Sad news today: after a month’s deterioration in his health, Flavio Costantini, graphic artist and friend of 40-years, passed away peacefully in a Rapallo hospice on Monday 20 September. His wife, Wanda, and other close family members and friends were at his bedside. Flavio had lung cancer for some time; the seriousness of his condition, however, was known only to himself and Wanda — until near the end, which came sooner than everyone expected. He leaves cheery memories, and the world — artistically at least, with his visually thought-provoking images — a richer place …
Flavio collaborated with me from the launch of the first Cienfuegos Press publication, illustrating the cover of Antonio Tellez’s ‘Sabaté. Guerrilla Extraordinary’ in 1974, through to the jacket design of ‘General Franco Made Me A Terrorist’ in 2003. In 1975 we (Cienfuegos Press) published a collection of his silkscreen prints with an anarchist theme, ‘The Art of Anarchy’, which was selected by the National Book League as one of the top ten book covers of 1976. The article below is an appreciation of Flavio’s work I wrote in 1976 for ‘Illustrators 50’, the magazine of the London-based Association of Illustrators:
‘More often than not it is the artist, writer or poet, rather than the historian or sociologist, who succeed in capturing the spirit of an age; in so doing, they make an important contribution to our understanding of society.
Flavio Costantini is such a person. Born in Rome in 1926, his earliest ventures into art were motivated more by intellectual frustration than by artistic masters. “I started to draw because I read the Kafka books… it was impossible to write like Kafka, so I began to draw”. Other writers followed, but it was the human condition as portrayed by Kafka that was to remain the dominant influence in Costantini’s world.
Retiring from the navy in 1955, Costantini returned to Italy to begin a new career as a textile designer and commercial graphic artist. Fascinated by structures, Genoa, his chosen home base, provided him with an antidote to what had been for Costantini the Kafkaesque nightmare of New York.
The ancient Mediterranean port offered him visual inspiration in so many ways-the details of an archway, a balustrade or the geometry of a piazza. Colour also came to play a more important part in Costantini’s work. After a brief flirtation with oils in the early 1960s, tempera became the chosen medium.
The period between the early 1960s and mid 1970s coincided with a flood tide of intense democratic hopes for large numbers of people. Costantini had been a communist until 1962, but a month long visit to Moscow caused him to reconsider his beliefs. In Moscow he saw “an endless stream of tourist peasantry who were strangely silent, neither sad nor happy, but were canalised in a disenchanted, unconscious pilgrimage … The revolution had ended… In the squalid vertical squares of New York or in the equally squalid horizontal squares of Moscow, reaching beyond the languid reminiscences of old Europe, this was perhaps an alternative, an isolated but insistent voice, an ancient Utopia which, however, had nothing in common with the Fabian longings of HG Wells. Since then, since 1963, I have tried, within the scope of my possibilities, to publicise this uncompromising alternative.”
He reread a book he had disliked some years previously, Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Victor Serge. Serge’s description of the heroic period of French anarchist activism that highlighted the end of the last century provided Costantini with a social theme that was to be his inspiration for the next two decades. He felt, like Serge, that although shot through with contradictions, the French anarchists were “people who demanded, before anything else, harmony between words and deeds”. They were very often lonely and isolated individuals, sensitive in their own way, whose reaction to confusion and alienation was to act, to refuse to submit.
Costantini’s work during these two decades is a documentation of this dramatic period in mankind’s odyssey towards a free society based on the principles of social justice described by Bakunin over a century ago: “It is the triumph of humanity, it is the conquest and accomplishment of the full freedom and full development, material, intellectual and moral, of every individual, by the absolute free and spontaneous organisation of economic and social solidarity as completely as possible between all human beings living on the earth.” Like a sun-illuminated stained glass window in a cathedral, the impact of Costantini’s work is immediate. Events are captured without perspective and on a single plane in a startlingly innovative manner.
There is irony here, too: the faces of the policemen, for example, firing on strikers in Chicago, 1886, are those of four US presidents. Another tempera, depicting the capture of Ravachol, has Toulouse-Lautrec as the arresting officer.
Costantini’s haunting faces, drawn directly from contemporary sources, provide an element of photographic realism that contrasts starkly with the decorative backdrop. Whether it is in the faces of the protagonists, the architectural or stylistic minutiae, there is a lovingly researched detail, harmony and structural perfection.
