1919 (New York City)
2007 (New York City)
New York / Italy
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sculpture-pop objects, cars, machines
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Painter-sculptor Salvatore Scarpitta was an artist with wide-ranging
modernist expression that included wrapped canvases symbolizing death
and survival and sculptures of cars and sleds as a metaphor for
travel. He was born in 1919 in Manhattan, and was raised in Los
Angeles, where his Italian-born father, was commissioned to do the
bas-relief sculptures on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building.
His mother was a part-time actress.|
Scarpitta graduated from Hollywood High School, and then went to Italy
where from 1936-1958, he lived in Rome, and graduated from the Academy
of Fine Arts. He was in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and
served as a "monuments man", meaning he was part of a multi-national
effort to find, catalog and rescue fine art stolen by the Nazis from
individual and national collections and also identify monuments and
historical sites so that Allies could be alerted to avoid them.
After the war, he remained in Italy until 1958, and became well
acquainted with Leo Castelli, gallery owner in New York. Castelli
then promised Scarpitta gallery representation if he would go to New
Scarpitta left for the United States, and in January 1959,
the Leo Castelli Gallery held an exhibition titled "Extramurals", which
featured Scarpitta's 'wrapped' or 'bandaged' canvases. He
had exhibited these 'bandaged' paintings at the Galleria La
Tartaruga in Rome, in 1958, shortly before showing them at the Castelli
Gallery in January 1959. They were called "bendati" or "bandaged"
paintings because the artist cut and slashed the canvases, before
recombining the lacerated parts. Most of them were monochromatic, and
symbolic of a birthing gown or rebirth, were bound in webbing that the
artist had obtained at surplus stores.
From that time, Scarpitta would have ten one-man exhibitions at
Castelli from 1959-1992, in addition to his participation in group
shows there. He became a well-known member of the avant-garde art
scene in New York, well thought of by Abstract-Expressionist artists
including de Kooning, Rothko and Kline, and their supportive art
critic, Harold Rosenberg.
In 1966, he became a visiting critic at the Maryland Institute of College Art.
Essentially a Pop Artist utilizing found-object collage in early
paintings, and fascinated by the automobile and racing cars in his
sculpture, Scarpitta used car and machine parts, even skis and sleds to
express movement as "a metaphor of existence." (Shattuck) This
interest stemmed from growing up in the automobile culture of
California. One of his pieces, Rajo Jack Special, was a reproduction of the first race-car driven in competition by an African American. Another work, Lynx,
was a replica of an armored car. Not only did Scarpitta create
sculpted versions of vehicles, but he also raced them on a dirt track
near his home in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. The name of his crew
sponsor, the Leo Castelli Gallery, was painted on the side of his
In the 1970s, he directed his creative talents to constructing sleds
from found objects such as chairs, hockey sticks and Christmas
trees---items he found in trash barrels. He also wrapped his
sleds, as though they had protection from skin. Willem de Kooning
purchased the first Scarpitta sled.
Salvatore Scarpitta exhibited twenty paintings at the Fonte d'Abisso Gallery in Milan in 2001, including X Caged Poncho, 1974, which he had exhibited at the Art Car Museum of Houston, Texas.
work is represented in the collection of Castello di Rivoli Museo
d'Arte Contemporanea, Torino, Italy. A catalogue of Salvatore
Scarpitta's work, edited by Luigi Sansone, was published by Mazzotta,
Salvatore Scarpitta died on April 10, 2007 at his home in
Manhattan. Survivors included his wife, two daughters, and five
Kathryn Shattuck, "Salvatore Scarpitta, 88, New York Artist", Obituary in The New York Times, April 16, 2007, A19
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
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