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Gianni Aiello. Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1970’s. Italy.

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Gianni Aiello (Papa’). Liguria, Italia. Possibly 1972.

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Gianni Aiello (Papa’) with cousin Giuseppe, next to the fishing shack La Baracca. 1972 (to be verified;))

As promised months ago (ehm), finally, the  series on my larger-than-life father, Gianni Aiello, begins.

My father is the son of a fisherman, and his life is the sea.  He is a true Calabrese, wandering about as a young man but returning to settle in his native land, by his Ionian shore.  After helping his father as a teenager, he became a policeman and an athlete.  At 22 he was shot in the line of duty during a hostage siege on the island of Sardinia.  A series of operations on the right side of his jaw left him scarred and looking like one of the bad guys.  Later, in his thirties, he and his Swiss brother-in-law, zio Marco, started a motorboat shop and storage plus Suzuki reseller.  Whenever i think of the officina each summer I smell fiberglass and see my dad, tan and shirtless in the sun, lifting concrete deadweights, putting outboards to water, and sometimes building boats from resin shells brought by the sea.

Always working with his hands, never far away from his sea, and returning to his passion off-season : fishing with traditional nets.

As a young policeman in Venice in the 60’s, my dad crashed art classes at the Accademia and hung out with artists and misfits.  I collected here the paintings from his youth that are still in the house where he grew up.  He lives there, beachfront, near the fishing shack his father built and that he turned into a work of art (more on this later).

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Gianni Aiello. 1970’s. Venezia. Italy.

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Gianni Aiello. 1970’s. Venezia. Italy.

Throughout it all, my dad is drawing boats, boats and fish, boats and fish and fishermen (my grandfather used to do the same on the edge of the newspaper). He is carving boats out of olive wood, making miniature fishing boats, and painting boats. He is constantly making or repairing stuff: cleaning and mending the nets, repairing the motor of his WWII Jeep ‘the Americans left’ , or adding to his living art installation, the fishing shack, or Baracca, of which I shared glimpses here (as it was) , here and here, and that stops tourists in their tracks. He is adding hand carved kitchen utensils for the house on the hill, or scavenging old farmhouses for vintage furniture, when he is not working on his fishing boat, Elena.

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Gianni Aiello. 1977.

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Gianni Aiello. 1978.

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Gianni Aiello. 2000’s. Calabria. Italia.

He is a busy craftsman – I am sure by now you can gather Gianni is a character.  He is a fisherman, a painter, a drawer, a sculptor, a designer and a coffee maker.  Above all, he is a dreamer, even though his gruff side would balk at this. The whole library of my adolescence was made up of books that made my dad, and, in the frontispiece there would always be a page of his diary, part of his itinerant memoir.
Sometimes he would mention a woman, or life on the road.  Sometimes he would copy a poem, or write to himself.

One time he wrote to me, when I was one year old – he was (only) 30.

They were revolutionary books and novels of magical realism. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Bernard Malamud, the Anarchist Black Book, Roots, Black Boy, Mao Tse Tung’s Red Manual, Hemingway, Garcia Lorca…so on and so forth.

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Gianni Aiello. 1970’s.

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Gianni Aiello. 1975.

My father doesn’t paint on canvas or draw on paper these days, but his whole world is art, full of sculpture and artifacts.

Whenever I visit home, I ‘make’ my dad draw me something for my collages or prompt him to start on some art project. Inevitably, we end up collaborating…here, here and here  .  For years, these times were the only way we could spend hours together without arguing.  Even though my dad would tease me when he saw me with my sketchbook (do you make any money with that?) he was always happy do art with me.
Today, he is used to see me going to work cutting up magazines while we watch Italian drama…  and he even offers suggestions.

In December 2011, my mom, dad and I were in Milano for the Holidays and one day my dad announces: “Let’s go buy some paints!”. It was a happy hunt through the half shuttered down city. This is the result:

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Like being in a Van Gogh’s painting….

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