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Artists of Ibiza

Artists on Ibiza

Mario Stafforini

by José P Ribas



Mario Stafforini was a child of the sixties who would have been sure to wear some flowers in his hair if he had been going to San Francisco.

But instead he was going to Ibiza and the flowers would be in his visionary paintings.

He was born in 1942, in Mar de Plata, Argentina.

His first Art studies consisted of three years in the workshop of Basilio Celestino, a painting master who was following the line, as an old pupil, of Spilimbergo and Gomez Cornet, two of the most solid leaders of the Argentinean Figurative Painting School.

He left the figurative school in 1959, when he discovered the Abstract Expressionist North-American School. Mario became completely captivated by this style of art and its message, especially of Jackson Pollock paintings, with which he identified and started doing very big paintings, dripping synthetic enamel on top of wild brushes, like whips of pure colour.

Later on he experimented with different combinations of materials in his new art works. Some of them completely decomposed because of the organic material that he was working with, but Mario was gaining in experience and in the knowledge of new materials, always looking for better transparencies, texture and determinate qualities.

From this experience his personal style and improvised technique started to be developed. From these times, we can see his mixed techniques, water-paintings, acrylics, inks, oil, etc. But when he goes back to figurative painting, he uses all this "informal" experience looking for original qualities that - according to him - express the infinite possibilities of the inter-relation of the different materials, this time with the guarantee that the colours and the materials will remain in the painting.

In 1960, Mario Stafforini and another three friends created in the capital city of the Buenos Aires province, La Plata, the Art Group "Si". Also in the same year, he joins in the university, where he studies Architecture until 1963, the year when he leaves the university and decides to dedicate his life exclusively to art.

During the 1960s, the Group "Si" was the most important group of artists in South America and also the pioneers in this Continent of what was known as "Arte Informalista" (Informal Art). Up to seventeen different painters and sculptors formed part of this group having regular exhibitions all over Argentina and other countries.

In 1963, they had an exhibition in the "Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires" in Argentina's Capital. One of Mario's paintings was bought by the Museum and since then, his paintings have graced the art treasures of the most important art centre of the country, one of the best Art Collections of the South American Continent.

From 1963 till 1969, Mario continued painting and exhibiting in the best art galleries of the most important Argentinean cities: "Lirolay Gallery", "Witcomb", "El Laberinto", "Nueva Visión", "Radio Universidad La Plata", "Ver y Estimar", "Palacio de la Legislatura" and "Galería del Mar" in Mar del Plata.

Also in 1969, the same year that men stepped on the Moon, Mario took the trip of his own life. He put his brushes in a small suitcase, picked up his guitar and jumped on board the "Giulio Cesare", sailing to Europe.

His journey included France, Switzerland, Italy and finally Spain. In Barcelona, where he lived for a short time, he didn't do much painting, but stayed with some friends, musicians who called themselves "La Peste Jazz Band". He joined Nelson Gonzalez (clarinet), who had already spent a winter in Ibiza, and Noberto Gandini, (trumpet), playing his guitar and the banjo.

From Barcelona, Mario took the ferryboat to look for the Sun and the legend of Ibiza. I will use his own words to describe his first impressions of the Island and "Dalt Vila" (the Old Eivissa Town, inside the big walls):

"It was early in a winter morning, the Sun just raising from the back, the boat coming in slowly into the bay, the powerful "cliché" of the Eivissa Acropolis claiming the sea-side cliffs...and the light reflecting in the water, the light... the bright light."

"There were no doubts, this was the place. This was my place!"

After saying this, Mario reads a paragraph of a poem written by Antonio Colinas (*) "¿Cuanto tiempo he buscado este sitio cercado por la luz?" (How long have I looked for this place invested by the light?)

After disembarking, walking by the narrow streets of "Sa Marina" and "Sa Peña" wards, the small white geometric houses with narrow and stiff upstairs, colourful balconies, old painted doors and tiny windows, the old little shops, packed full of different objects, such as sickles, tin funnels and other peasant tools, straw-hats and bags, virgin untainted wool-jumpers and socks, strings of dry peppers, garlic and "pabrasus" hanging in the doors and the front-wall outside in the streets, the peaceful and tranquil harmony of its inhabitants and the incredible cosmopolitan crowds of the streets, terraces and markets of the city, exchanging ideas with everybody in the exterior Broadway of the World that Ibiza was at the time. He goes back to these impressions and emotions in every new exhibition and always some of his new paintings will remind us, with some nostalgia, of these first impressions.

