In the 1960s, Salento, a region in the southernmost part of Italy, in Apulia, did not figure as an area active in the tradition of ceramics, whether artisanal or industrial – where instead the centres of Vietri and Sassuolo stood out above all – but the nascent progress in the building field and renewed sensitivity to the theme of living, together with favourable economic circumstances, guaranteed fertile ground for the sudden evolution of the local industry.
At the end of the 1960s in the province of Lecce, two real estate entrepreneurs – Dr Benvenuto Tommasi and Engineer Saverio Guido – founded Cemer, an acronym for Ceramiche Meridionali (Southern Ceramics), with the hope of renewing the domestic landscape, primarily in the Salento area, starting with ceramic cladding.
With state support from the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, Cemer tile production was set up at Via Europa 111 in Calimera, and its art direction and graphics were soon entrusted to two young people from Salento: architect and designer Franco Mantovano and graphic designer Marcello D'Andrea. The latter is one of the many self-taught graphic designers dotting the Italian professional graphic design scene in its founding years. Trained in "Interior Architecture" at the Magistero d'Arte in Florence, in the late 1950s D'Andrea returned to his hometown of Lecce and began teaching technical and geometric drawing at the Art Institute of Galatina, in the province of Salento, and started his own business as a graphic designer for local companies including Cemer.
If, at first, the decorations in the company's catalogue proposed only classic motifs, partly reminiscent of traditional Vietri craftsmanship, Mantovano and D'Andrea quickly tried to rethink production from a totally modern perspective. The two, together with Claudio Adamo, Maria Teresa Prastaro, Auro Salvaneschi and with the collaboration of some of the leading figures in national and international design such as Cesare Casati, Emanuele Ponzio and Nanda Vigo. In line with a new international decorative trend indebted to geometric abstractionism, concrete art and Op-art, Cemer succeeded in gaining critical acclaim in most Italian design magazines and at major European trade fairs.
The presence of the brand among the leading representatives of Italian design in the 1970s in industry criticism demonstrates not only the attempt to revive the economy of a depressed area such as the Salento region in the post-war period through a dynamic modernization strategy, but also the effectiveness of extremely contemporary communication. In the development of this strategy, the graphic design by D'Andrea plays a crucial role. Starting with the company's logo through to the exhibition design on trade fair stands, from catalogues to the advertisements constantly appearing in magazines such as 'Casabella', 'Domus' and 'Ottagono', Cemer's visual communication is perfectly aligned with the behavior of contemporary graphics, which in those very years walked hand in hand with design.
While the Milanese graphic design is in lively dialogue with the northern factories of Made in Italy, D'Andrea - in addition to designing some tile models for the Calimera-based company - experiments in the graphic and typographic sphere, synchronizing himself with what Mario Piazza calls "Made in Italy Graphic Design". In particular, the advertising pages designed for Cemer offer ample space for D'Andrea's visual research and, instead of presenting objective photographs of the tile models, they favour optical motifs and geometric patterns, distributed within a dynamic modular grid, with orthogonal and diagonal compositions in flat colors. These traits make D'Andrea's graphic design for Cemer an excellent example of modernist graphics in a context, that of the south, still economically and culturally behind the Italian and European capitals.
What emerges from Cemer's visual communication designed by D'Andrea is the ability of modernism to succeed in reaching the most diverse places in the western world by presenting the traits of an internationalization - perhaps it would be better to speak of globalization - of visual aesthetics. Just as the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno - supported by funds from the Marshall Plan - tried to import models of economic rebirth into the most depressed areas of the national context - through infrastructure modernisation as a premise for industrial development - so D'andrea's graphics tried to innovate the aesthetics of communication by importing new graphics into the Apulian context.
Despite the quality expressed in production, design and corporate communication, in 1976, at the peak of Cemer's expansion, marked by the intensification of production, the company went bankrupt and closed down. Galloping inflation, the crisis in the real estate sector, delayed state funding, reckless investments and predictions led to the premature closure of a company that in little less than ten years had brought a modern and international flair to the extreme Italian suburbs, contributing to the evolution of local graphic design.