Mad men. Not the sexy selectively nostalgic program about advertising on TV. We speak of the real guys who go mad.
It could be illness. Madness may have been inflicted upon you by life or incredible circumstance. It could just be the sight of Sophia Loren again, reminding you that she hasn't called you for last 50 years.
For reasons known and mysterious these are the men who are so idiosyncratic and eccentric in their tastes and behaviors that we are not sophisticated enough to appreciate them fully. Sometimes we say that these men have gone mad, but possibly we are the mad ones. These are the fellas whom the Italian street art collective named Collettivo FX decided to paint in towns across their country late last fall.
The anonymous handful of young men and women have a variety of figurative illustrative styles, from realist to expressionist, and often work with local children to complete painting projects.
Research was necessary, including entering a town and asking folks for candidates. In what became an anthropologic study of entire towns and how they function, the artists set out to find the one character in each community whom everyone seemed to know because of his unique approach to life. Their theme became "Behind every madman there is a village," as it became clear that each supported the other in some way
The artists say that they learned volumes about behaviors, story telling and memory. Yes, they learned about the men and their fortitudes and foibles, but they also gained a sense of the other characters in the dramatic play that makes up a town. With each inquiry and answer they learned about the stories that are saved and repeated or forgotten; often jogging memories, sometimes along with their passions.
As a painting was completed people stopped by to discuss it. Some to learn, some to remember, others to enhance with gossip, or to fill in some blanks in lore. Some people said they felt guilty for not having done enough, others directed their displeasure at negligent actors in the town who had not sufficiently assisted in a circumstance when help was required.
"The subject of the tour was the Madman, but the real issue was the village," one of the collective tells us, explaining that many of the subjects are (or were) revered characters whose presence is valued, some earning a sort of amber shaded folklore in the re-telling of the stories. "In fact the Madman is often in the center of the village, almost a symbolic mayor of some kind, because everyone knows and talks with him."
Others were more evidently thought of as outcasts, and the act of placing a portrait of them prominently in the town took on curious results and responses as well, revealing the mindset of the village. People lingered for long periods, some posed for photos in front of the portraits. It's unclear if any of the subjects felt objectified or insulted, but that may be our insecure comprehension of the subtleties of the Italian language.
"Everything happened in this tour," reports a member of the artist collective. "People were happy, excited, curious. The relatives of the subject could be flattered or be angry. One thing that happened everywhere is that we provoked memories, anecdotes, and stories of episodes that do not belong only to the life of the individual but also the entire community, making these portraits a reflection of everyone involved."
Following are some highlights from the many stories that were discovered during this project:
They started the tour with "Hans Cassonetto" (Hans Dumpster) a homeless guy who townspeople generally agreed had two hundred and fifty thousand Euros in the bank. The story goes that when his mother died she left him with a legacy of buildings, apartments and a large bank account. However he refused her gifts because he did not want the money from the person who had thrown him out of his house at another time in his life. "While we painted Hans," a collective member says, "the people there said "He was a man, a great gentleman and he never asked anything from anyone."
Oreste lives in a village in the mountains that has completely adopted him, according to the artists. He leaves his small house in the morning and one family feeds him breakfast, another family washes his clothes, another gives him small jobs. He's known to never miss a wedding, and he usually brings roses for the couple. "He is of mythic proportions here in this town," says an artist.
Everyone remembers Ciclon for his jokes, and he often was found in the town square talking with passersby. A frequently repeated story about Ciclon is the time he took a rabbit in a bag to pay the doctor with it. According to the story, the doctor was surprised and said, "But Ciclon, this rabbit is alive!" and Ciclon replied, "Doctor for you it's not a problem to kill the rabbit ... you are always killing people!"
And don't forget Dog Man ("Cane Uomo"), a homeless guy who locals say arrived in town in the late 1930s not long after the disappearance of a famous physicist named Ettore Majorano. Rumors and tales surround his disappearance and what his relationshipship to Dog Man may have been. According to local stories, Dog Man used a walking stick with the letters "EM" carved into it, and he was known for solving impossible science questions posed to him by students.
In general however, he didn't interact with or talk much with people in Mazara del Vallo for the roughly twenty years he lived there and he took care of many stray dogs, earning him the name. Upon seeing his portrait a number of townspeople gathered in front of it and debated whether Dog Man had actually been the disappeared physicist.
Genesis in Mantua was a musician of thirty-seven who burned to death in a horrible event a few days before they arrived, although the artists could not provide the exact circumstances that took place. Clearly he had affect a number of folks however and the artists quickly discovered that their portrait of him became a memorial wall - a central location for people to express their emotions and tributes to Genesis, including many tears. There were some who said "we could have saved him." Some asked to paint and others wrote dedications on the poster.
Finally there is the story of Bruno Cartò, who collected cardboard boxes in the center of Jesi for many years before he went to live in a more formal home. "While we painted his portrait, the people stopped and said, 'I know him!', 'I saw him every day,' and 'He was my friend,'" says one of the artists. But no one knew exactly what had become of him.
Just before finishing the job Bruno appeared onsite in the flesh, surprising many there. "We asked him, 'Bruno, do you like your portrait?'. He said "Yes I like it ... I want a drawing for my room.' We asked him 'What kind of drawing do you want? and he answered, 'One on a cardboard!'" (see Bruno below)
Colletivo FX are happy to share more of these stories with you if you inquire at their Facebook page.
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