Gaetano Pesce is among the greatest and the most gifted Italian artists who have created some of the most elegant designs and pieces of art in the 20th century. He is among the most striking architects who is undoubtedly also a very independent thinker in the world of design. Pesce has the quality of instilling uniqueness into his individual works as inspired by interpretations of art and art history of previous eras. The forms of art he has developed were meant to meet the needs of specific clients. His main aim has been to make art (nude, landscape, portrait, and furniture) that corresponds well to demands. This point of view has led him to work in the field of industrial design to make unique products that were not meant for everybody, but were for specific clients. The steps he has made in the field of design were an important phase of Italian design in the 1960’s since the pieces were not made purely for economic reasons. Pesce’s ideas are thus influenced by the context in which he has worked and lived, with major inspirations drawn from art, architecture, relationships, personal experiences, and design. He is driven by curiosity and his response to culture and the economy.
Pesce was born in Italy in 1939 and raised by a single mother during World War II. He attended the School of Architecture in Venice and started developing his skills during the post-war period. He later moved to New York City in 1980, the city which became a major part of his design.Pesce’s study of previous methodologies of earlier masters of design allowed him to learn and develop designs and works that went beyond the happenings of the period when he was creating his designs,the years 1960 to 1980.His works brought to the public fresh and innovative designs that refer to the great proportioned forms of humanity of the Renaissance period.Pesce was motivated to develop works whose designs appealed to cultural values. He understood that products should not be made for functional purposes alone, but should also be made to make a change in the societal view. He said,“Design alonewas not enough for me. I thought objects should be about more than function.”He did not believe that design pieces should only be made to earn money. He wanted the designs to have meaning and be made for a specific purpose. His works have been relevant to the societal needs because of the cultural and aesthetic dimension they have taken.His idea of mistakes, as he says, should be addressed as a human quality since human beings are full of mistakes and thus the artist should use the mistakes to form a different kind of beauty.
Pesce found ways of developing emotional qualities in his art through different elements drawn from the architectural movement of EttoreSottsassin the 1970’s. Pesce’s purpose at this time was to develop works that provoked discourse with other artists on the qualities of designs, functions, and the aesthetic values of the designs. Through the resultant discourse, Gaetano Pesce was able to develop deeper aesthetic qualities and functions that lead to actual human response, such as joy and surprise. Pesce’s curiosity has led him to experimentwith several materials that were new during that early time. He used materials such as polyurethane and different forms of plastics that were affordableeven to the majority. The experiments increased his knowledge based on these materials. He developed innovative ideas that were inspired by daily occurrences.
These experiences explain the impact of his work on Italian design from the early 1960’s until the present day. He said that a very serious problem is that many people have lost connection with the society since they do not work for the societal needs. This explains the perspective his designs have taken pertaining to societal needs. In his earlier days, Pesce was inspired by CesareCassina’s works;he saw Cassina as a father figure, and learned from him. From this relationship, Pesce made inspiring works of art and also embedded quality pieces into industrial products. Cassina helped Pesce understand that contemporary creativity was associated with the reality of the changing times. As a result, Pesce developed works that were industrially based and not romantic in style due to the relationship he had with Cassina. From Cassina, Pesce got support, inspiration and resources for production and experimentation.
Pesce’svarious works express the guiding principle of modernism which he believed in. His works portray the double functionality of the creative use of colors,architecture and objects, the theory and practice, and the economic dimensions of his projects. He also bases his works on the political dimensions of the projects, the use and improvement of synthetic materials,the idea of provocation,the culture of objects and, lastly, the theory of femininity in architectural design. His works depict an urge to seek materials that fit into the reason of construction while communicating the feelings of joy, surprise, generosity,optimism, discovery,sensuality, stimulation,and femininity. Since he has been innovative, his works have given rise to uproar and controversy.
Pesce has been influenced by feminism. The influence was manifested in most of his early works, especially in the La Mammachair (Figure1), in 1969. As a child, having been expelled from various educational institutions because of his rebellious nature, Pesce was briefly enrolled in a convent academy for girls where, as he later said, he was happy as he developed his taste for feminine art.Wherever he went, he was accompanied by women: his mother, paternal grandmother, and female cousins. The idea expressed by the La Mammachair highlights Pesce’s idea to answer to people’s needs and create something affordable and useful that elaborates on happiness and joy. His past relationship with the women explains the deep feminine influence embedded in his ideas. TheLa Mamma chair has distinctive feminine qualities including its form that sets the work apart from other chairs. The feminine form chosen expresses the sitter’s and the viewer’s image of love and care that a mother would give to her child.
