Simona Weller
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Simona Weller: a Selected Biography
1941 - Simona in Villa Glori with her father
Simona Weller was born in 1940, May 10, in Rome, from Alfredo and Giuseppina Sales. In 1948 she lost her father and in 1949 she entered the Convitto Nazionale di Spoleto where she studied from fifth grade to the third year of high school. In Spoleto, while attending middle school (in the building where currently there is the Modern Art Gallery) her drawing teacher, Leoncillo Leonardi, recognized and encouraged her talent. Once she completed high school (liceo classico) in Rome, she applied to the Academy of Fine Arts (Accademia di Belle Arti), where she studied under the supervision of docents of the caliber of Ferruccio Ferrazzi, Mario Mafai e Mino Maccari.

The academy provided her with true experience: clay modelling, engraving and the study of several pictorial techniques from the great Italian tradition. Here, she assiduously drew from living models.
Then, she left for distant lands. The opportunity to travel was soon offered by a special UNESCO scholarship for a country in the Far East, namely Siam. Either because of fate or instinct, Simona anticipated the younger generation which, ten years later, created the myth of India and the Orient. As all great travels Weller’s was a kind of an initiatory voyage.
1960 - A month before leaving to Thailand where she won a scholarship by UNESCO for the Academy of Bangkok
In this period of time she dreamed and lived as a young explorer, like a character from Rimbaud and Verlaine’s time. By all means she was a pioneer. Naturally, in the Far East she was impressed by incomprehensible writings, signs and inscriptions. She intuited the secret harmony of cuneiform characters and ideograms, a harmony that she subtly knew might have turned useful in the future. In 1960 Asia appeared to her as a Continent of wonders: sea, rivers, rice fields, jungle and dead cities. She was astonished by common people’s costumes, colourful silk with iridescent shades, female skin with the reflections of bronze, perfumes with inebriating scents. Every time she returned from a long travel (Thailand 1960/61, Egypt 1962/63 and Spain 1964), however, Simona always attended the art courses of the Academy of Rome up to her thesis on ancient Egyptian painting.
1960 - In front of her studio in Bangkok, in Soi Lert Sin (Bangkapi). The Academy's director was the Tuscan painter Corrado Feroci
In 1961 she married the play-writer Roberto Veller Fornasa with whom she lived and had two children: David (1962) and Micol (1964). Immediately after, she chose to live in the Umbrian countryside, precisely in Taizzano di Narni, where she found the ideal atmosphere to paint and grow her children.

Needless to say that the sentiment of solitude, the communion with nature and the experience of motherhood profoundly influenced her work of these years. While her painting was slowly distilled from academic and folkloristic traces and reached its expressive autonomy, her technique became increasingly more refined and clever. This early pictorial metamorphoses can be observed especially in the period 1965-70 through all those works done in enamel and ink on precious papers. Both Rice papers (Chinese or Japanese) and canvases (prepared as walls) were her favourite supports. With the precision of an entomologist she designed insects, fossils and wild berries coloured with Klee’s poetic pigments.
Simona left her refugee in Central Italy only to visit the great exhibitions of the world and, yet, her painting attracted the attention of some illustrious critics (Menna, Venturoli, Di Genova, Crispolti). Timidly, she began to insert written sentences, poetic lines and epigrams, inspired by the Latin inscriptions that she observed among the ruins of ancient Rome. Her pictorial world, defined as surreal-naturalistic by the early critics, was still, indeed, connected to the cycle of life or the metamorphoses of nature which spring-out immediately below or above the earth soil.
At the beginning of the 1970s Simona faced a personal revolution. Divorced from her husband she went back to Rome. Here, while teaching pictorial disciplines, as an assistant of Giulio Turcato, she lived with the poet and critic Cesare Vivaldi.

1961 - She takes notes about vegetation on an island before Pattaya
Significantly, in these years she discovered that a painting, beside colours, can be covered up with signs and words.
Therefore, the blackboard experiment began. This experiment consists of wooden tablets on which she designed white or colourful graffiti against a dark background in imitation of a school blackboard. This technique gave vent to her unconscious, especially to her childhood nightmares. From the blackboard, the painter moved to the note book on which infantile signs alternate with the external interventions of an imaginary instructor. The first critics to write about this cycle of works were Vivaldi, Enrico Crispolti, Murilo Mendes, Marisa Volpi and Federica Di Castro.
In 1973 she was invited in the non-figural section of the tenth Quadriennale of Rome. In the meantime, in Turin she exhibited her work in Remo Pastori’s gallery and then in Calica e Ligure gaining the attention of important collectors from Northern Italy. In 1974 she was nominated by Giuliano Briganti for the Bolaffi Award.
1961 - Two months later she marries Roberto Veller Fornaia (July 29th)
Her black works, some kind of impressive illusionistic blackboards, alternate with huge colourful canvases in which a word repeated is stratified layer upon layer in order to form a textural web similar to fabric. In order to write the key word (grass, sea, dawn, wheat, etc.) the artist avails of the oil pastel technique whose colourful signs are increasingly informed with the study of Divisionism. The resulting texture is never flat but rather deep, especially if observed from a distance. Weller reached her goal: her aim was to define a mental landscape with an apparently non-semantic word which, by covering the whole space of the canvas, turns into a pictorial surface.