The ebbing of revolutionary hopes and expectations in the mid 1970s gave Costantini the sensation that he was witnessing the end of an era. He came to believe that the act of revolution, as a cathartic means of achieving the good society, was no longer possible without serious risk of sinking into a sea of anomie.
His disenchantment with the apparent hopelessness of the human condition in late capitalism is expressed in the final tempera in the revolutionary series with Kafkaesque symbolism. The painting depicts the room in which the Tsar and his family were murdered. The furniture has been removed and the room is empty: only the bullet-torn wallpaper indicates something irreversible has occurred. Most of the paintings in this series were reproduced in the now out of print The Art of Anarchy.
Perhaps with the intention of cushioning himself from the effect of this radical shift in his outlook, in 1980 Costantini began to immerse himself in a series of light-hearted portraits of the authors who had contributed most to his understanding of the world.
Each is accompanied by rebus-like objects associated with the subject, or which provide an important theme in their work. Thus, Kafka is shown with his beetle; Poe with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey; Stevenson with a seagull, lifebelt and a killed figure; Conrad with a compass and a photograph of a steamer, and so on.
By the mid 1980s, another theme had emerged from this period of introspection, a more deeply allegorical one, also in the Kafkaesque tradition-the sinking of the Titanic. The year in which this criminal tragedy occurred, 1912, was a portentous and pivotal year, in the artist’s view, in the history of the contemporary world.
The original scene-setting picture depicts the ship foundering of a peaceful evening with the great stern rising like a squat Leviathan and the lights from a 1000 empty portholes glittering on a calm sea. Even after the collision with the iceberg the passengers showed little concern for their safety-had it not, after all, been declared unsinkable- and continued to dance to the strains of numerous orchestras while others played poker.
Costantini is not a painter like all the rest; he is not prolific. His output these days may be two paintings a year, but in 1996, for example, he produced no work whatsoever. He earns a living out of his few and very select band of fans. His most recent commission has been to illustrate Dostoevsky’s Letters from the Underworld and these tempera paintings are currently being exhibited throughout Italy.
Apart from The Art of Anarchy (Cienfuegos Press, London, 1975), Flavio’s inspired graphic insights have visually enhanced a number of literary classics in Italian, including Il Cavallino di Fuoco by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Emme Edizioni, n.d), The Shadow Line, by Joseph Conrad (Edizioni Nuages, 1989) and Dostoevsky’s Letters from the Underworld (Edizioni Nuages, 1997). Flavio’s work has been exhibited all over the world, including at the prestigious 1972 Xth Rome Quadriennale and the 1984 Venice Biennale exhibitions.’
Here is a more recent appreciation of Flavio by his very close friend Roberto Farina:
FLAVIO COSTANTINI. AN EXPERIENCED ANARCHIST
by Roberto Farina
Flavio Costantini was born in Rome on 21st September, exactly sixty years after Herbert George Wells. When, during the war, he became a young utopian influenced by the books of the English writer he was pleased by the coincidence, finding it “particularly meaningful”.
His mother, a Roman housewife, kept a record of all her dead relatives. Every evening she opened the book she prayed for each of them, naming them one by one. From time to time the book was updated. “I was afraid of becoming one of them!”
His father, from Osimo, worked for the INA insurance company; his hobby was painting. “He was an amateur painter, he painted on everything using oils.”
Little Flavio spent his time at home playing with cut-out newspapers. He kept diaries, decorating them with photos, collage, and drawings — like the Giamburrasca chronicles.
Apart from one little incident Flavio had a happy childhood, as we can read in his diary of 1937: “Dear diary, today Topolino has not arrived. I think the postman took it”. He is still convinced of the fact.
Since the age of seven he has had fears he still cannot explain: “the house walls in Rome were plenty of writings and dirty drawings. On the walls near my house there were also my Xs. When I was on my way to school I used to write half X and I thought: if I come back from school alive, I’ll write the second half of the X.”
The first books were Salgari, Conrad, Stevenson, Kipling and the great Russian writers.
He attended the Liceo Tasso “the best high school in Rome” for two years, but had to give it up when he failed his Latin and French exams: his mother decided to send him to the Istituto Nautico (nautical high school) “the worst high school in Rome”.
A familiar network of affection and attention surrounded and protected him. His luck protected him from many of the hardships of war. The presence of some German units assured gas, electricity and water supply to all the area, while the other areas of Rome had to do without.
