December 28, 1923 – July 6, 2010
IMERO GOBBATO was born in Milano, in northern Italy on December 28th, 1923. He lived with his parents, Benedetto and Eugenia, an older brother Armando, and at various times, other members of his father’s family, in a villa adorned with frescoes and surrounded by a working farm with orchards and gardens.
His home sat on the Lombardy Plains, amidst the ancient canals which had once been part of the most strategic and extensive waterway system in Europe, connecting the young boy with a history of agricultural and industrial activity and an inspiring cultural richness. In the 14th-15th century, the great master (and an idol of the young Gobbato) Leonardo DaVinci, resided in Milano for 25 years and, among other remarkable accomplishments, had made a significant contribution to the sophisticated web of rivers and canals.
Imero often traveled to the majestic northern mountains, the Dolomites, to hike and ski, while his summers were spent in Venice where the family kept a villa beside the radiant vistas of the Adriatic Sea. These sparkling waters and towering peaks would forever inspire the art-making that captivated the young boy in his formative years. He showed artistic and musical talent at a very early age, taking piano lessons at age four, while establishing a habit of filling little notebooks with sketches of observations and ideas.
“I always loved art, and I had been drawing since the age of 6, so my parents, who were very easy to get along with, sent me to art school.”
At the age of 15, as Italy’s political system was deteriorating and Mussolini intensified his dictatorship, Imero began basic art training at the Liceo Artistico in Milan. After two years, he transferred his residence to the Istituto d’Arte in Venice where he continued his advanced art training. He also completed an extra-curricular course in theatrical set design and construction, actively participating in the planning and setting of scenes at Venice’s Teatro della Fenice, one of Italy’s major opera theaters. He earned his Maestro d’Arte from the Academy in 1942, which qualified him to teach design, sculpture and painting in any Italian art school. From 1942-44 despite the advancing threat of war, he attended specialized painting classes in oil and fresco in Milan and Venice under the direction of several well known painters and muralists; Achille Funi, Carlo Carra and Cadorin. Schooled in traditional and late 19th century Neo-impressionistic techniques, it was a disciplined and rigorous curriculum.
“The training was very strict, with tremendous emphasis on drawing, drawing, drawing. I resented that, in a sense, but on occasions in my life, I was glad I had all that drawing.”
“When I was in school, one of the good things about the instruction was that it was very insistent on the medium and technical side. Our teachers weren’t encouraging us to become famous artists. We were there to learn and we were told we could express ourselves when we finished school.”
Imero did very well with his studies, but found the required fresco technique to be one of the most demanding of painting disciplines.
“The fresco is painted on a wall made of brick and smoothed over with several layers of stucco. The final layer is made of plaster and lime and smoothed out to a beautiful surface. You begin to paint when the lime is still fresh and the lime crystal grab the pigment and fix it forever, until the wall comes down. It was good training because you had to paint quickly, and there was no possibility of erasing or changing. This gives you some idea of what Michelangelo did in painting the Sistine Chapel – incredible. And to show how indifferent the school was to us little artists-little personalities, after the painting was judged, a worker from the school came and took the painting down with a shovel. Other students had to paint and there weren’t enough walls for every student.”
Exposure to the art world was a natural part of Imero’s city environment and education. At the time the Futurist movement was already fading out of fashion and Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism were emerging as leaders in the continuum of individual exploration and self-expression.
“I was always interested in the imaginative, the metaphysical, and I also had fascination with the colors of the paintings of the Impressionists, or as they were called in Italy, the Divisionists.”
“There is a kind of happiness, a joy in the Impressionistic, or even more, Neo-impressionistic, which means the brush stroke is more separate and the color, the technique lends itself so well to the water, the machinery of water, the vibrations of water.”
The Italian school was marked by larger, bolder strokes and a separation of colors on the canvas, allowing the mixing of colors to take place in the mind of the observer. The French counterparts who were exploring these techniques were Seurat and Signac as well as Gauguin.
“I can definitely say I was very much influenced by Gauguin. Yes, when I was fifteen or sixteen, he was one of my great discoveries. As a young man, as a boy even, I loved him.”
