Born in Milan on 17 July 1912, of Sardinian father and Emilian mother. His father Antonio, an independent spirit gifted with a strong intellectual curiosity, ran away from home at just sixteen years of age, travelling around Sardinia before settling in Sassari, where in 1894 he was one of the founders of the Socialist Party in that city. In 1896 he moved to Milan; to survive, among other things, he moved about through the province with one of the first travelling cinemas. After the popular uprising in 1898, repressed by General Bava-Beccaris, he fled to Lugano, Switzerland, staying there until 1900, when he returned to Milan and set up a small publishing house. An activist in the Socialist Party, he printed political propaganda pamphlets. In 1911 he married Lina Pedretti. Because of financial difficulties, in the early Twenties the family moved to Thiesi in Sardinia, where he opened a fabrics shop. After about three years the Sassu family returned to Milan, settling in Piazza Oberdan.
With his father the young Aligi begins visiting painting exhibitions, including a Futurist show at the Cova. At just twelve years old, he purchases from a bookstall Pittura scultura futuriste (dinamismo plastico) by Umberto Boccioni. Assiduously frequents Milans libraries, enthusiastically reading Futurist texts and reviews (La Ronda and Mafarka). After meeting the future designer Bruno Munari, together they decide to introduce themselves to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who receives them very cordially.
In 1925 enters as an apprentice the lithographic workshop "La Presse" on Viale Piave, where he learns the technique of lithography and meets the painter Natoli, a contributor to the Domenica del Corriere and author of cinema posters. At the same time he attends evening courses at the Brera, in a situation made difficult by debts and the persecution of his father for being anti-Fascist.
In 1927 visits the house of Fedele Azari, an eminent figure in the Futurist movement in Milan, where he sees numerous paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Boccioni. At the Futurist exhibition at the Galleria Pesaro in Milan, Marinetti shows several works by Sassu, who the following year would sign with Munari the Manifesto della pittura "dinamismo e riforma muscolare."
In 1928, during a Futurist meeting held at the Teatro lirico, where among other things Russolos "noise-harmonium" is presented, Marinetti sustains the local Futurists, including the sixteen-year-old Aligi Sassu, indicating him as a promising figure for Italian art. That same year, Marinetti invites the young painter to the Biennale in Venice, where Sassu shows two works: Nudo plastico and Luomo che si abbevera alla sorgente.
Attends the Accademia di Brera, where he meets, among others, Lucio Fontana, Nino Strada, Candido Grassi, Luigi Grosso, Fabrizio Clerici, but soon has to abandon his studies for economic reasons. Thus, at the suggestion of the painter Carpinetti he begins to attend the Accademia Libera created by Barbaroux (director of the Galleria Milano) in a large room at Corso Monforte 15. Besides Sassu, others working there include Renato Birolli, Giacomo Manzù, Adriano Spilimbergo, Fiorenzo Tomea, who, in exchange for a painting per month given to the Galleria Milano, could have free use of easels and models. The academy only lasts a few months, however; even though he receives a large number of works, Barbaroux is not satisfied with the economic results.
With Manzù Sassu rents a garret in Piazza Susa, to use as a studio: "It was terribly cold," Sassu recalls, "and to keep warm we had to work. The furniture consisted of an easel and a few stools, and the lighting was provided by candle stubs we got from a sacristan we knew." They live by expedients; Sassu sells some works to architects introduced to him by Eduardo Persico; also the family of the sculptor Grosso, the elderly Tosi, and Giorgio Nicodemi buy some things. In spring of 1929, Sassu organizes a collective exhibition in a workers club on Via Piero della Francesca; in that same period he shows in a collective in the foyer of Teatro Arcimboldi, directed by the ex-actor and future gallerist Ettore Gianferrari.
In these years, in antithesis to the ideals of the Novecento Italiano, he begins his series of Uomini rossi and Ciclisti. In 1930, in a collective at the Galleria Milano with Grassi, Manzù, Occhetti, Pancheri, and Strada, he shows landscape and figure paintings. The show, presented by Raffaello Giolli, is a success and is reviewed by, among others, Carrà in the Ambrosiano.
His taste for speed, but also for the athletes toil and action, amply witnessed by his series of Ciclisti, for Sassu does not represent an abstract adherence to the theme of movement, but is rooted in his very deep passion for cycling (he belonged to the sporting club "Bonservizi Tonoli," participated in a number of races, and later belonged to the Ciclo Club Lombardo). "As a boy," he recalls, "I was a bicycle racer. It was my heroic time, I adored the rustle of the light tires on the asphalt, the harsh odor of smoke, wetness, earth that I absorbed, my head tucked into my shoulders, bending over the handlebars through the towns, the countryside, the loose cobblestones in a sprint. Climbing up the hills at that time was dusty, exhausting work under the sun. Only someone who has fought for a long time on the roads can understand all of its poetry. I remember those years as a succession of long sprints along dusty country roads, in the rain and the cold, because I even went out in the winter, I loved it so."