He had few traumatic memories. One of them is the bombing of San Paolo where his school was located. “When the bombs started falling, my friends threw themselves on the bank of the river Tevere, while I started running along via Ostiense, from the school to the Basilica, I thought they would not bomb there. I looked like Dordoni. I found shelter in a confessional.”
One day his mother was sewing in front of the window as always. Outside swallows were darting in the sky, family books were in the bookcase, his father’s painting were on the walls, the silence was broken just by the noise of the sewing machine. Suddenly the young Flavio noticed a detail out of tune in the perfect family picture: a stretch mark in his mother’s stockings. He saw it and felt suddenly unhappy.
After six years of war, the stretch mark in his mother look showed him human frailty, revealed the occurring decline. A little imperfection and here comes the night.
In the summer of 1945 he saw Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend”. The delirium tremens scene — the hole in the wall, the rat, the bat, and the blood on the wall — shocked him. “The hallucination of the bat devouring the rat took me to the peak of the breakdown I had been suffering for long. He left the cinema as Ray Milland was screaming. That day Rome was silent and semi-destroyed. “In via Tritone I felt dizzy. I did not know what to do”.
He ran home! Up San Nicola da Tolentino as far as via Bissolati and left, then right into via Sallustriana to the number 29, the entrance was open and he reached his apartment door. After 110 steps he rang the door but nobody answered. The house was empty and he was exhausted. He knocked on a neighbour’s door: “Help me because I don’t know what to do”
What struck Costantini that day was the realization of human loneliness in this meaningless world. The perception of loneliness is added to the perception of decline and lack of meaning. It is not the best option for an eighteen-year-old atheist. He felt hopeless, looked out of a window and thought about a girl who, years before had thrown herself out into the emptiness. “She’s calling me”, he thought. But suicide is never the solution, it is part of the problem. The solution is somewhere else. “I was saved by the naval academy and the sea”.
In 1946, having received the diploma of Sea Captain, he did his military service at Livorno Naval Academy where he remained until 1948, then went to sea. Discharged in 1950 he returned to Rome worked for a short time as a cashier in an electronics company. In September 1951, thanks to his father’s connections, he found a position on the tanker Rapallo, on which he sailed all over the world.
“I had the opportunity to see places that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise: Danzig for example. Who ever thought to go to that grey and bombed city? Neither I would have seen New York. It is a tough city. It scared me but I managed to visit it because I knew that at night I would have gone back to my cabin, it was like going back home. I felt like a snail, travelling around with my house on me”.
No doubt the academy and the Navy had a therapeutic role: strict rules and hierarchy created a world around him that protected him from emptiness but couldn’t make up for it.
True “salvation”, moral long-lasting salvation, came in 1954, during his last journey. He started his first “little drawings”, occasioned by a reading of Franz Kafka.
His cabin on the Driade was very small — a bed, a washbasin, a table, a chair, a small wardrobe and a bedside table. Costantini had found his own space: functional and far away from the emptiness of via del Tritone. He was comfortable there and he wouldn’t get out if not for literature.
The horror in Kafka is dense and with unlimited consequences. Costantini read his work and illustrated some paragraphs, as he did when he was a child in his diaries.
Costantini’s first works, in black and white, spring from the pages of Kafka. The intimate discipline of art followed the exterior discipline of the Navy. What Costantini considered a hobby was to become the focus of his life. He never stopped drawing. From that moment he started building walls of order, harmony and proportions. Black borders surrounded every space. In his very violent paintings everything had to be perfect.
The walls of his living room are white, the windows are wide; light strikes the bookcase where the collection Formìggini stands out. On a wooden bedside table there are family pictures and a chimera, tempera and collage, dedicated to his wife, Wanda. On the wall there is an oil of a bullfight and three “anarchist” prints “Les Travailleurs de la Nuit”, “Almereyda”, “Nogent-sur-Marne”. Everything is in order, outside swallows dart in the sky. “In my paintings everything must be perfect”
In 1956 he setup the Firma Studio with Bernazzoli, Veruggio and Biassoni. Since he had never been interested in marketing and nobody thought he could do it, in the early days he dealt with administration and cash flow, doing occasional “little drawings” for Shell and Esso already clients of the Studio.
He became famous with Shell magazine n. 1 in 1957, who published his work called “America” on the cover. It illustrated a desolated and complex New York. The prestigious Swiss magazine Grafis published this illustration on the international annual of the best drawings. “The only drawing I made was chosen. The other illustrators perhaps took it badly. They said: it is impossible — he is an accountant!”
