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Between Pop and Zen: Felice Nittolo and The Case of the Fiat 500

On 01, May 2012 | 4 Comments | In Artists, Featured | By Nancie

Felice Nittolo Fiat 500 2007

With this article we introduce Ravenna-based art curator, critic, teacher, guide and blogger Luca Maggio who will be a regular contributor here on MAN.   In his blog,, Maggio covers the very center of the emerging Ravenna mosaic scene.  His writing is always thought-provoking and we are thrilled to have him aboard.   Many thanks to MAN’s Miss Marble, Lillian Sizemore, for the translation.  Enjoy – Nancie.

One feature that has always fascinated me about Felice Nittolo’s artistic path is that he is both abstract and essential.  Take his youthful and programmatic manifesto of 1984, A-Ritmismo (A-Rhythmism) or the explosive pyrotechnics in his dripping mosaic patterns, or the andamento (flow) of his oblique, mini-cuneiform tesserae (pieces) of Sumerian ancestry which are so neatly ordered and spaced one to the other.

Emblemata 1 2002 Marble, ceramic, gold smalti.

Or even in his choice of three dimensional solids like the sphere and the cone completely covered with mosaic . . .

Omino 2005 Smalti, gold smalti, marble glass

Or in recent years, the diverse series Vestigia (Remains) in which the work becomes a ghost of itself, memories of the mosaic itself, obscured and almost withheld.  These are explorations into lyrical subtleties that  – over time – have led to numerous and consistent collaborations with the Japanese world and Zen in particular.

Vestige 2006 Gesso, paint, gold.

Compare and contrast this work to his forays into the Pop genre.  Here, Nittolo’s inherent playfulness is aroused by the symbols of the mainstream Western culture as he experiments with unions of unusual materials.  The West’s obsession with designer sneakers and brand name fashion inspired the mosaic coat he created at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle in the 1990s.

Mosaic Coat circa 1995

Later, Nittolo would summon Warhol’s Coca-Cola bottles, Nittolo heating and remolding bottles and arranging them on a wall where they would become a series of tesserae themselves, each in turn containing real glass mosaic smalti pieces, much of them red like the logo of the famous soft drink – a singular transaction of assimilation and conceptual exchange between form-color-identity – at the origins of glass – both container and contained.

So, Nittolo must have said, “Why not?” when he was put to the test to make a mosaic art-car for the “Ravenna 1007″ project.  Here was another Pop symbol of the 1900s and our time.  And not just any old car, but the legendary Fiat 500.

The result has been exhibited both in Tokyo and Turin during the Fiat 500 50th anniversary celebrations and launch of the new model.

But the story does not end here.

Yes, because Nittolo is an artist who not only likes to plunge down the river of creativity, he also likes to head upstream – maybe aboard his Kayak “Pilchuck 2007″, a work almost completely covered with mosaic.

Pilchuck 2007 16' Kayak, marble, smalti, gold leaf.

All this demonstrates once again Nittolo’s inspiration, his passion for mixed media and his experimental approach which is free from preconceived notions.  He is fully coherent that his idea is “expanded” by mosaic tesserae:  ”What is mosaic?” he told me in an old conversation, “a series of pieces, words or parts, a wide variety, ordered not according to a predetermined pattern, but arhythmic.”

Holocaust 2004 Smalti, thin set.

The arhythmia – described in his poetic manifesto of 1984 – focuses Nittolo’s work within the interstices, the intervals altogether varied and constant, the spaces filled with air and light, the pieces individually cut in a manner that is never the same but similar – occupying three-dimensional surfaces or wall pieces, often accompanied by a metallic half-moon, a kind of Zen artist’s signature, echoed in the doors of the Fiat 500 and in his small reinterpretations of the mosaics, applying a lightness to the Pop object that is both Eastern and personal.

Speaking of the East, in more than a few works on paper this Eastern influence is present.

Fiat 500 - The Return of a Legend, 2009

Nitollo uses red ink and a special Japanese calligraphy brush to mark out a symbol that is no longer a paint-letter, but the transformation  of an ideogram of the symbol-automobile, further influencing the calligraphic gestures, a product of time and concentration and rapid execution – the metaphoric result of Pop.

Kant said, “Art is a serious game,” and Nittolo enjoys multiplying the subject in question onto painted pottery – some small, some large – a kaleidoscope of Fiat 500 multiples, but they are different every time. The mosaic itself, moreover, the tesserae themselves are in this sense, and by their nature, multiples and the work of the artist is to reveal their hidden spirit and latent possibility.

In any case, a small golden Fiat 500 shows up on one of the black Vestigia on an ectoplasmic fixture of washed out memory and faint imprints, here appears a pop of gold – the mini 500 which, in the end, is a ghost of itself, of a model and an era. Today we can say, at least in the collective memory, it’s happy (felice).

Luca Maggio     January 14, 2012

NOTE:  The text presented here is included in the book Tessere – Words of Glass and Stone (2011, Angelo Longo, Publisher,  Grafical Ltd., Printer) and is a partial rewrite of an article regarding Nitollo’s Fiat which also appeared in Luca’s blog on August 26, 2010.


  • Website for Felice Nittolo here.
  • Tessere: Words of Glass and Stone available through Tabularasa here
  • PDF of Nittolo’s paper A-Ritmismo (A-Rhythmism) from 1984 including English translation here
  • Luca Maggio’s blog here


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  1. Helen Nock

    This article has made my day…wonderful. Revelation is all I can come up with right now.

    • Helen Nock

      …..supreme revelation :)

  2. The mosaic muse seems to enjoy inspiring artists to find various ways to trick out ancient (or mid-century) themes and images in contemporary fashion (or vice versa) – often with a playful touch. Happily, nothing is lost on Felice – or Luca – or Jim Bachor.

    • Nancie

      These three certainly don’t lack for inspiration! We must come up with a name for the Mosaic Muse . . . hmmmm . . . musing . . .

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