In February of 1932 exhibits at the Galleria del Milione, with Birolli, Cortese, Grosso, Manzù, and Tomea. The show arouses great interest, to the point that Sandro Bini, at the time a young critic doing military duty in Florence, dedicates to Sassu a publication (Aligi Sassu, fisime e nostalgie della critica) that is the first study of the painters work. In order to meet Bini, Sassu rides his bicycle to Florence, where he visits the convent of San Marco and the Uffizi, remaining deeply impressed above all by Paolo Uccellos Battle of San Romano, a work which would have a strong influence on his painting.
Leaves for Paris in autumn (carrying in his suitcase rolled up paintings, drawings, even a hammer and pliers to hang his pictures). He is the guest, on rue Elisée de Beaux Arts, of a fitter who was the painter Facchinettis brother. During his stay there, lasting about three months, he frequents the great museums, of course, and the Sainte-Geneviève library, where he reads Delacroixs Diaries. In the museums he studies the works of Géricault, Renoir, and the Impressionists; at the Galerie Paul Guillaume he sees a Matisse show, remaining struck by the way the artist uses colour, which reminds him of Delacroixs frescoes in Saint-Sulpice, where he goes "as on a pilgrimage" every week, while the research of Surrealist and abstract artists the avant-garde of those years seems not to interest him. A friend of the boxer Cleto Locatelli European lightweight champion he often goes to gyms to watch the boxers work out, and devotes numerous paintings and drawings to the sport. He meets, among others, Magnelli, San Lazzaro, De Pisis, Campigli, Leonor Fini, Léger, Severini, and the critic Lionello Venturi, to whom he shows some works, including I ciclisti. The writer Antonio Aniante, the author in France of a biography of Mussolini, organizes for Sassu, Tomea, and Francis Gruber a show at the Galerie des quatre chemins, but no works are sold. In this period he begins painting his first Caffè, a theme suggested to him also by the chain of Chez Dupont cafés recently opened in Paris.
An important witness to this first stay in Paris he would return the following year, when he would have occasion, among other things, to see a large Cézanne retrospective is given by a letter Sassu wrote to Raffaele De Grada in which the young artist sums up in "pictorial" terms his impressions of the French capital: "I am writing you to get in touch with a similar soul from this distance. Paris soir. In the dark street I hear shouts among the sounds of the cars in the city, but the memory of the usual places is biting. However, a strange voluptuousness seizes my soul at being alone in this desert of stone and men, immersed in a purple sunset and the dominant black of this romantic city. Truly romantic! Nothing is rational here, not even thought, or perhaps the appearance is such that it pushes you to take in only the surface; in any case here I only see reality as a mirage. A strange mirage in which things and people are immersed, navigating between the heaps of proprieties and ways of doing things très usées; it seems to me like Im immersed in a morbid and soft nineteenth century. I cross the city, but the city is small. I recognize the landscape at every step. But where will I find the chaotic city, the city of people, of immense crowds, the city of the Pharisees devoured by anxiety and agitation, by speed and power, the endless city where men confront each other face to face, the genius and the idiot, the madman and the sage[?]. The city of panic drunkenness, the divine Dionysian city where the century is expressed and the universe gets mixed up, where reality becomes a dream, immersed in electric atmospheres, violently coloured, where nature is free as in a tropical jungle. Where you are grabbed by the fever of the fear of being assaulting and of assaulting, of being beast and hunter. The skies will change colour one day in azure, blue, and fire red flames, with horses of white clouds in the cold sunsets of unknown cities."
In this phase his artistic research distant from the prevailing values of the Novecento Italiano struggles between romanticism (attention to the constructive meaning of colour) and spirit of action (the heritage of Futurism but also a feeling of unease with regard to reality), between classicism (attention to tradition) and a realist spirit. It is just this problem of "realism" that prevails in his reflections, not so much, or not solely, in terms of language but mainly in "social" terms, as the search for a new relationship between artist and public. "I feel with increasing intensity," writes Sassu to the critic Giuseppe Marchiori that the problems of painting, today, absolutely cannot be solved on the level of a metaphysical, or neoclassical, or neonaturalist experience... The needs of the masses, pushed away from art by more than a century of a continual and exasperated slide, in precisely that snobbish and intellectual sense of almost all modern artists, has led to this break; a division not only of taste, but of precisely the social environment. This division in taste between the public and the artist brings to the fore, first of all, a problem, that of Realism, among many."
