Italian master Mario Canali to hold first US art show in Los Angeles

To view Mario Canali’s art is to transport into a world of paradox, both delightful and disturbing. Featuring inquisitive human hybrids and surreal landscapes, Canali’s works are disruptive, edgy and innovative, as they were when he painted them in the 70s and 80’s. To gaze into the eyes of his creatures is like looking into the eyes of a lion, knowing you are safe only because they are caged. Canali’s hybrid humans not only catch the eye, they hold it spellbound.

In 1978, Canali’s first show in his native Italy featured oils of human hybrids in beautifully stark, colorful dreamscapes drawing critical praise. Comparisons to the medieval painter-priest, Hieronymus Bosch would be ongoing. Canali’s painting style ignited what would become a lifelong exploration of symbolism, archetypes, surrealism and many other philosophies. Canali’s commercial success was viable, as well.  Between 1977 and 1979, Canali sold nearly 100 of his oils, pastels, ink drawings and etchings.

Canali’s art works express symbolic stories to something deep in our DNA, inviting lingering looks. Each painting’s exploration of symbols and philosophy, presents a compelling image which Canali would make his signature style.

According to Canali, “The first paintings came from dreams especially images that appeared as I was falling asleep, during the hypnagogic state, between wakefulness and sleep. At that time my painting style was figurative, fantastic looking at symbolism and surrealism,” Canali laughed. “That kind of painting, in those years, went against the trend, that’s for sure.”

This was the first wave of Canali’s artistry. A consuming force was about to drive Canali to produce a prolific outpouring of work for the next three decades.
 After a decade of painting, Canali got wired. Computers emerged in the mid-eighties and Canali immersed himself in the digital world. Mastering computer technology, Canali produced Europe’s first digital art.

“Those were the years of the digital revolution, lasting until the mid nineties,” Canali said. “Having been one of those pioneers, it was both an exciting and rewarding adventure.” 

His pioneering digital art was the spark for Canali’s fascination with virtual reality. Moving to Milan, Canali became a founding member of the Correnti Magnetiche Research and Electronic Art Group. Inspired by Fritjof Capra's book, “The Tao of Physics”, Canali began integrating innovative scientific paradigms into his imagination, creating digital and animated works via computer. For the next decade, Correnti Magnetiche produced groundbreaking digital images and 3D animations to widespread appeal, earning awards at international exhibitions like Siggraph in Los Angeles, Imagina in Monte Carlo and Nastro d’Argento in Rome. Canali used the new technology in a variety of ways, producing, for example, a series of electronic games about pollution for the Italian Ministry of Environment.

Absorbed with the computers’ socio-psychological applications, Canali began working with a computer scientist to create his first interactive installation, Satori which featured the use of immersive virtual reality for each individual’s artistic and expressive purposes in 1993.

“Interactivity involves a relationship with the public. The study of states of mind and conscience, the mechanisms of emotion. This is why interactivity appeals to me,” Canali said at the time.

Working with Italy’s leading physicists, psychologists, engineers, software designers, musicians and film-makers, Canali wanted his interactive installations to enable people to experience a previously unknown awareness of their inner states. These invisible reactions were Canali’s impetus, his tools for creating interactive art. With Canali’s installations, participation is integral to the art. The art occurs as a result of the user participation with output based on the individuals’ involuntary bio-rhythmic responses.

Expanding the connections between art, science and technology, Canali’s installations received widespread European attention. Current Italian President Napolitano even participated in a demonstration. Now that Canali could bridge the human psyche, his curiosity about society burst wide open.

“I was inspired by the unanswered questions. Who is not satisfied?  Who has a dream, a talent not yet recognized,” Canali said. “The fundamental questions of who are we? What is this reality? Why we do what we do?  Is it books? Nature? The events that daily life gives us?  What is the beauty that excites us?”

Canali’s forte became firmly established as he created of over a dozen interactive installations using bio-rhythmic and human inputs. One installation evaluated scribbles or doodles on a surface. Another installation required user’s to put their heads into the virtual womb of a woman’s body.

By 2000, Canali had officially made the transition from artist innovator to thought leader. Italian universities offered doctorate classes in their design and architecture programs on Canali’s work. Canali also guest lectured at the Brera Fine Arts Academy and at the NABA Academy of Arts and Design in Milan.

During this time, Canali created a psycho-bar, with performer Xena Zupanic for experimentation and event production as interactivity continued to dominate his world. The hybrids of his early work still appeared in his digital art. But now Canali had a new hybrid, the interactive installation.

His art was no longer a solo effort from Canali’s hand to the canvas or computer. It was now participation based, created through the combination of involuntary biorhythms of the users, light, sound or music. Canali had discovered expression for a language that had been previously inaccessible in humans. Like the Rosetta Stone, Canali’s interactive installations gave us access to our inner language. Biorhythms accessed, harnessed interactively and made visible with Canali’s interactive furniture, lights and enclosures, using displays combining light, sound, images and/ or video.

Canali’s projects stayed focused on the expansion of socio-psycho parameters. He organized a series of meetings with philosophers focused on the conceptual understanding of the interaction of art, science and philosophy, the Arcnaut project, in 2004. Next, using technology and digital thought as a means of promoting social interaction, Canali designed the Cultural Entertainment Centre with the Reload Cultural Association. In Milan, Canali began a building restoration that would serve as his creative space for his research and development. This became Studio Canali where Canali works daily.

Throughout Europe, thousands have experienced Canali’s virtual art and interactive installations in venues ranging from traditional museums to fashion shows, technological festivals, psychology conventions, raves and technology shows. Canali is one of the world’s leading experts in avatars as well as in creating software capable of recognizing and interpreting biometric data. Canali, true to his Italian forebears, has become a 21st century Renaissance man; artist, designer, engineer, lecturer, philosopher and scientist.

With a half century of artistry in Europe behind him, Canali is showing his work stateside, for the first time in America, in Los Angeles this February.

To celebrate Canali’s arrival, the National Italian Americans Foundation (NIAF) and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Los Angeles join as hosts to welcome the artist at an opening reception and art show on Thursday night, February 11 from 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. during the Los Angeles Downtown Art Walk.
Several art works will be shown along with an interactive installation called Ritmi (Rhythm) and Korazone which are bio-rhythmic lights.

Featured graphite drawings are among the most complex Canali has ever accomplished. Several of Canali’s works were completed over a course of years. Canali started the graphite on panel, ‘Avatars Parlano Della Vita’ or ‘Avatars Talk about Life’ in 2002 and finished in 2008. The finished work is almost 5 feet long and 27 ½” wide.

“In recent black and white works is my vision of the world. The complexity, the different perspectives, the dance of interaction,” Canali said. “At some point, the work dictated its rules and what I had left was the pleasure to see it grow. What I think I will find in America is an environment closer to my current artistic inspiration,” Canali said.

Canali has produced a handmade,tsigned art book limited to 100 editions to be sold at the opening reception and art show, 100% of the proceeds from the $30.00 price will go to the Exceptional Children’s Foundation (ECF). The DAC Gallery is a non-profit organization supported by the ECF.

by Vicki Godal