Obituary - Antonio Pacitti (1924-2009)
Even in his eighties Antonio Pacitti had huge enthusiasm for his art and expressed himself through a wide range of media ranging from drawings, oils and print-making to ceramics and sculpture. His subjects were equally diverse; from life-studies to Christian iconology, from the natural world to the occupied Middle East. It was this enthusiasm for his subject, which he shared with all he met which was key to his success as an art teacher. Since the introduction of Dulwich Artists’ Open House during the Dulwich Festival, he was a regular participant.
Antonio Pacitti arrived in Croxted Road after a journey which began in Cassino, 80 miles south of Rome, in 1924. His father, Vincenzo, was a railway worker and trade-unionist and also scenery-painter of the town’s theatre. Vincenzo’s activities in the trade union movement caused the local Fascist movement to give him 24 hours to leave Cassino in 1928 and he and his wife with his two older sons, one of which was Antonio fled to Scotland to relatives, leaving the youngest son and a daughter in the care of a great-aunt. Antonio’s grandfather had emigrated to Scotland in the nineteenth century and established an ice cream business but later had been deported back to Italy – for having shot his wife’s supposed lover and leaving behind a large family.
In Scotland the family experienced severe poverty, and moved through a succession of crowded lodgings before settling into a tenement in the Gorbals in Glasgow where his father continued to be a political activist, often speaking at Glasgow Green.
Antonio gained a place at the Glasgow School of Art where he was awarded the David Donaldson prize before his studies were interrupted by war service. He joined the Highland Light Infantry and later served in India.
Following demobilisation he rejoined his family, who by this time had moved to London and he attended the Sir John Cass College before gaining his diploma at the Slade in the early 1950’s where he took sculpture as a subsidiary subject. He worked as head of department in adult education and was also a part-time teacher at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, during which time his students submitted prize winning paintings to the Arthur Koestler Award scheme. In 1958 he exhibited at the RBA Galleries and in 1964 won a commission for a sculpture of the Madonna and Child at a newly built church in Patcham near Brighton. Following his retirement from teaching in 1987 he had exhibitions at the Accademia Italiana in Grosvenor Place followed by a retrospective of his drawings at the West Soho Gallery. His biblically inspired art produced throughout his career was exhibited at three cathedral exhibitions 2000-02 and the spiritual and political works (he collaborated with his wife, Diane, a poet on the theme of Guantanano Bay) finally came together at an exhibition at All Saints Church, West Dulwich 2007-8.
Pacitti was a man of great warmth and generosity, noted for his hospitality and a staunch defender of human rights.