Emilio Cavallini, one of the most prominent contemporary Italian artists, seamlessly combines fashion, design and contemporary art. His woven, jewel-toned wall sculptures hover between the dual registers of painting and sculpture, and further, between the singular and the serial, movement and stasis, and even abstraction and figuration. Since launching his eponymous label more than 40 years ago, Cavallini has combined his passion for art, fashion, and pop culture with his curiosity and respect for cutting-edge technology.
He is best known as the man who revolutionized hosiery – not just the nature of ladies’ stockings, but their entire social and aesthetic function. Until Cavallini came along, what women put over their legs was notable either for its practical or luxury, or by extension erotic, appeal. Cavallini conflated these binary opposites while simultaneously putting them in the background.
Participating in the electrified spirit of the later 1960s and early ‘70s fashion industry, especially that enveloping the eye-popping concepts that emerged in London, Cavallini employed new materials—elastic nylon in particular– and new geometric designs that ran up and down the legs and torso, turning the female body into a walking work of art. The Florentine artist’s designs reflected his keen awareness of the art of the time, which was dominated by novel geometric compositions, drained of symbolism and oriented instead towards the activation – and hyper-activation – of the eye. Such Op Art was a form of magic, and a form of genial delusion parallel to drug-induced hallucination. Even still, what Cavallini realized in fashion was not enough for what he wanted to realize as art. From the beginning, Cavallini thought not in terms of fashion, but in terms of artwork. Thus, his turn to art making was inevitable, and he did so almost as soon as he began his career in fashion. What was not inevitable, however, was his decision to make artwork with the same material with which he made clothing. Nor that the structures he fabricated would not simply recycle his superficial designs, but reformulate their optical frisson through an essentially sculptural application of nylon thread. Although they are presented in planar fashion, with only one face outwardly visible, Cavallini’s artworks manifest in low (or not-so-low) relief, claiming sculptural space even as they delineate linear patterns through what is conventionally painterly space. Cavallini has always acknowledged parallels and influences from fine art in his work, be it modern or Renaissance. His color palette has drawn upon artists as diverse as Pontormo and Malevich, while his structural gambits conjure the work of postwar, material-oriented abstractionists like Fontana and Scarpitta as well as, inevitably, Op artists such as Vasarely and Castellani. Everything Cavallini does is according to his distinct technique, exploiting the peculiar deformations his chosen material provides. Through his use of unconventional materials (which he designed and produced over the years) like nylon thread and yarn spools, Cavallini journeys to discover relationships between chaos and disorder in respect to organization and placement. His geometric patterns (squares, circles, rectangles, dots, lines, etc.) accurately appear as if they are composed through precise calculations in a process of experimentation and organized disorder. The combination of brilliant colors, dizzying patterns, and repetitive rhythms almost paradoxically create great unity in each work. With thread and printed fabric stretched over yarn spools in complex arrangements, we are struck not only by intricate designs and shapes but also by the beautiful tension of thread, a subtle force that comes through in all his works. His art is rife with metaphors of weaving, pushing, and pulling the literal weaving of thread and the conceptual weaving of art and design. His rhythmic push and pull of fabric not only catches but holds the eye.
About the Artist:
Emilio Cavallini (San Miniato, 1945) is a renowned artist and designer whose forty-year contribution to the fashion world includes singular creations for the houses of Mary Quant, Dior, Celine, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Gucci. His eponymous label is exported worldwide, from New York to London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and beyond. In 1989, he was awarded Venice’s Leone d’Oro for creativity and innovation. Italy’s Prime Minister and President recognized his artistic and industrial contributions over the last decade with several national honors including “Knight of Industry”, “Officer of the Republic,” and “Commendatore.” An artist’s book published by Skira was released in 2010 to celebrate three decades of his art practice. Cavallini’s work was presented in a solo exhibition at the 2011 Triennale of Milan, during which he constructed a site specific, four-meter cube of stocking thread. His work has been the subject of critical texts by Sergio Risaliti, Laura Cherubini, Silvia Pegoraro, among others. Rosai Ugolini Modern- New York (2015), Opera Gallery, Paris-France (2015), Galleria Valmore, Vicenza-Italy (2015), GR gallery-NY(2016) and The Italian Cultural Institute Los Angeles (2017), presented his most recent solo exhibitions.