Although she does not belong to any specific art group, Weller could be contextualized within the frame of a lyric abstraction or rather, because of her written painting, within the informal sign movement. Yet, there has been an attempt to erroneously converge her art toward the so-called visual poetry. For this reason, she has been invited to several visual poetry exhibitions organized by Mirella Bentivoglio. Such an inaccuracy was further aggravated by Nello Ponente who, in the great exhibition of 1980 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, called “Linee della ricerca artistica degli ultimi venti anni,”( Lines of Artistic Research in the Last twenty Years), categorized Weller’s painting in the section dedicated to visual poetry again.
1963 - A trip to Karnak. A new UNESCO scholarship allows her to study in the Academy of Fine Arts in Cairo
For these exhibitions Weller rigorously used works with a black and white backgrounds avoiding any connotations of the visual poets. This label created a certain discontent in the artist who never identified her painting as such, particularly because she could never renounce to the essential use of colour. Her painted writing changed through the years with a series of erasures and breaks through the canvas. Then, after an attentive conceptual study on Seurat’s painting, from which she detangled and reinvented details from the famous Grande Jatte, Weller began to work on the tache. She elaborated spots of colour which have the power to simultaneously suggest erasure and rhythm to the writing underneath. While at the beginning of the 1970s Weller’s painted writing grew layer upon layer as if generated by itself, in 1978 writing served to give the final work a sense of a constructive solidity.
Lorenza Trucchi, who in 1978 invited Weller at the palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome for the exhibition Arte-Ricerca (Art-Research), allowed the artist to elucidate this process. In one single room, Weller exhibited both the particular experiments from Seurat, painted on long and narrow stripes, and two big works dedicated to the sea: one about daylight and another night, with a solar and lunar tone respectively. The whole room was entitled: Parafrasando Seurat, un pomeriggio di domenica all’isola… Tiberina (Paraphrasing Seurat, a Sunday afternoon at the Island of… Tiberina).
1971 - With Cesare Vivaldi
The message was meant to be ironic, but it was considered though provoking among certain critics who commented by asserting: “Capiamo, ma non condividiamo”. “we understand without sharing.” In-spite of the critic’s response which at this time was particularly subordinated to fashionable trends, Weller’s true faith in painting was immediately awarded with an invitation to the Venice Biennale, in the exhibition “Dalla pagina allo spazio” (“From page to space”) in the Magazzini del Sale.

At the very beginning of 1979 in her studio on Via Margotta 48 (a place which boasted three quarter of post-war Italian Art: from Turcato to Corpora) she glued various fragments of former temperas. Stripes of painted paper were glued against backgrounds written with the usual words grass or sea. The relief-like effect was ushered by a kind of twilight and the resulting effect was so interesting which re-appeared at the basis of a major experiment in the following years. These early collages were presented, in the same year, by Flavio Caroli and Luciano Caramel, in an exhibition held at the space of the Rotonda della Besana in Milano, entitled: “Testuale: le parole e le immagini” (“Textual: words and Images”). This was the first and last show which focused on the painting-writing phenomenon through the centuries.
1977 - With Paola Levi Montalcini in the Galleria Giulia in Rome during the presentation of "Il Complesso di Michelangelo" and the exhibition about forty women artists from Rome
The 1970s come to an end with the first anthology of Simon Weller in the Modern Art Museum of Macerata in 1980, where the director Elverio Maurizi not only invited her, but also wrote a profound essay about Simon Weller’s work.
The first twenty years of her artistic life were signed by several commitments. She published a fundamental essay on Italian women-artists of the 20th century (“Il Complesso di Michelangelo” - Nuova Foglio Editore, 1976), participated in several feminist conferences and international women-artists exhibitions.
During the Spring of 1976 she sojourned in New York for several months where she met artists working in a variety of fields: Marcia Hafif, Robert Morris, Simone Forti. In the USA she met the famous art gallerist Leo Castelli who appreciated her work and suggested her to stay in Soho and become part of the New York School. Unfortunately, to follow this suggestion Simona should have abandoned Italy, two children, a beloved partner, a tenure position and her own culture.

