Lucio Fontana, son of a Milanese sculptor, was born in Santa Fé,
Argentina on February 19th 1899. He died on September 7th
1968 shortly after moving to Comabbio, near Varese.
In 1905 the family moved to Milan. In 1914 Fontana enrolled at the
“Carlo Cattaneo” Technical Institute for land surveyors and received
his diploma in 1918, after his military service in the First World War,
where he was wounded. In 1922 he followed his father in Argentina and two
years later opened a sculpture studio. He returned to Milan and between
1928 and 1930 completed his studies at the Brera Academy where he was a
pupil of the twentieth century sculptor Adolfo Wildt.
held his first personal exhibition in Milan in 1931 at the Milione
Gallery. The reductive forms of
his figurative sculptures, partly under the influence of Martini, were
symptoms of a new line of research and a growing interest in the European
avant-garde. In 1931 he created the first “graffiti tables” in
coloured cement, engraved with gestural abstraction rather like the
graphic automatism of the surrealists
and a preview of his works of the ‘fifties.
He was close to the abstract artists who gathered around the
Milione Gallery and signed the manifesto of the “First collective
exhibition of Italian abstract art”, organised in Turin in the studio of
Felice Casorati and Enrico Paulucci in 1935. Many of the abstract
sculptures of Fontana during this period have been lost or destroyed and
subsequently repeated by the artist in the ‘fifties.
Although in 1935 he supported the Parisian movement “Abstraction Création”
he continued for the entire decade that followed to alternate his works
between the abstract and the figurative. From the few public commissions
he received during Fascism there remains as witness to this period an
allegorical bas-relief in
marble made for the Milan Courts of Justice in 1937.
His experiments with ceramics date back to the ‘thirties. Fontana
started to use this material in the studio of Tullio d’Albisola or
Giuseppe Mazzotti in Liguria, and working also in the Sévres company in
Paris in 1937. The ceramic sculptures, partly influenced by the work of
Medardo Rosso and Boccioni were significant for their gestural freedom and
plastic expressiveness. Fontana was mentioned by Marinetti in the futurist
manifesto of ceramics and air ceramics in 1936.
In 1940 the artist sailed for Argentina and during the years of the
Second World War continued to work in a figurative style. In 1946, together
with Jorge Romero Brest and Jorge Larco he founded in Buenos Aires the Altamira Academy, which soon
became a centre for young artists and intellectuals, and inspired the
Manifesto blanco. Although it
was not actually signed by Fontana the document contained the ideas that
constituted the theoretical basis of “spatialism”. These theories were
further developed in a series
of five manifestos written between 1947
and 1952. After his permanent return to Milan in 1947, research on
metaphysical properties and materials of space became the fulcrum of
In 1949 he created his first canvases with “holes”, followed in 1959
by “cuts” At the same time
he continued to experiment with his “nature” cycle in terracotta
and metal sculptures. His 1952-53 “spatial concepts”
with coloured stones and glass underline
his continual interest for the physical aspect of the materials and at the
same time evoke the infinity of space. Fontana also worked on installations
of huge dimensions , starting in 1949 with an exhibition
at the Naviglio Gallery in Milan, where he created a Spatial
Environment that significantly preceded the use of neon in art which took
place in the ‘sixties. He was interested in designing environments and at
the beginning of the ‘fifties Fontana worked together with the architect
Luciano Baldissari on the decoration of many exhibition pavilions.
“end of God”
During the ‘sixties he produced the series of “end of God” (1963) – oval monochrome canvases perforated with lots of holes and at times splashed with sequins, to evoke divinity and at the same time vacuum, and also the “toy theatres” of 1964, with abstract forms perforated in a theatrical set environment, and also in 1967 elliptical shapes in lacquered wood punched with holes at regular intervals. In 1966 Fontana received the Special Award for painting at the Venice Biennial.
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