A first response to these problems is given, in this same year, by works like La morte di Patroclo and La strada, whose subjects, one classical, the other realist, are developed with the same critical spirit toward artistic values and the reality of the Fascist regime. More direct and incisive is the Fucilazione nelle Asturie, also of 1935, which inspired by a miners strike in the Asturias repressed by the army commanded by Francisco Franco constitutes a sort of manifesto of the European opposition to Fascism. At the same time he begins his clandestine anti-Fascist activities; his group, which includes also De Grada, Grosso, and Guttuso, is in contact with others formed in Italy (Rome, Sicily) and abroad (Lugano, Paris). They meet in cafés or in the homes of De Grada and Gabriele Mucchi, and receive clandestine newspapers and propaganda materials. During the Spanish Civil War Sassu and his friends are intensely active, distributing flyers and organizing demonstrations in Valtellina, around Novara, in the factories and public places of Milan and Sesto San Giovanni.
On the occasion of the success of the International Brigades against the volunteer Fascist troops, commanded by General Roatta, in the battle of Guadalajara, Sassu and De Grada prepare a text exalting the insurrection. The morning of April 6, OVRA police search the painters studio, finding the text of a manifesto and the paper for printing it. Sassu is accused of conspiracy, risking 24 years in prison. Arrested in the next few days are Franchina, Grosso, Joppolo, Migneco, and Birolli; others are arrested in Genoa and other Italian cities. Two days after his arrest, Sassu writes to his family: "My pain is increased by the fact that they have arrested also my friends who are innocent of everything. I think Ill be sent into exile, in any case I patiently await my fate, but what I beg of you is that you not get upset and that you try to overcome this bit of bad luck." After questioning, he is turned over to the Tribunale Speciale in Rome. As his letters witness, detention puts a great strain on his physical and psychological resistance, above all because he cannot paint, a subject on which he often dwells. On April 13 he writes, "What will happen to me? ... This questioning obsesses me as the waiting does, but time will throw its shadow also over this. After a period of time for me so spiritually difficult and empty like this winter has been, this trial too is a hard one. When I was just getting over a period of moral dissatisfaction, spiritual turmoil, and artistic inactivity, and was starting to paint and to put in order the experience of the works seen last year and everything nature has taught me, its hard to find suddenly cut off all activity of the spirit because of a brutal fight with matter. But perhaps that humanity, the sense of the human that until now has been missing from my work will emerge from this trial purified of its residues of taste and museum learning. Only now do I understand truly what is mans desire and his aspiration towards a freedom of the spirit and the dominion over matter. I dont know what I can tell you, from this bare cell, in which man becomes only a robot, with very few movements."
His forced abstinence from painting and intense desire to begin working again are expressed with great bitterness in a letter of 20 April: "Prison is really something for the nerves, like tempering is for steel. I think nostalgically and sadly of the two unfinished pictures of cafés that I left and the landscape with two horses, where the day before I was arrested I tried to put everything I could of aspiration toward freedom and of human things, like in the café. When I take up those pictures again I want to take them to a really great height; I feel certain that I will be able to do a lot this year if I am able to paint; its been since I did the cyclists that I havent felt so intensely the exigency of a new and concrete fact for Italian art, so sad, inhumane, and distant from life and reality." Inactivity weighs on him again in a note of 1 June: "What tortures me most is the fact of not even being able to work, to draw; doing nothing, its not my habit to sit on my hands." Seven days later he writes to his parents: "I have had a nervous collapse over the last few days, but it was foreseeable and justifiable because of all I have been through waiting for the unknown."
Toward the end of June he is transferred to Regina Coeli prison in Rome; the Tribunale Speciale carries out a summary investigation, proceeding to question Sassu and the other defendants. Newspapers and radio stations in Paris and London ask permission to send their correspondents to watch the trial; Mussolini agrees, and between October 12 and 13 takes place the only political trial in that period covered by the press in Italy and abroad. For Sassu, defended by the attorney Maurizio Ferrara, the charges are subversion of the order of the State; the trial ends with a guilty verdict for Sassu and other Communist defendants (charged with preparing the dictatorship of the proletariat) and a sentence to ten years in prison.
