Luciano Chinese was born in Friuli, in the town of Gorizia, on September 2nd 1942, the last of three brothers, in a period in which the war was still far from ending. The family suffered all the problems related to the fact that the father had been deported to Germany, forcing the mother to work relentlessly in order to keep the family.
The mother was the daughter of an chair manufacturer, she was cultured but, being a woman, was forced to renounce her studies and work as a factory hand. Nonetheless she sent her oldest child, Mario, to study in Venice. When he was five years old, Luciano Chinese left Gorizia for Grado and when he returned he felt somewhat estranged… He attended the local junior school and amongst his classmates was Dino Zoff, with whom he maintained a friendship.
At the age of thirteen he moved to Venice to attend the State Artistic Lyceum. He would later take his high school diploma at the Artistic Lyceum and than he attended the architecture faculty, in Venice He had a number of famous teachers, as Carlo Scarpa, Bruno Zevi…; he knew Mario Botta as a student and he was in a work group with him. He attended some lessons of Emilio Vedova in Salzburg.
His precocious vocation for painting convinced him to attend the Academy of Fine Arts, under the guidance of the maestro Bruno Saetti.
While he was studying in Venice, he came into direct contact with the local intellectual groups and made the acquaintance of important Italian and foreign personalities.
At that time, the city was enjoying a period of great transformation; the international importance of the renowned cultural centres such as the Biennale and the “Giorgio Cini” Foundation on the island of San Giorgio, which periodically held major events, attracted the greatest protagonists in the world of philosophy, science, literature, music and the arts. Exhibitions, conventions, debates offered knowledge of crucial modernism, throwing open unforeseen horizons for a young man, like him, eager to learn and to measure himself against the projects and the expectations of his generation. In his paintings he attempts to blend figurative elements and geometric solutions, associating immediate stimuli taken from reality with formal neo-constructivist analysis.
In the meantime, he took part in various exhibitions and was a candidate for the Premio San Floriano in Gorizia. In 1967 he held his first personal exhibition in Folgaria, a renowned mountain resort near Trento, and at the end of the same year he opened an art gallery in the town, called Nuovo Spazio [new space], perhaps to confirm his personal propensity for pictorial problems referred to the expressive values of a new concept of spatialism.
He became friends with the Venetian performers of post-dodecaphonic music and with the painters of the “Movimento dello Spazialismo” [the Spatialism Movement] of Lucio Fontana. He strengthened his relationship with the poet Alfonso Gatto, inviting him to hold conferences and readings at his Gallery and promoting with him the “Premio Folgaria”, a national competition for poetry and painting. As a gallery owner, he undertook various activities, group exhibitions and personal exhibitions by various artists of the new vanguards, but he also organised and hosted debates and readings of poetic texts.
In 1969 he was invited to a collective exhibition first in Venice and then in Rome and a few months later he presented a personal exhibition in Udine. The historian Pietro Zampetti, director of the Musei Civici Veneziani [Venetian Civic Museums], invited him to hold a personal exhibition at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa Gallery, but it would not be possible to organize this exhibition because the artist was called up for national service at the military engineering school La Cecchignola in Rome, where he created a series of terracotta plaques (twelve panels) illustrating the work of the ‘fabriceris’.
The activity that he continued to promote through exhibitions at the Folgaria Gallery developed a cultural programme designed not only to revalue the members of historical Italian spearhead movement, but also to promote the most promising talents of the new generations. Of particular note, thanks to his importance nationally, were the exhibitions of the futurist Giovanni Korompay and the first personal exhibition of Federica Bertino . With renewed enthusiasm he took an interest in the singular pictorial and graphic experiences of Giuseppe Zigaina for whom he would also organise a number of exhibitions in various Italian cities. In 1971, when he had concluded his national service, he returned to Venice, bringing to life the new premises of the Nuovo Spazio gallery which immediately distinguished itself for its innovative proposals, opening its halls to masters such as Guidi, Manzù, Spacal, Morlotti, Santomaso, Music, Bortoluzzi and to young artists destined for success, Finzi, Licata and the very young Plessi. At this time, his own artistic research was increasingly more decidedly directed towards abstract spatial poetry and completely abandoned a naturalistic line of transfiguration.
He met and frequented the photographic historian from Friuli, Italo Zannier, called to teach at the University of Architecture. After a few years, the Nuovo Spazio gallery assumed for Venice, a city which could boast prestigious historical precedents, an important, individual role, regularly visited by renowned writers and critics, from Pallucchini to Marchiori, from Apollonio to Mazzariol, and periodically even visited by Ezra Pound. The Gallery also hosted works by members of the “Programmed Art” and the “behaviourism”, as well as new tendencies in women’s creative research.
