Elisa Montessori: Horizons

An independent language

Camera con vista (1982) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

Artistic education

Elisa Montessori was born in Genoa in 1931 and took an interest in drawing since childhood. She earned a degree in Humanities in 1953 at the La Sapienza University.

After graduation, she trained in Rome as a draughtswoman and painter in Mirko Basaldella's studio, who in those years were in direct contact with the Origin Group of Alberto Burri, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Ettore Colla.

With Mirko Basaldella, she began experimenting with techniques such as egg tempera, mosaic, engraving, goldsmithing, embossing.

Meeting Eastern Cultures

In 1955, Elisa Montessori, met Olivetti engineer Mario Tchou, they got married shortly after and had two daughters. Their home in Milan at Cappuccio Street was designed by the architect Ettore Sottsass. After the premature death of her husband in 1961, she returned to Rome for good.

The encounter with Chinese culture will irreversibly mark her artistic path. Refined in its sign and composition, Montessori's research traces the influence of two worlds: the cultural fertility of the West and the more sign-based and hidden one of the East.

I grappoli d'uva sono le cerniere di un vicino lontano (1985) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

An independent language

Since the 1950s, Montessori has used different languages and stylistic trends, striking a balance between pure abstraction and figurative evocation, without ever fully endorsing a specific trend or movement.

She builds an independent, seductive, strong language that goes hand in hand with her own path of female emancipation - without ever falling into the error of a superficial gender differentiation.

Montessori's gaze on the world immediately moves to a compulsive and free hand to reproduce "not what you see in front of you but what you know". Hers is a cumulative and subtractive stroke that shifts the horizon further and further.

Gruppo di cose vicine (1985) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

People and Nature

Her sign derives from nature, understood in its incessant becoming, in its constant germination and translated into an automatic gesture - as happens in eastern art. The landscape is transformed into lines with spontaneous and imperceptible variations.

Disordine (1985) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

Elisa Montessori is interested in imperfection, chance and irregularity.

An example of this is the "Tropismi" (1975): India ink drawings made on juxtaposed square cards, on which she draws almost reticular abstract textures that bring out a series of aerophotogrammetry, giving life to a natural morphology of land seen from above.

Gruppo di cose lontane (1985) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

Her famous work "La terra dei Masai", exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1982, conveys the vision of a distant land, a horizon of ochre sand, clouds and the reflection of the sun, all built from a symphony of light compositional signs.

The description of the void, the absence and the unknown, generate a landscape in between the plausible and the dreamlike.

Ordine (1985) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

Literature and illustration

Mythological tales and correspondences with literary texts - deriving from a privileged relationship that the artist has with literature and poetry - are equally emblematic in the works of Elisa Montessori.

Ordine (1985) by Montessori ElisaLa Galleria Nazionale

So much so that, since the 1980s, the role of illustration and the relationship between image and text in both poetry and literature has led the artist to create various works inspired by the work of Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Patrizia Valduga, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Ingeborg Bachmann and Laura Lilli.

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