Silvio Barile Shows Off His Cement Sculptures

Silvio Barile was born in the village of Ausonia, province of Frosinone, Lazio region, a hamlet that identified more with Napoli than Rome. on October 25, 1938. At three, Silvio, his mother, brothers, and sisters went to live in a relocation camp constructed by the Germans for the noncombative Italian villagers so they could not cooperate with the partisans or allies. For five years the family endured the cold, little food, and boredom under squalid contions. Silvio whiled away the time making trucks, cars, and tanks out of the hard clay that was common in that region. He recalled that all the children had to do something and the boys would make toys out of dirt and then bake them in the sun. "I was no different from anyone else.  My friends would play with their cars or tanks.  I just loved to make things.  I did not play with anything.  I loved the feel and the smell of the earth and rocks." After the liberation, Silvio returned to his village and worked on the farm until he left with his mother to live with her sister in Dearborn, Michigan. After completing an apprenticeship at a local bakery, he purchased a building in Redford Township (near Detroit) and converted it into a pizzeria.

Like the Greeks, Silvio paints his sculptures.

As Silvio made a life for himself in the Detroit area, he began to feel a disatisfaction for the commercialism and materialism that characterized American life. He believed that not only the Americani were false in their love and feelings, but that the Italian Americans were no better. He wanted to make people aware of the superficiality of their existence in this country. So he began building ten to twelve foot cement sculptures, weighing three to five thousand pounds representing his themes that he believed were important: Rome's greatness,lustful and selfish love, the closeness of the family, and  the beauty of his native birthplace and Detroit. The artist used steel rods for supports, the earth as a form. He decorated the sculptures with trinkets purchased at garage sales and variety stores and painted each in bright colors reminiscent of his native Ausonia. He embellished the theme of each piece by adding his own distinctive touches (that came into his head during the creation) and inscribing his ideas in words that filled the empty spaces.

The antecedents for Silvio's artistry cannot be found by looking for individuals who make sculptures that illustrate the ideas that Silvio wants to convey. Such people do not exist and therefore there are no varients here. What makes Silvio a folk artist is the fact that he memorializes his life and philosophy using a particular medium.  There are individuals, immigrant or otherwise, who take stone, cement, wood, fabrics, and other materials to express ideas they have found important in their lives.  To get at the meanings of these pieces then, it is necessary to document how the artist made his creations, how he feels toward the materials that he shapes with his tools or hands, what is going on  in his mind while he is conceiving the idea, why he chose this representation over that, and what finally the completed work means to him. In Silvio's case, the photographs of the finished sculptures only hint at the nature of artist's work.  Therefore, in order to interpret these pieces, it is necessary to document his words concerning each and to do it in the context of his "garden" or folk art environment. I recorded the following material and shot the photographs between 1994 and 1997 at Silvio's pizzeria.

Title Page

Silvio Talks:

I was able to buy this little place and the prices were reasonable. After a while, after I got established, I started to make cement sculptures. Just with the idea to give the Italians a little more depth, not just the money. I did not want the Italians to become Americans. Because there are so many faults with Americans as a whole. I see the Americans as worst off than the Italians in the sense that they lack the family unity. They lack the deep love that I usually look for.

All the troubles I found in America. I found American society to be very shallow and lacking so many things. So what triggered my interest I found that the Italians who came to America would just fall for the dream of money, for the love of money, for the love of materialism. I did not see any spirit, no depth in Italians who came to America. I just saw a bunch of materialistic individuals. So I began to think about my past and the things I thought were important. I wanted to create something to show how I felt.

One of the first things I made was this thing, I can't remember how long ago. I don't remember exactly the time. This piece is called Harmonia D'Infanzia.

This is his favorite piece: The Harmony of Childhood.

There is my sister on the left. See my family thinks that since we have some pigs and donkeys and other animals that it was a shame or something. To me it was such beautiful years when I was a young boy, I used to play my little flute with my brothers or something. I always treasure life. This is my sister. She is carrying a club to beat the pigs up. Well you know the pigs are not going to listen unless you wack them across the back or something. This inscription says Cathy Barile. Next is my brother Angelo and he is playing the accordion. This is me and I love to play the saxophone, something like President Clinton. But I made myself look like John Kennedy. Sometimes I have a tendency to make the men look like Kennedy. Then there is my big brother Salvatore. He used to make his own musical instruments with bamboo sticks. So we used to make these funny sounds. I remember that. We did not have a band, we just would play together and make musical sounds. You know the sounds and harmonies of childhood.

This is a donkey not a pig. This is the Cicio. This is the sheep. This is Silvio's Cicio. Cicio was the nickname I gave to my donkey. This is a little sheep or lamb. These are two pigs or swine that we used to have. It was sad when we had to butcher them. I love sausage. So we used to eat lard and bread and stuff like that. We would call the butcher who would cut their throats.