The art training however was increasingly impinged upon by the conflicts inflamed by Mussolini’s dictatorship and Fascist ideology. There were difficult life lessons that left the artist disenchanted with his native country.
“The enemy was the English, the Americans, the Germans, the Facists …oh it was an awful mess. Anarchy. Terrible.”
Despite the increasing violence and instability, upon completion of his schooling, Imero discovered the unspoiled village of San Fruttuoso in Liguria, on the Italian Riviera.
Abundant with lemons, oranges and azaleas, there were only about 30 fisherman and their families populating the quiet enclaves of the plunging, rocky cliffs. He rented an old stone house on the very edge of a lagoon, where he would often dive in the clear waters to catch fish for his meals. The water was clear enough for him to actually paint 30 feet underwater, wearing diving gear, using oil and parchment paper! But in the winter, with no glass in the windows, it was damp and cold, so he rented a room in another beautiful place; the neighboring fishing village of Camogli.
During this time, he made a modest living for himself illustrating for a boy’s magazine, but these two beautiful coastal villages would inspire hundreds of paintings, drawings and prints for the rest of his life. In 1948, with the war encroaching, combined with an unhappy experience with his first love affair, Imero was forced to leave his beloved spot.
Attempting to avoid military service as a conscientious objector, Imero was eventually driven into hiding in a small church in the mountains of Northern Italy. The sympathetic priest, a member of the Italian resistance movement, took note of Imero’s musical abilities and provided him cover as church organist, telling everyone that the young man was studying for the seminary. In exchange, Imero repaired and played the church organ. But war was not so easy to escape and eventually found him. His older brother arrived one night and told him that the Carabiniery, under pressure from the Nazis, had arrested their father, who would be thrown in jail if Imero did not return and turn himself in for military service. He relented and served four difficult months as a driver for an army general (After this experience, Imero would never drive another vehicle for the rest of his life!). He “escaped again”, engineering a discharge for health-related reasons. The discharge was probably aided by his older brother Armando, who spoke several languages and held certain clout as an interpreter between the Germans and Italians.
However as the war progressed, Imero witnessed the loss of close friends as his family home was taken over by German officers for whom his mother, Eugenia, was forced to cook and clean. Benedetto, his father, suffered greatly to see his thriving, wool factory; a business grown since his boyhood apprenticeship in a gentleman’s clothing shop, reduced to nothing.
When the war ended in 1945, Italy was in chaos and offered little economic opportunity for many young men. Imero’s parents gifted their two sons with all they could provide amidst the economic collapse: A pair of shoes each, and insisted that they leave the country to start anew across the seas. South America was one of the few places which would accept Italians, so in 1948 Imero made his way to Argentina to work for an acquaintance of his father’s; a Jewish publisher who had fled the war a few years earlier. There he illustrated books and developed a comic strip called ‘Alan Blood’.
“Blood was one of the few English words I knew.”
Imero worked in Argentina for a couple of years, but it never suited him and the dictatorship of Juan Peron presented too many disturbing parallels to Mussolini’s Italy, so he boarded a ship to Guatamala where his brother, Armando had already settled. Imero eked out a living for a few months, doing illustration work via the mail, but decided to return to Italy, his native country. He left Central America in 1950 and boarded a boat which stopped en route in New York City. This two week layover would change his life. During his stay, he went to a party and met a beautiful, tall, blonde-haired woman named Josette Ardouin. She was born and raised in California and having explored the actress circuit in Hollywood, headed east to make a brief engagement at Radio City Music Hall as one of the Rocketts. Twelve days after they met, with practically no spoken language in common, Imero asked her to marry him. “Ci or Non”? “Ci”, she replied! On March 6th,1950, they were married in a civil ceremony. It was a union that would span over half a century, until Josette’s death on October 10th, 2003.
