The Art of Remo Farruggio

These pages are dedicated to the work of noted artist Remo Michael Farruggio (1905 – 81)
Remo is an uncle by marriage to Aunt Ella Brouner, sister of Leonora Brouner a/k/a Mom.

Remo Michael Farruggio was born March 29, 1905 in Palermo, Sicily. During his childhood, each time he ran away or skipped school he could be found in the archeology museum across the street from home. Another important influence on the neophyte artist was traditional Sicilian puppet theatre; by age eleven he was making his own puppets and designed and built a puppet theatre in the backyard—charging two lire admission.

In 1918 the Farruggio family emigrated to the United States and settled in New York, depositing the impressionable teenager in a landscape of skyscrapers, subways and commerce vastly different from his baroque, mediterranean home town. He attended public school by day and the National Academy of Design in the evening; an honorable mention for his first drawing encouraged young Remo to continue with art.

Beginning in 1922, Farruggio attended classes at the Educational Alliance where he met the Soyer brothers, Moses and Raphael, and the sculptor Chaim Gross, who became lifelong friends. Then it was on to the Beaux Arts School by day and the Industrial Art School at night.

During the late 1920s Remo lived in Woodstock, New York, then a burgeoning art colony and bohemian locale. There he got to know a free spirited young actress from New York named Ella Brouner. Years later Ella was to become his wife, inspiration and helpmate until the end of his life.

photo

Then came the Great Depression and the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, created by the federal government to provide support for artists in exchange for their work. Farruggio was assigned to the “easel painting” division, meaning that he could continue working in his studio on a weekly stipend of $23.86. Farruggio’s work in this period led to a career breakthrough. He was one of only two artists from the WPA easel division to be given a one-man exhibition in the private sector, at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. It was 1939, and the theme of the show, called “Blues and Other Paintings,” was Jazz, America’s native music and a passion of the Italian-American artist. A picture in the show, Basin Street, depicting a solitary, elongated figure on a shadowy street, was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum. Farruggio was considered a surrealist at this point, in the lineage of Giorgio de Chirico.

Basin Street

Basin Street, collection of The Metropolitan Museum, New York

When America entered the war, Farruggio went to work at the Packard Motor plant in Detroit. He continued to paint whenever he could, and was given an exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1944. In 1946 he returned to New York, resumed his career as a working artist, and re-connected with Ella Brouner, newly returned from a stint in Hollywood. They took a floor-through apartment on Tenth Street and Second Avenue—in those days the East Village was not for the faint of heart—and this became home base for the remainder of their lives.

Farruggio also kept a studio on the top floor of a tumbledown building on West 28th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s flower market district (and the original Tin Pan Alley). Another tenant at 47 West was a painter and actor making a name for himself in the theater; his name was Zero Mostel. They became fast friends, and when Zero became an international star, he became a collector of Farruggios.

Remo & Zero

Mr. and Mrs. Farruggio Remo Farruggio, Chaim Gross, Zero Mostel, Ella Farruggio

At this time, Farruggio began exhibiting to favorable notices from the press. Successful shows at the Salpeter Gallery in 1948 and the RoKo in 1949 solidified his position as an original and important painter. Shortly thereafter, He and Ella took off for Mexico; the two and a half years, culminated in an exhibition at the Galleria Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City in 1952. Returning home, the Mexican work was shown at RoKo in 1953 to critical and commercial success.

Remo Fantasy

Fantasy

In 1954 Farruggio accepted a one-year teaching post at the Portland, Oregon Museum School. On his return, he was persuaded by the influential art dealer John Heller to join his roster (another new member at this time was Roy Lichtenstein). An immediate result was the two year sojourn in Italy, with Heller’s support, which was to become a watershed for the artist, dividing his career into two roughly equal parts — before and after Italy. A show at the Galleria Schneider in Rome in 1957 was enthusiastically received by the Italian public and press, and likewise at the Heller Gallery the following year.

 Juxtaposition acr:p (also in serigraph)

Juxtaposition

Farruggio had long referred to himself as an Italian painter. He returned many times to Italy in the following years, to travel, paint and exhibit; his work became more intensely personal and redolent of his homeland, more “European,” precisely at the moment when the New York centered Abstract Expressionist movement began to explode on the international scene. Tragically, John Heller’s fatal car accident robbed Farruggio of an important champion and close friend.

