Sergio Fiorentino, an artist who translates the charm of “his” Noto into unique paintings and artworks

For the 48-year-old artist Sergio Fiorentino, from Catania but now transplanted to Noto, the city of Syracuse represented a fundamental turning point, a watershed in his work and existential path: having fallen in love with the cradle of Baroque, unique for its lights, colors, inspirations and sensations, he moved there permanently, using a space in the refectory of an 18th century convent as his studio. He has therefore resumed painting, a passion put aside after his studies at the Academy of Design and Visual Communication Abadir to devote himself to the sale (and restoration) of design objects, pouring into the paintings a vision that could be defined as classically contemporary, defined by portraits, faces and figures rendered in quick and decisive brushstrokes in shades of blue, red, brown and white, then manipulated through scratches, abrasions and buffering that give an evanescent air to the whole, accentuating the feeling of silent immobility, suspension that characterizes the canvas.

Fiorentino’s artworks, exhibited in the permanent collections of several museums (including the MacS and the Fondazione La Verde La Malfa in his hometown), have been included in numerous trade fairs and exhibitions hosted by various museum institutions, from the Musei Civici to the Eremitani in Padua, to the Roman gallery RvB Arts, from the Fondazione Mazzullo in Taormina to the American Palm Beach Art Fair.We met him in his house-studio in Noto, right in the center of the town that has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2002, full of finished works or works in progress, manifestations of an all-round creative flair that also finds application in furniture and objects that escape classification. 

When and how did you start painting?

“After studying restoration and, later, painting at the Abadir Academy in Catania, my passion turned into work, with the opening of a small gallery in town where I sold – and restored, too – design objects of the twentieth century, from futurism to the ’60s. Ten years ago, when I came to Noto by chance, I fell in love with it, finding myself changing my life from one day to the next; I closed the store, which was doing very well, and I started painting again. The first exhibition came with Vincenzo Medica, despite the fact that years have passed, it still seems like a dream, it’s a great fortune to be able to turn what you love into work, into life tout court”

From Catania to Noto, people continue to reach you and your atelier has become a local place to be

“In fact, a lot of people have passed through my studio, and the place, inside the former refectory of an eighteenth-century convent, is wonderful. Although they are separated only by an hour’s drive, Catania and Noto in my opinion could not be more different: the first is all black, lava, dominated by an active volcano, pervaded by a great energy, a whole other world compared to the second, completely white, suspended, metaphysical.”

Has the atmosphere of Noto, with the light, the sky, the unique colors, influenced your work?

“Certainly, it’s here that I resumed painting, such a context can only be present, starting with the blue, which in my idea is a sort of amniotic liquid in which the figures begin to form; my painting is visually linked to the sky of Noto, the complexion of the faces recalls instead the plaster, the stones, the walls of the buildings, with all the cracks and signs of time, not to mention the suspended energy that is felt, especially in winter.”

What techniques do you use to intervene on the paintings?

“I usually make faces or bodies in blue (a shade that is present in all my works, even when it’s not immediately visible), then I paint the complexion in oil and, when the color is still fresh, I scratch it, almost to the point of flaking it, so as to bring out the background, as happens in the series of portraits with plants where, after the first draft, I intervened by removing the material and making the leaves come out.”

Or in the series of bodies…

“Exactly, I did the same in the paintings about the divers, figures in blue that are suspended, immobile, without a point of departure or arrival, as if they were crystallized forever in the dimension of the painting.”

What else are you currently working on?

“To a series of furnishings in materials typical of the Sicilian decorative arts of the eighteenth century, in particular of the Trapanese, which boasts an extraordinary tradition with workers who, even at that time, used silver, brass, coral or lapislazzulo. For example, I’m working on a piece of furniture with garfish, a link to the Dreamers’ paintings with fish: these are limited editions, nine unique pieces, each one different from the other. Then there are two pieces of furniture with very thin wires running through a brass plate, filled with lapis lazuli powder in shades of blue or red coral powder.

Among the works in progress there is also a creation in embossed copper, born from a chance encounter with a very good craftsman whom I saw in action, an exponent of the third generation of a family of puppeteers; together we made this kind of sculpture, a totem with two modules. In the past, instead, I have made ceramics inspired by my recurring themes, such as that of the divers”.

Who are the artists and designers you are inspired by?

“There are many, from Ico Parisi and Gio Ponti to a painter like Antonio Donghi (a leading exponent of magical realism, ed.), the latter excites me for his ability to portray figures of everyday life as if they were “embalmed”, frozen in time; It reminds me of the Sicilian tradition of the bambinelli or papier-mâché statues, it’s as if he put them inside a glass bell, stopping them forever, in some ways I also try to fix an instant, as in diving, which we are used to seeing as a moving image and in my paintings become, instead, a fraction of a second eternally suspended.

I love what is ancient, I like to create works that have a current language and at the same time linked to the past, this is also true for the paintings, in which the faces are of real people, who for various reasons have a meaning for me, inserting them in the canvas, however, I try to extract them from the space-time dimension, in fact there are never references to places or times, in some cases even to gender, so that some subjects could be male or female, as if they came from another planet.”

How would you describe your style?

“When I paint I strive to be as essential as possible, both in terms of imagery and color rendering: I basically use four colors, white for light, a brown shade for shadows, and two opposite hues, red (which in my vision is the soul, the spirit) and blue, which represents flesh, the matter.”

Discover more about the artist  SergioFiorentino

Ph. Davide Musto


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