In 1959 he went to Barcelona. “I hate tourism, I like going to places if I have something to do there. In fact in Barcelona I spent my time in a café.” The only place he visited was the Plaza de Toros to watch the Corrida. “I am for the bullfighter. Try to confront a bull!”
Back in Italy he started painting Tauromachias in which the bullfighter is almost always defeated. The corrida for him is the performance of violence and abuse. The bull represents evil and fascism. “If it was red,” he says now “I would have been better”.
During the 60s he worked with the magazine “Italsider”, painting in his studio, basing his work on photographs took in the factory.
In 1962 Costantini painted a large oil canvas for a group exhibition organized by Finsider at Sokolniki Park in Moscow, and took the opportunity to visit USSR. He spent entire days walking around with Luzzati. “Moscow was an enormous colorless village, in spite of the polychrome grandeur of the Red Square”. Streets were crowded with people who looked “strangely silent, not happy nor miserable”. There were big cars with curtained windows driving around; the general impression was that the revolution was over.
Back in Italy he tried starting again his tauromachias but he found it difficult. He painted Landru. This temper is the first of the “anarchists cycle”: the serial murderer is the “topos” of the concept “one against all the others”. He overcame the contraposition good/evil, here we find something that really moves Costantini: the fight of the individual against the society.
In the same period he read Memories of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge
Through the pages of the first chapter of this book, the old illusion grew inside Costantini: the anarchism.
“I started to promote the idea of anarchism as far as I could.”
He was interested in humans and their actions more than in ideas. Who are Caserio, Bresci, Angiolillo, Ravachol, Bonnot and his group? Where are they from?
Costantini wanted to know everything about them and began looking for documentation at the historical police archive in the Quai des Orfévres in Paris, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and at the Archivio di Stato in Rome where he studied magazines and newspapers of the time.
But this is not enough and so he paints. In this way a meticulous reconstruction of facts, scientific and concrete flows into the modern concept of subverted perspective and ungraspable mystery.
Ravachol in prison, a step from the gallows, Bonnot in Choisy-le-Roi, a step from the final battle, they stare at us, impassively. They are impenetrable like sacred icons.
Although our questions won’t be answered, we perceive, thanks to art, un peu de l’ame des bandits.
The anarchist series of prints lasts until 1979, when Costantini began work on a painting about the execution of the Romanov family. What he discovers moves him to the point that he stops believing in the revolutionary illusion.
He goes back to his bourgeois culture. “ I do not trust anyone who wants to change the world. I do not trust ideas, in general. People who love an idea very much cannot love the others”.
The massacre of the family of the Tsar is not represented in Costantini’s paintings: the room is clean and empty. The broken wall shows us that harmony is lost forever. What remains is a world of shadows. Emptiness and silence. With the Ipatiev house individuals disappear from Costantini paintings, leaving space to a cruel light that submerges everything like a tide. What we find in the paintings of the Ipatiev House, Tobolsk and Tzarskoie Selo is the submerged world of dead ideals.
In 1982 it was the turn of Titanic. After the almost monochrome Ipatiev house, we find the multicolored ship wreckage. As happened with Franz Kafka and Victor Serge, the cue is literature.
This time everything starts from A Night to Remember by Walter Lord: the detailed description of the last 180 minutes of the unsinkable ship that sank, during her official voyage.
The symbolic strength of the tragedy of the Titanic captures Costantini’s imagination. The metaphor is simple: Titan challenged the gods and lost.
The effort of individuals to dominate nature and their destiny are useless: an entire culture sinks.
Admiring the elegance of the liberty rooms of the ship, the vanishing points of her desert deck, we feel lost in a maze where something terrible is happening. The end is near; we can do nothing but wait, like the duchesses of Tzarskoie Selo and of Tobolsk.
A suspended atmosphere reminds us of Kafka: the anticipation of our punishment for being alive.
In 2008 he works at the murdering of citizen Marat: “It is wrong to say that The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters. The truth is that the Watch of Reason Brings Forth Monsters!”
He returns to organic figurative and back to blood. The figure is Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday; the blood is that of Jean-Paul Marat. The conflict between individual and society, so dear to Costantini, returns.
Charlotte Corday represents herself; Marat represents the Revolution. The former is an individual the latter is a mass symbol. To Costantini, Corday is like Ravachol: she strikes a tribune, he strikes a procurator, and both will die for the good of society.
