Enzo Assenza was born in Pozzallo, in the province of Ragusa, in 1915. The son of a painter and decorator, he began modelling clay as a child. After the family moved to Syracuse in 1927, he often visited the local Archaeological Museum, becoming accustomed to the forms of archaic and classical Greek sculpture and becoming increasingly convinced that he wanted to pursue a career as a sculptor.
From Sicily to Rome
Together with his brother, he left Syracuse for Rome in 1933, with the intention of furthering his training and opening a studio. In the capital, he immediately came into contact with the climate of the return to order, broadening his inclination towards a formalism profoundly linked to Primitivist sculpture, which did not conceal a sincere contact with the language of Arturo Martini.
His first years in Rome, when he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, were characterised by a frenzied plastic research, which ended in the formulation of full-bodied and vibrant masses, often created by working with tuffaceous stone, terracotta and other similar materials and capable of giving the sculpture a sense of mysterious spiritual tension.
Soon noticed by Margherita Sarfatti and other sculptors such as Pietro Canonica, who praised his precocious material sensitivity, the Sicilian artist, not yet twenty years old, was invited to hold his first solo exhibition at Palazzo Torlonia in 1934. After receiving a two-year scholarship and a space in Via Flaminia, in 1935 Enzo Assenza made his official debut at the II Quadriennale in Rome with the terracotta sculpture Maternity, while the following year he was invited to the Venice Biennale, where he exhibited Seated woman, again in terracotta. The solemn and timeless gestures of these archaic figures filled his entire production in the 1930s and 1940s, with his appearances at the Rome Quadrennial, the Venice Biennial and the Fascist Fine Arts Union Exhibitions in Rome, Milan and Naples.
At the same time, the artist devoted himself to engraving and charcoal drawing as can be seen in several graphic works presented during the 1930s, including figure studies. At the 1938 Mostra Sindacale del Lazio, he presented some of his most significant sculptures: Working mother, Maruzza, Boy’s head and Portrait of a little girl. In 1943 he was again at the Quadriennale in Rome, with a Portrait in terracotta.
After the war, Enzo Assenza exhibited again at the 1955 Venice Biennial, presenting the ceramic sculpture Cat, which represents his stylistic direction in his mature years: the use of varied materials and a primitivism still very much present, even in the monumental works executed for various cities, such as The Immaculate Conception for Manila Cathedral in 1959 or the ceramic apse of St. Joseph’s Church in Hartford in 1969.