Marco Sassone

Marco Sassone

1942 -

This Italian-American is a master among contemporary expressionists. His bravura brushwork comes from an authentic passion and reveals the very rare skill and vision to control color and light.

A Narrative Chronology

“One of the foremost colorists working in America today, Sassone is an artist who developed his own personal, expressive vision early in his career, and who has steadfastly remained faithful to it while refining and developing it to the full power and maturity that is seen in his works today.”

Janet Dominik, Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1988.

Marco Sassone was born in Campi Bisenzio, a Tuscan village, in 1942. The family moved to Florence in 1954, and there he met painters Ottone Rosai and Ugo Maturo, who encouraged him to follow his interest in art. In 1959 he enrolled at the Istituto Galileo Galilei, where he studied architectural drafting for several years. In 1963 he studied with painter Silvio Loffredo, a professor of art at the Accademia in Florence, himself a pupil of the Austrian master Oskar Kokoschka.

Loffredo encouraged him to develop his own style and vision. For inspiration, Sassone studied the works of the 19th century Italian impressionists, the Macchiaioli: Giovanni Fattori, Vito D’Ancona, and Silvestro Lega. He began exhibiting his first works at Lo Sprone Cultural Center in Florence.

In November 1967, soon after the flood had devastated his city, Sassone moved to California. He exhibited for the first time in the United States at the Dalzell-Hatfield Galleries in Los Angeles and became a regular exhibitor at the annual Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach.

Throughout the seventies, he exhibited extensively in the U.S. and abroad. In 1976 he collaborated with director John Wilson to produce an autobiographical documentary. The following year his work was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York. Marco Sassone received a gold medal in 1978 from the Italian Academy of Arts, Literature and Science. In 1979 the monograph Sassone by art historian Donelson Hoopes was published in concurrence with the artist’s exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum. With prescience, Hoopes had observed: “Sassone’s art has evolved from within, and such an organic, psychological and spiritual process may take his work along new and unforeseen paths.”

In 1981 Sassone moved his studio to San Francisco. During the 1980s his exhibition schedule continued along with his numerous lectures. In 1982 Marco Sassone was knighted by the President of Italy, Sandro Pertini, into the “Order of the Merit of the Italian Republic.” In 1987 Sassone received a commendation from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley for his “contribution to the community through his art.” In March 1988, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery mounted his solo exhibition titled Sassone with the publication of a catalogue authored by Janet Dominik. The show traveled to Paris and was installed at the historic Bernheim-Jeune Gallery for the month of April.

By the late eighties, the artist had become increasingly concerned with social themes. He began extensive and personal research on the homeless and painted a series of large canvasses and charcoal drawings portraying the life he observed on the streets of San Francisco. A number of these works were exhibited at the Chicago International Art Exposition, the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland, Body Politic at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery and Issue of Choice at the Los Angeles  Contemporary Exhibition (LACE).

In March of 1994, his exhibition “Home on the Streets” opened at the Museo ItaloAmericano in San Francisco.  Kenneth Baker, art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about his work: “There is true technical brilliance here…In the drawings, his technique seems to discover fresh descriptive possibilities each time out.” The exhibition traveled to Los Angeles in 1996 and Florence, Italy in 1997, where it was installed in the Cloisters of the Santa Croce Church. Paola Bortolotti, art critic for La Nazione, wrote: “The persistent theme however does not carry a denunciation of a social problem, but it is rather the pretext to pour forth onto canvas the urgency of the brush strokes loaded with pigment and light.”

In 1997 Marco Sassone received a commission to create a 200 square foot mural in downtown San Francisco. The finished work comprised five canvases dedicated to the theme of Il Palio is presently in the permanent collection of Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California.

In May, 2001, the Museo ItaloAmericano in San Francisco inaugurated the exhibition, “Master and Pupil,” with works by Oskar Kokoschka, Silvio Loffredo, Marco Sassone.  Author Peter Selz, writing in the catalogue, described the link between the three artists:  “A canvas like Chinese Reds (1990) in scarlet color relates to the chromatic scheme of his teacher’s Angel of Death (1998), while alarming paintings like Marlboro Country (1990) with its human skulls spread in the foreground, or Coit Tower Night (1988) – a painting of deep blue water, a brown hill and a violent purple sky – all done with an agitated brush, elicit a fervent emotion, comparable to the sensations evoked by the canvases of Kokoschka himself.”