Costantini denies the value of power, because it is always domineering, even if it is the power of the revolution.
Sometimes he still paints clear sea landscapes like pleasant memories of youth. Dawns and sunsets are still and silent, sailing ships sail on a flat sea above the Titanic. These works evoke a deep feeling of nostalgia. The harbours are all behind us, we land no more, and we can only follow the wind.
He sailed in the Navy and with the merchant navy; he was never a good sailor he says because he used to stand spellbound watching the ocean and the clouds.
Through history. The artistic world of Flavio Costantini
During his long artistic career, Costantini has often dealt with the contradictions, the ambiguities and the tricks of history, especially the dramatic events of the so-called “short twentieth century”. He has evoked some of those significant episodes in his pictorial cycles, such as the sinking of Titanic, which symbolically defined the end of an age and opened the period of the First World War, the massacre of the Tsar’s family and the revolution that was to change the world political balance.
This personal historical analysis began in 1963, the year he began evoking, in one of his most important cycles, the revolutionary dynamics of the anarchist movement between the 19th and the 20th centuries.
Through a meticulous and detailed reconstruction of anarchist attacks, Costantini intended to underline how their extraordinary and bloody political actions represented an example for all the different movements of that tumultuous time. The general revolutionary impulse against repressive systems, although in the name of justice and freedom, flow into the rising tide of violence whose consequences have affected history to this day.
It is hardly surprising that— fifty years after the beginning of that cycle — Costantini has returned in his recent works to the historical moments that gave violent birth to our destiny, detaching them from the cultural and political illusions that characterised the 20th century, and the loss of idealism that launched the period.
The French Revolution is one such fundamental moment, and the artist — underlining its brutal and violent aspects and leaving its egalitarian values of freedom and brotherhood in the background — considers it the precursor, the anticipation of contemporary tragedies.
This personal and often contradictory vision of history that has grown darker and darker is unable to diminish the power of the artist’s emotional representation of events.
Costantini clearly focuses on their most significant aspects, as demonstrated by his collection of portraits of famous 20th century intellectuals. These representations of writers and intellectuals suggest, with their symbolic expressive synthesis, new ideas for the elaboration of history aimed at offering new answers in our attempt to understand the past. Uneasiness is the feeling that permeates this collection of portraits that, with the sharpness of scientific classifications, reminds us of the dramatic events of history.
Although it is the subject of his work, Costantini cannot be defined as a painter of “history”. The artist, who comes from Rome but who lives in Liguria, has himself gone through history, interpreting the doubts and uncertainties of the age and expressing his own reactions to the difficulties and complexity of the topic.
In a general climate of dismay due to the absurdity of human actions, he is not afraid to contradict what he has affirmed in the past. In representing history he presents his own story and, as underlined by Arturo Schwarz, “ it is no surprise that his portraits end up as self-portraits”
The steady and unique element of his research is the peculiar cultural approach to the subjects and his personal and original organization of the pictorial space. From this point of view he can be compared with his friend Lele Luzzati, even if their poetical worlds are very different.
Costantini’s work is not characterised by a constant unambiguous speech since his many stylistic sources have represented an adventure through the most important aspects of the 20th century.
Lara Vinca Masini in one of his most lucid critical interventions says: “there is much history of art in Costantini’s work, from cubism to Mexican murals, from Art Nouveau to pop”.
It is impossible not to agree with Lele Luzzati who, supporting the originality of Costantini’s artistic experience said: “What you can say about Flavio is that he is unique; he is unaffected by any trend of our age, neither realism nor surrealism not even abstract art, he has invented his own world”.
“I have never been a good visitor of museums” Costantini has confessed using an ironic understatement in his 1980 autobiography, in which he underlined the artistic influence of the illustrations of books he cut out as a child imagining them taking life.
If sometimes it is possible to find cultural and stylistic influences in his work, they do not always play an important role in his research. Vinca Masini noted his attraction to pop art: “Costantini had just one option, looking for the roots of pop art in the tradition. It does not mean that Costantini moved in the direction of pop art, even if it was in his field of interest.
Actually the reference to pop art itself — although Costantini was not involved in this area of research, officially— is to me to a certain extent pertinent. First in the aspect of mass-esthetics that occurs in his work, through the reproduction of advertisements, billboards or printed material, and also through attention to the myths and icons of our age. It emerges from the portrait series, but also from his analysis of those historical events that, like in the case of the Titanic, have become the symbol of the age.