1980 - With her children in the streets of Calcata
Although relatively brief, the American experience confirmed her path and consolidated her identity. In these decades she met and became friends with the old painters of the great school of Italian art: Giuseppe Caporossi, Emilio Scanavino, Giorgio De Chirico, Nino Corpora, Giulio Turcato, Toti Scialoja, Alberto Burri, Afro Basaldella and Mauro Reggiani. Then, while writing “Il Complesso di Michelangelo” she met Edita Broglio, Antonietta Raphaël, Carla Accardi, Titina Maselli, Adriana Pincherle, the sisters Levi Montalcini and many others.
Every year in between 1970s and 80s from June to September she worked in Liguria within the triangle composed by Finale Ligure, Calice and Albisola, where among many artists she encountered Andy Warhol, who, at this time, was writing his biography in the house of the Swiss art dealer Janneret.
In the fervor of the Ligurian summers Simona started to explore ceramic and immediately exhibited her work in an international exhibition at Villa Faraggiana in Albissola. Since then, ceramic has never been abandoned for she is still periodically working with this medium in the factory l’Antica di Alviero Moretti in Deruta.
After Seurat and Divisionism, Weller studied Cubist space through an attentive observation of Braque, Picasso and Severini. She was able to isolate certain details which she, then, conflated with fragments of her own experience and with residues of her own former paintings.
1986 - In the studio of Colle Nibbio while completing the work "Plenilunio"
Out of these compositions arose a series of huge panels on paper with an intrinsic scenographic purpose. They evoke an assimilation and reinvention of a historical avant-guarde.
No wonder the titles were inspired with Cubism in mind by Gertrude Stein (see “Ode alle ciglia di una signora”) and the comments written with attentive zeal by Palma Bucarelli. The catalogue was translated into Dutch and German for a traveling exhibition in Rome, Ferrara, Amsterdam and Berlin, by the title, always quoting Stein, “Il segno è l’esemplare parlato” (“Sign is the spoken exemplar”).

In this cycle, however, there are still the compositions against a black background which recall the earlier blackboards.
The 1986 invitation to the Quadriennale, enabled Weller to move forward. Her sign, or fragments of it, is subtly transformed into microscopic modules which apparently suggest the movement of a wave, yet, if one looks attentively, they are, actually, fragments of words. From this time Simona’s painting undergoes a strongly experimental phase with the use of different materials, a phase which seems to reach its peak in the 1990s. This is the moment in which she created relief like pictures, rough canvases and tridimensional breaks. Her visually simulate the actual effects of the elements invoked: fire, water, wind.
Thus, she produced the cycle of “Allegri naufragi” inspired by the famous poem by Ungaretti: “E subito riprende il viaggio, dopo il naufragio, il vecchio lupo di mare…”, a highly symbolic sentence which mirrors the artist’s attitude toward her life and art .
1999 - In the living room of her home in Calcata with Sandro Barbagallo
Weller’s linguistic culture, though rooted in the formal tradition of color (from Seurat to Balla and Dorazio) is still able to surprise with unexpected expressive solutions— the best example being “Lettere di una pittrice italiana a Vincent Van Gogh” (“Letters of an Italian Painter to Vincent Van Gogh”) in which the artist further renovates her research on painting-writing from within. For this work she was invited by three Netherlandish art galleries to exhibit during the 150 years anniversary of Van Gogh’s birth.

Inspite of her restless creative energy, Weller’s life went through sorrowful moments. In 1993 her former husband Roberto Veller Fornasa (with whom she had reconciled) died, while in Paris his last comedy was on stage. In 1998 Cesare Vivaldi (from whom she separated in 1982) died. In 2003 her mother, Giuseppina Sales, also left her. Recently she has abandoned both teaching and the collaboration with the Italian Magazine “Noi Donne” (where she had kept her space dedicated to art and women for ten years) in order to re-launch her activity as painter and writer. She has published 5 novels and a radiodrama and has participated in several individual and group exhibitions. From the artistic point of view her career still in crescendo found a momentum in “Verba Picta” (a double anthology-exhibition in Liguria in 2005).
2006 - Meeting the Italian President Carlo Azelio Ciampi at Quirinale.

In 2004 she married the young art historian-critic Sandro Barbagallo, author of a thesis on her work. On March 8, 2006, the President of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, upon a suggestion by Nobel Prize Rita Levi Montalcini, awarded in person Simona Weller’s eclectic activity in the field of culture with the title of commendatore.

During the year 2009 Simona Weller wins the competition for the decoration of the annual official medal for the fifth year of pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. This prestigious medal is awarded directly by the Vatican City State and coined by the Italian mint. Simona Weller modeled the reverse of the medal with an image dedicated to Saint Paul. The Pauline motto ""Mihi vivere Christus est" in the background, creates that distinctive texture immediately identifiable as the sign of this artist.
The first illustrious visitor to have received the medal has been the American President Barack Obama during his visit to the Vatican.
2009 - The reverse of the medal modeled by Simona Weller 2009 - The American President Barack Obama receives the medal by the Pope
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