Born in Florence in 1933, after attending the Scuola Libera del Nudo, at the age of twenty he began to paint at the same time as a musical activity that saw him perform with light music orchestras in Italy and abroad.After the first figurative paintings, he approaches the informal, as Guarneri himself recounts in an interview with Giovanna Uzzani published in the catalog of the Palazzo Pitti anthology in 2004: «Then 1958 arrived and painting became more important, more serious. I was still groping. Between 1958 and 1959 I found myself playing in The Hague. I fell in love with the late Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Nothing more informal. On heavy backgrounds as dark as the night flashing signs appeared to me, bolts of light, golden flashes. So I began to draw inspiration from Rembrandt in my informal canvases, even though no one had noticed. It was the light, it was those flashes that interested me. Even then I sensed the theme of light as central, but I still didn’t know how to give up matter and I was thinking of Wols and also of Alechinskij. Then I realized that Cobra was too violent and instinctive, so I let myself be attracted by the purity of Licini, by the lyrical inventions of Klee. When I returned to Florence, I discovered that Fiamma Vigo had opened a new space in via Degli Artisti, a meeting place for abstract painters and adventurous young people. The opportunity arose for an exhibition in 1959, entitled Baldi – Fallani – Guarneri – Masi – Verna. Informal five in Florence». Guarneri’s debut exhibition sees him still linked to the informal sphere but, as the artist recounts, these were «… fervid years, everything was as if overwhelmed by experiences, by discoveries. In 1959 I went to Germany for the first time, to Dusseldorf. I still painted informally. I began to wander around the studios of those painters whom I felt closest to my research. Northern Europe then appeared to me as an extraordinary forge, laboratory, exciting experimentation network, a lively, nervous, cosmopolitan reality. I met Otto Piene, Peter Brüning, Hansjorg Glattfelder. Then also Raimond Girke and Winfred Gaul. I went to their studies, and we became friends, even though I was younger». The first personal exhibition is at the Galerie de Posthoorn in The Hague, in 1960, the year in which Guarneri is also at Abstracte Italiensee Kunst in Ostend and at Modern Paintings of Italy at the Rose Marie Gallerie in Taipei, while in 1961 the personal exhibition with Claudio Verna at the Galleria L’Indiano in Florence and in 1962 at the Galleria San Matteo in Genoa.
In 1962 Guarneri began to take an interest in color as light, in handwriting as painting, and in the problems inherent in visual perception. From this moment on, sign, light, and color identify each other, substantiating a poetic world of acute sensitivity and constituting, even in its various phases, the leitmotif of a decidedly personal research. The first very clear paintings are born in which the space is marked by luminous variations and whose surfaces are mainly treated in pencil. These works are revealed for the first time in 1963 in the solo show at La Strozzina in Palazzo Strozzi. It is again Guarneri who recalls the overcoming of the informal and the change in his research in the early 1960s: “Meeting with German friends offered me confirmation, suggested ways out of the informal, encouraged me in my research into painting. In my canvases, there were already some new light proposals and the first transparency effects. Then my informal abstract paintings began to lighten up and the search for light renewed in me my love for the landscape of the North, in Germany, in Holland, in Finland, that crystalline light, without humidity, without weight. This is how by lightening the tones more and more, subtracting matter, and decanting, I arrived at the silence of white. But it wasn’t a sudden choice.” In 1963, with Giancarlo Bargoni, Attilio Carreri, Arnaldo Esposto, and Gianni Stirone, Guarneri set up the Tempo 3 Group, whose formal program, starting from Rothko’s lesson and Gestalt theories, called for overcoming the opposition between concretism and the informal, placing itself as the third time of abstract painting.
From 1964 onwards, the work acquired a more rigorous and geometric structure: «I let myself be conquered by the geometric pattern of rhombuses or squares repeated in imperceptible asymmetry, which develops through carefully calculated successions. An effect of eurythmy is obtained with the help of colors, or rather colored lights, which replace the old timbral color, determining poetic effects through recourse to the primary elements of light and space rhythm. […] I also had in mind the homage to the square by Josef Albers, with those effects of dynamic tension, of compression, which arose from the scheme of squares organized not around the same center; also, for Albers, the square meant purity of form and escape from emotional implications, in search of a basic module about its multiples. But for me Albers was too logical, geometric, I preferred to be more ambiguous, I didn’t have his faith in pure form, I came from existentialism».
Guarneri’s research, now mature and original, is rewarded with an invitation to the XXXIII Venice Biennale (where he shares the room with Agostino Bonalumi and Paolo Scheggi) and to the Weiss auf Weiss exhibition at the Kunstalle in Bern, while his participations date from 1967 at the V Biennial of Paris and at the Nuova Tendenza exhibitions. There are numerous personal exhibitions that see the artist engaged in Italy and in Europe in the Sixties: at the Gritti Gallery in Venice in 1964, at the II Bilico Gallery in Rome in 1965, at the Paladino Gallery in Palermo in 1966, at the La Carabaga Gallery in Genoa and at the 3A Gallery in Lecce in 1967, at the Study of Aesthetic Information in Turin in 1968 and at the Galleria Flori in Florence in 1969. Since 1969, painting «continued to be refined. Almost white paintings were born, legible only through prolonged observation which provoked a perceptive refinement. […] the colors were the result of luminous and changeable transparencies and were transformed into color light. The signs had transformed and, from being individual and significant, had become lighter, denser, and more regular, the mere transcription of an imperceptible movement of the wrist. […] But in the end, the structure must continually deal with a light that consumes and undoes it».