Then began what Imero referred to as his “gypsy period.” The couple moved 31 times in the next 16 years. Back and forth from NY, to Florida, to California, to Connecticut and Italy. They both found jobs to support each other during those years while pursuing their own creative work. Imero was always involved in his own art and exhibited briefly in small galleries, while learning how to speak the English language beyond the basic needs of “Coffee and apple pie”. He was an art restorer for Park-Benet Galleries in New York and a set designer for Paramount Studios and Cecil B. DeMille, (but as a non-union member was paid a pittance of a salary). In 1958, aspiring to his love of boats, he took a correspondence course in naval architecture while he built a houseboat in Florida on which he and Josette lived. For several years he designed boats and yachts for individual customers in Florida and, when his father died, in Italy, where he and Josette returned to live in Portofino for two years. It was about this time that boat building began to turn in the direction of mass produced fiberglass and computer technology. Imero found his newly acquired skills and the painstaking calculations he made with slide rule and mathematics already becoming obsolete. He turned his creative attention to children’s book illustration to make his living.
He and Josette returned to Manhattan where he developed a successful career illustrating children’s books and magazines. His attraction to the imaginative image unfolded in his watercolor, pen and ink illustrations he created for various tales, and he was able to convey the lightheartedness and humor intrinsic in his own character. Beginning in the 1960s this was a fruitful endeavor for many years.
One of his most successful, award winning books was ‘The King with Six Friends’ by Jay Williams; an inspiring story of love and loyalty filled with wonderful watercolors of the characters and their magical quest.
After a few years, wearying of city life, Imero and Josette began to take weekend excursions in search of a new home. A drive up the east coast, prompted further investigation and soon after an advertisement in the then, ‘Maine Coast Fisherman Magazine’, revealed a cottage for sale on Swan’s Island in Maine. They packed their bags and moved.
“The coastline is what attracted me. I Iike very much, this contrast which is reflected so often in my life – the liquidity, the fluidity of water, the constant, sometimes friendly conflict of water caressing. Sometimes the water comes against the rocks and there is no more caressing. That reflects so much-the rocks, the harshness of the coastline.”
Swans Island fulfilled them for a while, until the remoteness and unreliable communication (there was one telephone on the entire island!) proved to be unsustainable for the business of children’s book illustration. New York publishers had no patience for personal difficulties and required deadlines to be met.
“They still had one of those crank telephones with an operator, I think her name was Mrs. Stella. Sometimes it took several hours to get a call through to New York. And to travel there, with the ferry not always able to get through-sometimes it would take me three days.”
A visit to Camden, Maine was the turning point. There, on the north side of the harbor on Sea Street was a run down, empty house, rumored to have been a brothel at one time. The couple purchased their home in September of 1966. A final move was made.
“I found my home port.”
Moving to Maine gave Imero the space and time he craved to pursue his own art. He continued to earn a living with his children’s illustrations for a while, but became more and more passionate about his principal artistic infatuation: painting. He also began to equip his studio with tools and supplies for his interests in printmaking, wood carving, model making and music.
Imero came up with the name ‘Two Harbors Studio’ for his new home art space. His beloved village of Camogli in Italy was the exact same latitude as Camden, Maine, began with the same first three letters and was also a beautiful, harbor town.
The studio would evolve, but always have an old-world flavor, where the self-made means of making art were kept at hand. Imero constructed most of his own tools and equipment, including his uniquely rigged painter’s easel. It had a circular section attached so he could rotate canvases easily as he painted, to create flowing curves and sweeping lines. He built both his printing presses. The elegant etching press was fashioned after an image he saw in Rembrandt’s studio. The turning handle also mimicked the wheel of a ship’s helm and the two heavy rolling cylinders were custom-made locally of steel. The woodcut press was an unique concoction of huge clamps mount on blocks of glued wood, with a pulley system operated by a cordless screwdriver. Not necessarily pretty, but certainly functional! He made his own flat file, painting it the standard ‘studio grey’, and made multiple gadgets to aid efficiency. For painting, he made his own brushes out of brooms, used floor linoleum for printmaking, soap bars for modeling, and constantly experimented with oils, acrylics and inks on various surfaces. Mixed in with all this, and dotted throughout the studio, but of no lesser importance, were his musical instruments: Violin, cello, guitar and recorders, and eventually, a keyboard and computer for digital recording.
