Fiore

Fiore, Italian for flower, is also the name of the beloved local Ortigia artist, “a man of the streets” as he likes to refer to himself. When I asked him his real name, he told me: “It’s Roberto, but I don’t like to tell people that because I don’t want them to use it – reminds me of my mother when she was angry with me.” As I sat in his studio, brimming with old, new, still drying and works in progress, the smell of fresh oil paint, stale cigarettes and the acrid sweet of evaporating alcohol permeated the air. I was there to pay him 300€ for the 2 pieces I had bought a few days earlier, and as he impatiently counted it, reporting with shrugged shoulders and the satisfied smirk and impetuosity of a child opening a wrapped Christmas gift: “In Sicilia we count the money for the paintings we make, eh?, grazie!” Then he gave me the 2 ceremonial air kisses, one for each cheek, and proffered me a drink that he poured from an interesting green bottle he’d pulled from his ancient fridge. I declined, telling him I’m allergic, he mumbled: “gli americani sono tutti allergici”, but he insisted it was good luck for him to have a shot after every sale, so we sat and talked about what makes his work tick. He stated succinctly that his favorite subject to draw is the fish, “because it’s easy and drawing the shape reminds me of being a child, I need to feel as free as a fish, I’ve never liked fishermen though, I don’t trust them, because they trick the fish into loosing their freedom. I like birds for the same reason, fish are birds in the sea, and cats, because they are always watching and so are very wise. Watermelon is my favorite fruit and I use it a lot in my work, mostly because I love its color, I like it more than any other.” I had called the number painted on his studio door about 5 minutes prior to the slender, 5′ 2″, suntanned, agile 80-something-year-old’s arrival on his squeaky rattletrap bici, something out of a WWII period movie, wearing fitted black jeans covered in the drips of pastel colors, a tight black T-shirt, black Ray Ban Wayfarers, flip flops – black, showing black-painted toe nails, a wide closed-mouth smile – in all, a package painted in a certain vintage perfume of alcohol, cigarettes and a license to live.

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