The fabrication and materials for the chair La Mamma were picked entirely from the context of feminism. His idea to use polyurethane emanated from his observations of the qualities of the sponge he was using one day while taking a bath. The spongy nature of the chair and the material he chose for it made it soft and comfortable to sit on. The La Mamma is a very red round-edged shape that holds a single seat. As the observers, we see the chair from the point of view of the materials used in its making and their significance in terms of originality. Its soft spongy nature allows the chair to be placed in a sealed bag from which all the air has been vacuumed out. When the air is vacuumed out, it leaves behind a flat bag, which is not only easy to store but also easy to transport to a new location, and leave to inflate on its own. The idea of self-inflation is what inspired Pesce to make chairs known as the “Ups.”There also is a matching foot stool called Up 6which self-inflates to be a round red ball.
The sofa Tramonto a New York, (Sunset in New York)(Figure 2), created in 1980, displays a design that also used synthetic materials as well as wood. It is a three-seater sofa with a plywood frame. Pesce used padded Dacron, upholstered fabric, and polyurethane foam to cover the wooden frame. The sofa was constructed in four sections containing shapes representing New York City buildings and a fabric representing the setting of the sun over the New York skyline. The central backrest was designed in a semi-circular shape. It is padded and upholstered in red fabric that represents the setting of the sun. The sections of the sofa consist of varied sized blocks representing high-rise buildings. The woven materials on the blocks, represent the windows of the buildings. The central seat is made in such a way that it has two armrests of varied heights. The other two seats consist of a seat each with a backrest. They have only a single armrest each, on the interior side. All the sections in the sofa are mounted on a plastic base with each section loosely attached by tubular steel brackets on its bases. Through the method used in making the chair Sunset in New York, Pesce was able to make a convincing connection between abstract form of ideas and concrete objects.
Pesce’s innovation can also be observed in the rich exploration of materials and the method he used in making the Feltrichair(Figure 3), in 1986. The chair has the perfectly proportional human form as emphasized during the Renaissance period. It provides human protection from the way its wings are raised, for example, when it is cold, one can pull up the folds close to the body and provide wormth. At the same time, when it is hot the flaps can be folded down. The wings can be folded up or down at a person’s interest. The example of the chair at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was made out of thick pink wool, and brown polyester resin in its interior. The chair was made of quilted down fabric on its interior, so that the seat felt comfortable and the chair had a firm interior base to be set on. The chair has adjustable armrest and back that allowadjustment that changes the sitting experience. Pesce’s experience and innovation were the motivation for the choice of materials and, in this case, the wool felt that he chose to use for the chair. The padded interior offers the sitter the chance to concentrate on its comfort. As an architect, Pesce used the ideas of a miniature Roman amphitheater to give the chair a strong base to support the weight of any person. The chair is complete with arches that help in providing the support. He highlights his architectural and artistic ability of previous years, knowledge of material, and inspiration in developing the Fetri chair. Its inside and roundness is able to hold the body in a comfortable embrace and warmth a woman gives to her child. The type of material (wool) chosen to finish the inside provides this feeling of embrace.
The working relationship that Pescehas had with various design houses such as Vitra, B&B Italia, and Cassina allowed his to materialize through his experiments and expressive designs in the contemporary world. He has been able to combine ideas to develop technological innovations and emotionally inspiring works of art. He understandsthat products should be made to make a change in the societal view and not be made for functional purposes alone. He believes that design alone is not enough for an artist to make a form of art, but also believes that objects are to be responsible for the function. He is among the designers who have pushed materials to their distinct expressive limit.This can be seen through the materials used in making the La Mamma, Sunset in New York, and Feltrichairs. He remains an architect-artist-designer who has undertaken various missions in urban planning, exhibition design, architecture, interior design, and industrial design in his more than 40 years of design practice. His observations of the economy, culture, and curiosity to use different materials through the study of art, architecture, personal experience, ideas, and history, define him as an intellectual designer who has played a major role in promoting Italian design. His works are able to stand on their own, and are distinct from those of the mid to late 20th century since they are a revolution in the design world of this period. He has used different theories of design and architecture to represent reality and changing times. Pesce has delivered some of the most thought provoking and original designs of the 20th century with his very individual and unique vision.