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An Ambassador of Peace in a Hectic World (Yang Wei)

Italian painter Marco S. Mallamaci and his art

About seven hundred years ago, an Italian named Marco Polo once visited China and wrote about his travels, taking with him visions of the exotic Orient. Today, another Italian named Marco has come to China bringing with him works of art depicting the fraternity of the human race and showing us the world of culture as seen through the eyes of Europeans. I do not know if these two Marcos have any connection, but I do know that they have both had a longing for China and intertwined their lives with this land, creating a story of cultural exchange.

Italy and China both have long histories. As two of most early emerging civilizations in the world, these two countries engaged in trade and sent envoys as early as the Han dynasty, during the Roman imperial period, expressing a mutual interest. China's Book of the Later-Han and Book of the Jin and others have records of these exchanges and many Roman historical works also make allusions to China.

It just may be because of the ancient connections between these two civilizations that make their cultural ties today so strong. Almost all missionaries, such as Saint Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci, who came to China during the Ming Dynasty were Italian. Their arrival brought not only Western religion, but also Western culture, art and scientific thought; these have all helped China to conceive of itself as a modern nation. This has given new life to an ancient civilization in a larger world, creating countless new avenues for cultural thinking.

The artist Marco is by profession a diplomat, similar to Giuseppe Castiglione who came to China long ago. Castiglione, a clergyman sent to China in 1715 by the Italian Jesuits as a missionary of culture, was a painter. This is quite similar to Marco, but the difference between the two is that Marco creates paintings that are of his own expression, while Castiglione, who painted by order, was bound by the religious nature of his mission.

Marco was born in Italy in 1948. He moved to Canada in 1968, receiving his diploma in literature from Windsor University. From 1980 to 1999, he moved through various countries including Belgium, Ethiopia, Great Britain and Colombia. In 1999 he arrived in China, studying and working in Beijing.

With this kind of experience Marco is no longer a simple Italian, but a citizen of the world; though he represents Italy, he thinks globally. It is my feeling that Marco's choice to become an artist is a desire to overcome some of the limitations of language. There are just as many barriers in the world as there are languages; painting, therefore, is a way of overcoming these barriers and directly conveying ideas; the presentation of images builds a bridge connecting the viewer to the presenter's deepest feelings.

Marco has not produced many works. Since his first painting "Latin America: The General U$ed" was released in 1984, he has painted about 30 works. This is because Marco is very demanding of himself. He does not treat painting as a way to vent his feelings, but as a very intellectual exercise, using his cultural ideals, realizations and true consideration in every work. So, although the number of Marco's works is few, the subject matter covers a very broad spectrum; from love, to politics, from philosophy to religion. In this way, he has taken painting and made it a way of recording life, not only to promote exchange, but also to create a spiritual refuge for his journey through the world.

When viewing Marco's paintings, one cannot help but be astonished at his use of artistic imagination. Just as he combines mystical, intangible feelings, linking them with the physical world, his canvas is not simply an image, but an inclusion of countless layers of allegorical meanings. His unorthodox methods of expression have eliminated the institutional, constricted nature of painting and have allowed me to deeply experience his uncanny creativity. However, although Marco is fond of fantasy and persists in expressing fantastical things, his paintings are not without meaning and contain a very strong sense of directed realism, screened by his allusive artistic style. He challenges us to use the same artistic imagination to understand the meaning behind his works.

When labeling his works, we often refer to Marco's style as symbolic. Symbolism means that the theme of the work is not directly obvious and is conveyed through metaphor and allusion. This style was once a typical mark of modern art which, after shaking off the yoke of narrative themes, returned to the aesthetic. Marco is not a professional artist and because of that he has not needed to follow the trends in the art world and has remained true to his heart, applying all types of styles and methods congenial to him.

In Marco's works, we can see the influence of masters such as Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani. The Author, however, did not stop with this: he has been able to absorb the abstract abilities of these masters and the wonderful use of symbolism to fully express the reality of today's world and his own personal realizations.

Through this kind of abstract collection, pain becomes the motivation for expression; these issues are converted into inspiration and provide Marco an unhurried and calm frame of mind that allows him to look farther into human suffering and world conflict. His paintings convey us the concept of universal love which is also expressed by his original signature: two hearts superimposed.

His art constantly exudes his sense of caring and love for the chaotic world around him. In his works "Latin America: The General U$ed" and "Cheery Italy", as well as in the other works concerning vitality, what is most interesting is that his use of Symbolism does not hide problems but uncovers, in a wonderful way, the underlying connections.

Likewise, in "Latin America: The General U$ed" there is no blood or sign of political strife, but Marco takes the shape of South America, turning it into a general wearing a soldier's cap, while a disconnected Isthmus of Panama takes the shape of a rifle pointed at the General's head, hinting at the imbalance of international political power. In another work, "Cheery Italy" the Italian peninsula becomes the naked body of a woman, with the Italian flag as her skirt, about to fall off, representing the pushing away and stripping of that country's ancient culture.

In another work, "Celestial Empire: The Bull of the Third Millennium"*, borrowing the Chinese expression meaning "economic growth" (lit. Bull city), Marco takes the map of China in a bright "China red" and from it creates a bull raising its head abruptly, representing the wild economic growth there.

Marco's paintings not only allow Marco to tell the story of our modern world, but also show his transcendent perspective, liberated from the self, able to be a just and virtuous voice spreading peace and love throughout the world.

This article, written by Chinese art critic Mr. Yang Wei, edited on the magazine "Chinese Art", Edition 41, dated 15 Oct 2005, has been translated by Mr. Joshua Dominick.
* The art work "Celestial Empire: The Bull of the Third Millennium" was shown at The Second Beijing International Art Biennale. 

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