Obituary: Franco Beltrametti

Tom Raworth
Sunday 03 September 1995 23:02

The Swiss-Italian artist and writer Franco Beltrametti published over 30 books and pamphlets of poetry, prose, collaborations and translations, in several languages and countries; and had a similar number of solo and group exhibitions of his graphic works. Those will last however long words and objects do; but his existence as catalyst, connector and correspondent is gone for ever. He was a personal link between such disparate traditions as American beat - and New York school - poetry; the Fluxus group of artists; the European avant-garde; the music of Steve Lacy, Joelle Leandre and Nino Locatelli; the Italian revolutionary left; and Japanese Zen Buddhism.

With Gianantonio Pozzi (whom he met in Sicily) he organised P77 - a small poetry festival in Venice which, the following year, 1978, was transferred to Amsterdam to expand and become the regular "One World Poetry". It was through Beltrametti's friendship with Julien Blaine and Emmanuel Ponsart that the British poets Allen Fisher, John James and Tom Pickard were introduced to a French audience one night in the hills of Provence.

Beltrametti published MINI, "the smallest magazine in the world", and co-edited several other journals: the latest being Codice Biancaneve in Milan, and Jean Monod's AIOU from the Cevennes. In 1990, with the Milanese poet Dario Villa, and Marta Pellis, he organised "Arte Nanetta", a travelling show of tiny artworks from all over the world that packs into a suitcase.

Born in Locarno, the son of a railwayman, Beltrametti grew up in various towns in the Ticino canton of Switzerland. An omnivorous reader from childhood, he also drew and painted; but at 19, after meeting the artist Yves Klein in Milan, he destroyed almost all his early work. In 1958 he began to study architecture in Zurich, travelled in Italy, France and England, and, after qualifying in 1963, worked in Rome and Zurich before taking the Trans-Siberian Express to Japan. There he was joined by Judy Danciger, and their son, Giona, was born in 1966.

Beltrametti lived in Tokyo, then Kyoto, until 1967, teaching at the International Design Institute, studying traditional Japanese culture at Kyoto University, and spending time with the American poets Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Cid Corman. From Japan he travelled by cargo boat across the Pacific, briefly taught architectural design at California Polytechnic, crossed the United States, and returned to Europe determined to devote all of his time to "life" and "writing". He spent a year in Sicily helping the survivors of the earthquake, then established a permanent Swiss base in Riva san Vitale at the extreme southern tip of Lake Lugano. There he lived simply (often on nettle soup or dandelion-leaf salad) in two rooms stacked with books and pictures, between travels all over Europe, North America and Japan.

After separating from Judy, he returned for a while to California in 1974 where, after designing and building a wooden house on the Yuba river in the Sierra Nevada, he began to draw and paint again. During the past few years he spent an increasing amount of time with the ceramicist Antonella Tomaino in the small mountain village of Mugena.

Beltrametti was one of the very few people (the French poet Claude Royet- Journoud is another) whose awareness of what is going on in the arts is coupled with a generosity of spirit that lets them not only welcome a younger generation, but actively connect it to like sensibilities. No cafe table he ever sat at was not immediately covered with postcards to be written to friends: nor did any lengthy train-ride fail to produce notes for a future project.

The last exhibition of Beltrametti's I saw, earlier this year, was called "monologue is a dialogue with silence". It is both tragic and ironic that he should die between seeing the sonargram of his unborn child, and the opening of a travelling (Venice, Milan, Marseille, Paris) retrospective exhibition of his work. I shall think of him standing at sunset high on the side of Monte Generoso, looking over Chiasso and the plains of Lombardy towards Milan, in that silence which is the sound of an infinity of one hands clapping.

Franco Beltrametti, poet, painter, architect: born Locarno 7 October 1937; died Lugano 26 August 1995.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments