Hugo Pratt’s Encounters
Pratt's comics and illustrations were the lens through which he explored and studied human relationships, which I found extremely interesting.
After Bruxelles and Angoulême, Comicon and ARF! Festival have brought Hugo Pratt’s exhibition to Rome. Titled Incontri e Passaggi (Encounters and Journeys) and designed and curated by the Museum Hergé of Bruxelles, along with Patrizia Zanotti, the exhibition revolves around the life and readings of the Italian illustrator and comic book creator Hugo Pratt (1927-1995), through more than 120 original works, photos, illustrations, watercolors, and other precious original items.
Best known for his comic Corto Maltese, Hugo Pratt was born in Rimini and grew up in Venice amongst a cosmopolitan family, who descended from the Mediterranean and the British islands. In 1927, he went to be with his father in Abyssinia, Ethiopia, who was an Italian official working there after Mussolini’s conquest of Abyssinia. After his father died as a prisoner of the British troops, he returned to Venice and then worked in Buenos Aires to eventually return to Italy again. It was during this time that he created Corto Maltese. Afterwards, he travelled and worked in London, France, and Switzerland.
This exhibition explores the illustrations of Pratt through a particular lens: his literary inspirations, hence the authors that most influenced his wondrous imagination. He was struck by the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, James Oliver Curwood, Zane Grey, Kenneth Roberts, Joseph Conrad, Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville and Jack London. He also took inspiration from the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (from which he created “Una Ballata del Mare Salato” published in Sgt. Kirkin 1967, where Corto Maltese first appeared!), William Butler Yeats, and William Shakespeare (who inspired his “Sogno di un Mattino di Mezzo Inverno”). Moreover, he was truly stimulated by cartoonists such as Lyman Young, Will Eisner, and especially Milton Caniff. Pratt wisely integrated those fantastical worlds and imaginative scenarios into historical eras, dealing with real events and (loosely) historical figures.
However, besides all those literary influences, I observed how his comics were the lens through which he explored and studied human relationships, which I found extremely interesting. Despite his close contact with authoritarian and – at times – violent situations from a young age (he himself was enrolled as a police official at the age of fourteen in Ethiopia and then worked as interpreter for the Allies during the Second World War),his imagination did not suffer but actually drew inspiration from all those colors found in the landscapes, uniforms and dress. This stimulated in him a deeper comprehension of different worlds and characters, from different cultures, real and imaginative – from Alaska to India, from Native Americans to Celts. As a young boy in Ethiopia, he learnt the local language and socialized with children as a foreigner, in doing so getting used to living among different cultures and beliefs, both in his own family (one grandfather was Turkish, the other English, and his mother was devoted to occultism) and in his social life.
Pratt’s comic books and illustrations tell stories that deeply and – at times – ironically explore human encounters and relationships with things that are “different”. This is a very significant aspect of his works, consisting of images and text. As he explained
Comics are like poetry, are a world full of images in which you are obliged to combine two codes and, thus, two worlds. An immediate universe through images, and a mediated world through words
(from conversation with Eddy Devolder Tandem, 1990)
It is indeed images that first struck him and penetrated into his thoughts inspiring stories and characters.
On this line, Corto Maltese can be seen as Pratt himself who discovers, experiments, and plays with the different worlds he explores, creating a dialogue which is not only just in the aesthetic dimension, but also in the human one, through the human interaction. He makes the “different” play an active role throughout his stories. Places and people are never sterilely exotic, but something and someone to interact with, such as in material and human reality.
His watercolors made me think of those of Emil Nolde (1867-1956) and his imaginary and real worlds he encountered during his early-1900s journey around the world as a reporter.
Adventure and travel may coincide, as the necessity to encounter is innate in the human nature and dynamics. When I start a journey I don’t know what I will be finding. But I always search for something and, eventually, I find it.
(Hugo Pratt, L’autore e il fumetto del Grifo, 1980)
Hugo Pratt: Incontri e Passaggi
MACRO Testaccio – la Pelanda
29 April – 24 May 2016
Address: Piazza Orazio Giustiniani 4, 00153 Rome
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