Now see what it says down here? I call this piece Harmonia D'Infanzia. See because these animals all they made were beautiful sounds which for me were the sounds of life. Even the pigs were so beautiful. They used to follow me around. You know a pig is a beautiful and intelligent animal. Because all the creatures of God are beautiful. I remember the sounds they used to make. I used to have a name for my pig. This one was called Maschio which means male. The Porcello was the female pig. For the sheep I named her Biancona because she has such white wool. Bianco means white. Cicio the name of the donkey, it is a Neopolitan nickname for meat. You say Cicio because it is nice and plump. It had real nice buttocks. He was a nice fat donkey. He looked real meaty so we called him Cicio.

These are oak trees John. These trees we used to play under. See the little nest with birds. You see I like simplicity. I painted the trunks red because they were kind of reddish. So I give a little red paint. The yellow on the trees is supposed to be a little sunlight. It is sundown. You know it is tremunto. I love the oak trees because they are so majestic. See these earings? I get these at the Salvation Army because girls like to wear earrings and knicknacks. I give a little color to things . I love blue and red. Two blues and one red is one of my favorites. Because it just seems to rhyme together. You see the blue reminds me of the blue sea of Naples.

Columbus's Dream.

This piece I call it Columbus's Dream. Columbus always dream that he wanted to discover something. So for many years he always chased this dream. That is him there when he at last saw land. See all the boys, all the Neapolitans, are born by the sea. They always want to see what is on the other side. They always have the dream of discovering things. So they are all interested in Columbus. That is what drove Columbus to go through all the problems that he went through even though he was not Neapolitan. To get to this land because he thought it was good, it was pure. When I was in the concentration camps I thought of America like Columbus did. I saw it as a place where there would be peace and harmony. You can see how craze Columbus was for peace and harmony. When he saw the land and knew it was America he started pulling his hair or something. When he saw land he thought he couldn't believe it. Because he was really tired you know. He wanted to take a bath. He had been at sea for three m onths.

There on his arm you can see the word Terra. When Columbus saw Terra he thought he discovered paradise because it was the fertile earth where anything could grow. He could grow food for everybody and become what I wrote on his arm, a Benefactor of Humanity. One of the results of his trip to America was that both continents benefited so much. There were no cows in America. The Spanish brought cows, brought this and brought that.

I really packed this part of the piece. I got the Indians which represent the United States. I got Florida and Texas and this is North America. I got the Atlantic ocean. See it with the monsters, squid, and starfish. Connecting the two continents is why I wrote Columbus new world bridge that brings both continents together, Europe and America. Standing on the bridge are the sirens. The sailors need a woman so they can be a little happy. So the sirens sang songs for them, little serenades, and the sailors think about girls. Look here, there are the tipees in South America near the Andes and the Amazon River. There are the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Actually Columbus is on the Santa Maria which was nicknamed IL Capitano because he was the Captain on it.

Details of the lower half of Columbus's Dream.

If you look closely you will see three little figures together. They are the guys who are actually responsible for the trip: Isabella and Ferdinand and the Pope. They got the money for the trip. Now the trees. Every boat has got these trees which we call Pini Maritimi and I love these trees because they keep the sails going. Only I put in the real trees on the ship. No real ship has trees on them to hold the sails, but I did it anyway because I love the Pini Maritimi. It is all incorrect according to reality. It is just supposed to be a tree standing, a pole, to hold the sails. The name of this sculpture is Columbus Dream so I can do whatever I want. I think of the boats in Naples, Columbus's boats which are the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and then my thoughts go to the Neapolitan trees the Pini Maritimi, the eternal trees. These are the eternal pines. They are the crosses.

When Columbus came over he came with the blessing of the Pope in the religious way. He came over Altissimu Servus Christus Salvatorus or the highest servant of Christ the Savior. It means they were good guys. They were not violent guys. You know John, Columbus made a mistake. He had a dream and it did not turn out the way he wanted it to. When I came here I had a dream, but it did not turn out. I don't know what went wrong. I got some ideas.

Virtue and Sin.

Here is a piece I call Virtue and Sin and I think that I found the answer when I made that sculpture. This piece shows the man and the jackass working. You know the virtue is the work, honest work. Now here is the girl and she is saying, "One Way," which means, "My way only." She is supposed to be the sinner because she prostitutes herself in her way and that is the way the sin comes in. She does not work for her money. The man is carrying a tremendous load on his shoulder. These rocks are very heavy and the jackass is very, very loaded. Both are working very, very hard. She seems to make a living just by showing her body around, that is where the sin comes in. She does not do anything. She is wearing a little bathing suit and you can see that little penis sticking out. The man you notice has got a flat tired penis. You can tell his penis is in bad shape and his testicles are just as sweating and hanging quite a bit. He is bent over and overworked. The donkey is just as bad carrying a great load. The girl is doing nothing.

