Artist: Richard Piccolo
American – born in 1943
Education: Pratt Institute, New York
Current Residence: Rome, Italy
Art Work: Four triptychs entitled “Aer” (Air), “Terra” (Earth), “Ignis” (Fire), and “Aqua” (Water). Oil on Canvas. Artist began painting the series in 1990; it was completed in 1993.
Richard Piccolo created four large oil on canvas triptychs on the them of the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water. (The title of the art works are the Latin names for each element). The subject matter in each painting includes allegorical figures, but also references to the history and landscape of the Sacramento region.
The first triptych installed, “Aer” (Air), uses air and light to refer to the arts and culture of Sacramento. On the left panel, in front of a skyline incorporating landmark buildings in downtown Sacramento, a boy is blowing bubbles. The boy in the park-like setting, with an artist’s palette next to his hand, symbolizes the value of youth, recreation, and culture to a thriving city. There is an additional message in the panel. The Greek inscription on the book whose pages are turning in the wind says “Man is (like) a bubble.” In other words, our lives are as ephemeral as the bubbles blowing away.
The center and right hand panels show the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. In the center, the young woman stands for the beauty of the arts. In the right panel, there is the harnessing of hot air in the balloon that is floating away.
The light of the sky in the painting moves in an arc, from the dark clouds of early morning on the left, through midday sun in the center, to a brilliant sunset on the right.
Both our mining past and our agricultural abundance are the subjects of the “Terra” (Earth) triptych. On the left, a man and his mule are shown entering a mine. Some of the rock formations reflect the changes brought upon the landscape with the use of hydraulic mining techniques.
In the center panel, the main subject is the agricultural abundance of the Central Valley. On the right are depicted earlier inhabitants of this region.
“Ignis” (Fire), refers to specific events in Sacramento’s history. The left panel depicts people escaping form the great fire of 1852. In the distance, you can also see one of the steamboats that used to travel between Sacramento and San Francisco.
The center panel shows people fleeing the fire being helped to safety on the west bank of the river. The central figure is Chinese, a reference to the importance of the Chinese community in the area’s history – both in building the railroad and in mining for gold.
The right panel focuses on the constructive use of fire. Here fire is controlled, seen only through he square man-made opening in the allegorical forge of Vulcan. Fire is used to melt the recently mined gold. Vulcan is pouring the molten liquid into a mold. The female figure to his right is holding up a recently cast gold statue of Minerva – the goddess of wisdom that is featured on the Seal of the State of California. Fire is also an important source of warmth, as illustrated by the young boy in the foreground.
The small lower (predella) panel show other influences of fire. On the right is a depiction of California’s volcanic past, and on the left, the harnessing of fire to power locomotives, an acknowledgement of the importance of the railroad in the history of Sacramento.
“Aqua” (Water has always been of critical importance to this region. The large upper panels depict the turbulent sources of our water. Also included are panners looking for gold in the rivers leading to our Valley, and other figures just enjoying the refreshment water can provide. The predella panels show another aspect of our water – the calm Delta Rivers and sloughs.