Transferred into the prison of Fossano, in Piedmont, he passes his first fifteen days in isolation, two floors below ground level. In the following months, from November 1937 to July 1938, he lives in a dormitory with other political prisoners. To his great satisfaction, he is given notebooks to write in and sketchbooks so he can draw. His notes, besides marking his interest in philosophy (Croces Estetica is among his favourite books), witness to moments of anguish, as in the following excerpts: "Desperation... without passion and desire for nothingness and death. I have no will... Death is better than living." Among these notes are also found some sketches, including one of a hanged man, his face twisted and contorted, classical female nudes, battles and landscapes. The drawings in his sketchbooks are more fully worked out, for the most part of faces fixed on the sheet with realistic precision; the more than 400 drawings from the eight months at Fossano show subjects in which he has always shown an interest, like cyclists, historical and allegorical scenes, and a few self-portraits.
Although condemned to ten years in prison, on 27 July 1938 the king grants him the pardon that his father Antonio has requested unceasingly.
Once out of prison, even though on parole and forbidden to exhibit in public, he continues to paint opposition works, where the political metaphor is readily grasped: Spagna 1937 and La morte di Cesare (this latter canvas, when it is presented at the 1941 Triennale in Milan, for "security" reasons is hung in a minor room dedicated to works from Sardinia), and various versions of the Crucifixion. At the same time, he re-establishes contact with the group of artists and intellectuals (De Grada, Treccani, Migneco, Bo, Quasimodo, Vigorelli, Anceschi, Sereni, De Micheli, Marchiori) who would give rise to the Corrente movement.
In March he shows at the Bottega degli Artisti a small gallery opened by Ernesto Treccani at Via della Spiga 9 presenting 41 works realized between 1928 and 1934, including Giocatori di dadi, Ciclisti, Dioscuri, Argonauti. In his introduction to the show Luciano Anceschi speaks of Sassus paintings as "lyrics... an extremely intense, high, absolute song." The exhibition is visited by, among others, Curzio Malaparte, who buys a tempera. Another one-man show at the Galleria Genova in Genoa is sold completely to a businessman from the port, while the show with Tomea at the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice is not as successful in terms of sales.
For six months, between Milan and Cogoleto where he lives with his wife and daughter he works intensely on Battaglia di tre cavalieri, a large (2 x 3 meters) canvas to be presented at the Premio Bergamo, but for political reasons the painting is rejected by the secretary of the Prize committee with the excuse that it doesnt fit through the door; however, two other works of his are admitted, a Caffè and a Deposizione.
In 1943 he meets the industrialist Primo Minervino, who invites him to Zorzino, on the lake of Iseo, to paint a fresco in his villa. Together with Minervino and others, he carries out anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi activities; among other things, he is in charge of maintaining contacts between the Fifth Army and the 53rd Brigata Garibaldi on Lake Iseo. In the days of the Liberation he is in Lovere at the command headquarters of the 53rd brigade when his sister informs him that an anonymous letter accuses him of revealing the names of anti-Fascists during his questioning in 1937 at San Vittore prison. He goes armed to Milan and presents himself to the command of the Brigate Matteotti, where he turns in his weapons and his concrete anti-Fascist activities are recognized.
On 30 September 1945 the Galleria Ciliberti publishes a monograph of his work; on 4 October a one-man show opens at the Galleria Santa Radegonda, at the time one of the most important in Milan. The event is reviewed in the Corriere Lombardo: "In front of the street door at number 10, a crowd of painters, poets, writers, intellectual women (alas!) and pretty girls assaulted the shaky elevator toward the "little heaven" of a third floor. There was the inauguration lets abolish the word vernissage! of the Aligi Sassu exhibition: 15 paintings from 29 to 45; 55 temperas; lithographs; sanguines. Carlo Bo, hieratic like Mallarmé in his salon, presented Sassu, who with his wife on his arm accompanied the visitors through his beautiful labyrinth of red, violet, green, blue."
This period sees the creation of numerous versions of Maison Tellier, a subject taken from a short story by Guy de Maupassant.
Opens in Valganna at the end of the war a small ceramics workshop, which he soon closes. Tullio dAlbisola takes him into his own house for some months, where Sassu transfers his painting world into ceramics: horses, horsemen, but also café scenes inspired by the Maison Tellier series. With his careful attention to technique he studies enamels and tries out new emulsions to highlight the various glazes. From the moment of these earliest trials, some of his works foreshadow in both material and structure Art Informel. His first ceramics production is shown in 1948 at the Galleria dellIllustrazione Italiana, on Via della Spiga in Milan, and reviewed by Leonardo Borgese, who writes in Corriere della Sera: "Aligi Sassu ceramist, a surprise only up to a certain point. With his propensity for bright, intense colours, his propensity for the arabesque, his propensity for the macchia, for decorative juxtapositions, it was logical that this painter at some point would find release in the art of fire and enamel. Release is the right word here. As an artist Sassu is possessed by a demon, he is sensual, turbid; ordinary painting, in essence, was not enough for him. He needs to squeeze his material, to feel it, to dig it out and blow it up. He needs for chance to help him and work with him, magnificent artist, in making art. He needs to play. He needs to dare. But it is also necessary that these daring deeds be contained, melted, incorporated into matter. A justification is needed... And so here comes ceramic glaze that renders every colour precious and precise, that permits every form of release and harmonizes it, that justifies, purifies, crystallizes, clarifies every caprice, every attempt, every dare. That makes even bad taste tolerable... We thus have the best Sassu that is for sale. In his pots, statuettes, tiles appear more shining and brilliant (it must be said) all the fine qualities of this Sardinian-Milanese painter without his faults showing through or looming up."
