Exhibit / September 12, 2018
The promotional artwork used on genre film posters, and later on VHS packaging, was often more important for establishing a foothold in the popular imagination than the films themselves. This was especially true in the Italy of the 1980s, where a thriving and competitive cinema industry was increasingly looking to the opportunities offered by foreign markets and the burgeoning home video trade. Since the end of the Second World War, the country had developed a consolidated tradition of cinema poster art, as exemplified by artists such as Anselmo Ballester, Alfredo Capitani, Averardo Ciriello and Angelo Cesselon, some of whom had abandoned fine arts work for the lucrative new profession.
Born in 1944 into a family where five out of seven of the previous generations had been painters—including his father Emanuele Sciotti, who had decorated churches and cathedrals in Rome and around the Lazio region—artist Enzo Sciotti began drawing and painting when he was still a child. In 1958, his mother sent a portrait he had drawn of the newly elected Pope John XXIII to the Vatican, and the young Sciotti received a letter from the head of the Catholic Church congratulating him on his talent, news which made the local papers.
In the Boomtime Italy of the 1960s, cinema production was flourishing along with other industries, and the hundreds of films a year the country was producing required advertising materials to promote them to a population that, since the end of the war, had increasing amounts of disposable income at hand. Sciotti’s enterprising mother went to Rome to procure her shy son a job working at poster art company Studio Bat where, at age 16, he began producing film posters alongside other artists who would become well-known in the field, Renzo Cenci and Ezio Tarantelli. Sciotti claims that at one point he counted 24 other poster artists in Rome alone. Sciotti and Tarantelli would later found the Studio E2 art agency together. Though best known outside his homeland for his genre work, Sciotti and E2 also produced posters for a vast number of films destined primarily for the Italian domestic market, including beloved comedies 1976’s Febbre da Cavallo, 1982’s Borotalco, and 1984’s Un Allenatore nel Pallone.
In interviews, the self-taught Sciotti comes across as a pragmatic, self-deprecating craftsman who says that, though a cinema lover, he never actually watches films before creating their posters, preferring to limit himself to promotional stills and his imagination. Sciotti’s most memorable and distinctive work features expressionist assemblages of images from the film in question—and sometimes not from the film at all—looming out of a dark background and bathed in eerie light, like thoughts surfacing from the subconscious. The baroque intensity of the luminous forms and diaphanous heads emerging from the murk evokes an incongruous and cheerfully vulgar update of the tenebrism of artists like Caravaggio or de Coster, or the still lifes of Dutch golden-age painters like Willem van Aelst. The way that Sciotti’s posters hover between lurid kitsch and a kind of unaffected elegance ensures that, both ludicrous and genuinely eerie, they remain in the memory.