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'Life Like in Italy' : Noted Roman Sculptor Carves Niche for Family Among Trees, Near Sea

October 15, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Art brought Italian sculptor Franco Ciutti to Ventura County. Balmy weather, blue seas and job opportunities are keeping him here--for a year, at least.

Ciutti, a 49-year-old Roman, visited the county in late August to set up an exhibit of his bronze and terracotta sculptures at Oxnard's Carnegie Art Museum. It runs through Saturday, although the larger pieces will remain on exhibit for several months.

Having garnered a year's sabbatical from the Istituto Statale di Arte di Roma, where he teaches sculpture, wanted to settle for a year in the United States to absorb Americana and exhibit abstract art at diverse galleries. At first he thought Los Angeles might be the spot to make his headquarters, but it seemed too chaotic, and New York seemed too anonymous. Oxnard held potential, since Ciutti was showing there, but its alluvial plain proved too flat for a man weaned among Rome's seven hills.

Ventura, on the other hand, boasted the olive trees, old Spanish architecture and cliffs overlooking the sea that tugged at the artist's Mediterranean heartstrings. So, last month, the Ciuttis moved into a rented home off Poli Street in West Ventura.

"Here, it's easier to work, to make contacts and friends, to live a life like in Italy," Ciutti said in Italian, sitting ankle-deep in the thick grass of his backyard. His wife, Maria Grazia, sats beside him, interpreting for a visitor.

To illustrate his words, Ciutti inclines his head at the blue sky and mini-orchard that sprouts around him. Fruit trees hang heavy with avocados, oranges and lemons. The sea breeze is cool, and life is good. Right now, especially, it holds much promise for the artist.

Ciutti hopes to parlay the small sculptures on display in Oxnard into monument-sized public art. Many of his museum pieces are mere models for large works that could someday adorn public plazas in Ventura County or elsewhere in the United States, Ciutti says.

His abstract sculptures and fountains already sit in churches and public buildings throughout Europe and the Mideast. A marble and bronze piece is installed at the Pope's summer home--Castel Gandolfo--outside Rome. He recently designed a tabernacle, baptismal font and front doors for an Italian church. A 36-foot-high monument commissioned by a Saudi Arabian petroleum company sits in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, and a hanging ceramic sculpture adorns a public building in Baghdad.

As for less exotic locales in Ventura County, explosively developing Oxnard seems well-poised to embrace public art: The city is considering an ordinance requiring all commercial and industrial developments of 100,000 square feet or more to include public art, and at least 12 such projects are pending.

Although no dollar amount is specified, the art must be in proportion to the project, said Don Rideout, a management analyst for the city.

City officials say that Ciutti, with his far-reaching exposure, is one artist whom city officials would recommend to developers.

"We're trying to bring a certain international culture to Oxnard. . . . I think Ciutti's work could go very well," says Andrew Voth, director of the Carnegie Art Museum and a member of Oxnard's Cultural and Fine Arts Commission. Voth terms Ciutti's work "very clean, with a contemporary look."

A curator at New York's Sculpture Center who works with emerging artists called Ciutti a "well-known artist who is not insignificant." But his work is "not on the cutting edge of what Italian sculptors are doing," said Mary Angela Schroth, curator of the just-opened "Seven Sculptors From Rome" show in New York.

Ciutti says his work deals with man's struggle to reconcile his natural state with his technological one. Many of his pieces are smooth, cubist shapes whose symmetry is disturbed by molten centers or contorted plumes that jut unexpectedly into space.

Ciutti explains his work this way: "The geometric part of the sculpture represents the industrial world, the clean lines of technology. The more worked parts represent feelings and emotions, and, thus, the sculpture is a balance."

Balance is also what Ciutti strives for in his daily life. The artist says he cherishes the tranquility of Ventura, where he can work undisturbed up to 10 hours a day, often losing track of time.

He labors in his garage while shopping for a studio and a foundry where he will cast his metal pieces.

But the ocean's pull is strong, and Ciutti often finds himself in the water. He likes scuba diving and the surf.

Drier, more intellectual pursuits are a quick fix away in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara's many art galleries, he says. The family makes the pilgrimage at least once a week.

At Least a Year

They plan to stay in Ventura at least a year, then resume a bicontinental life style, spending six months a year in Rome and six in the United States--perhaps at a house in Ventura.

"We read that it's one of the 10 best places in the country to live," says Ciutti, referring to a Money magazine article this summer that lauded Ventura and Oxnard.

The Ciuttis describe Ventura as molto bello, very nice, and predict that "many artists will come here."

For now, the couple haunt thrift and antique shops on Main Street in their spare time--one of their favorite pursuits. Their sons, 13-year-old Claudio and 19-year-old Marco, prefer shopping at the local malls. Neither speaks much English.

Claudio is learning by the immersion method at Anacapa Middle School, where he is in the eighth grade.

Marco, who aspires to become an art photographer, plans to take classes at Ventura College. Ciutti appears somewhat sheepish about his lack of English but says, "I speak in sculpture."

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