Was Lucio Fontana an artist solely expressing the angst and physical scars left by the ravage of war when he decided to slash one canvas or perforate another with tiny holes? Or were Fontana’s holes and slashes some sort of visual openings onto a new world, a brave new world where limits were pushed back to leave war as far behind as possible? If at first sight these scars may look threatening, almost morbid for some, I think they actually have more to do with life than death.
Surprisingly, Fontana started as a sculptor.
Three-dimensionality and the importance of negative space were part of his formative vocabulary but his very personal obsession lied with spatialism, or the creation of space. As Sculpture only occupies space, this medium failed to fulfil such endeavour. Yet am I the only one to see an early “slash”, an opening in this early Olympic Champion from 1932?
What about these tiny little holes in Spatial Ceramic (1953) juxtaposed with this Concetto Spaziale (1949)?
In the 1950’s, at a time when the “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the US was raging, Fontana’s personal quest became none other than a breathing space for minds traumatized by war. He redirected his art to become an exploration of space, yet with none of the intergalactic costs of space programs.
Instead, to all the grand gestures of his contemporaries – the Abstract Expressionist painters covering broad expanse of canvas with either energetic or anguished brushstrokes- Fontana responded with material and visual economy.
His slashing appears clinical, ever so controlled yet showing that what would become termed arte povera may be minimalistic yet nothing short of a revolution. No passing from atmosphere into stratosphere with Fontana’s artistic space exploration yet he breathed new life into art with his Concetto Spaziale (Spatial Concept).
With it, Fontana freed Painting from its past limitations of two-dimensions and optical illusion of depth.
Fontana’s rupture is literally and metaphorically a slash, a real hole, opening up a painting to new depth and volume, revealing a space between flatness and depth. A stage for a new world?
To me, it echoes fatally wounded Mercutio in Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio declared:
“Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch”,
moving on to:
“No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man”.
Well, Lucio Fontana denied death its due and slashed himself a very special space in Art History.
Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold is at Met Breuer and The Met Fifth Avenue until April 14, 2019.
© 2019 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.
I loved this article, dear Ingrid. You may like to see these photographs of Lucio Fontana by Ugo Mulas, and the story behind them: http://www.italianways.com/the-agreement-between-lucio-fontana-and-ugo-mulas/ .
Truly divine pictures of the master at work, dear Lorenza. Thank you for sharing 🙏🏼
Tortured artist…So strange…Love colors of Ceramica Spaziale (1953)
Not sure Fontana was as tortured as the cut canvases portray. He was perhaps not satisfied with what was readily visible, constantly trying to expand his reality…
Love the ‘Olympic Champion’…totally new to me! Thank you Ingrid for sharing. I wish I could share a Fontana collection I saw in Rome last year but then I wouldn’t have a job! 🤔😉 I can not explain why but a single slash in a white canvas is probably my favourite!
Dear Phil, I thought I had walked into the wrong exhibition at first as I had no idea Fontana started as a sculptor.
The beauties you must have seen in Rome🙏🏼 There is this pastel I have just shared on my Insta: totally unusual and ravishing!
The White Canvas series in this blog, well, it is totally dedicated to you, you know! Thank you for reading, Phil!
These lacerated paintings would end up being beautiful !!
It’s very “surgical”! and at the same time they offer a solution for an escape !!
Exactly right, they open an other world to our minds looking for an escape from a world gone mad 🙌