The life and career of Vincenzo Agnetti are symbolized by his self-portrait Quando mi vidi non c’ero (When I Saw Myself I Wasn’t There). As a result, it is perhaps difficult to reconstruct it in any detail without losing something important: hence the decision to use many of the artist’s own words, even if they may sometimes seem disjointed, like a reflection in a mirror that immediately disappears.
Vincenzo Agnetti was born in Milan on 14 September 1926. He graduated at the Brera Academy and then attended the Piccolo Teatro school. There, when he was just 21, he met Bruna Soletti, the woman who would be his partner and helper for life, almost his alter ego. He started working in the field of Art Informel and poetry at a very young age, although nothing remains of this period except his account of it: “What I did, thought and heard, I’ve now forgotten by heart: this is the first authentic document.”
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His earliest works, which seem to have been lost, fuelled the deep and meaningful career of an artist who produced most of his work over the course of just under fifteen years, from 1967 to 1981. Although these ideas, reflections, painterly and poetic actions no longer exist, they obscurely and methodically formed the course of a rich and concentrated experience that might otherwise seem to have exploded suddenly.
They are memories that stand out in the minds of those who were closest to him, in the mind of a daughter, establishing as a place of belonging. His beautiful paintings on the walls and his pottery around the house recall clips from his life stored in distant memories, transformed into places of the mind. The memory of his voice coming from the room next door, reading Proust in the evening before saying goodnight, drawing me into a mental world whose content was unknown to me as a child, but whose intonation was packed with meaning, is a part of my mind that is difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe. No visible traces remain of any of this.
“Culture is learning to forget, just like what happens when we eat. However well prepared, we soon forget the flavour of food, allowing the energy we derive from it to take over. In a certain sense we forget the flavours, poisonings and pleasures of eating by heart, moving our legs, our arms, our heads forward more freely.”
The concept of forgetting by heart represents and unites the first phase of Agnetti’s life and career. Although we can no longer see or hear him, we can appreciate this aspect of his art and life. For example all his most important emotional and work-related experiences have been forgotten by heart, but emerge as the artistic results of a hidden process.
The period he spent with just a handful of friends, including Castellani and Manzoni, with whom he shared ideals, plans and artistic aspirations, dates to the late 1950s and early 1960s. His private life was also permeated by this intellectual fervour, which was complete and structured, but had yet to show itself.