Piero Paolo Calzolari was born in Bologna in 1943. He lives and works in Lisbon.
He passed his childhood and adolescence in Venice, the Byzantine art heritage and particular light of which left an indelible mark on the future artist. In 1965 he returned to Bologna and took a studio in Palazzo Bentivoglio; here he made his first paintings and also hosted shows by other artists, presenting the first 8mm and Super8 films by Ari Marcopoulos, Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, and Mario Schifano, and meeting such people as Allen Ginsberg, Julian Beck, Luigi Ontani, Raymond Hains, and Chet Baker. From 1966 to 1967 he undertook his first performance works ( for example Il filtro e benvenuto all’angelo) which involved the public’s direct participation in the work, a process defined by Calzolari as “the activation of space”, and which employed a working method typical of his later output: the “passionate acts”.
From 1967, when he moved to Urbino, and 1972 Calzolari continued to travel to Paris, New York, and Berlin where he developed his artistic vision and established the parameters of his sculptures. In this period he became associated with the Arte Povera movement, and he wrote La casa ideale (1968) which was to find its fulfilment in a series of works that are considered by many to represent the essence of this movement. In the same period he made a lengthy series of works with ice and neon lights, including Oroscopo come progetto della mia vita (1968), and the Gesti series (1968-1969) in which the formation of frost on the forms, indicating the passing of time, demonstrates an alchemical transformation of the material. And so the objects and materials used by the artist until 1967 (fire, ice, lead, tin, salt, moss, and tobacco) were used once again side by side with luminous elements, reminiscences of the polished marble in Venice. From 1972 onwards the artist concentrated on a deeply unconventional kind of painting.
He now favoured such “supports” as flannel or cardboard sheets glued to canvas; he juxtaposed painterly marks and real objects, such as small paper boats or toy trains travelling endlessly around the same track. Calzolari’s painting was often linked to the physical involvement of people: in Berlin, for example, he created a series of works/performances (collected together in the book Day After Day, a Family Life) such as Usura amore e misericordia (1972-1974) in which the artist, overturning any kind of formalism, raised everyday ritual onto the plane of aesthetic experience and of the horizontal relationship with the world and history. His development, despite his evident closeness to the contemporary production of Arte Povera artists (above all that of Mario Merz and Jannis Kounellis), Conceptual Art, and American Post-minimalism, was characterised by some very personal elements: the wish to saturate the senses, his way of making visible the data of abstract thought and the essence of things, and his particular attention to the fragility of objects and materials.
From 1973 onwards he made frequent journeys from Bologna to Paris; he settled in Milan for eight years where he continued his parallel activities of painting, sculpture, and performance. Finally he moved to Turin and made installations for the Tucci Russo gallery consisting of large-scale paintings and performances. In about 1982 he left Turin for Vienna where he concentrated above all on painting and in 1984, due to the quality of its light, he decided to return to Montefeltro, where he still lives and works.
Calzolari has been invited to take part in many residency schemes abroad, above all in France (La Ferme du Buisson, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Atelier Calder, Le Fresnoy) during which he has worked in the field of dance, interesting himself in the study of the relationship between space, the body, and time, in this way further developing his performance work.