June 2019

You can spot a Fornasetti design from a mile off.

For Piero Fornasetti, normal meant the abnormal; breaking rules and having fun were his core principals. The result? Beautifully designed objects, including ceramics, paintings and interior schemes, that finely balanced the line between real and surreal. Jovial and often monochrome, the late Italian designer’s work is iconic. Born out of a desire to create a sense of play and rebel against the norm, Piero Fornasetti was a Milanese designer born in 1913 to a rich bourgeoisie family. His anarchic behaviour stemmed from a young age when he was expelled from the Brera Art Academy for insubordination; from this moment onward it seemed Fornasetti was on a trajectory for breaking barriers and thinking outside of the box.

He was quoted to have “learned from books, lithography and etchings” rather than traditional teachings which he found restrictive to his ambitions. Having left art school he spent time travelling, visiting areas of Italy and Africa, educating himself about histories and cultures; learning to tell stories through the visual arts. On his return to Milan, he caught the attention of Gio Ponti - Italy’s great modernist - and the two artists began to work together, developing projects destined to leave a mark on the international design scene. 

Fornasetti’s body of work spanned paintings, sculptures, ceramics and interior projects. He created more than 11,000 items, each showcasing a design that reflected his ideals and opinions of the changing world. His ceramic work however, is his most popular and accessible medium and his most iconic motif was the image of a woman’s face; the Italian opera singer, Lina Cavalieri, whose oddly inexpressive gaze caught Fornasetti’s attention. After discovering his muse in a 19th century magazine in 1952, Fornasetti went on to reproduce it across his ceramic work in an almost obsessive manner. Found on biscuit barrels, plates and candles, Cavalieri’s face poses in jovial contortions; a sticking out tongue, a bird’s beak for a nose and even as part of a hot air balloon. 

It is this sense of storytelling which set Fornasetti apart from contemporaries. The legacy he left behind is now spearheaded by his only son, Barnaba Fornasetti, who continues to create products that inspire change and have a sense of playfulness at their core. 

Imagery via Pinterest