Emilio Scanavino was born in Genoa in 1922, where he attended high school. He moved to Milan to study architecture at the University, but he abandoned after a few years because of World War II. After the war he moved back to Genoa, where he worked as a technical designer and at the same time he established his own painting atelier.
In 1947 he went to Paris and he saw for the first time the works of Picasso, that left a deep mark in his memory. Back to Italy, he adopted the neocubist and Picasso influenced style of painting that was predominant in italy at that time. Later, he slowly learned how to combine the neocubist influences with a more radical abstraction, creating a more personal mode of expression.
During the 50’s, the work of Scanavino started to be known and recognized by critics and dealers. In 1950, he exhibited Soliloquio musicale at the Venice Biennale and in 1951 he attended his first international show at the Apollinaire Gallery in London. He attended the ceramic workshop of Tullio Albissola, and he met the art dealer Carlo Cardazzo. He was very close to the Spatialist group, that Cardazzo represented, but he never officially joined the movement.
Around 1958, Scanavino started working on the Rituali and Alfabeti senza fine, subjects that would be part of his production until his late years. During the 60s, he was attracted by the movements of return to figuration, and he attended the exhibitions Possibilità di relazione and Alternative attuali.
In 1971 he attended the San Paulo Biennale, and he realized the work Omaggio all’America Latina (Homage to Latin America) along with the italian artist Alik Cavaliere. The installation (oil painting and bronze and silver sculpture) was made of nine panels divided in 156 different sections. It was eventually censored and withdrawn from the exhibition because of its political content. During the later years, he started attending important national and international solo exhibitions.
He died in Milan in 1986.