Two Italian American Artists, Arturo Di Modica, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti Died In February
If things couldn’t get any worse with this year, two artists Arturo Di Modica (a sculptor) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (a painter) were pronounced dead in the month of February. Both artists marked their name in the art industry with boldness. Also, both artists are Italian American and lived a long life. Arturo Di Modica died (at the age of 80) from cancer in Vittoria, Italy and Lawrence Ferlinghetti died (at the at of 101) from interstitial lung disease in San Francisco, CA.
Arturo Di Modica (born in Sicily) was mostly known for creating the Charging Bull, which is pretty hard not to recognize in the public eye. Ever since 1989, his sculptures of the Charging Bull stood on Wall Street on Bowling Green. Maybe you’ve never heard the name Arturo Di Modica, but the odds are, you’ve seen the Charging Bull, and it evoked an emotion out of you that could’ve been peace, happiness, courage, resilience, and if you were afraid of bulls, it, unfortunately, evoked fear.
Arturo Di Modica, with his Charging Bull, Copyright by Oneiromante, 2017
At the age of 10, Arturo considered art his calling. In 1960, he fled Sicily, taking time away from his family, to go to Florence. It was there where he enrolled in an academy for talented and aspiring artists Florence’s Accademia Del Nudo Libero. Being enrolled in a well-known academy didn’t make him continue his classes, but instead, he opened his first studio (in the heart of Florence). That’s a gutsy move from someone who didn’t see the purpose of furthering his academic education. By the time he made it to New York, he was literally penniless.
Some of his notable works that he was proud of are pieces in marble he exhibited at Rockefeller Center (in 1977), works in bronze at Battery Park, Castle Clinton the same year, and his bronze horse Cavallo in Lincoln Center (a few years later). Before millions of visitors would recognize the Charging Bull, before it was featured in print and broadcasted media, he purchased undeveloped property on Crosby Street in 1978, which is where he sculpted his most famous piece. Crosby Street is the origin of the Charging Bull. In 1999, Di Modica was selected for the United States the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
The first time Di Modica had an art dealer, he signed with London’s Geist Modern Contemporary. For those who know about Arturo, they know he often exhibits his work independently. The story about how Arturo displayed the 3.5-ton, bronze “Charging Bull” quickly became a legend. The story is at around 1:00 A.M., on December 15 (my birthday) with a crew of 40 men, a crane, and a truck, he illegally placed the sculpture beneath the New York Stock Exchange. This action actually caused an uproar, while others saw no problem with the newly installed sculpture standing near a Christmas tree. The bull stood on Wall Street with a purpose, and if you know the history of the piece, you’d realize he cared about humanity. He risked getting in major trouble over sharing such a project, and not too many people can say they’d risk jail time over displaying their art to the world for free.
According to Artnet News, Arthur Piccolo, the chairman of the Bowling Green Association, said, “I firmly believe in the fullness of time Charging Bull will stand with the pyramids, Michelangelo’s David, the Eiffel Tower, [and] the Statue of Liberty as among the most iconic works of all time”. The artist known as Arturo used a time of unfavorable depression (from the 1987 financial crash) as inspiration to create a symbol of resilience. It’s not just any bull because to most people, the large bull cost a fortune to make. He spent two years and $350,000 to create the work of art, embodying American resiliency.
Harmer said, “Arturo was the most determined and ambitious person I ever met. He would have an operation, and his doctor would tell him he had to rest—but he just wouldn’t. He’d get back up the next day, take a transatlantic flight from Italy to America, go straight to the foundry, and carry on working. He was going full force until the end”. When you see the Charging Bull, the odds are, it’ll cross your mind to at least take a picture of sitting on the piece, but you wouldn’t want to break a $350,000 piece. For that amount of money, it must be really durable. The sculpture not only shares the legacy of a gifted artist but of our shares nostalgic memories.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born on March 24, 1919, in Yonkers, NY. Shortly before his birth, his father (Carlo) died of a heart attack. Afterward, his mother (Clemence Albertine) was committed to a mental hospital, leaving him to be raised by his aunt (then foster parents). In 1941, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and served the country as a Navy Seal during World War 2 (after an atomic bomb occurred). “You'd see hands sticking up out of the mud," he wrote. "Hair sticking out of the road - a quagmire - people don't realize how total the destruction was".
Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Caffe Trieste in 2012 by Christopher Michel
Afterward, he graduated from Columbia University, receiving his Master’s Degree, and moved to Paris. Here, he met his wife (Selden Kirby-Smith), in 1951. A couple of years later, he opened City Lights Booksellers and Publishers (which was known for stocking gay and lesbian publications). The City Lights Booksellers and Publishers was a name actually inspired after Lawrence watched a 1931 romantic/comedy movie by Charlie Chaplin called City Lights. Responsible for the Beat movement, he liberated literature with nonconformity. He took the step to discuss controversial issues like sex from an academic view.
In 1955, his publishing arm of City Lights was the first to print the Beat’s book of poetry. A year later, in 1956, he published and sold Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, which was a feat alone, drastically changing American culture. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is what led Lawrence and his publishing partner to be arrested and put on trial for obscenity. Yet, the work already revolutionized creative literature, which was a chance Ferlinghetti took for self-expression.
In 1958, he released a collection of poems he’s best known for today, called A Coney Island of the Mind, selling over a million copies and translated into 9 languages. If you ever wrote about subjects like sex, drugs, homosexuality, and spirituality, Ferlinghetti paved the way.
The activist Ferlinghetti is so influential that the Beats inspired The Beatles and Bob Dylan. It gave freedom of expression and a voice to be heard instead of worrying about the norm. When gays were considered a mental illness, it was the Beats that made it possible to get another perspective. On August 11, 1998, he was known as San Francisco's first poet laureate. In 1999, he received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. There are many more accomplishments to his name, but while he is known least as an artist, he left an indelible mark in the world.
While Lawrence Ferlinghetti was recognized internationally for his literature, he was also a painter who could replace expletives with visual courtesy. His artwork was lyrical (and he’s been a poet for as long as he’s been a painter). More than lyrical, he spoke through his art with eroticism, politics, and spirituality. He was a critical person who knew what he wanted. In his provocative artwork titled Those Unrelenting Destinies, he uses his piece to get a message across. It’s not complicated to see that he was trying to tell us things through his art, like his oil and acrylic work, Dream Boat. As an artist, he experimented with nudism, incorporating the body into a picture to get across points that most people wouldn’t want to bring up when they meet strangers. His piece, Dream Boat, with a blue-haired woman in a bathtub and a flag sticking out, represents self-isolation and self-cleansing.
In the neighborhood of his famous bookstore (to celebrate his 101st birthday), there was originally going to be an exhibition consisting of 14 works. There would be two paintings, nine works on paper, and three, small prints. Then he died on February 23, 2021, from interstitial lung disease. By the way, February 23 was also the date English romantic poet John Keats died, back in 1821 (in Rome, Italy).
Modica, Arturo Di. “Arturo’s Story.” http://www.chargingbull.com/biography/. 2021.
Bonanos, Christopher. Curbed. “The Outlaw History of Arturo Di Modica’s Crosby Street Studio.” https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.curbed.com/amp/2021/02/arturo-di-modica-54-crosby-street-nyc-obit.html. 26, Feb. 2021.
Britannica. “City Lights.” https://www.britannica.com/place/City-Lights-bookstore-San-Francisco-California. 2021.