Mario was then 27, the world of the galleries was out of place, and he was not thinking of painting for exhibitions. He started to weave with a self-invented loom. With this cloth, he used to make bags and simple costumes that were sold in the streets and the hippie markets.

He moved to an old "casa payesa," "Can Coll de Dalt", out in the countryside. He was living in this house for seven years, with his wife Beatriz and their two little daughters, Dunia and Aixa, without electricity or tap water, cooking with little branches and timber from the forest near by, eating plenty of rice and little meat. It was the years of Flower Power and Woodstock, of "Steppen Wolf" and "Siddhartha," of Hermann Hesse, the "The Third Eye" of Lomgsang Rampa, "The Naked Ape" of Desmond Morris. It was the years of interior searching, trying to reach the dream of living a natural and complete free life, a simple and bucolic country-side-life, surviving on his artisan works, self-made leather bags and belts as well as the cloth.

Seven years later, the family moved back to live in Ibiza Town when his third and only son, Joan, (John) was born.

Mario returned to his painting with new energies and enthusiasms and since then he hasn't stop painting and exhibits every year in one or two of the best Art Galleries of the Island.

All these years of living so close with Nature can be seen as a reflex on his paintings: the plants, especially the flower, becomes one of his best subjects. In his first exhibition in Eivissa, its catalogue says:

"The first word is Flower, afterwards, we make a Bough"

Mario looks in his paintings for a meeting-point between the inside and the outside, the interior and the exterior, the life-motive that communicates the two worlds. Now the Flower is intermediary between the darkness of the soil, where the plant sink its roots, the material world, and the clear ethereal sunlight coming from the sky, that it gives its energy. The Flower is the "door" that communicates its inner energy with the exterior world, open to the wings of the messenger-angels, the insects that will spread this energy, pollinating other flowers in an eternal circle.

This attraction of Nature, especially for the flowers and plants in general, is important in Mario's life. He forms part of a group of botanicals that study and catalogue the Flora of the Balearic Islands for the editing of the "Nova Enciclopedia de las Illas Balears" (The New Balearic Encyclopaedia). He is also one of the founders, together with Nestor Torres, of the Saturday-afternoon-walks group, almost twenty years ago.

This group walks to different and new places every week, have given Stafforini a deep knowledge of the entire Island, so his landscapes and marinas, even the ones with the same repeated motives, all have different perspectives and therefore, a different light. There is also an intellectual perception in his art-works; we can see this in his landscapes and marinas, subtle intentions in every landscape seem to give the clue to find out the secrets within the paintings. Here, the littoral, the coastline is the meeting-point of the solid, the liquid and the ethereal world. The spectator seems to form part of everything that appears in front of him, as his own portrait inside the painting becomes a part of it.

His paintings of the Ibicenco old doors, with the big old locks, much sought after by the art collectors, done with an extraordinary technique and superb colours on artisan-hand-self-made paper, show us once again the duality of his world. "The door is the intermediary in between two worlds, its life-motive, the element that connects the interior and the exterior, both are communicated. If we open it, the house gets a new meaning and another element comes into it, the communication."

And there again with his balconies. "A balcony is not the house, either the street, it is the point where both worlds meet."

Today, almost 32 years after his arrival, Mario keeps looking for the essential of the Island, for its Soul, trying to decipher its light. "This powerful and metaphysic light that plays and rebounds on the white-wash walls, illuminating the shadows with infinite tones of colours, mixing them up like broken rainbows, which disappear as soon as we look up to the sky, becoming all just pure bright light"

(*) Antonio Colinas, "Premio Nacional de Poesia" (National Award of Poetry, one of the best Spanish actual poets) is one of our most honourable guests, one of the "Elephants" in the Mariano Planells book, "La Senda de los Elefantes" a real Ibicenco by now and by the heart, and one of Mario's personal friends.


All Pictures Courtesy of Mario Stafforini

José P Ribas