The Palazzo Ducale Museum in Massa-Carrara, Italy presented his retrospective exhibition in March-April, 2002 with the publication of a catalogue authored by Massimo Bertozzi.  The exhibition was reviewed by La Nazione, Florence and La Repubblica, Rome. Ilaria Bonuccelli wrote for La Repubblica, “The man with blue eyes stares out at you. No concessions made. He offers you – perhaps forces upon you – a magnified view of trashed humanity. The kind that rummages around along the sidewalks of San Francisco. His pupils gape at an interior world which he invites you to enter, without knocking. The brush-strokes are merciless. ”

Master and Pupil was installed in the Cloister of Sant’ Agostino Museum in Pietrasanta, Italy in 2003. Milly Mostardini wrote in a review for Il Tirreno: “From Kokoschka to Loffredo and Sassone: The lessons are passed on from master and pupil. Sassone’s expressionism leads to visionary transformations, in an intense dance of chromatic impastos, with furious, explosive strokes of pigment.”

In 2005 Marco Sassone relocated his studio to Toronto, Canada and immediately forged a rapport with the city.

In 2008 his exhibition Marco Sassone: Toronto opened on April 3 at Odon Wagner Contemporary. Jonathan Goodman, art critic for Art in America, wrote in the exhibition catalogue, “Sassone’s audience approaches his work knowing that the paintings are in dialogue with a tradition going back to the early twentieth century. His expressionism escapes the epithet of anachronistic, however, by being so sharply lived. While his works are not overly emotional, they gain success because they relate to a complete life of the imagination in which feelings and intellect combine. ” Deirdre Kelly wrote in the Globe and Mail: “With gestural brush strokes and an expressionistic use of color, Sassone romanticizes such banal views as a Carlaw parking lot and the westbound Gardiner Expressway.” 
In that same year, 2008, Marco Sassone received a commission to create a mural for the lobby of the Bellagio, a glass tower in downtown Toronto. The artist prepared drawings and a final study in pastel, in scale for the space. The completed work, comprised of three panels and titled Waterfront, was installed in late October.

In the following years Sassone participated at the International Art Fair, Palm Beach 3 in Florida and in the Group exhibition Summerset at David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, New York. The artist lectured at Seaton House, the largest homeless shelter in Toronto.

In 2010 Sassone returned to San Francisco to attend the October 1st inauguration of his one man show installed in the splendid space of the Shrine of Saint Francis. He traveled to Rome for his exhibition Santuario at the Palazzo dell’Informazione. The Adnkronos news agency produced a video-interview titled Marco Sassone – Quando l’Anima Resta Inchiodata alla Tela. (Marco Sassone – When the Soul is Nailed to the Canvas.)

In 2012 the exhibition Marco Sassone: Watercolours opened at Berenson Fine Art, Toronto. Peter Clothier wrote in the Huffington Post: “These dark paintings are, after all, not primarily about the darkness that pervades them, but about the light that manages to shine through.” 
In October he attended the opening of his exhibition Architecture and Nature installed at the Price Tower Art Center, a museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Sassone’s profound interest in the urban landscape resulted in a series of large canvases and watercolors that were exhibited at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Art, San Angelo, Texas in 2014. The same year he received an invitation for a site-specific installation based on the artist`s attraction to fashion and footwear. His exhibition titled Marco Sassone: His Boots and Other Works opened on June 9, 2016 at Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Deirdre Kelly noted in her essay for the exhibition catalogue:

His paintings of footwear dance with meaning. They are the product of an artist wanting to understand his world by stepping into other people`s shoes and deepen his understanding of self by painting what remains special to him…Sassone heightens their physical beauty with impasto and other tactile painting techniques that elevate the footwear to the status of fine art.

In 2017 his exhibition Viaticus was presented at Berenson, his dealer in Toronto. Central to this show were the artist`s watercolor studies, an integral part of Sassone`s oeuvre; in the intimate scale of these watercolors, the sequence of narrative evoked the spiritual journey that informed the broad-ranging surface of his canvases, permeated by a palpable sense of motion. Viaticus — a Latin term for all that pertains to the road — identifies the artist’s journey in its multiple discoveries and experiences.