You see John Americans have got everything confused. They do not know what they are doing. Take, for instance, the Statue of Liberty. Why should a woman be put on a pedestal? Shouldn't the family be represented? Isn't the family more important than the woman or man and doesn't mama's love and papa's count for more? That is why I did The Torch Unity and Spirit of America. Because the woman she has got a torch and he has got one too. What made me make this piece is that I really feel that American men play a very little role in the upbringing of children in the family in the United States. The woman seems to be the center of everything legally and everything else. I think that American men want to produce a better family. You have to have a man and a woman to work together. Love each other better than they do.

The Torch Unity and Spirit of America.

See the woman is standing on mama's love and the man is standing on papa's love. I figure that it is completely the same thing. So I made this American man who seems to be kind of--I cannot think of the word right now John. The man next to her is a much more complete picture of the American scene, the American family. Plus I made the son into a little Indian because our past included the Indian so much. That is the little boy who is the Indian, his name is Running Bear. I included the Detroit Tigers because we all live in Detroit to make some of the people happy. The boy is playing soccer and football and he is wearing the Detroit Lions helmet. Now a woman should stand for certain things especially if she is the Statue of Liberty. She should have "honor," "honesty," "courage," "virtue," which means not too much sexual freedom, she should be a conservative, not a libertine person going from bad to bad like we are experiencing today. The word "honesty" appears all the time in everything I am making because we seem to forget it.

I like to put words in different places to give my pieces meaning. It is a secret meaning. Nobody knows it except me. See this word here near the base? Well it is my name, "By Silvio." Because it was really hot in the summer time and I sweated like a pig to make this thing for so many days. I figure I should deserve a little credit.

Another word I have written here is Sapienza which comes from the Latin word for wisdom and then there is Ausonia. I always write Ausonia, my native village on every one of my pieces to identify it as something which came from the place where I was born, the place that I love and that gave me life. Then I also say, Honor Detroit. I think we should all honor Detroit because this is the place where we live.

If you notice the woman is holding up a torch and it is painted red up there. See that piece on her head? It is a nice little star I found at a garage sale. I told you that I love nice radiant colors. I give it a little beauty because women like to wear things. I included some earrings.

More important than what she is wearing is the look she has on her face. To me her expression seem to say, "I am here to stay. God give this to me, nobody dare touch it." Now the man, his look is different. He seems to be a little more silent than her. He seem to be just there. I really wish the American male would be a little more vocal, a little more assertive, in the fabric of the family. I made him look like an angel and I cited some of the great American Presidents who have given so much to lead our country: this is the American father who looks like an angel. Father's angel. I included Washington, Abe Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy and many more I could have included but there was no room.

This girl is little liberty to accentuate my Roman upbringing Virtus, Praemium, est Optimum, it is Latin that means "virtue is conservatism and that usually brings the best results." There would be less Aids and less problems for everyone if we engaged in different sexual behavior in the United States. Like less dating and a little bit more honest love. Not just any type of love. Our love should be long lasting if it is true. She has the look of a little girl, John, that is innocent. She seems to be thinking about something. She seems to be listening. Maybe she is listening to me, John. Now the boy is different. He is the little bear. He seems to have a look of determination and self-esteem. He seems to be sure of himself. He says, "I am here too" or something like that. He seems to be happy to be there, but he may have a question about it. Like we have been here for a long time. See I love the Indians way of thinking because they love nature, mother nature so much and they were against pollution and stuff like that. Their culture is well respected.

John what good is a piece of art? I mean you can make a technically beautifully marble statue something which is very difficult to make. The most important thing is the message that goes out, the meaning of this piece, and the question you must ask is this: is the message destructive? Is the message the kind that causes problems. Then if it does have this kind of message then it is a pretty bad piece of art.

For example, I never like Elvis or the Beetles. Lot of people look at these guys as heroes. But their music is nothing bunch of noise, bunch of destructive forces of the American kids or something. So their music is not worth a shit. Any piece of art, the meaning of it is much more important than the piece itself. Any type of service, anything, even if you serve somebody, you are doing a day's work for somebody. You have to give a honest meaning to what you do. The fruit is what you should judge.

It is just like if you plant a tree that brings sours apples then what the hell good is the tree. What is destructive in art is what causes problems to the people who look at it. False love. Like when somebody says l love you and does not really mean it. I think that it is pretty bad.

Like Madonna's music which is garbage. She should be locked up. If I was in the government I would lock her up. It destroys so many beautiful American girls. They are all affected by this little tramp Madonna. That is a terrible piece of art, this Madonna. It is a destructive piece of art. When I write on the picture of Elizabeth Taylor. I try to correct to say look this is all wrong what you do, what you do is unacceptable behavior to decent people.

So I just try to adjust and correct and point out the faults because Leonarda da Vinci always used to say, "To know how to look at things." If you look at things in the wrong way John it causes a lot of problems for people sometimes.

Aeneas greeting the audience just before he discovers Rome.