Remembrance

Remembrance, collection of the Smithsonian

Nevertheless, the work continued. In 1964 the Farruggios began spending summers in Provincetown. The garage of the Farruggio-Brouner house on Bradford Street was converted to a studio, from which many of Remo’s canvases emanated in the ‘60s and ‘70s; much of this work was first shown at Provincetown galleries.

Farruggio continued to show regularly in New York—Alexander, Creative East, Summit Galleries. Between 1973 and 1978 there were also many visits and exhibitions in Italy and Sicily – Nuovo Sagitario and Il Mercante in Milan, Sicilia “72” in Palermo, Cipriano in Ragusa. In less than perfect health and rather frail, Farruggio continued to paint his way, as art fashion careened from Action to Pop, Photorealist to Conceptual. He called the work of this period “romantic abstraction” for its emphasis on emotional content rather than structural concepts.

Projectile 48 x 36 o/cProjectile

Earlier modes did still bubble to the surface of a Farruggio. “I don’t like to be static,” he said in an interview published only a few days before his passing. “One day I paint something representational. Another I may wake up feeling good and I’ll paint what I feel. The only thing about art is that you do it.”

ACQUIRING A FARRUGGIO

All the available work remaining in the Farruggio estate is pictured and categorized on the Purchase page. Please contact jnew1@earthlink.net for further information.

PRESS (selected), 1939 – 1974

The New York Times – April 23, 1939
Two American surrealists have burgeoned, at the Julien Levy Galleries. The first is John Atherton; the second, Remo Farruggio . . . In another room Mr. Levy and the Federal Art Project are sponsoring Mr. Farruggio’s paintings. In one of these, two dark nudes nonchalantly confront each other from opposite ends of a street while a black cat hurries by with a string of frankfurters . . . To One Who Died in Spain and What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue? suggest martyrs from some medieval Italian painting. Mr. Farruggio is obviously in earnest . . . and paints in dark hues with deep rich paint surfaces.

Art News – May 1939
Paintings by Remo Farruggio are being shown under the joint auspices of the Federal Art Project and Julien Levy at whose gallery they may be seen. They establish a mood which seems to hark back to the early and best work of Chirico, but this younger Italian artist brings to his painting an interest in music which is mingled with his sense of plastic values. One group is called “The Blues.” These paintings strike the same note as the songs of that color, and both The Sea Knocks At My Door and Farewell Blues are dramatic and provocative in their dark hues and acutely perceived perspective . . . Fishing Village in another group is again an example of Farruggio’s ability to make the light falling on a building exciting, suggestive and deeply resonant.

Arts Digest – 1/15/49
Remo Farruggio doesn’t paint group shows, nor has he indulged in the currently popular game of style changing. In fact, a Farruggio is first a Farruggio, as may readily be observed in his exhibition at the RoKo Gallery. Color which is dark but glowingly alive, and a poetry of presentation that marks both the cool mystery of a Northern forest or the jewel-like domes of Mexican cathedrals, are distinguishing characteristics of these oils. Eternal Mexico is the piece de resistance and an endlessly delightful one, but we would have been happy to take home Iglesia, Woods and Café as well.

Nature through Farruggio’s eyes takes on poetic, sometimes mysterious dimensions in which the artist makes no attempt to delineate its external guise. He seeks instead an intuitive rapport with his subject matter that will wed his inner and outer vision. A wedding that casts its most romantic and lyrical spell happens in the two paintings, Tualapan Valley and Spring, whose beauty lies in delicate color sensibility and simplicity of means . . . Farruggio appears to be an extremely disciplined and subtle recorder of his perceptions of nature.

New York Times – 12/10/50 Exhibition at the Metropolitan Reveals Growth and Strength in Our Art The exhibition “American Painting Today” at the Metropolitan Museum opens so many doors on our art and raises so many questions that a whole book could be written about it . . . The common denominator which has led to a diminishing of the objectively realistic approach in painting has also diminished regionalism in the older sense, and has broken down the bars between the various -isms and classifications so that expressionism may be felt in realism, semi-abstraction and completely non- objective work. In the present show, for example, it is discernible in Farruggio’s Monhegan Landscape.