His cultural closeness to pop art shows itself in this ability to evoke taste, trends and spirit of the age and, through the obsessive historical research, in his extraordinary ability to evoke the atmosphere of the locations. Nevertheless, this closeness appears to be limited inside an attitude of “citation” common among the most important representative of Italian pop art, such as Franco Angeli, Mario Schifano and Tano Festa. Referring to his peculiar influences of art nouveau, particularly evident in the cycle of the Titanic images, Rossana Bossaglia wrote: “(…) from the beginning his art appeared very original because he did not imitate liberty but revisited it. Here you can recognize a ductus very close to neo-figurative Italian art, and you can find influences of pop art”.
The best way to interpret his complex pictorial experience and his artistic and cultural references consists, therefore, in going through the different steps of his research which began with a significant début in graphics and applied arts. This specific education explains his friendship with Luzzati with whom he worked at Firma, something that had profound and long-term consequences on his subsequent work.
As we said, since 1955, Costantini has worked with fabric graphics and with illustration. In the same period, between 1955 and 1956, he produced a series of drawings inspired by Franz Kafka’s novels “(…) restless, thin traced stringy characters, already obsessed by details and loads of descriptive notes”. These works are characterised by his attraction to the gloominess of German expressionism and, as noted by Mario Piazza, indicate the overcoming of the graphic initial experience.
In spite of this unconventional approach, Costantini has produced many illustrations for Shell, Esso and Italsider company magazines. Peculiarly, this phase of his artistic research reflects Flavio’s interest in machines and unusual perspectives, as in the illustrations of Le città del ferro, published by Italsider in 1966 – a series of new metropolitan visions in which Masini finds references to American cartoons. These urban landscapes – beginning with representations of New York, inspired inside the Kafkian cycle by the novel America – reveal also the influence of ’30s and ’40s American painting. Costantini seems to be influenced in particular by Ben Shan, whom incisive graphic sign appears in Costantini’s illustrations of the end of the ’50s and the beginning of the ’60s, and also in his representations of the Corrida.
The American style of the first half of the 20th century emerges also in his attraction to technology typical of the Machine Age, represented in the work of Charles Sheeler and Stuart Davis: just think of the painting Terni, presented at the Finsider pavilion during the 1962 Italian Trade Exhibition in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park, or Galleria del petrolio in the magazine “Rivista Shell Italiana” of 1959.
In these visionary industrial scenes Costantini underlines the danger of machines; we find the reference to Futuristic painting from an opposing cultural and ideological position. The image of a cyclist seen from behind, produced by Costantini in 1958 for the cover of the magazine “Rivista Shell Italiana”, evokes the synthesis of one of the most important futuristic paintings by Mario Sironi, Il ciclista of 1916.
Deeply independent and functional to his subsequent paintings, the experience in the field of fabric graphics, begun in Rapallo, was carried on with the collaboration with “Firma Boutique”, fabrics and clothes of Studio Firma, and with MITA, a factory founded in 1926 by Mario Alberto Ponis in Genova Nervi.
In the flowery and abstract patterns of his fabrics Costantini started a dialogue with his pictorial experience, trying in both cases a strong and symmetric trace with special attention to volumes, harmony, chromatic contrasts and obsessive attention to details. The most significant aspects of this artistic approach – characterised by strict organisation, coherent in the case of fabrics with the need of industrial production and in case of illustrations with the needs of printing — emerges in the recklessness of perspective solutions through which he adapted to the structural limits.
This expressive peculiarity is the characteristic of his pictorial research to which were added influences of ancient painting, Flemish painting, Mantegna and modernism.
The analogy with the cubism and futurism for the surfaces superimposition developed in this context as a consequence of the influence of Van Gogh. Just think about the analogy between the famous bedroom and the room represented in the painting Saint Etienne 1890 of 1970.
In the same time his peculiar taste for flat colors surrounded by heavy outlines following the technique of cloisonnisme, translated the abstract experience of Mondrian into figurative arts.
In 1959, after a short trip to Spain, Costantini dedicated himself to painting. His first paintings were included in the cycle of Tauromachias: a series in which the violence of a deadly act dominated through the crystallization of movement.
This process was completed in the series of the anarchists. In this cycle, the action was represented through the dissemination of different perspective points inside the scene, as in the ancient mural paintings recovered by 20th century Italian artists and Mexican muralists.
