The first steps into Biagio Civale’s art studio are like a peek into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Expressionist paintings, assemblages, prints and woodcuts — sharing little overlap from size to subject matter — somehow become characters in the same play, with Civale as director.
His assemblages use found objects like keys, coins, nails and seashells, and many works tackle themes of politics, war, sex or religion — sometimes all of the above.
Good art, Civale said, requires “technical preparation … passion, some content, some good, human feeling.”
The 83-year-old artist has exhibited in five continents, earning fans like the deputy mayor of Florence, Italy, and New York State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
His roots are equally sporadic. Born in Rome, Civale’s family moved from Italy to Benghazi, North Africa while his father served in the Italian Air Force. Civale returned to Italy in his early 20s to serve in the Air Force himself.
From there, he relocated to France, where he worked for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for seven years, then Belgium, then Spain. In 1969, he moved to the U.S., where he met his wife, Lu. The family has lived in Yonkers since 1976.
From Dec. 3 through Jan. 19, the Greenburgh Public Library will present 68 of Civale’s works in celebration of his 68 years in the art world. An opening reception will be held Dec. 8, 2 to 4 p.m.
The Greenburgh display isn’t bound by any particular theme or media. In fact, Civale admits he selected each piece at random.
“The first 68 works I saw … that were framed, I wrapped them up,” he said.
His art spans world cultures, incorporating elements like Indigenous totem poles and Christian crucifixes. One of his oil portraits depicts an elderly Mexican woman; another a frail child from Biafra, West Africa.
Civale is admittedly more inspired by the elderly than he is by children. “Somehow I feel their life [coming] through,” he said. “It can be the skin [or] sometimes it’s the aura around this person that you feel.”
In his 68 years as an artist, he’s created a staggering body of more than 9,000 works. “That’s a problem with me, a serious problem,” he said. “I work too much … I never stand still.”
Indeed, Civale’s artist brain never seems to switch off. He is conscious of how much light is in a room, and the colorful Japanese print embossed on his handkerchief.
“I’ve seen so many of my colleagues become a slave of art galleries,” he said. “That creates something that in reality is not even good; it’s not even honest… That’s the reason why I always wanted to have a job. I didn’t want to live on selling my art.”
While he has always showcased his work professionally, Civale has also worked as an arbitrator and interpreter, and later as an art teacher. He speaks fluent English, Italian and French, and can get by in Spanish, Portuguese, German and Russian. He’s also studied Latin and ancient Greek.
In his early 80s, Civale is determined to slow down. Gone are the days in which he rose at 6 a.m. to paint, or worked late into the night.
Yet the artist stays active. He is frequently called on to babysit his two grandsons, and spends much of his time tweaking old pieces, starting new ones and building his social media presence. He’s also started his own YouTube channel, in which he interviews local artists.
His works are still sold globally online, and he has donated hundreds of pieces to charity. To that point, Civale quoted Italian poet and journalist Gabriele D’Annunzio, “I have what I gave.”
The Greenburgh Public Library is located at 300 Tarrytown Road in Elmsford.