The following year, the Columbus Centre in Toronto announced the Canadian premier of his landmark exhibition Home on the Streets that was installed in both the Upper and Lower galleries from January 24 to May 21, 2019. This show — which previously had traveled to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Florence, Italy — included selected additional work executed over the past 25 years. Peter Clothier, the author of the exhibition catalogue stated:

The raw edge of these pictures is not their public rhetoric but their private agony… Homelessness, for this exiled artist whose roots are still not firmly planted in American soil is not eventually a social problem but a personal and deeply-felt emotional experience.

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Master and Pupil

“Master and Pupil” was an exhibition of paintings by Oskar Kokoschka, Silvio Loffredo, Marco Sassone that opened in 2002 at the Museo ItaloAmericano in San Francisco. In 2003, it traveled to the Cloister of Sant’ Agostino Museum in Pietrasanta, Italy. The following catalogue essay by Peter Selz describes the link between the three artists:
Sassone in his studio in front of an oil from the Viaticus Series.

Marco Sassone (born in Campi Bisenzio, Tuscany, in 1942) and Silvio Loffredo had fathers who were painters and gave them their initial instruction.  When Sassone was 25 years old, he decided to leave Florence and move to the United States, living at first in Los Angeles and coming to live and work in San Francisco in the early 1980s.  He travels back to Italy every year to paint sparkling canvases in Venice and the Amalfi Coast.  But, as can be seen in his recent “heads” (1996–2000), there is also a tragic aspect to his work.  Done in pastel or oil, these anonymous portrait heads are based on black and white drawings, which the painter made from encounters with street people in San Francisco.  He would listen to the stories of the downtrodden and homeless and sketch their faces.  These are portrayals of isolated men and women with piercing eyes and solemn, thoughtful and troubled expressions.  The series had its beginnings in 1990 with his suite of paintings of the Homeless, entitled Home on the Streets, which in turn, goes back to the compelling painting, Aftermath (1968), that was prompted by the great wreckage in Florence caused by the flood of 1966.  Here we see a man, small and dark, silhouetted against the light of the street.  He is scavenging the rubble, while another man walks slowly out of the devastated area — and out of the painting.  It was at that time that the artist, who had studied with Loffredo at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence traveled to and settled in California.

Willie, 1992, 81 x 108 inches, oil on canvas

Homelessness, a condition which we have come to know too well in American cities, does not exist in European cities, except in wartime.  The Italian painter, therefore, was astounded with what he encountered in San Francisco.  He found the homeless a compelling subject for very powerful paintings, in which a fascinating effect is achieved by the contrast of the misery of the motif and the eloquence of the vigorous brushwork.

On his annual trips to Venice, the painter approaches the familiar canals, bridges and campi with a contemporary eye and brush.  In fact, his palpable Expressionist stroke seems to replicate the movement and ripples of the waves.  In many of his paintings a single color — red or blue — dominates the vertical composition.  In recent pictures of Venice, such as Malinconia (1999) with the water flooding the campo, the whole canvas appears to be a vibrating surface.

Malinconia, 1999, 50 x 62 inches, oil on canvas

Then, there are the paintings of San Francisco, his adopted city:  the pull of deep perspective is pushed back by the tall building at the bottom of California Street in Yellow Cab (2000), and the cutting into space in Tunnel with Colors (1989) brings the three-dimensional illusion back to its two-dimensional picture plane.  In many of the canvases we are very much aware of the layering of the paint and its material consistency.

Marlboro Country, 1990, 55 x 70, oil on canvas

A canvas like Chinese Reds (1990) in its scarlet color relates to the chromatic scheme of his teacher’s Angel of Death (1998), while alarming paintings like Marlboro Country (1990) with its human skulls spread in the foreground, or Coit Tower Night (1988) — a painting of deep blue water, a brown hill and a violent purple sky — all done with an agitated brush, elicit a fervent emotion, comparable to the sensations evoked by the canvases of Kokoschka himself.

— Peter Selz

Yellow Cab, 2000, 60 x 40, oil on canvas