Sculptors of ancient Greece were as concerned with the expression of spiritual freedom as Socrates, Plato and other philosophers of the time. Genuine artistic endeavour therefore allows the observer to taste a world beyond plain sense perception and the artist to transcend reality, sometimes even his or her own.
The sculptor does not duplicate nature, but interprets it through inspiration and design. Internal reflection alone, however, cannot achieve the same completeness that was attained by the likes of Pheidias and Praxiteles. An artist must sometimes become the philosopher, and use his work as a medium not only to convey, but also to impact the world.
It is in this spirit that Casimiro Piazza transformed his art into a discipline of reflection for his students, as well as a source of charity for people in need.
Art as a must
Piazza is a self-taught expert in his field, whose attraction to craftsmanship dates back to his early childhood. His modest origins did hamper development of his real calling until much later on in life. However, he later turned his longings as a young man for learning into a reality for many other young and striving sculptors by founding the School of Sculpture in Ticino, which helps students to explore, refine, and “carve-out” the inner sculptor. Piazza was born in 1944 in the Swiss-Italian village of Sonvico to a family of eleven children, of whom only six are alive today. Presumably, it was financial hardship that drove young Casimiro to an early working life – by the age of 18 he had had a multitude of jobs, including shepherd, assistant at a heating plant, and postman.
Killing time with creativity is a good solution to boredom. While in the pastures as a teenager, Piazza discovered pleasure in woodwork, painting and sketching. In due course, he began to befriend teachers at the Professional School of Lugano-Trevano, absorbing the whatever knowledge they had to dispense. For years, he attended the workshops of various painters and sculptors mastering the particulars of pastels, tempera, acrylics, watercolours, and oil paints. It was essentially the instruction he received from his life-long friend and maestro Pepo Frigerio that inspired him to gradually veer away from realism (in his work), a decision that culminated in the abstract design of his sculptures today. In 1974, at the age of 30, Piazza began his official training in sculpture, with the intention of perfecting his understanding of granite, wood, gypsum and other durable yet malleable materials.
Coming of age
Personal and collective exhibitions of Piazza’s work have succeeded each other rapidly, particularly since the 1990s, at which point he left his other job at the post office. His paintings, which typically capture the rustic charms of the Ticino Alps and traditional architecture of the canton, as well as his major sculptures, such as the recent reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, are on sale to worldwide Piazza enthusiasts and art patrons. Moreover, his production of commissioned portraits for both private and public institutions, from banks and governments to schools and individuals, have further honed his reputation. His international popularity as an artist naturally increased his standing with the local cultural scene.
As a member of the Society of Fine Arts, he worked with Clem Bernasconi to establish the Association of Painters and Sculptors in Lugano. And age only increased his productivity. During the past decade, he began to devote more and more time to painting and sculpting, a concentration that led not only to the creation of over 300 new works, but also to the founding of his pet project: the school of sculpture.
Piazza portrays his school as a personal dream that went unrealised for too many years. In November of 2005, he decided that the best place to establish the school would be the Villa Luganese, the setting of his boyhood shepherding, which he describes as situated “just below the majestic Denti della Vecchia”. The school doubles as his atelier and showroom, which can be visited by anyone interested in viewing his work. The courses are open to most: there is a minimum age of eight. Some classes consist only of adults, some are for all ages, and some strictly children. The project has grown organically, attracting not only people seeking to liberate the sculptor within, but also region primary, secondary and art-specific schools, which now send classes to Piazza’s workshops. Until recent years, his woodwork instruction involved mainly the participation of the local elderly. Currently, however, children of all ages are frequenting his classes from schools in Canobbio, Morcote, Pregassona, and Castione, in addition to students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera and Verona.
Piazza offers a varied instruction in fine sculptural techniques, but woodwork has been one of his main focuses. Other techniques include clay modelling, the preparatory techniques needed to create with chalk, and painting. Acrylics, which can be manipulated to bond to multiple surfaces in differing conditions, are his principal tools in canvas work. His courses in wood, marble and stone cover both the craft – how to physically shape the material – and creative training. The latter involves communicating theory, i.e., identifying inspiration and designing an approach, in figurative terms, as an outlet. Therefore, the purpose of his most popular workshop is not only to convey the physical art of cutting, carving, and buffing wood, but also to inspire a familiarity with the broader process: preparing, defining and justifying an idea; translating thought to sketch; and finally transferring the physical knowledge, like an equation, from black-board to creation.
Considering the capacity for selfdiscovery and creative-design, it is little surprise that schools and students have respectively described the workshops as “personally advantageous” and “addictive”. The Greeks observed gods within their blocks of marble; to them, sculpture was the art of liberation, and the same sense of liberation is no doubt felt by some of the sculpture school’s students. As the famous American journalist and author, Lillian Whiting, wrote in 1913, the study of sculpture “creates for one who gives himself to it a new and more lofty sphere of thought; it introduces him to a greater breadth of intellectual interests; it inspires all life and endeavour with new and loftier significance”. And for Casimiro Piazza, no doubt, birthing the creative genie in his students is a way to achieve harmony in the continuity of his own life.
The impact of Casimiro Piazza’s work stretches further still than the shifting fancies of the soul; revenue from his workshops and shows are typically donated to associations for people in need, both in Ticino and abroad. In the case of his exhibition at the Capannone di Pregassona, funds were donated to the Global Foundation for Children with Heart Problems, as well as to the poor infants of Bolivia.
Article by Kyle Packer