Piero Fornasetti, Practical Madness

‘I am a stickler for detail who loves uncertainty,’ wrote Piero Fornasetti. The quote opens Piero Fornasetti, Practical Madness, a glimpse into the life of this popular Italian artist and a delicious book in looks, feel and subject that begs to be opened, and the content devoured.

Fornasetti (1913-1988) was a painter, draughtsman, engraver, decorator and designer. Above all he was a purveyor of imagination, of poetry, something that he introduced with intelligence and wit to his body of work. His was a wonderfully whimsical world.

He collaborated with fellow creatives such as Gio Ponti together transforming furniture into objects of art and desire. He designed chairs, desks, screens, plates, cups, candles, umbrella stands, even pianos – a whole range of objects that always represent his unique and timeless aesthetic.

Fornasetti breathed life into his objects by introducing a surreal narrative that elevates the object from its simple duty. I have a candleholder of his with a portrait of a girl with such soulful eyes that, from every angle, tell a different story. The wax has long melted yet the container continues to live its second life.

Fornasetti’s paintings, presented here in this book, use malachite green and Pompeian red, and reveal his baroque imagination and sensibilities.

One incredible section gathers the artist’s drawings for his Themes & Variations plate designs that show hundreds of variations on the face of the operatic beauty Lina Cavalieri.

‘I was born into a family of wretched good taste and I use wretched good taste as the key to liberate the imagination,’ said Fornasetti. The book captures this very spirit.

Here art meets design meets poetry and an abundance of imagination. To quote Fornasetti one last time: ‘Salvation is in the imagination: if I were a government minister, I would set up a hundred schools of imagination in Italy.’ The world could really benefit from such schools.

The Internet has indirectly benefitted publishing. The huge influx of on-line magazines and blogs has forced the print world to buckle up, put every effort into creating books that not only offer information, but a physical experience.

We are hungry for some aspect of physicality to give extra value, and only books, beautifully crafted, thoughtfully written, artfully illustrated and designed, like this, can offer such an experience.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Practical Madness, edited by writer and collector Patrick Mauriès, is published by Thames & Hudson to accompany an exhibition of Fornasetti’s work at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris (11 March – 14 June 2015), curated by Piero’s son Barnaba Fornasetti and Mauriès.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©