With his gentle and inquisitive demeanor and his home and studio backed right up to Camden Harbor, Imero easily befriended several of the Windjammer captains who sailed their schooners out on the Penobscot Bay. He and Josette were often invited out for a day cruise to a picnic on one of the many small islands dotted on the bay.
“Sometimes I would take the wheel, but mostly I would just sit and look and dream.. I owe so much of my paintings to those captains.”
Friendships and connection to the Camden sailing community, eventually led to the revival of Imero’s yacht design skills, when in 1978 he was hired by Mike and Myrna Anderson to design the steel hulled ketch the Angelique, a 110 foot majestic vessel still sailing today in Camden’s historic Windjammer fleet.
Quickly embraced by the local talent of sea faring musicians and artists who frequented the working harbor, Imero became good friends with such notables as Gordon Bok and Captain Jim Sharp. His own music flourished at this time and although he already played the recorder, guitar and cello very proficiently, in 1973 when he was 50 years old, he focused specifically on his violin playing and became an active member of a local community quartet. He loved and struggled with the violin, (on occasion, introducing it to the wood stove!) and played it well for all his remaining days.
He also wrote music prolifically and recorded his own compositions on a computerized keyboard system he configured, documenting over 300 unique compositions for solo and orchestral performance.
It was also during this time, in the 1970s and early eighties, when Imero was intrigued by the latest theories of quantum physics, and he and Josette were practicing transcendental meditation, that his ‘Transfiguration’ paintings developed. With this body of work he delved into the inner landscapes of his mind, reflecting visions and dreams and powerful illuminations was experiencing. During this time, he was commissioned to paint a large mural at the Samoset Resort in Rockland, Maine, and created a strong example of this body of paintings titled, ‘The Dawning of a New Day’ which can be viewed to this day, in one of the conference rooms at the resort.
“This is psychic rather than physical space. They allow me to express a certain philosophy of life, an almost mystic approach to life, a religiosity of life.”
He painted directly from his imagination and dreams, consciously and subconsciously piecing together the ideas and information from his reading and studies. Sometimes in the morning, he would rush to his studio, eager to capture an entire image he had in a dream, held vividly in his mind upon awakening.
“Many of (the paintings) I dream”. “Often I get up in the middle of the night to make a sketch. My ‘Daughters of Sorcery’ painting, for instance-that was a cold sweat dream. I heard voices crying out.”
This series of paintings made use of classic Renaissance techniques but were painted in acrylics and are entirely modern in imagery. Deep illusions of space, created by layers of thin glazes of color, evoke ghostly atmospheres, and precisely applied highlights of brilliant white accent the otherworldly, sometimes disturbing forms. Often the shape of a wave and flow of water emerge as recognizable components, suggesting Jungian symbols of emotion, or theories of quantum physics.
“Those are my surrealistic or subconscious works. They are really completely different, not especially colorful, more in search of form. I call them ‘Transfigurations’ because some of them seem to have no relation whatsoever to reality. I know that’s not true, because I know there was always a starting point in reality, but transfigured to the point where people don’t know that was reality, whether it is a wave or some vegetation or rocks or the geometry of the clouds.”
At the time, the response to the Transfiguration paintings was limited. The darkness and ambiguity was not appealing to most viewers, although there was a dedicated group of admirers who passionately supported the work.
“The Transfigurations, they expressed my deep feelings…this mystery that we can’t solve-what are we going to do-what is life?”
NEO IMPRESSIONISTIC SEASCAPE PAINTINGS
My Neo-impressionistic paintings, they express a joy. You’d be surprised how many people tell me that.”
The next few years of life on the coast of Maine, would also mark the beginning of the style of painting Imero would be admired for and recognized by for years to come.
Imero would always have a 2×3” sketchbook in his pocket to make rudimentary sketches of the beautiful coastal environment of Maine where he and Josette had settled. But he never painted plein air (outdoors, on site) he painted in his studio and painted from memory.
