Saturday, November 16, 2013

Leo Politi

Leo Politi lived from 1908-1996.  He was an Italian-American artist and author who wrote and illustrated approximately 20 children's books, as well as a book for adults titled "Bunker Hill, Los Angeles."  Many of his books were published in English and Spanish.

Politi was the youngest of two children and was born in Fresno on November 21, 1908.  His name was originally Atiglio Leoni Politi.  The family moved to Italy, when Leo was seven.  Leo grew up in his mother's native village of Broni near Milan, where he constantly was drawing.  Leo's father left to take a job as a cobbler in Placenza.  His mother went to live with a poor aunt who operated a roadside inn.  Leo was put in a boarding home with an elderly woman and her daughter.  Leo had a deep affection for Broni and began to develop his artistic  sense; by drawing sketches of village life.

In 1920, the Polities reunited and moved to London, where Leo was exposed to the culture and cosmopolitan life style of a big city.  On weekends, the family would go to a London theater and watch live shows and Charlie Chaplin films.  Leo would wander through the city's museums to view the  works of Vincent Van Gogh and other artists.

After a year, the Politi family returned to Broni, where Leo began studying art on a six year scholarship at the Superior Institute of Fine Arts at the Royal Palace at Monza near Milan.

In 1931, at the age of 22, Leo left Italy for California.  On his way, he passed through the Panama Canal and discovered the beauty of Central America.  He sketched what he saw and  started envisioning small stories. He was attracted to the Mayan culture and developed a palette that served as his core of colors through the 1930's and 40's.  Leo's artistic philosophy drew him toward the genuine and the earthy; toward people whose contact with the should was still fresh, intimate and satisfying.

Leo arrived in Los Angeles in October, 1931 and two years later, he married Helen Fontes.

Leo began sketching and painting from a regular spot on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, where he sketched tourists and sold drawings alongside potters, weavers and other artists.  Politi had an affection for Mexican-Americans and their folkways.  Drawing Mexican children for magazines and books, gave him an American career and a professional identity.  He painted a mural  on Olvera Street called "The Blessing of the Animals" where he depicts  a tradition of Catholicism in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi's love for all creatures.  In the mural; men, women and children are walking their animals to get blessed.

During the 1930's he worked in oils, watercolors and wood sculptures.  He focused on Mexican pueblo scenes, religious ceremonies and customs, dancers and mischievous children.

His first book was "Little Pancho", the illustrated story of a defiant, if not naughty, little Mexican boy on an adventure.  This book attracted the attention of the left leaning "Script" magazine, in which Politi became the magazines' art editor, and a smaller pacifist publication, "Freedom" published by Prynce Hopkins.  As the war approached, Politi turned to political themes and often used his characters.  To convey pacifism in the face of war.  His art work reflected a multiculturalism that was rarely seen in his era.

In 1944, he illustrated "Stories from Americans." It marked a distinct departure from Politi's early impressionist, cubist and art deco styles to a softer endless dar, gritty execution that typified his later work.  The softer tones and themes continued in all of his future books.  Multiculturalism continued to be an overriding theme, but was not overtly political as seen in his magazine work.

The information for tis post was taken from Wikipedia and the two pictures were taken by me at Olvera Street in Los Angeles, CA

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