100 Sottsass

To pay homage to Ettore Sottsass on the centenary of his birth, Alfredo Taroni – lithographer in Como – unveils to Domus the contribution given by the designer to his art books collection.

Ettore Sottsass, Trattato di Architettura, composto da 10 litografie originali a colori, riunite in volume a fogli sciolti. L’edizione, firmata e numerata dall’autore, è stata realizzata da Lythos, Como, in 90 esemplari, fuori commercio.
This article has been originally published on Domus 1016, September 2017.
It is not easy to write about Ettore Sottsass in Domus, after he contributed for decades to the conception and creation of the magazine. But we could hardly fail to pay homage to him on the centenary of his birth. Fortune came to our aid, and when Enzo Cucchi – his great friend and companion on his travels – introduced me to Alfredo Taroni, lithographer in Como, a whole new world opened up before me. In the pages that follow we reveal it to our readers, again saying, “Thank you Ettore.” ndb  


I first came across Ettore Sottsass’s work as a student of architecture in the late 1970s. I observed his drawings with interest and read some of his articles in magazines such as Domus. His articles and drawings moved me deeply. Then, in the late 1980s, with some friends I founded a small publishing house in Como and produced a successful collection of art books combining graphic design with poetry, but I had never altogether forgotten architecture. The idea gradually grew up of launching a series of books that would touch on the subject. Acting on impulse I decided to call Ettore Sottsass’s office for a consultation.  

Ettore Sottsass, Early man, from Trattato di Architettura
Ettore Sottsass, Early man , from Trattato di Architettura
I clearly recall my first meeting with Ettore at his office in Milan. Among much else, he said: “I’m wild about printing, paper and artist’s books. I could hardly let slip a chance to print special editions dealing with architecture.” The next day he had already prepared a small 9.5 x 7 cm mock-up with sketches, notes and drawings of what would become the first volume in the new series. That was the start of an intense collaboration and even an affectionate friendship, with meetings about the work in the office, at home, in a trattoria in Milan or on Lake Como. This was how the first two artist’s books designed and created by Sottsass came into existence: Epifanie Brevi and Trattato di Architettura . The Trattato was joined by a series of four lithographs, likewise on the theme of architecture.  
Ettore Sottsass, The monument, from Trattato di Architettura
Ettore Sottsass, The monument , from Trattato di Architettura
Over the long period (almost two years) it took to complete all the phases of the design and printing it took to produce the books, we often used to meet during the week. That would be his private, most intimate time. It was a chance for me to listen to him with great fascination and interest. I remember when he very proudly showed me the refined and prestigious copies of the art magazine Verve that he used to buy as a young man, because he was intrigued by Picasso’s lithographs or works by other great artists. He would point out the quality of the printing and the paper. Perhaps this is why the magazine Terrazzo [which he founded in 1988 – ed] was so refined in its graphic qualities. Ettore was very scrupulous and methodical.  
Ettore Sottsass, It took thousands of years to invent a wall that stood upright, from the Trattato di Architettura
Ettore Sottsass, It took thousands of years to invent a wall that stood upright , from the Trattato di Architettura
Whenever I brought him pencils and inks for the lithographic design he always put them away neatly in small cardboard boxes and wrote what they contained on the lids. We would talk over the choice of different kinds of paper, the brushes, signs and colours, the desire to grasp everything that lay within a “sign”. He used to tell me stories, he was very keyed up. So was I. He said that the books he was working on were the thing he cared most about at the time. He would make numerous drawings before going on to lithography. He said that lithography was in itself a medium of special quality.
The title page of the Trattato di Architettura, with Sottsass’s dedication to Taroni
The title page of the Trattato di Architettura , with Sottsass’s dedication to Taroni
Ettore had in kind a series of books by architect-artists or artist-architects representing aspects of contemporary culture that were undocumented, insights going beyond the known work. Then, with the same emotional fervour, we issued two more books with translations from the Sanskrit by Barbara Radice: Kena upanishad , with an original text hand-drawn by Ettore Sottsass as a “devotional work”, and Veda Inni , a small anthology of Rigveda and Atharvaveda texts with drawings by Sottsass.  
The mock-up made by Sottsass for the volume Epifanie brevi, (95 x 70 mm)
The mock-up made by Sottsass for the volume Epifanie brevi , (95 x 70 mm)
Issued between 1999 and 2005, in the same series as Epifanie brevi and the Trattato di Architettura , were other volumes by: Michele De Lucchi , Andrea Branzi , Enzo Cucchi , Mimmo Paladino , and Roberto Baldazzini with texts by Nanni Balestrini . All were carefully and passionately edited by Ettore and Barbara. That was the mindset we had in those years. I still remember with deep feeling a comment made by Ettore when he was working on the Trattato di Architettura : “We’re wandering through the interesting culture of the time, but with interests that are outside time as well as things. Everything that has been done and thought involves not just graphic design, but also concerns topics like politics, the ever-present mystery of existence, a poetic vision of the architecture-design of life, the closeness and influences of oriental cultures.”  
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