Antonio Pacitti’s arrival in Glasgow as a small child in flight from Mussolini’s Italy set the tone for a life of constant struggles, crowned by a joyous late flowering in his art.
In an age of specialism, his artistic vision expressed itself in a variety of media, including drawings, oils and monotypes, ceramics and sculptures. His themes were equally diverse, ranging from life studies to the Resurrection, from blossoming trees to images of occupation in the Middle East.
His life showed a similar ability to embrace new challenges and interests: he was an inspiring teacher, a gifted amateur musician, self-taught and still learning new instruments up to the age of 79, an enthusiastic cook and a natural linguist.
Antonio Pacitti was born in Cassino, 80 miles south of Rome, in 1924, the son of Filomena Ciccarelli and Vincenzo Pacitti, a trade unionist in the railways, who, when the Fascist restrictions took effect, became a scenery painter in the town’s theatre but continued to oppose the regime.
In 1928, after the local Fascists ordered Vincenzo Pacitti to leave Cassino within 24 hours, the parents and their two older sons fled to Glasgow. (Their daughter and youngest son were left behind in the care of a great-aunt.)
In Scotland the family experienced severe poverty, and moved through a succession of crowded lodgings before settling in a tenement in the Gorbals.
In the city known as the “Red Clyde”, his father continued to be a political activist, often speaking at Glasgow Green. One of Pacitti’s early memories was of being carried in a May Day parade by Guy Aldred, anarchist and founder of the Bakunin press.
During the Spanish Civil War the family housed and fed refugees in their cramped lodgings, and his father corresponded with members of the Garibaldini, an Italian brigade.
During the war he joined the Highland Light Infantry and later served in India. He survived two near-death experiences: one resulting from the capsizing of an overloaded craft in a badly managed river crossing exercise at Barrow-in-Furness; the other in the state of Bihar, India, where he collapsed of fever after completing a mural at the barracks, and was put out to die on the hospital veranda.
He began to learn Urdu on the sea voyage to India, and was recruited as an intelligence officer. His family moved from Glasgow to London in his absence, and on his return he attended the Sir John Cass College before gaining the diploma at the Slade (1951-54), taking sculpture as a subsidiary subject.
Political themes had always featured in Pacitti’s art, and in 1994 he collaborated with his wife in a publication of drawings and poems on the theme of Guantánamo Bay, which drew tributes from Harold Pinter and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Pacitti was a man of great warmth and generosity, noted for his hospitality, and a staunch defender of human rights.
Source: Times Online, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6822502.ece.
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