The Villager, New York – 2/5/53
The rich blues and purples, the magentas and vibrant yellows, often combined with gleaming silver or contrasted with the shadowy grays, drab olives, and browns which live in Mexican art, are to be found in opulent juxtaposition in the paintings of the well-known painter, Remo Farruggio, whose works are on display through Feb. 19, at the RoKo Galleries . . . Landscapes, scenes from the life and superstitions of the people, the colors of their fruits and flowers, the forms of their utensils and the rich patterns of their fabrics have been placed on canvas by the artist, now with boldness, now with delicacy of delineation.

One of the finest is On the Way to Oaxaca, an evocative landscape in many-shaped squares and triangles, which was displayed recently at the Whitney Museum . . . An interesting subject is that of Jose Limon, whom the artist painted in Mexico when they met down there.

Mr. Farruggio has recently been notified of the acceptance of a second painting, Still Life, by the New York Metropolitan Museum. . Another canvas is currently hanging at the exhibition of oils at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.

Art News – December 1955 Remo Farruggio at Heller, November 29–December 17, 1955
Here he offers oils and a few gouaches, all done within the past year except for one still-life, bought by the Metropolitan in 1950. Farruggio’s conception is unlimited by the usual confines of style, and he is freshly inspired by each new subject. The abstractions are mostly composed in rectangles, with color serving the function of perspective, and formal relationship producing a gentle and infinite movement. Farruggio is perhaps most charming in the Italian paintings, where he uses surely and with delight the assimilated magic and the realism indigenous to the traditions of that country.

The New York Times – 12/3/55
Those admirers of Remo Farruggio’s water colors, which have a pale luster and romantic abstract associations, should find his oils and gouaches in his new one-man show at the John Heller Gallery extremely appealing. Not all of his works clarify themselves as to subject matter, for often they rely very much on just the subtle poetic implications of color areas, deftly and varyingly balanced and contrasted. But those that do denote a sensitive reaction to natural forms with clarity such as Enchanted Garden and Cathedral [and] prove, for us, much the better, more enjoyable paintings.

Tempo, Rome – 12/13/57
Painting deeply graceful and paradoxical, suspended in a thousand echoes of mystery with the security of a humorous escape . . . His landscapes and still lifes heightened with brilliant color yet serene and con-trolled. The creator, Farruggio, controller of irony and love, sometimes gay, sometimes serious with overflowing poetry and spontaneity . . .

The New York Post – September 1958
A fine one-man showing of paintings by Remo Farruggio, the result of a 16-month stay in his native Sicily is on view at the John Heller Gallery . . . Farruggio is a painter of grace, sensitivity and decided accomplishment. His abstract landscapes are at once delicately and passionately evocative of the Sicilian land, and they are also pieces of art independent in themselves.

His nudes are outstanding for their originality of concept and for the excellence of technical resources they show. Farruggio is an entrancing colorist who can work gold and lavender, pink and purple into a canvas and make it quietly glow . . . He is a sophisticated painter in the best meaning of the word and a very good one.

The New York Times – September 1958
Remo Farruggio has moved in a steady gentle way from idea to idea in the course of years as a practicing painter. The increasing abstraction in his work…has come about more naturally than with most painters, and has obscured none of Farruggio’s insight into phenomena of nature.

Centro d’Arte “Sicilia ’72” – April 1974
Remo Farruggio was born in Palermo in 1906; he was only 14 when he emigrated to the United States. He was a boy then; he was bringing within himself echoes of the first World War, and he had in his eyes the image of an incredibly beautiful city… Palermo was still a place where one could appreciate, while walking, the smell of jasmine, even if in the dark alleys there was poverty and the struggle for life was a painful daily reality . . .

Farruggio did not only bring with him the Sicilian luminosity; he did not forget the baroque modulations of the churches, the forged iron grilles that are a typical ornament of palace balconies, the big stucco angels that fly under the vaults of oratories. In this melange of forms and colors he shows himself to be an effective interpreter of the delicate nuances of reality…

Nobody can anticipate what would have become of Farruggio if he had lived only in his native place. But at this point we can say confidently what his personality is, as a result of different themes and experiences in faraway lands. Nature preserved in him the lyric world of his birth and his mind helped him not to betray it . . .

