Carlo Zinelli

CARLO ZINELLI was an outsider artist who suffered from schizophrenia. He was born in the Italian countryside near Verona but left for the city in 1934. He volunteered for the Spanish Civil War in 1939, but his schizophrenia quickly revealed itself, and he was placed on medical leave after only two months. He was committed to the psychiatric hospital in Verona in 1947 and spent ten years in almost total isolation. Carlo’s life took a turn ten years later, when he and twenty other patients were admitted to the painting atelier created by sculptors Michael Noble and Pino Castagna and psychiatrist Mario Marini. In this atelier, patients were encouraged to paint or sculpt freely. (via Wikipedia)

BORN: July 2, 1916, Italy

DIED: January 27, 1974 (aged 57), Verona, Italy

CARLO ZINELLI Untitled (no date) via Cavin-Morris Gallery
CARLO ZINELLI Untitled (1967) via The Gallery of Everything
CARLO ZINELLI Untitled (1969) via The Gallery of Everything

Carlo is one of the most historically significant Outsider Artists, and his work testifies to the strong connection between language and creativity. Born in Verona in 1916, Carlo suffered trauma in the Spanish Civil War, and also during World War II. He was hospitalized for schizophrenia in 1947, and is noted to have experienced great difficulty with basic communication. He began to make paintings that have long been celebrated not only for their undeniable visual power, but also for evidencing strong linguistic patterns. His classic oeuvre reminds us that for Outsiders Artists, art and language are often experienced as the same process.

In 1955, Carlo was observed drawing on the wall of his asylum courtyard with nails and bricks. He was encouraged to make art by a visiting artist, and soon began to flourish in the hospital art studio provided for patients, which provided paper, pen, gouache, and and creative sanctuary. His paintings are cryptic, visually dynamic puzzles in which figures, animals, architectural structures, and language fragments combine to suggest strong, yet untranslatable utterances in a mysterious language known only to the artist. 

Scholar Maria Azola has identified four distinct periods of his work: an initial phase (1957-60) during which he began to draw and paint his signature silhouetted figures in ordered clusters; a second phase (1960-64) in which the artist worked on a larger scale to develop more complex compositions, including collage; a third phase (1965-7) marked by a loosening of his previous system of linguistic/compositional ordering; and a fourth, phase (1968-74) in which he produced his most mature, integral works. Carlo left a legacy of over 3,000 works that continue to invite us into a rich yet unpredictable conversation.

by Jenifer P. Borum via

See more work by Carlo Zinelli.

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