FILIPPO DE PISIS

Testimony - 1953

On a rainy day in October 1952 I had an opportunity to meetJean Calogero, introduced to me by a common friend.
He asked me for an opinion on a monograph of his, from which I deduced that his talent and his artistic work can have world resonance.

F. De Pisis
"On a rainy day in October 1952 I had an opportunity to meet Jean Calogero, introduced to me by a common friend.
He asked me for an opinion on a monograph of his, from which I deduced that his talent and his artistic work can have world resonance."

GINO SEVERINI

Testimony - 1953

I met J. Calogero in 1947, the year when he settled to Paris coming there from Sicily.
During a meeting in my studio he showed me some drawings of his, temperas and some paintings done on cardboard because he told he could not afford to paint on canvas.
He wanted my judgment and since I noticed a lot of talent, I reassured him on the certain success of his future, and realising he was very hard up I encouraged him by telling him about my odyssey which had begun back in 1910 against hunger together with my friends Picasso, Modigliani, Soutine, Kisling and many others.
I put him in touch with some galleries and still today remember that his pallor and discouragement vanished because he saw in me a fraternal friend.


G. Severini
"I met J. Calogero in 1947, the year when he settled to Paris coming there from Sicily.
During a meeting in my studio he showed me some drawings of his, temperas and some paintings done on cardboard because he told he could not afford to paint on canvas."

LEONARDO SCIASCIA

Testimony - 1970

I would say, here, that Calogero is a surrealist such as could have been born in Sicily; one who does not operate “l’épanchement du rêve dans la vie réelle”, but totally escapes from real life.
For some elements he can make you think of Delvaux: the amazement from disinterred statues of women, the nineteenthcentury oil lamps, which are inserted in perspectives and planes, but spent and left there as if to signify that now “les vierges sages” are no longer wise and that la vie sacrée is now desecrated and dark. Except that in Delvaux the desecration, the madness, is all in the senses and wants to free itself from sex: like someone who is too involved in and agitated by it, like those two characters in Brancati’s Bell’Antonio that on the last page of the book burst into tears over their different misery at being men, over their different drama faced with the woman.
Born in Catania, where the whole city acts as a chorus to the drama of Bell’Antonio, and where with a terrible crescendo thinking about woman is like the implacable descent of the magma of Etna, Calogero dreams of a lost paradise, a world of innocence in which man’s senses only know and enjoy the gift of the fruits.


L. Sciascia
"I would say, here, that Calogero is a surrealist such as could have been born in Sicily; one who does not operate “l’épanchement du rêve dans la vie réelle”, but totally escapes from real life.
For some elements he can make you think of Delvaux: the amazement from disinterred statues of women, the nineteenthcentury oil lamps, which are inserted in perspectives and planes, but spent and left there..."

PATRIZIA CALOGERO

Testimony for my father

Jean Calogero: so many have spoken of him, will speak of him, and admire him. Others contest him: the artist, the surrealist. For me, just my father.
One is fortunate “to experience” an artist. As an adult, today I understand the exceptionality of what, as a child, I considered normal.
I think that being an artist is not a way of being: one is born an artist.
From childhood my father had shown a particular inclination for drawing and he was incredibly attracted by it, he told me. He felt the need to engrave (indiscriminately with coloured pieces of chalk or charcoal) and to transfer his art anywhere: on walls, on the ground, in school notebooks, on pieces of sheets stolen from his mother. Instead of going to play in the streets with his peers like all children in the world, he preferred to isolate himself and to give vent to his childish fantasies, on pieces of paper found in the street, and he created marvellous things that only he could feel and see because they were born from inside him.
His family was very poor and everyone in it tried to contribute to the family’s needs by doing any kind of job – including humble ones – but with honesty and dignity. When he was just over 6 years he began to work with a cobbler. His task was to pick up all the nails that the other workers dropped. It was a monotonous job that broke his back through being bent down all the time, but his great satisfaction was to hand over to his mother the 5 lire of his humble pay. This job did last very long because his boss surprised him while, crouching down on his legs with the nails in his hand, he was creating doodles on the floor: he was dismissed immediately. He did many other jobs but in his heart he always had his true passion: art.
In the morning he went to school and in the afternoon to work, but as soon as he returned home in the evening, he shut himself away from everything and everyone and began to draw, allowing his imagination to materialize in forms and colours. Only at those moments did he feel really satisfied. “Those instants were my life,” he told me “and my life was waiting for those instants.” Meanwhile the years went by and his thirst for painting grew more and more until he realised that the time had come to do something. He turned to an illustrious Catania family that sent him with a letter of introduction to a well-known Catania painter, a very valid artist and a great man: Roberto Rimini.
In him he found not only a teacher and an affectionate friend but also the father that he had not had. With his help he made big progress, and encouraged by him he enrolled at art school in Catania and started to attend it until – just when he thought his sufferings were over – the Second World War broke out, forcing him to interrupt his studies. They were terrible years and a lot of people like him suffered hunger, thirst, humiliations, cold and poverty. These moral wounds of his never really healed.
Luckily my father came out of the war unscathed and in 1947 with the courage of a person who has nothing to lose and has the audacity of youth, he decided to go to Paris. He had no money and did not know the language, but had the resoluteness of a lion and wanted – rather had, at all costs – to realize his artistic ideal. The first years were hard: in Paris the great masters of world painting were triumphing. What hopes could a twenty-year-old youth from Catania have in that metropolis? But as everyone knows, when you are young, you are rich inside. With great willpower he wanted to exploit his gift, and destiny too seemed to have become his ally when at the Italian consulate he met Monsieur Cabeccia, a kind gentleman from Bologna that not only immediately believed in him and his talent but gave him big financial help and introduced him to the painter Gino Severini.
He proudly participated in a collective exhibition entitled “Italian Painters in Paris” organized by the Italian consulate and on this occasion not only realised – with legitimate satisfaction – that his paintings revealed individual personality and originality and were noticed by the most curious visitors but also had the opportunity to meet the great Filippo De Pisis and the writer Pitigrille.
He then began to work with a Parisian gallery that also operated in the United States. The miracle was taking place: what he had always desired as a child was coming true. He was getting himself a name in the great world of art!
He became the grateful friend of illustrious personalities like Raul Dufy, Maurice Utrillo and Fernand Leger. In 1951 Bing Crosby, fascinated by his style, his unique colours and his explosive and incisive personality, at the Madsen gallery in Paris bought several paintings of his and very enthusiastically promised he would organize exhibitions for him in New York and Los Angeles.
He kept his promise and in 1952 my father set out from Paris for the USA with an enviable contract and with his exhibitions was incredibly successful. Gary Cooper, Judy Garland, Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck had become clients and admirers of his works and in their private collections wanted at least one painting of his! The sojourn in Los Angeles remained impressed in his memory as the most beautiful period of his life.