L’Ora, Palermo – May 4, 1974
What would have been the path that the work of Remo Farruggio would have taken, had he remained in Palermo instead of emigrating to the United States half a century ago, when he was a young man? Giuseppe Servello, in the catalogue for Farruggio’s one-man show at “Sicilia ‘72,” tells us of the success achieved by this artist born in our city; he also states that Farruggio preserves “the primitive vision of the world” and that when he came back to Italy “he did not have to change a single color tone” in his painting.

There is something that refuses to be frozen by fashionable abstract painting in these warm, pungent, mellow colors; this is the kind of Sicilian heritage that can still be recognized in Farruggio, and is particularly welcome in a time in which widespread cosmopolitanism makes it difficult to identify the origins of an artist’s imagination.

MUSEUM ACQUISITIONS

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Museum of American Art (Smithsonian)
The Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C.

Butler Institute of American Art
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts
Chrysler Museum
The Detroit Institute of Art
Portland (Oregon) Museum of Art
St. Paul Museum of Art
Provincetown Art Association and Museum
A-1 Gallery, London
University of Illinois Art Museum
Santa Fe Art Museum

ONE-MAN SHOWS

Julien Levy Gallery, New York 1939
The Detroit Institute of Art 1944
Salpeter Gallery, New York 1948, 49
Roko Gallery, New York 1949, 53, 55
Arte Contemporaneo Gallery, Mexico City 1952
Portland Museum of Art, Oregon 1954
John Heller Gallery, New York 1955, 56, 57, 58
Galleria Schneider, Rome 1957
Feingarten Gallery, New York 1962
East End Gallery, Provincetown 1964, 65, 66
Provincetown Group Gallery, Provincetown 1967
Firehouse Gallery, Long Island, New York 1968
Alexander Gallery, New York 1969
Creative East Gallery, New York 1970, 71, 72

Galleria Nuovo Sagittario, Milan 1973, 74, 75, 76, 77
Galleria Centro d’Arte Sicilia “72,” Palermo 1974, 75
Galleria Il Fondaco, Messina, Italy 1975
Galleria Pro Arte Kasper, Morges, Switzerland 1975
Galleria Capriano, Ragusa, Italy 1976
Tirca Karlis Gallery, Provincetown 1976

Summit Gallery, New York 1976, 77
Galleria Il Mercanti, Milan 1977, 78
Cottage Gallery, Provincetown 1980, 81
Retrospective, Provincetown Art Association, July 1983
Connolly–Graham Fine Arts, South Norwalk, CT 2005
Galerie Rive Gauche, Kingston, NY 2006

GROUP SHOWS

Federal Gallery: WPA Art Project, New York, 1936, 1937
Detroit Institute of Art, 1943, 1944
National Academy of Design, New York, 1946
Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans, 1948
The Metropolitan Museum: American Painting Today, 1950
Whitney Museum of American Art, 1948, 50
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1950, 53, 59
The Metropolitan Museum: Prints, Drawings and Water Colors, 1952 Brooklyn Museum of Art: International Water Color Exhibition, 1955
The Artists’ Gallery, New York: Graphic Gala, 1955

The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 1957
The Coliseum: Art USA, New York, 1959
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Annuals 1961 – 1980
Cape Cod Art Association, Hyannis, Massachusetts, 1965
Norfolk (Virginia) Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1965

East End Gallery, Provincetown, 1964, 65, 66
Joan Avnet Gallery, Great Neck, Long Island, 1966
Provincetown Group Gallery, 1967 – 71
Atrium Gallery, Port Washington, New York, 1972

Galleria Nuovo Sagittario, Milan, 1973
Tirca Karlis Gallery, Provincetown, 1975
Centro d’Arte Sicilia, Palermo: Grafica Internazionale, 1975
Summit Gallery, New York, 1976
“WPA Artists – Then and Now,” Art Student’s League, New York, 1977 “Euro Masters,” Six Summit Gallery, Ivoryton, CT, 2012

 

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