Magazine article Art Monthly

Toni del Renzio 1915-2007

Magazine article Art Monthly

Toni del Renzio 1915-2007

Article excerpt

Toni del Renzio, writer, surrealist, designer, teacher, artist and enthusiastic contributor to these pages, has died at the age of 91. He was born in Russia, of an aristocratic family that fled the Russian revolution, and his education was in Britain, the US and Italy, where he was recruited to fight with Mussolini's cavalry in the Abyssinian War. On discovering that the Abyssinians castrated their prisoners he fled across North Africa, dressed as a Bedouin. He reached Spain as the Civil War was breaking and fought with the Troskyites in Barcelona and Aragon, before reaching Paris in 1937. Here he began working as a designer and painter in earnest, immersing himself in theatre, and in making contact with the surrealists and with Picasso. He then was forced to flee Paris for Britain in 1939, and made the mistake of attempting to revive the spirits and group direction of English Surrealism.

Reviewing two books on Surrealism for Art Monthly 229 in 1999, he set out in a note the tumultuous association with the English grouping that had so marked his life: 'I found myself at odds with ELT Mesens in 1945 and the trauma of the resulting quarrel plus the malicious vendetta pursued against me forced me to abstain from any surrealist activity until some 40 years later.' The English surrealists had, during a sombre period of the war for which many of them had enlisted, fallen quiet. Mesens, working for the BBC Foreign Service, had temporarily closed the London Gallery and ceased publishing. In March 1942 del Renzio published Arson, 'an ardent review', which although it had not neglected to quote Mesens on its cover, was designed 'to provoke authentic collective Surrealist activity', and was also a plea for renewed contact with Breton, now in New York, and the francophone group. Del Renzio had the active support of Robert Melville and Conroy Maddox, and later that year organised a Surrealist exhibition at the International Arts Centre in Bayswater, which Mesens refused to take part in. Mesens was indeed spurred into activity by the young upstart's challenges (which were not necessarily a claim on leadership), and manoeuvred the English grouping into such actions as showering him with eggs at a poetry reading and helping to scupper a surrealist issue of Cyril Connolly's journal Horizon that he had been asked to edit. Research by Silvano Levy suggests that sex was at least part of the mix: del Renzio, who was then married to Ithell Colquhoun, had rebuffed Mesens' advances. Whatever the historical judgment on del Renzio's youthful contribution to the cause and definition of Surrealism in England, it was not in any case a grouping that was large enough to survive the rivalries by then in place. …

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