pivot for Scarpitta as an artist. In it, Scarpitta assumes his own mythical role as demiurge.... It is in many ways analogous to the mystery of the resurrection of Osiris. As the dismembered body of Osiris, this Italian WWII desert reconnaissance vehicle, after serving in the North African campaign was cut up into hundred of pieces of steel parts. It was the work of Scarpitta and Carosi to painstakingly reconstruct it, creating and assembling it, breathing a life of its own into it...."

The Lince later became part of the collection of the Lancia Museum in Turin, where it unfortunately was considered simply a military vehicle. The military color was restored and the machine gun was freed of it iron plug. The paint applied by Scarpitta is still visible inside the vehicle.

After the reconstruction of the Lince, Scarpitta changes direction again towards a series of works described as "Sleds" The artist considered the works a direct offspring of the bandaged works of the late 1950s. While the construction of the racing cars sprung from his youthful memories. The Sleds emerged from his childhood. As sculptures they talk to the immediacy of the present historical era of contemporary experience link to historical past. In his studio in New York, near 18th Street, between 1973-75 using recycled materials found in the city Scarpitta constructed a numbers of the sleds, including "Settlement and Pond Sled", "Black Sled", "Zebrace Sled". Fish Sled", "Wood Sled", " Cairn Sled", and "Dalton Sled", shown together in 1975 at Castelli Gallery, NYC, and the again at the 1977 Houston retrospective.

The sleds are constructed with a wide range of materials and held together by strips soaked in resin and organic pigments removed from interaction with the environment and therefore still evoke a silent voyage.
The sleds have been interrupted as aggressive statements about object making towards an aesthetic and raw expressionism. Some of the sleds are hung on the walls in juxtaposition with stretched canvas panels. By this action Scarpitta wants them to more explicitly to operate within the art context, removing them from their functional association and clearly demonstrating the close development relationship between these works and the earlier wrapped paintings. His sleds are in line with mainstream ambition of modernism in their effort to achieve expressive power via primitive forms. They have been described as contemporary in their refusal to entertain metaphorical or symbolic content o r to invoke only references to the pictorial.

The sleds of Scarpitta's childhood re-enter the present as abstract images. They are constructed from wooded elements, things found in the streets or surplus warehouses, chair backs, rungs, legs, ladders, shelving, crutches, broom -sticks, the stems of old Christmas trees. Doweling crosspieces joins rods and sled bellies are attached by binding and lacing them with leather thongs. All the wood is wrapped over and over with canvas, stripping the entire piece with coated resin, tar, and wax. These works are not found art works, Scarpitta never allow the found object to take over or dominate. He uses only those elements that evoke the forms he aims to evoke. The actual objects are often hardly rcognizable when incorporated into sleds. Everything is subordinated to the sled. Each recycled element becomes a silent integral part to the symbolic intention of the whole. In the sleds the crossing and re-crossing traces the cords/actions by which the driver would control it adding a human element to the work.

Scarpitta has stated that he was concerned with how craft determined clarity whatever the risk of misunderstanding " I wrapped my sleds because they had to have their own kind of skin. I had to make them homogenous that lead back to my paintings. The skin s what holding the sled into shape. Even though there is a surface underneath, of this recycled wood, somehow there that mixture of rubber, wax, resins, certain webbing that brought it to life ... to me it was like skin grafting... It was necessary to give it skin of another kind of dimension. "

Years after working with canvas structures and sleds returned to his original fascination with cars. In 1985 Scarpitta realized his youthful dream in a garage studio in Baltimore, he constructed a function dirt track racer- The Sal Scarpitta Special. He decided to put together his own team and compete in real races. The following year with the moral and monetary support of Leo Castelli, Scarpitta presented the Sal Gambler Special, a 700-800HP car in the super sprint category driven by Greg O'Neill. Scarpitta shifts from the walls of the gallery to the mud and dirt of the racetrack. Since this period the Scarpitta team has participate in numerous races. Scarpitta has noted that he races the cars, but after the race, he returns to the studio, where he does not allow a single drop of motor oil, a single piece of bodywork to enter. Finally by 1987, at the Hagertown Speedway on Maryland, Scarpitta got behind the wheel of the car himself.
Between auto races and art Scarpitta sees" certain values" in the ability of the drivers and artist lies in emerging intact. These notion reveals how all of Scarpitta's work operates in absolute conformity with his way of thinking and acting based on life experiences that continuously renew his artistic sensibility.

Both world come together in a installation at Castelli in 1987 in which the artist created the projects " Race Car Incident", in subsequent installations, "An Idaho Potato Track (1990), and "Kenny Adams Eve/Sling Shot", (1996). Herein, the relationship between Scarpitta's art and motion is enigmatic in that its stillness belies the original state of the object or race. Scarpitta in addressing the issue of the race transform a twisted wreck in object/performance pulling the twisted frame into a new objecthood that connotes ways in which the drama of the event has been contained within the static condition of the vehicle, thereby echoing its emotional core.

