Mario Ceroli was born in 1938 in Castel Frentano, in the province of Chieti. Moving to Rome, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts under the guidance of Leoncillo Leonardi. In 1952 he began his collaboration with Pericle Fazzini and Ettore Colla, devoting himself mainly to ceramic sculpture, inserting himself into the Informal and declining his works in an essentially decorative key. He made his debut six years later, on the occasion of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Rome, where he obtained the Young Sculpture Award.
The choice of wood as an identifying medium
Around 1959, Mario Ceroli, dissatisfied with his latest ceramic works, began experimenting with wood which, from this moment on, became the characteristic medium of the author’s production. The knowledge of this material passes first from the initial informal declinations to then reach the peculiar shapes cut out of large portions of rough wooden boards.
Rhythmically repeated figures and shapes, images of everyday life, iconic reworkings of the history of past art and advertising populate his large wooden sculptures, which pass from two-dimensionality to three-dimensionality, gradually involving the viewer and also linking up with the reiterative process of pop art.
The Last Supper, a work exhibited at the La Tartaruga Gallery in Rome in 1964 and now preserved in the National Gallery, is made up of a series of wooden silhouettes representing the twelve seated apostles. The central space, which should be occupied by Jesus, remains empty, almost explicitly inviting the viewer to sit down, in a sort of self-portrait ad imitationem Christi.
In the same exhibition he also exhibits other works including Arco trionfale, La scala, Piper, Ombre and Goldfinger. By now the shaped wood is his recognizable sign of him, almost never colored and expanding in the spectator’s space, thanks to the conception of double face works, which interrupt the absolute verticality and frontality of classical sculpture, also denying the need for a pedestal.
The spectator’s space
This conception is best manifested in the work Cassa Sistina, awarded at the 1966 Venice Biennale. It is a wooden box, imagined to carry the Sistine frescoes: an ironic and highly contingent work, which can therefore be crossed by the viewer to all intents and purposes an “environment” that makes him participate in the early developments of Arte Povera (he will also be present at the Arte Povera Im / Spazio exhibition at Bertesca Gallery in Genoa, curated by Germano Celant).
It also expresses the profound relationship that Mario Ceroli has with the Renaissance and which is also found in Leonardo’s Man and in Dante’s House, a precious work full of references to antiquity, in which, among shadows, silhouettes, gestures, traps and domestic space, the profile of a female portrait by Pollaiolo appears.
In this almost theatrical elaboration, lies the artist’s interest in the world of scenography: in the seventies he took care of the staging of Richard III for the Teatro Stabile of Turin, directed by Luca Ronconi, with Vittorio Gassman in the role of Richard .
Participation in the Vitality of the Negative in Italian Art 1960-1970 exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome also dates back to 1970. In the eighties, he began to combine the use of wood with that of glass, giving the works an unusual chromatic effect also through plays of transparencies, as found in the great wave of Maestrale of 1992.
He exhibits all over the world, from Los Angeles to Vienna, from Sao Paulo to Paris. He is also involved in a series of public works: he creates the interior furnishings, the baptismal font and the ambo of the Church of the Holy Mother of the Redeemer of Tor Bella Monaca and the bronze Horse of the RAI in Saxa Rubra.