He begins sculpting as well. In 1948 he exhibits for the third time at the Biennale in Venice, presenting Cristo davanti al Sinedrio.
In 1950 paints the large fresco on the theme of labor, in the guest quarters of the mines at Monteponi (near Iglesias).
Organizes a large review of oils, temperas, and ceramics in the Museo Caccia in Lugano.
In spring of 1952 shows at the Galleria La Colonna in Milan, directed by Renata Usiglio.
In autumn of 1953 shows at the Colonna a series of landscapes and images of the port of Savona. In summer of 1954 he participates for the fourth time in the Biennale in Venice, where he presents, among others, I martiri di Piazzale Loreto, bought on that occasion by Giulio Carlo Argan for the Galleria Nazionale dArte Moderna in Rome.
He continues to work in ceramics. In 1954 the young core members Baj and Dangelo arrive in Albisola. Together with Fontana, Sassu is the protagonist of artistic life at Albisola; here he decorates a large wall in a restaurant with Cronache dAlbisola, a cycle representing the landscape, life, and personages of Albisola. Part of the large painting (35 meters of masonite), finished in 1962, is cut up into small pieces. He also realizes a mosaic of the promenade to the sea and, in nearby Savona, a ceramic panel on the facade of Mameli school. Albisola grants him honorary citizenship (along with Fabbri, Fontana, and Jorn) and awards him the "Golden Rose." In 1956 he travels to China at the head of a delegation of Italian artists, which includes Antonietta Raphael Mafai, Agenore Fabbri, Giulio Turcato, Tono Zancanaro, and Ampelio Tettamanti; they visit Peking, Shanghai (where he holds a show), Hangchow, Seyang, Canton, and other towns. During the trip he takes notes and makes sketches from which he would later make engravings; furthermore, inspired by the Chinese landscape he does a series of works (including the large picture La nuova Cina) which he presents at the Galleria La Colonna.
The next year he exhibits at the Galleria San Fedele in Milan a Via Crucis, and participates in the International Ceramics Show in Nice. In Sardinia, after being away for thirty years, he creates in the church of the Carmine in Cagliari a vast mosaic cycle representing the history of the Carmelite order. In 1958 he paints a fresco on the theme of peace in the Casa del Popolo in Valenza, in the province of Alessandria. His exhibition activity is intense also in 1959-60 both in Italy and abroad. On the occasion of a show of Sassus work at the Galleria delle Ore in Milan, Renato Guttuso recalls the Thirties with Sassu: "The essential question for the young Sassu was to resolve his oscillation between myth and reality, it was to "clothe" those nude men of his. This whole period is dominated in Sassu by that swing back and forth, between a thrust toward a generalization outside of time and the necessity of talking plainly about life and reality (and his Socialist convictions are not extraneous to this). And so from time to time his nude crapshooters, his nude concert musicians, his Dioscuri, wear cyclists clothes, put on boxers shoes, lounge around the cafés of Milan and Paris dressed in coat and tie. The backgrounds of red earth become mirrors, chandeliers, velvets, the emerald greens of the leaves in the forests of love become a poisonous mint selzer in the glass shaped like a chalice.
We debated, at the time, in Rome and Milan, about in-time and outside-of-time, about symbols and blood, about men and half-gods. The echo still lingered on the air of De Chiricos resounding sea: these were the years of Persico, Pagano, of Bontempelli, Ciliberti, Giolli; of Quasimodos dead heron; of Vittorinis red carnation. The years of our early liberating socialism, of our first romantic conspiracies. We didnt distinguish science from utopia, or Christ from Marx. This is the climate in which Sassus works were born, indicative more than all the others of our passion and perhaps also of our confusion."