In 1972 Guarneri held a first anthology of over sixty works which closed a decade of activity at the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster, while the one-man shows at the Peccolo Gallery in Livorno, the La Polena Gallery in Genoa, and the Morone 6 Gallery in Milan were always in the same year. and at the Galerie Loehr in Frankfurt. This was followed by the personal exhibition of 1973 at the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice and those of 1974 at the Galleria Godel in Rome and at the Galerie December in Münster; that at the Galerie December in Dusseldorf in 1976 and at the Galerie Artline in The Hague in 1978. Among the various exhibitions, there are participations in the Rome Quadriennale in 1973, the Milan Biennale in 1974, and in the historical exhibitions on Italian art: The active image at the Rotonda della Besana in Milan in 1971 and, in the same year, at the XX International Fiorino Exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; Europe/America, determined abstraction 1960-76 at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna in 1976; Lines of artistic research in Italy 1960-1980 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome in 1981.
“Late 70s. A sense of dissatisfaction seized me with respect to my previous work, the paintings were now too good for me, they were too perfect, I felt the need for a rebellion, the need to find a way out of such implacable rigor matured in me. […] I gave a kick to geometric rigor, I abandoned myself to the effects of chance and stain, and I accepted to let what seemed to me the “romantic” and “sentimental” aspect of my inspiration prevails. […] The first appreciable results of the new course of my painting came around 1982. The innumerable watercolor stains superimposed themselves very clearly on each other, filtered by a Japanese rice paper tissue that I glued onto the canvas and used instead of the usual preparation.The results of these researches find space in the exhibition entitled Equilibrio, held in May 1984 at the Palazzo Pretorio in Certaldo (in collaboration with the GNAM in Rome), where Guarneri exhibits together with Aricò, Uncini, Conte, Lorenzetti, Napoleone.
In 2000, the artist confronted a totally new experience, realizing the project for the 24 m2 mosaic of the Lucio Sestio station of the Rome underground.In these years the artist was invited to important exhibitions on the history of Italian art in Italy and abroad: Abstract-Secessions abstract in Italy from the post-war period to 1990 at the Galleria Civica in Verona in 1990; Art in Italy 1956-1968 at the Civic Museum of Conegliano Veneto in 1995; Die andere Richtung der Kunst. Abstrakte Kunst Italiens ’60-’90 at the Kunsthalle in Cologne in 1997; Continuity. Art in Tuscany 1945-2000 at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence in 2002.In 2004, the anthological exhibition Contrappunto luce was held at the Modern Art Gallery of Palazzo Pitti in Florence. On this occasion, a catalog was published with critical essays by Giovanna Uzzani and Maria Grazia Messina, statements by the artist, and an anthology of critical writings, still the reference text for Guarneri’s work.
From the mid-2000s, as part of a renewed critical interest in analytical painting, exhibitions dedicated to its protagonists flourished in Italy and abroad, to which Riccardo Guarneri (one of the first exponents of this artistic movement) was duly invited. In 2007 he was in Milan, at the Palazzo della Permanente, for the Analytical Painting exhibition. The Italian itineraries from 1970-1980 and in numerous private galleries. In 2015 he was among the artists of An idea of painting. Analytical abstraction in Italy, 1972-1976 at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Udine, and in 2016 he participated in two other group exhibitions: Analytical Painting. The 1970s, at the Mazzoleni Art gallery in London, and The years of analytical painting. The protagonists, the works, and the research at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Verona. In 2017 he was invited to other exhibitions on analytical painting: Analytical Painting yesterday and today at the Mazzoleni Gallery in Turin, Analytical painting: origins and continuity, located in the two locations of Villa Contarini (Piazzola sul Brenta, PD) and the Rocca di Umbertide.These years see Guarneri also as the protagonist of important personal exhibitions in Italy and abroad and we remember his participation in historical exhibitions: Aniconic Painting at the Casa del Mantegna in Mantua in 2008; The Great Game. Forms of art in Italy 1947-1989 at the Rotonda della Besana in Milan in 2010 and Percorsi dell’arte italiana at the Vaf-Stiftung, at the Mart of Trento and Rovereto in 2011.
In 2017 recognition came to the artist with Christine Macel’s invitation to the 57th Venice International Art Biennale Viva Arte Viva, fifty years after his first Biennale in 1966.In 2018 he was invited to the 100% Italia exhibition. One hundred years of masterpieces, held at the Ettore Fico Museum in Turin. In 2019 the Museo del Novecento in Milan included a work by Guarneri as part of the reorganization of the museum, inaugurating a new exhibition itinerary. The Museo Novecento in Florence, on the other hand, is dedicating a personal exhibition to him.
In 2021 four of his works become part of the permanent collection of the Center Pompidou in Paris.
Riccardo Guarneri has taught painting at the Academies of Fine Arts in Carrara, Bari, Venice and Florence and is also an Academician Emeritus for the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence.