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The Face: Fornasetti’s Unique Vision Lives On

in Nonfiction by

It’s rare for an artist’s work to transcend time, speaking to each new generation regardless of changing trends. But that’s exactly the case with the work of Piero Fornasetti, an Italian artist whose graphic and imaginative designs feel just as relevant today.

Fornasetti lived from 1913 to 1988, creating thousands of pieces of art. And he didn’t just do prints either; he put his whimsical images on plates, chairs, lamps and more, turning household items into priceless works. It’s estimated that he produced more than 11,000 different pieces, surrealistic visions that bridged the gap between high art and useable, everyday objects.

And his vision was certainly unique. Known for his bold use of black and white and dreamlike images, Fornasetti returned to certain subjects again and again – a woman’s face, hands, the sun and the moon, playing cards, balloons. He used etchings, engravings and different mediums (like silk, wood and glass) to create his pieces. He also worked as an interior designer at times, even designing the staterooms for the ill-fated ocean liner, Andrea Doria.

While Fornasetti’s work briefly fell out of fashion in the ‘70s, it was rediscovered in the ‘80s and has only risen in popularity ever since. You’ve probably seen his images many times before – perhaps on a scarf or a plate – without knowing the man behind the art. And while he passed away in the late ‘80s, his son, Barnaba has taken up the mantel of designing, making Fornasetti’s work just as coveted today. Even the Fornasetti website is a true work of art, taking the viewer on a surreal, imagistic journey through twisting patterns, keys with mysterious locks, and graphic butterflies leading the way. It feels modern and cool – which is quite a feat, considering that most of Fonasetti’s work is at least fifty years old.

We can’t get enough of Fonasetti as a designer and a visionary, which is why we’re dying to get our hands on the rare and unique book that his son created in honor of his work. And while there have been lots of great books published about the artist, this one is different and special. It’s a collection of the first 100 images from Fonasetti’s Tema E Variazinoi series, in which he endlessly recreated the face and features of an opera singer named Lina Cavalieri. Each book is handmade, created using long stitch binding and covered in leather and velvet clamshell. The covers each feature an original brass matrix created through etching, giving every book a completely different appearance. The book itself is printed on cotton paper, with carefully hand-pressed images decorating the pages.

Clearly, a book this rare and unique isn’t easy to come by. There were only 100 copies handmade in 2016, and we’re guessing that each one is lovingly spoken for (though there is a link on the website where you can enter your email for more information). Still, this book goes on our rare book wish-list, where we quietly and intensely lust after those gorgeous and extraordinary books that we can only dream of getting our hands on. In the meantime we’ll simply covet it from afar and appreciate Fornasetti’s art for its exceptional and original qualities. He was an artist who was clearly ahead of his time, and we trust that his work will live on for centuries.


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Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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