In 1984-5 Scarpitta working with Joan Bankemper create a series of three videos works that documents his passion for racing shown at an solo exhibition in Padiglione d'Art Contemporanea, Milan. The video "Sal Scarpitta Is Race" presents the artist as actor playing out parts between fantasy and reality. It essentially becomes the role of a man who images first he is an artist, and then a racing driver, and finally loses touch completely with the reality of the world. In a second video, "Potato Masher" Scarpitta wears a military uniform and mimes the actions of a soldier on  the battleground, becoming a commentary against war. In 1986 Scarpitta make the third video, "Message to Leo (Racer's Report)" in which he informs Castelli aspects of his experience on the racetracks of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Scarpitta's first retrospective in Italy was held in 1985 at the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan curated by Flaminio Gualdoni.

In 1990 at the Scott Hanson Gallery, NYC Scarpitta created the installation ""Race Car on Idaho Potato Track", in which one his racing cars covered with direct from its last outing rest on a layer of potatoes while on the walls, the artist has administered squirts of clay. Scarpitta inserts the transparent visors of that the drivers toss away during the race when they are covered with mud on the wall. In 1993 as part of the Venice Biennial place racing cars and a series of works from pervious decades in a solo project room.

"Kenny Adam's Eve (Sling Shot)" 1996, consisted of automobile frames deformed by an accident on the track which the artist* wrapped with strips soaked in resin and paint. The strips wrap the frame crosswise like spider webs leaving glimpses of deep dark inner spaces that contrast with the metallized red frame to create a sensation of great drama.

Scarpitta late works include " In Hoc Signo (Highway Sign) created in 2000 made from an aluminum sign that advertised, along a highways, a junkyard located in Maryland. The sign had been hit by lightning melting the central part of the signage and erasing some of the letters changing it from "One Million Used Parts" to "One Million Arts", followed by the exclamation "Oops!" The title "In Hoc Signo" with the solemnity of Latin, underline the prodigious quality of an event Scarpitta viewed as not coincidental. In September 2002, the enormous work was positioned permanently on the faced of the contemporary art center, The Station, Houston.

Salvatore Scarpitta's art is about life, death, and survival. Although living in Italy Abstract Expressionism and craft of the Native Americans and the dirt track racing inform his early paintings. The impact of WWII deepens his concern with humanity. Wrapping, bandaging and openings in his early painting echoes man's potential for spiritual renewal and rebirth. Scarpitta's art wants to speak to the magical force that simultaneously identifies a new social and psychological spirit in art and serves to profoundly address his personal aesthetic that transcends formalism.

The wrapped paintings attempted to encompass space with their circular; self enveloped shapes with their sense of repetition and layers there is still an element of control that Scarpitta supplies in his approach. If the paintings have certain fluidity, the sleds are unreflexing, extending into real space. They both confront and reflect the process of temporality both in terms of the material passage of time and the mythology of timelessness. The cars are extension of the body of the driver. Functional loaded with the potential of real motion. They are constructed to dimensionalism of space itself. Collins and Milazzo have noted that whereas the sleds are emphatically nonfunctional they still reflect a type of accumulation of time. The sleds unlike the cars are no so much vehicles of transportation as they are vehicles that convey the instrumental void of extension through time.

At the core of Scarpitta's art we find a preoccupation with social and existential matters. The tension and energy expressed through his bound canvases, his "X" frames, and his sleds, all reflect the strain in man. His cars do not exclude the presence of man; they presume and announce it. Scarpitta's art wants to reclaim a freedom, a fraternity. Through stressing polarities he wants his work to speak to its own uniqueness. His artistic language is never singular but rather a composite of modernism whose iconography is both contemporaneous and primal.

His work can equally be viewed as an on-going series of self-portraits that operate between the world of game, memory and the metaphysical. His work becomes a type of affirmation of transitions. They are series of journeys. In wrapping, pulling things in different directions, they artist achieved the space when refers to as "tri-dimensional" that offer a greater impact than just optically making some sort of variations of the cubism, or abstract expressionism -namely a reality that could be active, and reflective.

You hope that those who see it will see beyond the objective thing before their eye, will transcend it. It is the process of transmutation of the physical inspirits, a specifically artistic matter, which I have always believed was the objective of my way of being an artist. This is my morals, my ethics; to discover, in the visual presence, which is oft in form of life's wreckage, other connection that make you understand that this is work, it is art leads elsewhere. That elsewhere lies in the common history of e veryone, through the passage we all encounters sooner or later: birth, death, and violence, realizing you are part of nature...Sal Scarpitta

@Horace Brockington, 2007

Reading Salvatore Scapitta ( Selective)
Salvatore Scarpitta; catalogue raisonne, Milano: Mazzotta, 2005 Sustained Visions: The New Museum, 1979
Salvatore Scarpitta, Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Texas, 1977
Salvatorre Scarpitta: outlaw art at racing speeds, Artcar Museum: Houston, Texas, Mazzotta, 2001
Salvatore Scarpitta: opere 1957-1991: Sansone, Luigi, Mazotta, 1998
Art & racing the work of and life of 5alvatore Scarpitta: Sibling Production, 1998
The Ivory Garage in Scarpitta Race Cars Friedman, B.H., Castelli Warehouse, and NY 1969 Sal Scarpitta: Charles A Riley II, Tricia Collins Grand Salon, NY, 1196
Salvatore Scarpitta in Minimala: An Italian Vision in 200 CenturyArt"P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, NY 1999
Sal Scarpitta: Highway Sign in Birthright., An Exhibition of Works by Sal Scarpitta, pieghevole, Richard Milazzo, Tryon Center for Visual Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2000.


table of content