In 1962 in Thiesi he paints a historical fresco, I moti angioini; in the room, now called "Aligi Sassu room," on the same wall is a large stone mosaic figure, a technique that would reappear in other works like the monument to the Corpo di Liberazione of the Italian Army in SantAngelo in Vado (Pesaro), created in 1970 in collaboration with his brother Francesco Sassu.
He makes a brief trip to North America, visiting in New York, among other things, an exhibition of works by Fontana. On his return he does a series of works on the world of the oppressed, inspired by spirituals; modelling for him often is the Colombian Maria Helena Olivares y Medina, a respected soprano. In 1963 he purchases Villa Helenita at Las Quigaloas on the island of Majorca. The contact with the nature and culture of the Spanish island, besides brightening his palette still more, widens his thematic horizons: thus the series of Tauromachie, shown between 1965 and 1966 in numerous Italian cities (Milan, Verona, Udine, Venice, Florence, Rome, Genoa, Sassari, Palermo). Writing about his Majorcan works with elegant, understated irony, Dino Buzzati says: "For Aligi Sassu, renewed youth bears the name of Palma de Majorca: a terrible and special sun, terrible and special colours (not too different from his fatherland Sardinia), churches flaming in the noonday delirium, bullfights, bulls, toreadors, bulls, bulls, toreadors, wine, blood, fever, death. As though he had undergone a transfusion of violent and vigorous blood. Closed, for restoration, the horse farm. Opened, a bull farm. The bulls are black, purple cataracts, smoking with muscles, flesh, and fury. And they burn in his paintings with the desperation, wrath, and terror of the fateful hour. Good. If I were El Cordobés or El Viti, I would fear only one thing: that the bull I was fighting this afternoon be signed Aligi Sassu." The Nobel Prize winner Salvatore Quasimodo a friend of the artist from the time of Corrente presenting an exhibition of his work in Palermo highlights the fundamental nature of the Mediterranean culture underlying Sassus choice: "Sassus solitude is thus not in the island, that is, in the Sardinia of his childhood or the Majorca of his present happiness: like in another French poet and like in Gauguin in him is a strong impulse to flee. Flee from the errors and schemes of mechanical reality which in any case he has, and not so long ago, tried to face and to assimilate by painting the groups of cyclists, which he tried to deny with his surreal sequences of purple and green horses, and which today he manages to forget in his Mediterranean retreat. On Majorca Sassu is not piercing the Arcadian membrane of a romantic labyrinth but is scaling the harsh ramparts of the South, a South intense not for a Faulknerian vigor where sense and species fought for a colonial survival. The South of Aligi Sassu arrives as far as the beaches of the other hemisphere, it runs along the earths crust to the Amazon."
In 1967 he moves to Monticello, in the Brianza area. In this period he dedicates a large part of his activity to wall paintings; among these are noteworthy a station of the Via Crucis and a Crocefissione (1961) frescoed at Arcumeggia; a fresco of San Nicola esaltato vescovo dal popolo (1963) in the parish church in Nughedu San Nicolò, in the province of Sassari; and a mosaic in the apse of the cathedral of Lodi (1964). In 1969 with a battle scene he wins first prize at the Biennale of the "painted wall." He also does his first work as a stage designer, first for the theater (Il muro del silenzio, 1961), then for opera (La giara, 1962), an activity that he continues to do regularly alongside that of painter. At the same time he holds numerous one-man shows; in 1965 he exhibits drawings and sculptures at the Galleria Civica in Monza; in 1966 at the invitation of the Romanian government he holds an anthology exhibition of 100 paintings in Bucharest; in 1967 he exhibits his Tauromachie at the Galleria Trentadue in Milan; that same year he mounts an anthology exhibition at the Galleria dArte Moderna in Cagliari; in 1968 he presents, once again at the Galleria Trentadue, just three works, in three different styles.
In 1968 he creates a series of large paintings, including a Che Guevara donated to the museum in Havana. In 1970 the Galleria Trentadue reproposes the cycle of Uomini rossi (1929-33), in an exhibition that subsequently goes to other cities.
With Fontana he shows at the Galleria Trentadue ceramic works made in Albisola; he also participates in a travelling show of small Italian bronzes sponsored by the Rome Quadriennale. In 1972 he prepares the designs for the stage sets and costumes of Cavalleria rusticana performed at the Arena in Verona. He and Helenita Olivares are married.
In 1973 for the reopening of the Teatro Regio in Turin he designs the sets and costumes for Vespri Siciliani, directed by Maria Callas and Giuseppe De Stefano. The Vaticans newly inaugurated Galleria dArte Moderna devotes a room to his work, in which among other things his large Deposizione of 1943 and the detached fresco Il mito del Mediterraneo are installed. An intense period of graphic work follows, with the Galleria Trentadue presenting a portfolio entitled I cavalli innamorati, a series of 20 lithographs and aquatints inspired by poems by Raffaele Carrieri; a portfolio of 15 etchings entitled Orlando Furioso is published, with an introduction by Vittorio Sereni; the Galleria Portici in Turin exhibits for the first time the drawings done in 1938 in Fossano prison.
