Issue 17, Autumn-Winter 1957
Mario Avati is a young Italian living in Paris. Born in Monaco, he was 19 when the war forced him to break off studies at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Nice. After difficult years in Germany he drifted back to Paris and studied painting at the Beaux Arts, but benefited little from the formal training. He learned far more by frequenting the ateliers of Goerg and Cami and others, where he studied the techniques of engraving. Since 1950, he has worked primarily in black and white, exhibiting at many of the important group showings. Last year he was one of the three artists chosen as winners of the Paris Prix des Critiques, the first engraver to be so honored.
The climate of much of Avati's early work is macabre: doll faces with blank smiles ignore a bleak desolation behind them; grotesque puppets strut down sinister back streets with sometimes a forlorn humor in the stance of figure or the curl of a decorative stroke. These seemed to be the clamorous expressions of the artist's sense of despair and torment. Early designs of insects which appeared in a book of poems by Philippe de Rothschild were more muted and pointed toward the confident mastery of his latest work on beasts of the jungle and the nature morte. For these last studies of familiar objects, Avati, who has experimented with etchings, dry point, and aquatint, works in the rarely used process called mezzotint: the surface of the copper is first finely grated, allowing the engraver to obtain varying shades of grey. In their austere grandeur, in the delicate balance of angle against curve, are revealed a classical victory over chaos and the endless fascination of transcendent form.