Riccardo Dalisi


He is the great architect-craftsman of the warm, lively south of Italy, a poetic and surprising designer and artist.

Riccardo Dalisi, born in Potenza in 1931, lives in Naples, where he teaches at the Faculty of Architecture of Ateneo Federiciano. His works are found in many private collections and in prestigious European and American museums.

Q. In your texts written for students, designers and artists, you state that «the role of design is not purely utilitarian for stimulating with new products, creating images and doing business».
A. Yes, design creates a bewitched space of nature within which the functions, materials, taste, tradition, need for what’s new and costs magically turn out to be confluent and resolved. A new, successful product is a breath of fresh air. It creates curiosity and interest, admiration and emulation. In the broadest sense of the word, design is culture. It describes the profile, the world of a company, a region, a country. Eduardo Persico said, «The shape of a spoon, a cup, an object – even if it is apparently insignificant – calls a given country to mind». Sensitivity and customs gel in that shape, and this is why it is important to cultivate shapes and behaviours.

Q. In the 1970s you created an ultra-poor design with lightness, using and reusing materials, but it was rich in poetry and art. What remains today of that experience? 
A. My nature leads me to give value to everything, rich or poor as it may be, with a strong interest in the latter because those objects are reminiscent in some way of human frailty, the vicissitudes of life and, on the other hand, they require a particular creative effort because they are modeled and made useful.

Q. Zanotta has always believed in your poetic and imaginative furniture. What do you recall of that experience and collaboration with Zanotta’s engineers? 
A. It was an unforgettable season for me. Zanotta was open to my experiments as were very few other companies. I remember the great Aurelio saying in reaction to every picture I showed him there of the things I was doing in Naples, “How lovely, how lovely,” and then, “I have never said how lovely so many times before!” It was not just graciousness. And then many things were put into production according to my designs and starting with the prototypes made by my craftsmen, above all the Clessidra (chair designed in 1987) and the Mariposa (bench of 1989), and in part also the headboard of Metopa (1989). I first freely created and made the Mariposa in wrought iron, and then the final version in aluminium sprung forth from it. I must say that Zanotta’s engineers were great and fully cooperative, which was necessary for the outcome.

Q. What would you say to the young designers who today would like to follow in your footsteps between art and design? 
A. I would recommend to the young people that they cultivate the poetic feeling that unites, sweeps, and opens eyes and soul onto the world. And therefore not only poor materials and contents (the richness of poverty), but also more intense, richer and ultramodern materials, feeling, processes, and sensitivity. What counts is intensifying the very diverse experiences in the imaginative field, in technique, in knowing materials, perhaps studying in-depth a sector that is more congenial, without ever locking oneself up inside of it. Zanotta is one example of great specialised expertise and allround open-mindedness to art and the diversity of languages. It has been a true training ground for Italian design from the 1970s up until today.

(interview with Riccardo Dalisi for the online magazine Zanotta Happenings, 2007)

(note: the products mentioned in this article have been discontinued)