Piero Resta wasn’t just an artist. He was a man who lived his life as a work of art; the two were interchangeable. He infused his love of life and beauty, passion and curiosity into all manners of creative expression. He was a dynamic visionary, an integral part of the artistic community of Maui, and he’s missed dearly. A retrospective of his work is now on display at the Schaefer International Gallery.
The exhibit honoring Piero Resta (1940-2015) showcases the drawings, paintings and sculpture of more than 50 years of work, influenced in part by his Italian heritage and profoundly by his life on Maui. Schaefer Gallery Director Neida Bangerter consulted with Piero’s son, Enzo, to identify selected pieces with their respective decades–and thus, phases of exploration.
“Piero went so many different directions–continuously he was always exploring,” said Enzo. “The context of time as it relates to the production of work is really interesting.”
But Enzo said his later work was the most free. In 2013 Piero was diagnosed with non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Aware of his mortality, he began to believe that there’s more available behind the veil of what we understand to be reality. It’s a concept he’d explored in the 1980s through paperworks–and one cosmic piece in particular, called “Looking and Seeing.”
“He had characters in different pieces that wore these lenses, and the lenses would help see beyond the beyond,” said Enzo. “Then when he was in his last couple years of life, he started to very acutely observe how there are all these guides that surround us, and all these signs and symbols that take us to a much higher consciousness. He had this amazing openness to learn from his interaction with what might be considered mundane things in life, and he had these great quantum growth moments that were also represented early in his ideas but that he really embraced later in life.”
Piero often had friends and collectors who were scientists creating innovative technology that would help heal people. What Enzo learned from his father about art was the concept that the artist and the scientist are part of the same thread, and that both were looking for new patterns and concepts that could be utilized for the nourishment and benefit of humanity.
“I never really saw art as a craft but much more as a commitment to looking for new ideas that would actually help with spiritual and physiological breakthroughs,” said Enzo. “And I think what I got most from him was that, it’s not about color on canvas, it’s about an idea or the composition of color on canvas that will help bring people from one place to a better place.”
Witnessing Piero’s creative process, Enzo learned of the power in using such primitive forms as a stick with deer hair tied to it mixed with pigments from the earth. “A metaphysical transformation can occur as a result of bringing these ingredients together and re-presenting them to a viewer in such a way that they can then have a sensory and spiritual experience that helps them better understand themselves and basically become better human beings.”
Piero moved to Maui in 1978, and originally lived in a jungle hut in Huelo. As an artist, Piero recognized the therapeutic quality of infusing nature into his work. So he’d invoke Alelele Falls and other parts of the island in his canvases, and then exhibit them in places like Milano in Italy, where people were more exposed to an urban lifestyle. Piero was hopeful that the natural inspiration of Hawaii would reveal itself and that viewers would feel the power of a waterfall while being in the presence of the painting. But as he traveled and exhibited more internationally, Piero became similarly influenced by the history of Rome, or by its structures.
“His more sophisticated work is a fusion of that raw natural power, and the lines and architectures of ancient cities,” said Enzo, “and then also with the never-ending vision of the future.”
A section in Piero’s retrospective called “Egyptology” is about the study of language, philosophy, literature, history and science. It’s a deep investigation into the history of humanity, combined with a futuristic vision of the art of the unknown.
“But the Maui influence, starting with the jungles of Huelo, and then wherever he lived including Kaupo,” said Enzo, “was really to bring that raw, intense, natural energy to his work.”
Piero and Enzo started collaborating 30 years ago. Enzo helped title his father’s pieces and Piero would create large sceneries based on the poetry his son would write, which would be based on the work that Piero produced. “The relationship I had with his work and understanding how he was thinking, was hugely influential to me as a poet,” said Enzo. “I felt absolute empathy and connection to a lot of the ideas that he was trying to represent, and then folded those into my writing.”
Likewise, Piero took a lot of Enzo’s writing and folded it into his work. In fact, a lot of his pieces will have what he described as “maps” underneath the actual canvas, which included things like architectural signposts and directional lines but also sometimes poetry and language. And then Piero would paint over those textual elements to have an abstract or semi-figurative, semi-abstract piece.
“To have someone so enthusiastic and supportive and inspired by anything that I created was part of why I created,” said Enzo. “I can’t imagine having any other form of a father than an artist. And that’s really deeply embedded in how I view and how I act and who I am, in everything that I do.”
The Piero Resta: Illuminatus exhibit runs through July 16 at the Schaefer International Gallery, Maui Arts & Cultural Center; Tue-Sun, 10am-5pm (also before select Castle Theater shows and during intermission).