In 1976 Friuli was devastated by a severe earthquake. Fortunately, his family was not directly harmed by the effects of the seismic activity. He remained some days visiting the worst hit areas – often difficult to reach – with his architect brother, registering the damage and reporting on the need for technicians to take charge of the reconstruction. At Mariano del Friuli he organised an exhibition of works by great Italian artists, devolving the income from sales in favour of the victims of the earthquake.
He set up a special travelling exhibition of artists that would later sail on the tourist ship the Stradivari as it visited various Mediterranean ports. He organised the important personal exhibition by Armando Pizzinato. In 1979 he transferred the Nuovo Spazio gallery to a building in the centre of the city, just a short step from St. Mark’s Square, thus being able to take advantage of much larger spaces which, in March, were splendidly inaugurated with the extraordinary personal exhibition dedicated to Giovanni Korompay.
He also continued the literary events, acting as host to writers and poets; he worked with Arnaldo Momo and Giovanni Poli for theatrical events. In May 1978 he married the daughter of the well-known writer and journalist Mario Ancona. In July, he returned to Venice to present an important exhibition by Luigi Veronesi, protagonist of the Italian abstract movement, which would encounter considerable success, also in the pages of the international press. In November, the exhibition of “aeropainting” and “stone syntheses” by the futurist Tullio Crali. For the first time in Europe he showed a collection of works by Inuit sculptors, with whom he had come into contact, receiving on this unusual occasion honours from a group of Quebec diplomats who arrived for the inauguration.
In 1979 the Nuovo Spazio gallery celebrated ten years of continuous activity, with a review that presented almost all the artists in whom Chinese had so far taken an interest. On this occasion a number of interviews appeared in the press, in which he traced the history of the gallery and described his personal concept of the cultural functions of a modern art dealer.
He published a folder containing works by Bortoluzzi, Korompay, Zigaina, to which he wrote the introduction which is also a manifest of the criteria he adopts in his work. This text by Chinese would later be shared by many artists and intellectuals who would countersign it, bearing explicit witness to their support of the moral and cultural aims of the gallery owner. Chinese was, in fact, an esteemed colleague with whom many of them had exhibited at various times. They had entrusted him with the task of representing them at the art fairs which had begun to appear in Italy. In the summer, while he was about to leave for the Fiera del Levante which had been held for some years, he received the news that his brother Renzo had been seriously injured in an accident at work. Concerned, he immediately joined his family in Friuli, who would be further distressed only a few months later by the sudden death of the father. He found a moment of serenity with the birth of his first daughter. He tells of these events in the autobiographical volume entitled, “Io, Chi?” [Who am I?], published in 1981 by Italia Letteraria with a wonderful preface written by his friend Zigaina. With great frankness the author describes his existence, the past events, the meetings and the exchanges with the artists, the vocation for living in symbiosis with characters who are in some way élite, who he admires profoundly for their spiritual consonance.
He worked with ever greater intensity on his artistic productions, but he never renounced organising exhibitions of national importance, positively commented by the specialised press, presenting a cycle of works from 1943 to 1976 by Zoran Music and an exhibition of modern Japanese artists. At the same time, he cultivated a passion of the environment of his beloved lagoon, which he often sailed in a small boat. Here he would find inspiration for a luminous chromatism of iridescent reflections that he would evocatively transfer to the cadenced geometries of an absolute spatiality of images. He travelled continuously, visiting exhibitions and artists’ studios, establishing friendships and working relationships, and making contact with the principal Italian collectors in order to plan further exhibitions. Unfortunately, in 1985 his mother, to whom he was particularly close, died leaving an immense void, because he had always tried to live up to her example and would have liked to emulate her extraordinary personal qualities, her sensitivity and lively intelligence.
In 1986 during an exhibition at Palazzo Grassi, “Futurism-Futurists”, he organised an extraordinary anthology of Tullio Crali, with no less than sixty-two paintings from various periods, an event of considerable importance in the Italian and international fields. He followed with equal interest the development of certain young European artists, almost unknown in their own countries, but who would soon make a reputation for themselves, with truly surprising results. With great generosity, Chinese felt he was more destined to support young artists, many of great value, than to promote his own artistic work. A work, moreover, that had developed in an increasingly independent language which was characterised by the need to experiment centred on trying out other materials, overcoming the two-dimensions of the canvas to create plastic effects with greater constructive efficacy.
