Although trained as an architect, Domenico “Ico” Parisi (1916 – 1996) was very much a renaissance man, and intensely interested in all forms of art. Not wanting to be labeled just as an industrial designer, painter, photographer or installation artist, he participated in all these forms, as well as in architecture in his more than fifty years’ creative life. Together with his wife Luisa, Ico Parisi created many classic pieces of design, and their look was the epitome of Modern Italian style in the 1950s.
Born in Palermo, Italy to an art teacher father, Parisi lived almost his entire life in Como, Italy, a lakeside resort town. His worldview however, was anything but provincial. He was drawn to Como at a young age because of progressive architects based in the region, including Pietro Lingeri and Gianni Mantero, from whom Parisi hoped to learn. He began his knowledge of building at the age of 15 by training in construction in Como, after which he worked at the office of architect Giuseppe Terragni—pioneer of Italian Modernism–also in Como. During a stint in filmmaking in the mid 1930s he worked on such experimental films as Como + Como + Como (1937) and Risanamento Edilizio della Citta di Como (Structural rehabilitation of the city of Como, 1939). In 1937 Parisi was involved in the design of the colonial exhibition in the Villa Olmo in Como, along with Giovanni Galfetti, Silvio Longhi, and Fulvio Cappelletti. Parisi was drafted into military service in 1940 in the role of Pontonnier , an officer in charge of bridge equipment and construction of pontoon bridges, and served in France, Yugoslavia and Russia.
Ico Parisi eventually returned to architecture. He was founding member of the Gruppo Como and Alta Quota (which included Galfetti, Longhi and Cappelletti), where he met his future wife, Luisa Aiani. Luisa was a protégée of Gio Ponti. They married in 1947 and in April 1948 they together formed La Ruota (“the wheel”), a studio where the pair worked alongside each other creating their most famous pieces—among them, the Model 813 Uovo (Egg) Chair for Cassina (1951). Their friend Ponti was inspired to write of the design: “My dear, your egg chair is a marvel. You are a master, and all that is left for me is to retire and live in Civate in oblivion.”
La Ruota became known as a meeting place for artist–designer friends such as Lucio Fontana, Bruno Munari, Franscesco Somaini, Mario Radice, and Fausto Melotti. One resulting collaborative project was the Pavilion for the tenth Trienalle di Milano, completed in partnership with architects Silvio Longhi and Luigi Antonietti: its reinforced walls of concrete and glass formed a spiral-shaped room. Parisi believed in the integration of design, fine art, and architecture. One such space which embodies this synthesis is Casa Bolgiana in Como, a house that manifests the sculptural, built in furniture of lacquered woods, curved silhouettes, abstract paintings and ceramic plates designed by his friends.
Clients whom the Parisi’s worked for included Altamira, Cassina, Longhi and Singer and Sons. Parisi also worked independently from Luisa, designing ceramics, glass, jewelry, furniture (primarily in metal and wood), and on architecture projects, some of which included the State Library of Milan and the interior of the 1948 Triennial Journalism Exhibition, working alongside painters and sculptors such as Umberto Milani, Melotti and Radice. Other famous designs attributed to Parisi are the Model 691 Chair (1955) as well as the Model 839. Not content with his level of knowledge, Parisi continued studying architecture after he opened La Ruota, studying in Lausanne, Switzerland under Alberto Sartoris at the Institute Atheneum from 1949 through 1952, and from whom he adopted the idea that architecture should renounce all useless, superfluous elements and that harmonious color and line are supreme. In 1956 Ico Parisi joined the Italian Associazione per il Disegno Industriale. After the 1960s he changed his approach from one of elegance to radical and experimental. His three family residences along Lake Como became increasingly avant-garde, filled with futuristic designs for production.
In later years (1972), Parisi worked with art critics Restany and Crispolti on projects that fused architecture and art, among them Ipotesi per a Casa Esistenziale (hypothesis for a house to survive), and an exhibition at the 1978 Bienalle di Venezia. Moving into the 1980s, he focused on jewelry, satirical objects, and bizarre, site-specific installations such as cars dipped in concrete, the documenta urbana in Kassel in 1982 and also the exhibition Les années 50 1988 in the Center Pompidou in Paris. Almost ten years later in Milan was dedicated his first solo exhibition, entitled Ico Parisi: l’Officina del possible.
Ico Parisi died in Como in 1996, preceded by his wife Luisa in 1990.