“The paintings are very much related to place although they are never realistic. They are painted from memory, or sometimes from a sketch that might capture a particular light or shadow. I like to paint alone, with no one around.”
“This type of painting is very simple. To paint a landscape is simply to achieve an event of communion, and then, through the painting, to share this event with someone else.”
He began to put on canvas, images of the coastal life surrounding him, specifically pulling on his training and skills in the Neo-impressionistic techniques studied in Italy, to capture the sparkle of sun on water and the movement of wind in sails. The beauty of the paintings, the light and energy imbued within, came only from the imagination and uniqueness of Imero Gobbato.
“People have told me, with a little sarcasm perhaps, that my Maine is Maine via Italy. But it is true. I left Italy when I was 23 years old. By that time, you are really shaped in the essential things. You can change something intellectually, but emotionally you are formed- and the light and mood and the magic of nature is very much an emotional part.”
“I like blue. It is my color. And orange. My two favorite colors. Orange is complementary to blue, optically. But blue is definitely my color. I think perhaps because I love the ocean. The water is all kinds of colors but it has deep internal blue”.
“To look at my palette, you’d think I use about twenty colors, but they are not, they are eleven or twelve colors. But – I repeat the colors on the palette. The oranges. the blues. I keep on one side those colors as they come out of the tube so that I can use them almost pure. But on the other side of the palette I keep the same colors and they are the ones I use for the mixtures. I always have pure colors ready, otherwise after a while you mix them and you don’t have any more cadmium yellow, you always end up with a greenish yellow. The beauty of the technique of the separate brush strokes is, with a little accent, you can renew the freshness in a way. you scrape down and start again with a very light stroke. We talk about modern taste, about people not being satisfied with a certain green, with this you can keep the freshness no matter how long you’re working. With the traditional way of glazing, you may well have to start over.”
HARBOR SQUARE GALLERY
In 1981 with a large selection of finished canvases completed, Imero approached Tom O’Donovan of Harbor Square Gallery, the gallery was then situated on Bayview Street in Camden, and asked if he would be interested in representing his work.
“For me, his invitation was a great and timely blessing” - O’Donovan
For Imero this would also be true. Tom’s design sense; his talent and sensitivity to space, color and light, matched the intensity and craftsmanship of Imero’s art. Harbor Square Gallery enhanced and elevated the paintings to the level they deserved.
“His paintings continue to shimmer and beckon toward a world of serenity and beauty.” - O’Donovan
At Harbor Square Gallery, that sacred world of serenity and beauty was mirrored. It also provided the professional environment necessary to connect the artist with his collectors. The friendship and business relationship between Imero and Tom would flourish for the next 35 years.
Despite all the moves and disruptions, accomplishments and disappointments over the years, Imero consistently produced a diverse and prolific array of artistic work. Above and beyond all he had accomplished that was recognized, admired or criticized, he remained steadfastly committed and true to a particular body of work; his most personal and private creative endeavor, a world he explored, expressed and protected at the deepest core of his being: A place he called Humbravana.
“I was always very busy trying to make a living. Sometimes I wonder, what is life? We have this life, we have dreams, and we have dreams with open eyes like Humbravana.”
“I was always cherishing a place of my own, a private world where no one could disturb me. Humbravana started as an ideal world for me. I had a teacher in school who was not so good, so I invented Mirvalus- a man who knew everything. He became my teacher in HV. The leaders in Italy when I was a boy were despicable, so I invented an enlightened leader for HV. Every time I have trouble in the real world, I take refuge there.”
“I try to make the world a little more joyful. I’ve been very, very lucky. I have had wonderful friends. But every time I look around, I see awful things in this world, so I make a supreme effort to bring more joy.”
“I would like to bring it all back if I can do it, to blend it all, some of the Neo-impressionistic, some of the mystery of the Transfiguration and my land of HV. I don’t care if it is Utopia. There’s some joy, you know; these people, they are not murdering each other, they are not raping each other, they are not molesting the children. They are just clean, the water’s clean, they’re making some music – a flute, a guitar, there are no radios, there are no cars, no telephone poles, just nature and a few little pots and that’s all.