With the explorer Walter Bonatti, in October, he participates in an expedition in the Amazon forest of Venezuela with the intention of reaching Salto Angel, the highest waterfall in the world. In his travel journal Sassu notes: "We move forward through the darkness of the Rio, until the moon comes out and accompanies us. We are all very tired, also because we slept badly in the "conuco" of Laime. Its two hours travel in the dark, moving slowly, among the fantastic black silhouettes along the Rio. At times the moon lights us from the side, and it is a spectacle more fantastic than sinister, and charged with expectation is our desire to reach something safe. Thirst devours me, and we dream of dinners and lunches and foods and wines that at home are a daily occurrence. This is an unknown world in which man, on a fragile wooden shell, through the black waters and the blackest shadows of the forest, slides along in the "curiara" in the anxious hope of recognizing the landing point of Kamarate, where we arrive around 8:30." The journey is translated also into drawings, watercolours, and paintings, some done on the spot, in which the landscapes, places, and the sensations they aroused are defined in clear, intense colours.
Chosen to receive the Europe Prize and to paint the banner for the Palio in Siena.
Creates two large mosaics for the church of S. Andrea in Pescara, where he had earlier painted the chapel of Vatican Council II. Publishes the portfolio of six large aquatints La via dellaurora, with poems by Rafael Alberti. The Prandi publishing house in Reggio Emilia commissions from him an etching, a portrait of Sironi for its volume Lopera incisa di Sironi.
In 1977 an exhibition of works from the Futurist period (1927-29) is installed at the Centro Rizzoli in Milan; for the occasion Vanni Scheiwiller publishes the volume Sassu futurista, by Luciano De Maria. He exhibits also in Rotterdam at a show on the theme of the bicycle, and works on a portrait of Antonio Gramsci. Returns to Sardinia and paints a small mural at San Sperate, and is granted honorary citizenship by Nuoro. Exhibits in Toronto at the Madison Gallery, where he gives a series of lectures on Italian art.
Together with a journalist and a photographer, he travels to Cuba in 1978, drawing inspiration from the trip for a series of pastels and paintings. In 1979 exhibits at the Madison Gallery in Toronto 15 engravings entitled There Were no Signs, inspired by 15 poems by the Canadian poet Irving Layton. Illustrates the volumes A les illes by the Spanish writer Baltasar Porcel and Torxes de pau by the Majorcan poet Miguel Bota Toxto. The Italian publisher Vangelista and the Spanish publisher Guadalimar publish the monograph Aligi Sassu nellisola ritrovata by Baltasar Porcel. On occasion of the publication of the book the Galleria Trentadue presents the series of his most recent Spanish landscapes. In the same period a large anthology exhibition is installed at the Llonja in Palma de Majorca. In 1980 he designs the sets and costumes for Carmen at the Arena in Verona, and presents at the Galleria Trentadue a large show on the theme of Ciclisti, accompanied by the publication of a volume by Gianni Brera, I ciclisti di Aligi Sassu.
Moves from Monticello Brianza back to Milan, settling in the Brera neighbourhood. The Accademia dArte "Dino Scalabrino" in Montecatini Terme awards him the Premio "Vita dArtista," and in 1982 he is named one of the "Men who made Milan great." In May at the Casa di Manzoni in Milan is presented an edition of I promessi sposi illustrated by 58 of his watercolours painted in 1943. Donates to the city of Sassari the fresco Il mito di Prometeo, which is installed in the Palazzo della Provincia, where an anthology exhibition of his work opens, subsequently travelling to the Pinacoteca Civica in Jesi. On this occasion he receives the Premio Rosa Papa Tamburi. Priuli & Verlucca publishers in Ivrea issue the second revised edition of Il rosso è il suo barocco. Exhibits at the Galleria Trentadue a series of new works entitled Mitologia and the portfolio of seven graphic works inspired by Revelations.
In 1984 at Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara is mounted an anthology exhibition of 111 of his works, later travelling to Castel SantAngelo in Rome. In Seville he shows 135 works on the occasion of Italian Culture Week organized by Menendez Pelayo International University; at Palazzo Reale in Milan is installed a large anthology exhibition with 270 works divided between painting, ceramics, sculpture, and murals. On this occasion the artist donates a large sculpture to the city of Milan. Exhibits again in Germany in the Stadthaus and Scheffel galleries in Bad Homburg, where he presents sculptures, some paintings, and graphic works. In the same year the Catalogo generale dellopera incisa e litografica is published.
