Visiting Artist Profile: Maestro Verdiano Marzi
Just this week, CMS saw the conclusion of visiting artist Verdiano Marzi’s eighth consecutive annual residency. Marzi, or the Maestro, as he’s commonly referred to around Chicago Mosaic School, is one of our most key visiting instructors. This year’s visit, like many before it, has been a whirlwind of activity. In the past five weeks, Maestro Marzi has conducted two intensive workshops, one weekly class, taught a workshop, lectured, and shown in a major exhibition at the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) 2017 conference in Detroit. On top of all of this, he has dedicated countless hours in the studio, offering a unique window into a master practice and offering indispensible guidance to faculty, staff, and students alike.
When asked what makes Marzi’s class so unique, CMS director Karen Ami struggled to find the words. “It’s just life-changing. It’s hard to describe, but when you meet him, you understand.” Many students agree and compete for coveted seats in his classes and workshops. But what makes this master artist so impactful is not just his thoughtful and empathetic teaching style, his striking personal work, or impressive resume, which includes the Ravenna School, the École Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts, and the Louvre. It is also the holistic way in which he approaches the practice of mosaic making, employing process elements from a range of fine art disciplines while staying true to the technical heritage of the medium.
Marzi was born near Ravenna, Italy, a landmark city for ancient and Byzantine style mosaics. As a child, he struggled with academic subjects in school, and often made gifts of artwork to the other children in exchange for their help with schoolwork. Seeing his struggle, Marzi’s father went to his teacher to see if there was some other avenue for Verdiano to take to pursue his talents. At the age of eleven, Marzi was enrolled on a scholarship at the Istituto Statale d’Arte per il Mosaico, a mosaic and fine art school founded by Italian Futurist Gino Severini. When he entered the school, he was one of only eight students, taking classes in art and design, history, mathematics, and the sciences, with a special focus on ancient mosaics and techniques.
He left the Istituto as a fifteen-year-old to take a professional apprenticeship with a prominent Ravenna mosaic studio. For five years he travelled back and forth to southern Italy with the studio, executing restorations of ancient mosaics, copies, and commissions. Then a young man, Marzi began to feel constrained by the lack of creative freedom offered by his work in Ravenna. When his mentor discouraged him from pursuing a relationship with his now wife, Beatrice, Marzi took the initiative to leave the studio and follow Beatrice to her native country of France.
At twenty-three, Marzi began a new life in Paris, where he attended the École Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts and was able to cultivate a personal art practice for the first time. Under the tutelage of Sorbonne Professor Riccardo Licata in his Paris-based mosaic studio, Marzi began to explore much more modern aesthetics and imagery. Unlike many of his French peers, he was able to bring a strong foundation in ancient mosaic technique to his study of contemporary art, and build on that knowledge to create a new, dynamic path.
In the subsequent forty years, Verdiano Marzi has been able to build a prolific personal practice while supporting himself through teaching. He has taught internationally throughout Europe, and in France has worked through the Louvre pedagogical programs doing outreach with prisoners and at-risk youth.
“Every time I teach, it’s a totally new experience, even if I’m working with students I’ve seen over and over again… Some artists continue to develop variations of the same theme over and over throughout their lives. Similarly, each encounter with a student is like the first time- a totally unique exchange.”**
Marzi began teaching with The Chicago Mosaic School after meeting Karen Ami at the 2010 SAMA conference in Chicago. At the time, Karen was acting president of the organization, and had extended a special invitation to Marzi to present at the conference and teach a workshop at CMS. Since then, their relationship has grown to a deep friendship and mentorship. In recent years, he has taught a class called “Modern Expressions,” where he focuses on helping students to develop their technical skills and aesthetic judgment in order to create expressive personal works. His enthusiasm is only growing, with intentions for developing his curriculum in the coming years.
Marzi is, in his own words, “just like any other artist… I’m inspired by the details of my own personal life and relationships,” but his personal work is far more wide reaching. He often tackles broad human themes, such as suffering and hope in crises and the links between historic events and the sociopolitical issues that face us today. This summer, Marzi will be traveling to Tokyo for the dedication of a mosaic artwork that examines the aftermath of the 2011 Tsunami, calling for both mourning of the human toll and joy in the memory of the individual lives affected. He will also be creating work this year to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Russian revolution, remaining cognizant of a century of consequences and the founding issues that are still relevant today.
With a strict religious upbringing, Marzi also works frequently with Judeo-Christian imagery, particularly angels and icons. These works ruminate on role of saints and angels as messengers, not just in religious scripture but also within the iconography of popular culture. As he reflects on current events, Marzi says that the timeless motifs of angels and icons are a conceptual medium through which western culture meditates on our own humanity, our place in the world, and relationships to each other and the metaphysical. With regards to literal interpretations of his choices of imagery, the Maestro encourages a less dogmatic approach: “man is the master of his own spirit.”
Verdiano Marzi’s incredible dedication to his art and his role as a teacher has been a transformative influence on our organization. While our classrooms feel just a little emptier when he leaves, we take inspiration from his incredible spirit and commitment to excellence in mosaics. This is the kind of motivation that propels us to pursue our mission every day of the year, but nonetheless, we always look forward to the return of the Maestro.
**All quotes from Maestro Marzi are paraphrased translations from French.