A Connection Revealed:
Ambrose Pillphister and Garroldo Bennucci

by Tomaso Fabrizzi

For more than three decades, Ambrose Pillphister has been creating oil and acrylic paintings, and, since 1990, gouaches on shellacked panels (each panel then lacquered, dyed, buffed, and lacquered again.) Recently, though Ambrose Pillphister himself has remained so unknown as to not even be a mystery, a few California artists and artisans have discerned a profound connection between Pillphister's panels and the jewelry of Garroldo Bennucci, both Bennuci's earlier work with precious metals (employing the "lost wax" casting process) and his present electroforming-- "growing metal on metal," as Bennucci puts it. With areas of base metals part of the exposed surface, natural patinas of oxidation and human use are thus permitted, each color of metal also recessing into the one below it--   a technique Bennucci has referred to as "Bennucciing." All of which might be termed interactive art, and/or, the art of wear and tear.

But what, exactly, is the connection so strongly perceived between the work of two different artists in two different mediums? Perhaps most of all one is struck by a profound sense of oxymoron, that is, of inherent contradiction: in the relatively small scale of the work of both men, there pulses an enormous compression of ego, the controlled explosion, one might say, of an extraordinarily large spirit and, it might even be extrapolated, sheer physical presence.

At long last, however, such amazing continuities in the work of these two artists need no longer come as a surprise: Ambrose Pillphister is in fact the pseudonym of Garroldo Bennucci!

But why, you might ask, has Bennucci, himself hardly a household word, gone to such lengths to conceal his identity as a painter. Perhaps here we must look to the little we know of Bennucci's biography, which might be best summed up by saying that he invented himself. Bennucci (not, of course, to be confused with Brancusi) was born of a Florentine shoemaker forcibly drafted into the Italian army to fight in Ethiopia in 1938, a good man by all accounts, as warm a soul as Pinocchio's father. The elder Bennucci died by "friendly fire" while apparently working in his free time for the barefoot Ethiopian "enemy", if peace ever came. Bennucci's mother, already exhausted from delivery of her large infant, died of shock at the news, and fate in the form of the Pillphister Foundation of Gary, Indiana rescued the orphan. The rest, as they say, is history.

As for Bennucci's painting, these last notes: they are landscape derived, and, as he says, quite bluntly: "no nudes, no flowers." Bennucci otherwise disclaims any direct influence, though he is willing to concede having admired the work of a furniture maker from Oakland whose tables and clocks he once saw in a New York City Gallery.

©Tomaso Fabrizzi (Thomas Farber!) 1996