In 1985 a travelling exhibition of I promessi sposi is organized in Canada, presented first at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto, then at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal and the National Library of Canada in Ottawa. Shows also at the Juan Gris gallery in Madrid. In Piazza Tricolore is inaugurated a large monument to the Guardia di Finanza, while for the centennial of the birth of Matteotti a show of Disegni del carcere and political notebooks is held at Fratta Polesine. Two replicas of the sculpture Cavallo impennato are purchased and placed in the garden of Palazzo della Confcommercio in Milan and in Piazza della Repubblica in San Marino.
Exhibits at Galeria Pelaires in Palma de Majorca. Is named "appuntato donore" by the Guardia di Finanza, an honour awarded in the past to Giacomo Puccini and Gabriele dAnnunzio. Presents three paintings at the XI Quadriennale in Rome and at the show Il luogo del lavoro in the Triennale in Milan; exhibits 10 works from the Thirties at the exhibition on Chiarismo at Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan and the Casa del Mantegna in Mantua. After five years of work finishes the series of 113 plates illustrating Dantes Divine Comedy; three are purchased by the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
In 1987 is named honorary citizen of Palma de Majorca. Prepares a large anthology exhibition of works from 1927 to 1985 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Munich; at the same time, also in Munich, holds shows in the Ruf and Eichinger galleries. In Copenhagen exhibits 58 watercolours from the I promessi sposi series. On the tenth anniversary of the Piazza della Loggia massacre he shows in Brescia, at the invitation of the City of Brescia and the Comitato Unitario Provinciale Antifascista, a selection of works reflecting his political commitment, Dagli uomini rossi alle fuciliazioni. An anthology exhibition Sassu. Il paesaggio is installed at the Museo del Paesaggio in Pallanza and the city hall in Argenta, and at Castello Gizzi in Torre dei Passeri is inaugurated the exhibition Sassu e Dante, in which are shown for the first time his illustrations for the Divine Comedy. He celebrates sixty years of work with a large anthology of 100 paintings at the Castello di Rivoli and donates to the Regione Piemonte 40 drawings made in 1938 in Fossano prison.
In 1988 an anthology exhibition of 90 works, paintings and sculptures, is held in the prestigious Catalan Gothic building of the Llonja in Palma de Majorca. The following year sees an anthology show at Palau Robert in Barcelona, a one-man show at Gallery Universe in Tokyo, and an exhibition in Ravenna near Dantes tomb. The sculpture Cavallo impennato, donated to the city of Milan, is placed in front of the Pinacoteca di Brera. In the meantime he works on a large bronze to be placed in Merano for the 50th anniversary of the Ippodromo Maya.
In 1990, contemporaneously with the publication of the volume Sassu scultore e ceramista (opere 1939-1989), two shows are mounted in Milan and Rome. He receives the "Lorenzo il Magnifico" prize in the Sala del Cinquecento in Florence and works on four large stained glass windows for the council chambers of the city hall of Giussano.
In 1992, to celebrate his 80th birthday, a travelling anthology exhibition, containing 80 paintings, is organized for South America, with venues at the Museu de Arte in Sao Paolo, the museum of modern art in Bogota, and the Centro de Arte y Comunicación in Buenos Aires.
In 1993, after two years work, he finishes a ceramic mural measuring about 150 square meters, entitled I miti del Mediterraneo, for the new headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels.
In 1994 the portfolio Manuscriptum is presented with engravings by Sassu, commissioned by the Armand Hammer Foundation in Los Angeles for the travelling exhibition "Leonardos Bridges," with venues in the three largest cities in Sweden, where for the first time graphic works by contemporary artists are exhibited alongside originals by Leonardo. Palazzo Foscolo in Oderzo is the site of an anthology exhibition, and the show "Sessantanni di pittura" is held at the Galleria Civica in Campione dItalia. For the Premio Bancarella in Pontremoli he exhibits forty watercolours and illustrated books.
In 1995 works on two large sculptures: Nouredduna and Il dio Pan, exhibited in San Marino. Named Cavaliere della Gran Croce by the president of Italy. Holds a show, "Il sogno della poesia" at the Stamperia di Arancio in Grottamare. The second volume of the catalogue raisonné of his engravings and lithographs appears, with an extensive bibliography citing "Volumes illustrated with engravings or lithographs," "Portfolios containing engravings or lithographs," "Sassus writings," and a list of articles appearing in magazines or newspapers.