Piero Donadio

My father was born in Tarantasca in the province of Cuneo, at the foot of Monviso-(as he wanted to remember it) on the 23rd of May 1934.

Passionate about drawing since childhood, he moved on to painting the mysterious boundaries between music and poetry. He was self-taught, the art of painting was instinctive for him and he was able to tap into it with great passion and innate ability.

At the age of twelve he attended “L’istituto Salesiano di Cuneo” and after that,  high school in the same town,  in which he cleaned floors and worked as a waiter in the canteen in order to pay for his tuition fees; dedicating his nights to studying.

In 1959, thanks to a scholarship, he took a long journey to the Holy land where he learned the Arabic language. For the following three years he lived in Cuneo, at the Institute Amedeo Rossi, where he used to give private lessons.  Later, he moved to Mirabello (AL) to the Institute San Giuseppe and soon after becoming a “Guardia Campestre” (equivalent of a forest ranger/police officer) he settled in Castellazzo Bormida , where he died at the age of sixty-two, on 28 November 1996, when I was 29.

My father disliked sordid formal lists,  that every  curriculum has to include. He  always loved the small and simple things, ignored by many.

He loved the humble, the helpless and the disadvantaged, in town he was called “the advocate of the poor.” He loved animals and the mountains without ever having painted them (animals are rarely seen in his paintings and the landscapes are very bleak). He nurtured a great passion for books, so much so that from an early age he went to buy books from the market stalls in Turin and Cuneo by bike; which now, together with other important books, make up the prestigious and extensive family library.

I fondly remember my father bent over books, in front of an easel or sorting through  objects of all kinds (results of a previous collection)or else in an urban police uniform  always by bicycle in both summer and winter (he was the only officer of the town without a driving license); but I also have a painful memory of him if I think about the difficult life he lived,  because of health problems that today would be easily detected : fits of hypoglycaemia, never recognized, causing strong tremors and sometimes fainting.

When I was little, he always took me with him to explore and look for mosses, lichens, minerals and also clays which he often mixed with his paints. He would also sometimes dress me up with a cloak, a scarf or a hat, and he would paint me doing something (I have kept a charcoal drawing in which I am painting using his easel).

He used to do the same thing with my mother’s father:  he would make my grandfather wear a shapeless coat, give him a glass of wine to hold (which my grandfather usually drank) make two quick sketches, and in very little time he was able to capture the essence of everything,  the spirit immortalized forever.

My father was fascinated by scenes of rural life, daily life, yards, clothes hanging out to dry, taverns and the elderly people that visited him…  He would always carry a notebook in which he wrote down his thoughts and drew pictures of people or views of the town.

In his paintings chairs often have two legs (and the tables have two legs or at most, three), the men are always elderly and women nearly always young. He always changed the commercial paints by adding aniline or the bone dust of animals or other mysterious ingredients.

In his paintings the Red is never red, the blue is never just blue and green does not exist. He never painted landscapes or plants, despite his great passion for nature and botany (the trees are often leafless or even dead). His colours are ochre and earth colours, the light shines from his paintings striking the observer with a rare evocative power, the light and shade of its interiors pass through the ancient atmosphere that once was. Through his vast experimental research he achieved new painting techniques on canvas and cardboard (I remember the technique “huile chauffer” – a technique using heated oil)

I remember him as a shy, quiet man  but who was also brilliant with a great sense of irony. He was serious and reserved, but as soon as he finished his workday, he would lock himself away in his studio, where he used to paint, study and write, lost in his own thoughts… Far be it for me to say that he was without flaws, in the sense that he was a bit untidy, melancholic and distracted, all characteristics that can be seen in artists.

Whoever walked into his study, which smelled of burnt resin,  would feel like they were in another world; surrounded by canvases, easels, paints, notebooks, minerals, books, and different kinds of objects, to the point of thinking that they were in a naturalist’s cave of another era.

My father was not a lover of huge works of art, his paintings were always of a life sized measurement, just like how he was, being the definition of a supportive person himself,  that quality made him unique, which is difficult to find in people nowadays. During his artistic life he obtained many awards both in the figurative art and literary field.  I remember when I went to Marseille with my mother for twenty days for a solo exhibition in which he was invited to by UNESCO.

Like most real artists, he never really knew how to make an economical profit from his artwork,  despite the excellent reviews and the numerous exhibitions in which he participated in with great success. The fact that his work was loved by people, was enough for him to feel fulfilled.

An intelligent and modest man, of deep Christian faith, of exceptional brilliance, often misunderstood; he was a painter, poet, musician (as a composer of piano pieces), writer, naturalist, ethologist, botanist, inventor, climber…

A unique man and irreplaceable father, with a huge artistic and humanistic culture, he lived every day of his life with an insatiable hunger for knowledge.

He always told me, ever since I was a little girl, “I will never die” and I believe him.

Maria Elisabetta Donadio.