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Illustrator, graphic designer, commercial artist, set designer but also painter. Many different ways of being, different ways of expressing oneself, but the same unique attitude towards drawing, creating, giving expression to ideas.

He spent day after day at the work table creating images that would make children dream, by using brushes and paints with skill. But then, with the very same tools and even more fervor, each time he could he would come back to his beloved tripod, where he felt free to express his artistic flair and carry on his researches in absolute autonomy.

He lived intensely all the changes in contemporary art through the filter of his own sensitivity, from naturalistic representation to symbolism, from futurism to abstract art, from the rationalism typical of Como to neo-figurative.

Art critic Alberto Longatti, in the occasion of the anthological exhibition of 1982, writes:

 «If artists love to practice different fields, going comfortably from one technique to the other, it is not then always easy to establish a performance ranking. And also it’s not always the right thing to do either, because the danger of partiality is hidden beyond distinctions and separated judgements. A work figment of skills and clear consciousness of objectives can’t actually be regarded as a fragmentary ensemble, but must instead examined as a whole and in terms of recurring elements: in joints and couplings, in connections and references hidden between one piece and another. The case o Libico Maraja seems to me a perfect example. Distinction between him being illustrator of children books and him being painter has always been clear-cut, precise, without ambiguity and interactions between the two aspects. And he has always tolerated that, or has even been silently agreeing, as if creating pictures for high-circulation texts was completely different than creating your own paintings. Is this dichotomy of attitude, this double personality, this dual functioning so unconditional? I don’t believe so. I have instead the feeling that Maraja can be considered as having always been an “illustrator”, in the sense of “displayer”, “someone who shows something”. He has been constantly “illustrating” something stranger to himself, some external being. And for this reason he always avoided, at a conscious or unconscious level, to project himself on the painting, and preferred to interpose some “otherness” to express his personal view of life.»

This leads to a completely innovative artistic layout: the alternation of realism with a sort of drama-load expressionism and with abstraction.

From the 1960s his expressive will is dominated mainly by abstract language, but the role of the object is so clear as to reject any suspect of a spiritualistic ‘dodging’ or of a pointless form game. The object can be either realistic or stylized, but Maraja’s adherence to the subject matter is total and strictly conscious. One thus understands why he doesn’t want to separate, not even to catalogue, watercolors from paints, from oil paints, or from all many other mixed techniques, which often hide small lab secrets. What matters anyway is the very act of painting: the accuracy of execution, the fine completeness of the visual field, to be found even in the most modest tables included in the volumes of literature for teenagers. A refinement, in the latter case, which triggers evasion into the imaginary, overshadows dreams and does magic. And also tells stories, as in the sumptuous oriental sets of La rosa di Bagdad (an animated film to which he gave substantial contribution), in front of an audience of children, with the same commitment in tracing signs of balanced elegance that he would have put for an audience of adults.

He has always been an illustrator: and with flashes of brilliance and sly irony enlivening the images of his own world. As of the world of the others is concerned, a good-natured sense of humor has come out slowly, growing with a certain taste of the raw material to stretch and scratch, to wipe or clot, to spread or press, creating prospects with light and shades and processing volumes with few, dry hatches.

At first there was only the observation of things and their material yield: landscapes, still lives, human figure, painted with sensualism and naturalism, full-bodied and massive, obtained with dense brushstrokes. Then, as a sprite popping up, the reduction of the abstract, the concentration of the forms, without closing into geometrical patterns, without descending into equilibria too rigidly controlled and not congenial to the free aptitude of Maraja, have led to a critical way of orchestrating the figures.

Perhaps a proactive temptation and also a moral judgment were already behind the severe abstract forms of Maraja’s best period. And so human profiles can be seen in the alignment and juxtaposition of vertical motifs, and a crowd of faces and gestures emerges from the wavy lines that move capriciously on paper and canvas, after some timid echoes of Morandi’s bottles.

But a mimetic sense is here perhaps irrelevant, as I would not give excessive weight to the intention to introduce a kind of intimate movement, a heartbeat, in the series of abstract compositions of the seventies. Instead, where you can not go wrong in identifying an informant feeling that surrounds and influences the formal inventions is in the cycle of the silhouettes, a very long and busy work. These are actually proper silhouettes, outlines of men and women, grotesquely deformed and placed in a row, leaning against each other, overlapping, intertwined, dragged here and there, framed in mosaic tiles and fluttering as if they were cut from a pair of scissors, piled in a shell, shaken in a cocktail shaker as the drops of a liquid, or forced into frames of classical composure.

Whether there is or not a title, a theme or a unitary discourse under so many studies of ordinary, faceless humanity, it does not matter. An allegorical correlation can be found in the fact of insisting on these leaks of silhouettes-shadows on parallel planes that seem – and are, in the end – stage tables lending themselves to a daily recitation without end nor beginning, an anonymous fashion show which has the only wrong to indulge in excessive self-indulgence.

Now, such a performance, a little cheeky and very pompous, can be found in the collection of figurines that the artist has completed while illustrating books: a collection, a family photo album, all the more interesting and full of moods, when he had the opportunity to get out of traditional and constrictive forms of asexual and tediously angelic fables, to expand into caricature or congeal in the familiar cadences of the dialect, and there, in that wittily homely dimension, joke a little about the vices of people.

So there is humor in quite counterpoint to the reports of the window that Maraja opens towards what is around him, increasingly narrowing the angle of view, deliberately bringing it closer to express it better. Also the memory, the sense of expectation, the dynamic tension are there. But in the illustrations that chase one another there is no place for bitterness, boredom, jealousy.

Rather, as is found in some of the more recent works, the danger of pleasure might be at play: that is, the peril of researching a grace without justification in the issue, an ornamental form too epidermal and which fails to fill the inner void with the harmony of proportions.

But even the less happy or more gratuitous outcomes are a further proof of the misunderstanding that so far we have tried to highlight: that without an argumentative foothold Maraja is likely to be restricted to unjustified academy. Instead, the work of this artist who is from both Como and Ticino invigorates his two-headed cultural roots in illustrating, in explaining to himself and to others how the man adapts to his fate, believing perhaps to master it. With humility and restraint and a serene mastery of means.

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