Ico Parisi (1916-1996) engineer, architect, designer, photographer, painter, conceptual artist

Domenico (Ico) Parisi was born in Palermo, Sicily, the son of an art teacher. He lived in Como most of his life, studying engineering there in the early 1930s and working as a photographer, among other things, in the architectural office of preeminent architect Giuseppe Terragni. During this time, he was influenced by the Italian avant-garde, and notably by modernist doctrines pertaining to the integration of architecture and the arts. In the mid1930s, Parisi cofounded two architect groups: the Alto Quota, and the Gruppo Como.

In 1945, after serving in the war, Parisi organized the first of a series of contemporary furniture exhibitions in Como. The following year he married architect Luisa Aiani (1914- 1990), a student of Gio Ponti and fellow member of the Alta Quota. Parisi completed his own architectural studies at the Institute Atheneum, Lausanne, and became a leading industrial designer in Milan. After receiving prestigious commissions to design furniture for the State Library in Milan and the Casa Fraccaroli, in 1948 Ico and Luisa Parisi founded the design studio La Ruota in Como. There, Parisi designed architectural projects, interiors, furniture, glass, and jewelry, both independently and with his wife. La Ruota became a nexus for collaborations with artists such as Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti, Bruno Munari, and Francesco Somaini. Among the Parisis’ important early architectural collaborations were Casa Carcano in Maslianico, and Casa Notari in Fino Mornasco. Ico Parisi’s biomorphic furniture designs for these commissions were acclaimed in Milan and in Domus magazine. The studio also worked with select local artisans, producing furniture, ceramics, glass and jewelry that became important representations of the new Linia Italiana. Designs from the Parisis’ studio were exhibited at the 34th Salon des Artistes Decorateurs in Paris, alongside those of Albini, Buffa, Chiesa, Minoletti, Mollino, and Ulrich.

As well as designing one-of-a-kind pieces, the Parisis designed lines of furniture for clients such as the New York company M. Singer & Sons and prestigious furniture companies such as Cassina, Altamira, and Mobili Italiana Moderne (MIM). Among their celebrated designs for Cassina are the iconic Model 813 Uovo, or “egg” chair (1951). Presented at the Milan Triennale (for which the Parisis designed a pavilion), the chair was lauded by Gio Ponti as “a marvel.” The Parisis’ long relationship with Cassina led to Compasso d’Oro nominations for Model 691 and Model 839 chairs (both in 1955), and a Gold Medal at the exhibition Colori e Forme Nelle Casa d’Oggi in Como (1957). Characterized by curvaceous wood and metal shapes, in the 50s the Parisis’ biomorphic designs took on a more rationalist architectural bent. Sleeker and pareddown, these functional forms combined industrial processes together with hand craftsmanship while maintaining the Parisis’ distinctive style. Free from ornamentation per se, the designs have an emphasis on curving lines that convey a sense of movement. The Parisis continued successfully designing for Cassina from the 1960s through the 1980s, producing furniture in their trademark modern style. They also designed over 150 interiors together, as well as architectural works such as the Church of Santa Maria dell’Osa in Tuscany (1962).

In 1973 Ico Parisi collaborated with art critics Enrico Crispolti and Pierre Restany, psychologist Antonio Miotto, and entrepreneur Italo Bartoletti to create a project entitled Hypothesis for an Existential House. A synthesis of design, installation, and performance, Parisi presented the project at the 1976 Venice Biennale to great enthusiasm by the press and critics. In the late 1970s, he did a series of futuristic architectural drawings entitled Realizable Utopia. He also published his first book on photography, and worked on installations, including an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in 1988. A self proclaimed “renaissance man,” Parisi maintained his involvement in and synthesis of various creative disciplines and artistic pursuits throughout his life. Both the Parisis worked into their final years. Ico Parisi together with his wife Luisa are recognized as key figures in mid-century Italian design, and proved a major influence on the successive generation of Italian designers. They effectively combined the tenets of modernism together with Italian expressiveness in creating pieces that are seductively shaped, intelligently manufactured, and elegantly functional. Examples of their work have been known to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. While there has been speculation as to how large a part Luisa played in their design process, it is generally agreed that she was Ico’s collaborator as well as his muse, and much of their work is indeed stamped with both their names. 

Exhibitions:
Mostra dell’ Arredamento, Como1945
Mostra del Giornalismo, Milano1948
Salon des Artistes Decorateurs, Paris1948
Mostra dell' arredamento of Fede Cheti, Milan1949
Milan Triennale 1951, 1954
Venice Biennale, 1976
Klaus Spindler Fine Arts, Berlin, 2009, first German retrospective of Parisi furniture
Spazio Enzo Pifferi editore, Como, 2012.

Publications:
Giovanna D’Amia and Ico Parisi. Ico Parisi: Architectura, Fotografia e Design; L’immagine
Come Progetto. 2012 (catalog for exhibition at Spazio Enzo Pifferi, Como)
Flaminio Gauldoni. Ico Parisi: La Casa. 1999
Ico Parisi: Architettura Design Utopie, presented by Como, Pinacoteca Civica, Palazzo Volpi, 1991.
Ico Parisi: & Architecture, presented by Galleria Civica, Somune di Modena. 1990