1948 - 2009
The Sicilian artist Giovanni Bosco spent all of his life in the town of Castellammare del Golfo, between Palermo and Trapani, between the mountains and the sea. In times past, the locals were mostly fishermen or priests – two professions united by grinding poverty. Giovanni’s family was not part of the local fishing industry; he spent his early years herding sheep with his father, who died while Giovanni was still a child.
Giovanni’s mother was only eighteen when he was born in 1948, but his father’s death left her a widow for the second time. Giovanni had only rudimentary schooling. Life in Sicily was bleak in the days before judges such as Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino launched their anti-Mafia crusades, and Giovanni found it hard to cope with his demanding work as a shepherd. He lost his herd and began taking on casual work as a labourer in a marble quarry, but was then sentenced for stealing livestock, although details of the crime are unclear. He spent two years in prison in Trapani, where he was subjected to harsh treatment. While in prison in 1976, he learned that two of his younger brothers had also become involved in petty crime and had been murdered by the Mafia for poaching on their turf. The death of his brothers tipped Giovanni over the edge into psychosis and he seems to have been prescribed electro-convulsive therapy. It may have been at the psychiatric hospital that he first saw people engaged in producing art. The memory stuck with him and he began compulsively writing on whatever came to hand, such as cardboard boxes and pizza cartons. He continued this work on his release, despite living alone in grinding poverty. He was often teased by the local children, although his neighbours looked out for him. He spent his days smoking and singing the traditional Neapolitan songs popularised by Mario Merola, filling entire notebooks with drawings and covering the walls of the old houses in the neighbourhood with striking frescos of hearts, robots, elastic figures, and knife blades. His repertoire of images offered an astonishingly rich, coherent, and utterly individual vocabulary to anyone passing by. Having lost his job as a shepherd, he now referred to himself in his compositions as “Dottore di tutto”. A local artist eventually spotted his talent and encouraged him, but only once his work came to the attention of the wider world was he acknowledged as a significant figure in the history of Art Brut. The key development came in 2007, when he came to the general attention of the art world. He no longer needed to argue that his “scribbles” could be of value once framed: people came to buy them as they were. His financial situation began to improve, and his admirers began to look forward to a brighter future for him. Sadly, Giovanni was diagnosed with terminal cancer aged barely sixty. An international conference and exhibition were held in Castellammare del Golfo in early 2009, but by then Giovanni was too ill to participate. He died in 2009, too soon to enjoy the full extent of the appreciation he now enjoys among admirers of Art Brut.