Expo 2015 features a Calabria of artistic beauties

At the Expo Milano 2015, there is a work by the Calabrian artist Mimmo Tripodi on display in the craftsmanship section of the Italian pavilion. It is a ceramic lamp, a small elephant embellished with leaves and other decorations, quite similar in shape to the 37-metre-tall tree of life located in the Lake Arena that is the symbol of this pavilion. Born in Melicucco, Mimmo Tripodi has lived in Palmi for more than forty years. His works can be regarded as the natural evolution of the more traditional objects that are skillfully realized by the ceramists of Seminara. With a centuries old tradition, this village in the province of Reggio Calabria is the fulcrum of this craft, and it is in one of the many workshops of Seminara – the one run by Vincenzo Ferraro – that Tripodi’s work are usually kilned: each work is the result of a three-phase baking procedure. The peculiarity of this craft is its remarkable link with the Calabrian tradition, its mythology as well as its significance in relation to the regional subconscious. First, the moulded clay is first left to dry in the open air for three to ten days, depending on weather conditions. Subsequently, it is baked in a kiln at 950 degrees, which brings the product to its intermediate “cookie” state, when it becomes more solid and takes on a yellowy color. Then it is dipped in another type of white clay, the “juzzo” in vernacular, before it is kilned a second time. In the last phase, when the artifact is already shiny and polished, it can be painted; during its third baking in the kiln (always above 900 degrees), what formerly was a raw piece of pliable clay is turned into the final work by means of a process of “vitrifaction”. The whole procedure takes 20 to 25 days. The observance of regional traditions is also important when it comes to the panting the object, as only six colors are allowed: red, green, brown, blue, azure and orange. The subjects chosen by Mimmo Tripodi are often mythological animals, such as dragons (that are seen as keepers of bodies of water), as well as real animals inhabiting the deep sea, such as octopuses and corals. There is a particular kinship between these last two elements: the coral looks like a plant though it is a tentacled animal. Another Italian name for it is “polipo”, not to be confused with the “polpo”, the common octopus that is typical of Calabrian seas. Both are suggestive of a sense of union, a sort of “embrace of nature”. Just like Mimmo Tripodi, his wife Tina Patamia is a skilled clay sculptress: her works can be construed as a reinterpretation of the famous apotropaic masks of Southern Italy, which in her case are no longer portraits of ominous demonic faces meant to keep evil spirits away, but rather take the semblances of the characters of Greek mythology.  Furthermore, the artistic evolution of Mimmo Tripodi’s creations has a lot to do with the subconscious: fear of the deep seas and a need for protection fulfilled by the portrayed creatures are easily recognizable in his works. Another common topic of his art is the feeling of familiar affection, the love a father feels for his children: for example, the above-mentioned elephant has been conceived by Mimmo as a gift for his daughter.