NICOLA SIMBARI (1927 – 2012) In Calabria there are records going back hundreds of years of “Simbari” as a family name, yet Nicola Simbari is the first of that long line to be an artist. His father was an architect and builder; in his mother’s family, the legal profession is a tradition, and most of its members are lawyers. Simbari has two brothers and two sisters, none of whom are artists. One cannot explain the emergence of a highly gifted illustrator, stage designer, muralist, painter and sculptor from such ancestry except by conceding that genius is a mystery for which there is no explanation.
At a very early age Simbari was exposed to artistic influences. He was born in San Lucido, a fishing village in Calabria, but when he was three years old his father moved the family to Rome, where he was employed as an architect and builder in the Vatican museums, and by the time he was seven he knew and loved the Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine frescoes are a monumental blend of architecture and painting, and during the fours years Simbari spent at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Rome, he studied both painting and architecture, excelling in the latter to such degree that he was made a member of the Accademia’s faculty in architecture. But painting was his real interest and soon he relinquished the post in order to concentrate on painting.
Simbari’s first one-man show of paintings was in Rome in 1953, and in that same year he won an award for best stage design for a musical, “Tarantella Napoletana” produced in Rome. In 1954 the Italian State awarded him a gold medal for a poster entered in a national competition. Three years later he had his first one-man show in London and in 1958 he won the coveted honor of being commissioned to paint the murals for the Italian Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brussels.
Since his first one-man show in Rome in 1953, many important private collectors both in Europe and America have acquired Simbari’s paintings. They form part of the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Liberty Company in London, and the Christian Dior Collection in France. In the United States his work has become widely known through the frequent exhibitions presented by Wally Findlay Galleries.
As a painter Simbari initially was interested in mainly the avant-garde movement. Braque was his first god, followed by Miró, but gradually he became involved in an effort to tell a story with his paintings, so he changed to a more introverted approach, meanwhile developing an admiration for Gauguin, Van Gogh and de Staël. To those who know his work today, it may come as a surprise to learn that his early work, resulting from the more introverted approach, consisted mainly of very small paintings done in egg tempera and entirely with brushes, somewhat in the manner of Vermeer, whom he still greatly admires. In these small paintings the colors were somber and much ochre and gray were employed.
Simbari gradually found himself freed from influences, developed the style now recognized as Simbaresco. He defines himself as a figurative artist who went through Abstract Expressionism, Geometric Abstraction and a number of other styles of painting, but who has always been and still is a figurative painter because his greatest interest is in people.
Just as Simbari’s style in painting is his own, so his technique in painting is his own. He is meticulous and exacting in the choice of materials: he accepts only the finest canvas and prepares it with care; he has his colors ground by a family in northern Italy who have been engaged in this work for three hundred years; he mixes his own pigment. He is continuously developing new graduations of color or new colors, and exults when he has succeeded in adding a more brilliant one to the range of his palette, When he uses a brush, it is only to create the background of the painting, which is then completed with palette knives of which he has about twenty-five sizes ranging from very tiny ones to huge ones.