Between 1987 and 1988 he even decided to abandon teaching, which he had undertaken for some years with great enthusiasm, in order to better dedicate himself to his artistic research and to the running of the gallery, which had now moved to the mainland, in Mestre, with the intent of facilitating the car journeys from one city to another in search of artists and collectors with whom he planned new exhibitions. The new premises were significantly inaugurated with a review of famous masters, and this exhibition was followed by a show of works by Tancredi, who died in 1984 . Yet, since he also wished to pursue in a more constant manner the researches that he had undertaken, he chose to definitively move to his city of origin, Mariano, he had a modernistic villa built amongst the vineyards, in the midst of the fertile Friuli countryside, thus having a vast studio in which to work and encouraging his growing children to enjoy daily contact with the beauties of nature. Chinese finally felt free to dedicate himself completely to painting, which would lead him to experiment even with industrial materials, to use ‘precious powders’, ‘golds floating on overseas transparencies’, as Zigaina notes in his introduction, written for the artist in 1991. During this period he painted various subjects at times linked with particular experiences, yet defining a line of research towards a fantastic re-creation of reality in which to borrow aspects and moments of intense emotionality. From the Venetian ambience come memories and perceptions found in the paintings from that period, relating to the ‘byzantine theories’ and the ‘cathedrals of the lagoon’.
When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, he was so moved by this terrible tragedy that he painted a series of paintings with images of opposing signs, dramatically exacerbating the contrast between the delicate hues of serene landscapes and dark disturbing shapes.
He felt the need to return to confronting his public and therefore began once again to exhibit his work. He accepted the proposal of his gallery-owner friend, Paolo Barozzi, secretary and faithful biographer of Peggy Guggenheim, who often opened his home in Milano to present the exhibition of an artist who, in his opinion, was worthy of note, presenting him to the many cultured and demanding guests. Chinese prepared the exhibition with care and sent a selection of works from his most recent production, however he did not neglect his own gallery in Mestre, where he exhibited – amongst others – the pop art by Mimmo Rotella, his famous ‘decollages’.
At his home in Mariano he organised a sort of crowded futurist evening, inviting Crali to declaim texts by the poets of the movement and where his daughter, Dunia, a classical ballet dancer, performed a creative ballet to the music of Duke Ellington. It was to be the start of a series of events that he would ever more frequently organise, in the summer, in the garden of the villa, followed by friends and enthusiasts from various Italian regions. Important collectors showed an interest in his paintings and, in 1994, the township of San Giovanni al Natisone dedicated him an exhibition, held in the sumptuous Villa de Brandis and accompanied by a programme of concerts by renowned ensembles and soloists.
Between 1994 and 1995 he composed a cycle of paintings on the theme of ‘anthromorphous trees’, a theme through which he intended to symbolise the disharmony between nature and man, but also the existential solitude of one who suffers the disquiet of modern society, closed in its egoisms and condemned to forms of struggle increasingly unbearable for the weak, who are overcome by the opposing forces. Yet he also expresses the impulse to move upwards, to ascend towards the pinnacles of spiritual plentitude.
He exhibited in Venice at the Palazzo delle Prigioni Vecchie [the historical prisons].These are new pictorial cycles, where the compositive thread already seems structured in the neat geometric plugs of chromatic variations, in the tension of reconstructing a new architecture from space.
During his assiduous, although solitary, pilgrimages into the Friuli countryside, he discovered, in a hamlet near Taipana, the ruins of an old mill, fascinated by the still uncontaminated natural setting, the evocative beauty of the area on the banks of the river Cornappo, brimming with trout and freshwater prawns, close to a tumbling waterfall, he fell in love with the place and decided to buy and restore it .
When the lengthy restoration work was finished, the mill appeared to be the ideal place to welcome cultural events, so he organised a series of meetings with artists, writers and musicians, inviting them to take part in regular events, associating concerts and open-air sculpture exhibitions, presentations of books and debates on current affairs.
In 1986 he held a personal exhibition at the magnificent Villa Pisani di Stra, a jewel of classic Venetian architecture and the following year he was invited by the municipal authorities of Pordenone to exhibit in the no less renowned Villa Galvani. In June, at his gallery in Mestre, he presented the historical Venitian Spatialism Movement. He cooperated in the activities of a new artistic current called “Hyperspatialism”, a trend with which he felt a bond both on the theoretical plane and in the effective stylistic correspondence.
In 1998 he prepared an exhibition of his paintings for the Centro Friuliano Arti Plastiche [Friulian centre of plastic arts], in Udine,composed of about seventy works on the theme of ‘trees’ and ‘cathedrals’ exemplifying his research from recent years. He also held a personal exhibition at the San Giusto Castle in Trieste, a cycle of works based on expressive freedom that combined figurative and abstract elements, in the key of a visionary symbolism.
The following year he exhibited at the Isontina state library in Gorizia and was invited to the exhibition sponsored by the Italian state railways for the millennium celebrations, held at Villa Ca’ Zenobio, near Treviso.