The ensuing years were a continual ascent towards success: by now he had become “a name” in the world of art and did exhibitions in almost every country in the world.
Paris always remained his second home and there, at the foot of Montmatre, at number 11 Boulevard de Clichy, he set up his studio, purchasing what had been Degas’ studio. The merchants he worked with gave him the French name Jean.
In 1958 the city of Paris gave him the silver Medal, the highest award for a living artist, which had already been given to Utrillo, Braque, Dufy, Derain and Picasso, and in 1959 he was put in the famous Benezit dictionary of art. My father was a lucky man and for me he is proof that life can change for the better: he was born poor in a family too busy surviving to be able to give him that love which his sensitive mind needed. He died serene, satisfied, happy in spirit and soul, surrounded by and full of our love. It was his karma. He pursued his dreams and turned them into reality.
He was not really present as a father and nevertheless his presence-absence rendered unique my brother’s life and mine, colouring it with that magic that others “experience” in admiring his works. He was always there: you breathed in his presence among the sharp smell of paint and the colours that hovered around in the house, or in the magic of the classical music at a high volume that came from his studio. There was “surrealism” in the fantastic stories that he told us and that were about riders, winged horses, flying fishes, puppets and very beautiful princesses that hid feelings and emotions behind a mask. A great man, he delighted us with conjuring games and with skill, ability and magic caused objects taken from the television to appear in front of our incredulous children’s eyes, in his hands – always a little dirty with paint. He always wanted to give us that serenity he had been denied, spoiling us, cuddling us, making us believe in the existence of a parallel reality in which everything is possible: imagination.
Then there were the silences to observe when we gathered at table for lunch. He came up from his studio and sat with us but, at first, he sat in silence looking into empty space, towards a fixed point. My mother said we were not to disturb him with questions or anything else, because he was still in “his world.” In effect it had to be so, because, sitting opposite him and able to observe every expression on his face, I saw him distant from us. I have always wondered exactly where life began and where dream, and what was the thin dividing line between his fantasies and us…
My father was a cultured man and read a lot – art books, and texts in French on reincarnation, on Indian philosophy. In my opinion he succeeded in freeing himself from so many slaveries and mental conditionings to go beyond the material. He was a simple person, reserved, methodical, organized, a person with set habits; he found his happiness in little daily things – like going to Piazza Castello to chat with simple people or taking crumbs to feed the pigeons.
One afternoon, a few years before he died, I went to look for him in the piazza because I had to tell him something. I found him dozing on a bench in the sun, with his bag full of pieces of bread in his hand and a lot of pigeons nearby. I adored him so much at that moment. He conveyed to me a serenity that I will never forget.
My father loved order but in his own way. I could define it “calm chaos.”
He scattered around sketches of his pictures, notes of every kind, on the carpet in the studio. We had to follow a careful route through the rooms before getting to him and his easel.
No one was to clean or tidy up in there: it would have altered a perfect balance. If you didn’t know my father he gave the impression of being introverted, sulker, even a bit detached and a bit of a snob. Actually he was a wag, always ready with a joke, amiable towards those he knew well. You could never understand when he spoke if he was being serious or joking.
Creating currents of emotional energy around the human magnetic field must necessarily correspond to the mental, emotional and physical attitudes of each of us. Every person will only receive the impulses corresponding to his or her own sensibility and will capture the impulses that correspond to his or her degree of internal evolution. I think that a work of art changes depending on the person observing it. It is absolute and endless space miraculously contained in a smooth piece of canvas, a sort of simultaneous translation into the language of the emotions.
Artists are pure beings in their souls, ready to perceive and to give every stimulus that has come to their minds, to capture and transpose onto canvas the reality that surrounds us and that we do not observe anymore because we are distracted, disorientated and absent. My father taught me to understand all this.

P. Calogero
"Jean Calogero: so many have spoken of him, will speak of him, and admire him. Others contest him: the artist, the surrealist. For me, just my father.
One is fortunate “to experience” an artist. As an adult, today I understand the exceptionality of what, as a child, I considered normal.
I think that being an artist is not a way of being: one is born an artist."