Sunday, September 25, 2011

Straccetto Toto de Angelis

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Toto de Angelis (aka Straccetto) breathed his last breath this evening in Italy. Or, as his niece Anna Innocenzi wrote, “Il cielo da questo momento non solo sarà profumato di sarà pieno di tanti colori...ZIO TOTO STRACCETTO CI HA LASCIATO.............” ["The sky in this moment is no longer perfumed with lavender, but it will be full of many colors. Uncle Toto "Stracetto" has left us."]

Toto was born on 31 March 1948 in Rome. At an early age, he was stricken with polio, which left him with a permanent limp. He had a difficult childhood in a ghetto in Roma, with a father who was in and out of prison. As he got older, Toto sold lavender from a cart that rarely left him. He often admired the work of the madonnari, who created devotional paintings on the street, but it was not until 1982 that he began to try his untrained hand in art. He painted consistently once he got going, teaching himself mostly, and in 2003, he began to receive recognition from such events as the street painting competition in Grazie di Curtatone in northern Italy.

Straccetto was arguably the most famous of all of the contemporary madonnari in Italy. Even in my relatively short time street painting in Italy, it was not long before I met Toto. I was introduced to him on May 15, 2009, in Nocera Superiore, a small town in southern Italy that hosts an annual street painting competition each May. I noticed him at another table before I understood that he was also an artist. His face caught my attention and I remember thinking that he would make a tremendous portrait subject – what a sculptural face! It struck me as classically Italian and reminded me of the many Dante sculptures I have seen in that country.

He was always friendly to everyone and the night after we all finished our paintings that year, my colleague Johnny McGrogan and I got to share a drink with Toto and another true madonnaro Pino Vommaro (also from Roma). That was a pretty cool evening!

Toto was never far from his cart and in August 2010 at the competition in northern Italy, I saw that his dogs Mara and Valeria were with him as well. His art would be considered folk art, but like any true artist, he walked his own path and spoke with his own symbols in his work.

This blog post was intended to be about my new book “My Life as a Street Painter in Florence, Italy.” In it, I shared a few of the images I have of Toto. But on the eve of his death, it feels wrong to try to sell anything to you in my tribute post to him.

That said, there is another situation that I was made aware of by my contacts on Facebook. The Sarasota Chalk Festival in Florida recently experienced something quite unpleasant. The City’s Art Funding program just changed the rules on current applicants for those events happening this year. My understanding is that the Chalk Festival no longer is eligible because they are not “old enough” yet as a non-profit organization. However, this event is not new and they appear to have had an understanding that they had properly followed all of the rules and application guidelines (until they changed). They thought that they would be receiving a serious chunk of change to fund the many artists who have bought airplane tickets to arrive in Florida for the event, which is scheduled for 1-7 November. And it is a little late for them to be having this kind of funding surprise.

Check out their Web site and if you like what you see and would like to support them, whether or not you can attend this year, buy a catalog of the art, or make a donation in the name of Toto de Angelis. Maybe they can even create an award in his name for the artist who shows the most creative or story telling work. That would be a good way to honor Toto, as well as the history of street painters. Toto de Angelis was part of making street art into something more than a few small voices in one country.

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