by Edward LUCIE-SMITH
Benezit's great 'Dictionary of Painters, Sculptors, Draughtsmen
and Engravers', in its entry for Sergio Ceccotti, describes
him as the "heir of '"pittura metafisica"- which is to say
of his Italian compatriots Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrd.
All dictionary entries are a species of shorthand - there
is never enough room to say everything that should be said.
This particular example, like many of its kind, is both true
Ceccotti, like many living Italian artists, certainly owes
something to the ambiguous genius of de Chirico.
To begin an analysis of Ceccotti's work it is
necessary to look at his background, and to note in particular
that he was a pupil of Kokoschka.
There is of course a kind of parallel here with de Chirico
himself, since the latter owed much to Central European painting
and in particular to the work of Arnold Bocklin.
In both cases the legacy seems to have been less technical
than spiritual - this background gave both artists access
to a kind ofangst which is usually foreign to the Italian
temperament. In his paintings, Ceccotti represents all the
phases of twentieth century unease.
He uses his commitment to anxiety in a profoundly creative
way, to hold a mirror up to many aspects modern urban society.
The reason for rejecting too close a comparison with de Chirico
is nevertheless obvious.
There are many elements in Ceccotti's painting which reach
well beyond the boundaries which the older artist set for
Like many European painters of his particular generation,
Ceccotti seems to owe a great deal, whether he likes it or
not, to American culture.
Where artists are concerned, these influences are not the
immediately fashionable ones.
The frenzied experiments of the New York avant-garde seem
to have passed him by, and the apparent allusions to Pop Art
in some early paintings, for example At the Bar II
(1962) seem to be examples, not of direct contact with America,
but of a sensibility working independently, but taking account
of the same range of visual material.
The American artist Ceccotti is closest to - much closer,
it seems to me, than he is to de Chirico or any Italian confrere,
is Edward Hopper.
Hopper is the master of a certain kind of urban melancholy,
and he is also a poet of transience. He has a range of typical
subjects which often matches that found in Ceccotti's work.
For an example of this Hopperesque element, one can cite Ceccotti's
recent Large Hotel Scene (1999), which repeats many of Hopper's
most typical elements - not only the of the room itself, but
the suitcase in the foreground which portends an immediate
departure, and the standing man in a raincoat and fedora hat,
who seems so very like some of Hopper's personages from the
Yet here, too, one is in danger of making a comparison which
is too superficial to fit the true circumstances. Ceccotti
is indeed an artist imbued with Pop culture, where many impor-
tant elements necessarily come from the other side of the
A closer examination of Large Hotel Scene suggests
how this source material is inflected and mediated. On top
of the wardrobe in this hotel bedroom is a television set,
apparently showing a scene from a horror movie. The clothed
man can be read, not as a contemporary personage, but as a
character in a mid-century film noir. His gesture suggests
that he is either threatening or more likely warning the other
visible figure - a nude woman in her bath. Perhaps he is telling
her that this refuge - her anonymous room - must be abandoned
at once, since it is no longer as safe as she believes? It
is not surprising to learn that this work has entered the
collection of Jean Paul Belmondo, whose career as an actor
is indissolubly linked with the devlopment of the film noir