Toti Scialoja was born in Rome in 1914. From an early age he frequented the milieu gravitating around Galleria della Cometa, founded by Countess Mimì Pecci Blunt and led by Corrado Cagli and Libero de Libero, following his intimate vocation for painting and poetry rather than his family orientations towards classical and legal studies. His artistic debut is thus placed in the climate of the so-called Roman School, and in the interest in an expressionist and visionary painting.
He visited the III Quadriennale of Rome in 1939, where he would return repeatedly to exhibit later on. The following year, he held his first solo exhibition at Galleria Genova, in the Ligurian capital. This was followed by another exhibition in 1941 at Società Amici dell’Arte in Turin, presented in Cesare Brandi’s catalogue, to whom we owe, in 1947, the invitation to the exhibition of Quattro fuori strada at Galleria del Secolo. In 1943 he made his debut as a set designer for L’opera dello straccione, a show based on the eighteenth-century text by John Gay, staged at Teatro Argentina in Rome. He would continue this commitment assiduously until 1956.
1948 saw the beginning of a phase of discoveries and new pictorial perspectives, but always linked to figuration. In 1949 he was invited to participate in the Twentieth Century Italian Art exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in New York. This event was immediately followed by his appearance at the Venice Biennials (1950, 1952, 1954).
His artistic maturity is placed between 1955 and 1956 when, abandoning the brush, the artist chose a rag soaked in colour as a painting tool. This is the period in which he deepened his friendship with Afro, Burri and Ettore Colla. The trip to New York in 1956, for his first solo exhibition at Catherine Viviano Gallery, was an opportunity to meet the exponents of American abstract expressionism, like Rothko, de Kooning and Motherwell. Months of experimentation followed his return to Italy, when his first Impronte were born – shapes printed on the surface of the canvas by overturning and pressing a sheet of paper soaked in colour – a moment which marks his full artistic maturity. The results of this new phase of research were presented in the personal exhibition at Galleria La Salita in November 1958.
After a stay in New York in 1960, Scialoja lived in Paris between 1961 and 1964, where he attended the lectures of the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty at the Sorbonne. This period witnesses the birth of his Impronte as a new need of “tale”, integrated with materic inlays, cadenced, isolated in their peculiar spatial fields. In 1962, again in Paris, Scialoja exhibited at Salon de Mai a great work entitled Murale bianco. After returning to Italy, in 1964 he had a personal room at the Venice Biennale presented by Gillo Dorfles. Furthermore, in the spring of 1966, he held an extensive retrospective in Rome at Marlborough Gallery, the same that would promote another exhibition of the artist at the museum of Malmö, in the fall of 1968.
From the mid-1970s Scialoja abandoned the gestures of the impronta (“imprint”), reducing it to an increasingly geometrical, diaphanous rhythmic scan. Among the numerous exhibitions of the decade in Italy and abroad that decree the interest in Scialoja’s work, some reviews from 1973 are worth mentioning: the solo show set up at the Marlborough Gallery first in New York and then in its Roman venue; the presence of his painting Blue vertical in the exhibition dedicated to the Harold and May Rosenberg Collection at the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair; the Ettore Colla, Toti Scialoja exhibition at the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi. This was followed by the vast anthology at Palazzo della Pilotta, Parma, in 1977 and the exhibition of works on paper in Palazzo Te, Mantua, in 1979.
In 1982, Scialoja accepted the appointment as director of Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, an institution where he had been teaching for over twenty years. A trip to Madrid stimulated then the encounter with Goya’s painting, leading to a return to gesture painting. During these years Scialoja’s exhibiting activity was particularly intense: from the personal room at the 1984 Venice Biennale, wanted by Lorenza Trucchi, to the exhibition at Museo Civico d’Arte Contemporanea in Gibellina the following year, to the XI Quadriennale of Rome in 1986, and the many appointments in private galleries in Rome, New York, Bologna, and Matera. Scialoja died in Rome in 1998.