Costantini agrees with the quoted contemporary models, also for the desire to describe a popular epic that in his case meant the representation of industrial and metropolitan subjects.
The topics of violent reaction to authoritarianism and the alienation of mass society begin the anarchist cycle of paintings produced between 1963 and 1979.
Also in these paintings the characters appeared frozen, as though immortalised by a good photographer, catching all the elements of tragedy.
The agitation of the scene, seen through a freeze frame, was enriched by new suggestions inspired by the subversion of traditional perspective rules in favor of a multiplication of the vanishing points.
Besides the analogy between Costantini style and photographic techniques, we can also note his attraction to scenography operational instruments.
The artist set his work, repeating on the canvas the complexity of a theatre set design. It isn’t surprising that Luzzati has stated that he often adopts Costantini iconographic models for his scenography.
“(…) Hardly ever for dramas but often for bourgeois settings, where everything looks calm but the audience understands that something wrong is going on.”
At the same time, inside this phase of his research, the artist adopted a method that includes a detailed collection of historical data and a meticulous research on the represented locations, before producing the work.
In this context the reference to pop art seems to be pertinent; the artist, in fact, collected icons and stiles of the artistic tradition from different popular sources in his paintings, from illustration to photography, from songs to newspapers.
In the subsequent cycle, dedicated, since 1982, to the sinking of the Titanic, Costantini faced a fundamental episode of 20th century, whose deep symbolic meaning appears to prefigure the tragedy of the First World War.
If the outbreak of the 1914 war represented, for his planetary dimension as well as for the employment of technology, an important landmark that launched the tragic events of the 20th century, the sinking of the biggest and most luxurious ship in the North Atlantic on the night of 14 December 1912, represented the end of the dreams of progress of an age. This sinking was the first live- broadcasted event in history making humanity conscious of its tragic collective fate.
In this series Costantini took the process of perspective subversion to the limit focusing on the presence of different points of view and subverting the rules of perception. In this context, the use of to the belle époque decoration underlined the expressive tension being experienced in graphics and applied arts. Compared with his former paintings, characterized by a crowd of characters, the interior of the Titanic looks uninhabited, reminding us of the desolation of the tragedy.
We find the same atmosphere in the paintings, begun in 1979, dedicated to the end of the Romanovs; the image of the gunshot riddled wall of the interior of the Casa Ipatiev. Since the early’90s Flavio has studied in detail the rooms where Nicolas II was killed with his family. The characters in the background — the four Romanov duchesses in the painting Tobolsk I of 1992 — look like ghosts. The site becomes the main subject. Silent witnesses of the drama, which has just taken place. The rooms of the Ipatiev House are charged with evocative energy that perpetuates the tension of the events.
In a progressive process of reduction of decorative elements that does not diminish the expressive strength of his realism, the representation of the Tsar’s tragic end, develops through the minimal representation of the suspended atmosphere of the site of murder. The silence and solitude of these rooms demonstrates the end of any positive consideration of history. People in these dumb sites seem to sink like the passengers of Titanic, in a tragedy that prefigures the new world where the strong and violent feelings at the roots of the action of the anarchists have been banned and where you only find hopeless sorrow.
The esoteric pictures of the cycles of work that Costantini exposed in 1986 in occasion of the Biennale di Venezia at the exposition Arte e Alchimia, by Arturo Schwarz, represented the direct consequence of this bitter truth: the ability to drive history has been replaced by alchemic symbols and metaphysics because humanity has been overwhelmed by lack of meaning.
The dreadful visions of the Titanic flowed into the agonizing symmetry of these rooms open to total desperation. The only individuals represented by Costantini were writers and intellectuals whom the artist began portraying in 1980 through collaborations with magazines and newspapers.
Leonardo Sciascia, wrote: “His identity requires very few things, sometimes only one”. These physiognomic/symbolic interpretations, according to Rossana Bossaglia, are measured by symbols that qualify origins and destiny. Also in these works there is a tension between the stillness of the characters and the movement of the scene, as in the stiff posture of the anarchists, in this case supported by collage technique.
At the same time Costantini, in this last desperate attempt to represent humanity from which he feels detached, proposes a game like a rebus, as noted by Sciascia, and asks a little effort to reveal the correct solution, obtainable through the combination of all elements.
Nothing is taken for granted in his artistic world and the severe or restless expressions of these characters from the past remind us the complexity of a history difficult to go through, impossible to forget.