If you could create your own art park, filled with everything you love, how would it look? Where would it be? Who would visit? Would you plant trees? 300 of them? For Italian sculptor Enzo Pazzagli, 300 cipressi, cypress trees are part of the canvas of his work. Why? Because it’s ART!
The other day, we took a drive to the southeast edge of Florence along the Arno River to see the Parco d’Arte. We had driven by many times, admiring the sculpture park from a distance, but were ready to venture inside. It turns out to be so much more than acres of sculpture and cypress trees. Many hidden messages were tucked in and around the park—to be discovered by those willing to take a closer look inside.
Pazzagli’s father was a Tuscan blacksmith, so his love of iron and steel is honest. Over his lifetime as an artist, he has used the strangely unyielding rigidity of the material to form surprisingly soulful and playful figures. He had developed a recognizable style that’s uniquely his own. In fact, it’s known throughout the world. There are many installations of his art in public spaces, but the most significant collection is in his own personal art park, which just happens to be outside the back door of his villa and workshop.
In 2001, he decided to make his dream a reality by transforming the 15-acre field behind his house into a magical park—a living exhibit of his own work. His own story. The site is perfect because of its proximity to the heart of Florence, while maintaining its country setting, stretching all the way to the peaceful Arno beyond. It is indeed an invitingly peaceful location, but in addition to being a sensitive soul, Pazzagli is also a strategic thinker.
He recognized the visual power of the area. It turns out that the trains to Rome rumble by, on the east edge of the property. Passengers press their faces to the windows and you can see them pointing and wondering at the sight. Meanwhile, the river road to Florence passes high above on the north, with provocative views down into the site. Pazzagli seems to offer an artistic dialogue with people on their daily commutes and those passersbys on casual travel. His Art Park forms an alluring backdrop that piques the curiosity of even the most uninterested observers. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the night view—an irresistible lighted display, that creates moody shadowy forms against the vertical cypress trees. Very cool!
Beyond the beauty of his art, the unique position of his park, or the provocative ideas he expresses, there’s even more. The trees. Ah, the curiosity of those 300 cypress trees he planted. The iconic Italian trees lend mystery and charm to any setting, there’s no doubt. But where to plant them? As you may have already guessed, Pazzagli’s answer to that question is complex. He’s a master of layered messages, double meanings and hidden views. As strange as it may sound, you actually have to fly over the park to find the powerful truth hidden within the maze of those beautiful trees. All 300 of them are in very specific places, creating a fantastic three-dimensional sculpture of immense proportions. The brilliant blue Tuscan sky becomes the backdrop for the dark moody cypresses, as well as the third vantage point for air travelers. Let’s take a look out the window of our airplane flying over, shall we?
Below us, we can see the outline of an enormous image. Correction. Images. As we look closer, we see a face in the middle, cleverly sandwiched between the forms of profiles on either side. In addition, you can see that the entrance to the park is located where the heart would be, just below the 3 faces. Conceptually, we step through and among never-ending sequences of imagery—like nesting dolls where one encases another and another and another. What Pazzagli has so cleverly done, is nothing less than offer us a provocative space through which to view life—both opposites and oneness at the same time. Head and heart; right and left; face and mask; inside and outside; simple joy amid swirling complexity; flowing, feeling lines forged from seemingly cold, heartless steel—it’s all there.
We went to the Art Park that morning out of curiosity. We left there realizing that we had unwittingly just gone on a three-dimensional tour through our own life’s work. Perhaps we all create a personal “art park” of sorts throughout our lifetime. Maybe not as literally as Enzo Pazzagli has, but an art park nonetheless, full of everything we love and believe in; entangled personal messages of what matters the most. And whether we realize it or not, our life’s work then becomes visible for all to consider. Every passerby and casual traveler has a chance to step in for a visit if they so choose—if we decide to open the entrance gates.
In Italy, there’s far more to an ordinary cypress tree than first meets the eye!
Note: You may also enjoy some other stories about artists—”Money Talks,” “Anti Mass,” “Monet’s Garden,” and “Vincent.”