Michelangelo Pistoletto (Italian/Biella, b. 1933) is an Italian painter who is one of the main figures of the Italian Arte Povera movement. His artistic training began in the studio of his father, a painter and restorer, where he went to work at the age of fourteen. He subsequently attended Armando Testa’s Advertising Design School. Overall, Pistoletto’s work centers on themes of reflection, both physical and theoretical. In addition to having works in major museum collections around the world, Pistoletto maintains his foundation, Cittadellarte, in order to promote and support art for social change.
In 1955 he began to exhibit the results of his inquiries into self-portraiture that characterized his painting in the late fifties. He received the San Fedele Prize in Milan in 1958. In 1960 he had his first solo show at Galleria Galatea in Turin. That same year he made several life-sized self-portraits on gold, silver and copper monochrome backgrounds. In 1961 he created the series of works entitled The Present, painting his own image on a black background to which a layer of transparent varnish gave a mirror gloss.
In 1962 he perfected the technique of his Mirror Paintings. To do these, he produced an image on tissue paper by enlarging a photograph to life size, painting it with the tip of a brush, then affixing it onto a sheet of mirror-finished stainless steel. Later, the painted tissue was replaced by a silkscreen of the photographic image. These works directly include the viewer in real time and open up perspective, reversing the Renaissance perspective that had been disdained by the twentieth-century avant-gardes. The Mirror Paintings, shown for the first time in March 1963 at Galleria Galatea, quickly brought Pistoletto international acclaim and led to his inclusion in major exhibitions of Pop Art and Nouveau Realisme.
During the sixties the artist had solo shows in important galleries and museums in Europe and the United States, bringing him international exposure and acclaim. In 1967 he received the Belgian critics’ prize and that of the São Paulo Biennale. The Mirror Paintings became the foundation of Pistoletto’s ensuing artistic output and of the theoretical thought that consistently parallels it.
Michelangelo Pistoletto is best known for these Mirror Paintings as well as his Minus Objects, both of which have been key elements of his artistic practice since the 1960s. While Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings directly include the viewer through physical reflection, his Minus Objects ask the viewer to reflect upon institutions, hierarchies, and culture.