Sollai, our youngest son, arrived in Bagni di Lucca just before Christmas last year after a year in Montreal with his acrobat girlfriend, Danica. He had spent the year working on log cabins, stone chimneys and gardens up around the lakes and creating his sculpture carving alabaster and marble, in his city studio. Even though the experience was wonderful, bringing him in contact with an abundant wild life and contributing to the language of his art, trying to make money to live and still do his artwork frustrated him enormously. Then, to his enormous good fortune a lovely collector was encouraged to sponsor him in Italy to carve in one of the most renowned marble carving studios, La Cooperativa, in Pietrasanta for three months over the winter. Lucky Sollai! He was given accommodation, studio, stone, allowance and tools in exchange for artwork created there. More importantly, he was in the mecca of marble carving and had access to the knowledge and advice of some of the most experienced artisans in Pietrasanta – or in the world.
Michael, at the same time, took the opportunity to be with Sollai and rented a studio space in Studio Shakti in Pietrasanta for a couple of days a week. They’d meet up for lunch in the Croce Verde where they would devour a huge three course lunch with wine, water and coffee for ten euros each. After work they’d find a little bar to hang out and relax in, warming up after a long day in the cold. Mike got some great work done. I think he was a bit rapturous to be carving in marble again after so many years since the car accident when he was unable to do any heavy work. He actually forgot in his enthusiasm, the weights of stone. An average size piece, 90 x 90 cm, weighed about 180 kilos, fully realized when it came time to move it.
On one of the days returning to the studios to work after a weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Mike took Sollai up over the mountain pass from Castlenuovo to Pietrasanta. On the way they detoured up another mountain to buy carving tools from the ancient Milani factory in Pomezzana. This factory has been in the family for either 900 years or 9 generations – hmmm – our Italian is not that good! Nevertheless it is believed this same factory was making tools when Michaelangelo was in Pietrasanta. We visited this factory 30 years ago when we first went to Carrarra. In those days the factory was above the village and it is still there but now it has expanded and its extension is down on the road below the village. Its a wonderful experience seeing how these tools that have never changed continue to be made, though in slightly better conditions.
In the meantime, Sollai created a beautiful carving for his collector. Its size came to about a 100 x 100 x 40 cm in a a beautiful soft dusty pink Portuguese Rose marble. Sollai’s influences for his art are very organic and natural forms often found on one of his roving walks. This piece is also organic but is also reminiscent of the Ligurian figure heads and they must have lain dormant in his head because he has seen them on his journeys back and forth to Italy since he was a teenager.
‘My most loved expression is in the carving of stone. For me it is my prayer. Hours and hours listening to the rhythm of chisel and hammer bring me to a place of no return. The creation of form, the seeking of light within marble, its voice is the spirit of the earth and its poetry is infinite.‘ Sollai