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Pagani was born in a Jewish family in Libya when it was an Italian Colonial Administration. He spent his childhood and adolescence between Italy, Germany and France. This nonstop wandering about different cultures drove him to seek out a personal language that would enable him to express himself non-verbally, and he started drawing.
In 1964 Pagani, at the age of twenty, had his first exhibition at the Pierre Picard Gallery in Cannes, where he exhibited a group of Indian-ink drawings and engravings. The French poet Jean Rousselot wrote an enthusiastic review in Planete, describing Pagani as a "Twenty-years-old Visionary". Among his first Italian collectors were Giorgio Soavi, Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi and the Olivetti Collection. Shortly afterwards, he was invited to contribute a series of drawings for the Planète review edited by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels, becoming one of the youngest exponents of the Fantastic Realism. In 1965 Pagani illustrated Fantarca by Giuseppe Berto for Rizzoli, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for the Club des Amis du Livre.
Parallel to art, Pagani pursued an interest in music. His first Italian album was released in 1967. In 1969, the day after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi coup d'état, the Libyan police broke into Pagani's family's house in Tripoli. A hundred and fifty canvases and drawings were destroyed. His first French album, chronicling those events, was released in 1970. Pagani designed the covers of his records, and the stage designs of his shows.
In 1971, Pagani had a solo exhibition at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris called Concerto d'Italie where he did a performance inside his drawings projected on a large screen by Laser Graphics Group. This was the first Diaporama exhibition staged in Europe. Less interested in a single technique than in investigating the correlation among all the techniques he was to try out, Pagani declared that "Engraving on stone, or vinyl, is the same thing. It is more important to establish one' s mental and emotional territory with all available means".
In 1973 Pagani used documentary footage made available by the Italian Television Corporation to produce and direct a 27-minute movie-pamphlet entitled Venise, amore mio which Unesco defined as "the best vehicle of information on the dangers besetting Venice and its lagoon". French Television broadcast it twice, on Antenne 2.
In 1975, Pagani composed the music and designed the stage set for Megalopolis a total-opera based on Medioevo Prossimo Venturo (The near future middleages) with a libretto by Roberto Vacca. In order to represent the congestion and collapse of the Energy Systems as described by the Italian futurologist, Pagani proceeded to clone on thousands of images of modern civilization using the first two Rank Xerox colour duplicators installed in France and in Italy. The "xerographies" assembled on large plates were photographed, projected and animated in Multimage shows on giant screens. Megalopolis was selected by the French Ministry of Culture for the re-opening of the Palais de Chaillot at the Trocadero. It was subsequently staged at Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto. In 1976 it received the Grand Prize of Academy Charles Cros.
In 1977 Pagani experimented with abstraction, mostly with a video-synthetizers devised by the French electronics engineer Marcel Dupouy. Despite his keen interest in technology, Pagani never refrained from using paper, pencils, paints and brushes. Influenced by Arte povera, he started working with discarded materials he would collect from beaches and in dumps across Europe. His sculptures, mostly made of old shoes, were exhibited at Centro internazionale di Brera, Milan and Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara.
- Arturo Schwartz, Herbert Pagani: la scrittura della vita, Macef, Milan, 1991.
- Paolo Levi, Aldo Spirito, Philippe Fresco, Herbert Pagani: Oeuvres 1963-1986, Spazio Skema, Rome, 1986.
- 1967: Una sera con Herbert Pagani (Private Pressing)
- 1969: Amicizia (Mama, RPLP-001)
- 1973: Megalopolis (Mama, RPLP-002)
- 1975: Ballate dal Marco Visconti (RCA, TPL1-1155)
- 1976: Palcoscenico (RCA, TPL-1-1225)