An Intimate Profile

By Neil Morgan            Writer and Journalist.

(written in the late 60s, for a California Newspaper and Journal)

An abrupt thunder shower had left the terrace of the 400 year old villa glistening, and now the rain had moved down the mountainside and was drenching the vineyard. Beyond, sun-shaft danced on the hills and domes of Rome.

Nicola Simbari stood on his terrace almost purring with contentment. Open-collared and roguishly handsome, in the best Italian manner he swept an arm toward the extravagant scene.

“Why should I be a flitting cloud like that?” he asked. At almost 40 he can still seem plaintively boyish. “I look up, like tree to the Sun. An artist should be more than a passing fad. I am a man. I like to be alive. My paintings are my Diary.  That is the way it should be. “

He brought out a second bottle of unlabelled “champagne” from his own vineyard. His wife came from the kitchen to join us. He looked at her adoringly. A rebel from an old-guard English family, she has the impish good looks of a young Mary Martin. After roles in British musical comedy, she came to Rome for voice training.

“I met her at a party.” Simbari recalled. “ She came with the ugliest man there. I remember wondering why the ugliest men get the prettiest girls!” He winked, and shook with silent laughter.
“He really was ugly,” she said, with a start, “ I had forgotten. That was over ten years ago!”
“Then I got a date with her and kept taking her out, and wondering why she didn’t fall for me, like the others!” he said, shaking his head to deplore her Anglo-Saxon poise even yet.
“I had no intention of marrying, “ she said, “ My family was horrified. A painter was bad enough ! But an Italian was even worse - - from the South of Italy!
Nicola had no money, so I went to my family’s bankers and said I needed a loan because I was going to get married. They were stunned!”
“I spent my last money getting to London.” Simbari said. “ I stayed up one night painting some textile designs. Elfie and I walked all over London selling them to get enough money to get married.”

Now it is different.

Simbari’s cheerful paintings . . . drenched with light and colour . . . sell quickly, at rather grand prices.

In America, The Wally Findlay galleries of Chicago, New York and Palm Beach take every canvas Simbari sends. His work is in the collections of William F. Black and the late Hon. James D. Zellerbach.

Elfrida Simbari has made the ancient villa a luxurious country home. One kitchen nook has a California look, and another is New England; and the great living room is cozy on an immense scale, its darker corners alive with the oranges, the yellows and reds of Simbari canvases.

Outside, on the Rome side, is their swimming pool; on another is Simbari’s massive Studio, its solid glass wall looking over one slope of his vineyard. Huge maypoles run from floor to ceiling, on each of their arms is a Simbari canvas, in some stage of work. He is a prolific painter and the room is ablaze with the exuberance of his work.

Not far from their secluded villa in Grottaferrata, about ten miles south of Rome, near the old Appian Way, are the homes of Richard Burton, the Australian novelist, Morris West, and Sophia Loren !

The Simbaris travel widely; in the Americas and in Europe, his eyes searching for new themes. But their life is not “la dolce vita”. Simbari has made it on his own. His father was a modest builder from impoverished Calabria. He prefers country living and the forms of nature. His paintings affect the emotions before they appeal to the mind. In the clouded jargon of contemporary Art, they are neo-romanticist or neo-realist. “I use figures and objects as a point of departure for organisations of colour.” he said, “ Geometry is important; you build a picture on it. I had my geometric period. But I want to communicate. Life is baroque, more complicated than geometric patterns. Everyone is painting straight lines and cubes. Graphs. I think it is decadence. Nobody knows how to draw any more. What does a critic see in a line? Most new painters don’t communicate. They have never been committed. They have never loved a woman. When I paint it is a spurt of Energy - - like the act of love.”

He reached out to touch a vase of poppies his wife had just set out. His eyes gleamed. “See ? Can man with all his technology produce a flower? Where can you find such pure magic?”

A deep felt thank you to Neil for another insight into Nicola - - - an artist for “everyman” . . .

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