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Artists Lucio Fontana
Lucio Fontana Photo

Lucio Fontana

Italian Painter, Sculptor, and Conceptual Artist

Movement: Modern Sculpture

Born: 1899 - Rosario de Santa Fe, Argentina

Died: 1968 - Comabbio, Varese, Italy

Lucio Fontana Timeline

Quotes

"Matter, color, and sound are the phenomena whose simultaneous development is an integral part of the new art."
Lucio Fontana
"A butterfly in flight stimulates my imagination. By freeing myself from discourse, I lose myself in time and I start making holes."
Lucio Fontana
"We are living in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and standing plaster figures no longer have any reason to exist. What is needed is a change in both essence and form. What is needed is the supercession of painting, sculpture, poetry, and music. It is necessary to have an art that is in greater harmony with the needs of the new spirit."
Lucio Fontana
"My discovery was the hole and that's it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery."
Lucio Fontana
"Sometimes I have the feeling of having thought or done something that goes beyond intelligence, something lunatic or crazy..."
Lucio Fontana
"An earth-bound form occupies a place, if I empty this form I create a space, a form above the earth occupies a place, if I put a hole in it I create a void, I don't conquer space ... A form (and in saying a form it is understood that I mean a sculpture or a painting) occupies a space ... but this is not a means for the conquest of space ... No form can be spatial."
Lucio Fontana
"Art is going to be a completely different thing... Not an object, nor a form... Art is going to become infinite, immensity, immaterial, philosophy... Enough with the bourgeois function of art. Open the doors."
Lucio Fontana

"I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture."

Lucio Fontana Signature

Synopsis

The career of artist Lucio Fontana spans some of the most tumultuous decades of the 20th century, from the build up to World War I to the aftermath of World War II and the onset of the Cold War. Trained initially as a sculptor, Fontana rejected the traditional constraints of particular artistic materials and techniques, choosing instead to invent his own media and methods in response to the rapidly changing world he inhabited. Fontana reinterpreted the physical and theoretical limits of art by considering art works as concepts of space, often using surprising gestures that created holes and cuts in canvases to reveal unseen spatial regions. Fontana embraced paradoxes, destroying physical and intellectual traditions in order to create new discoveries.

Key Ideas

In the wake of WWII, Fontana joined other artists in determining a new form of art that was informed by the rapid technological and scientific advancements of their time. Establishing a new movement called Spatialism, Fontana called for an art that would aptly reflect and respond to the experiences of space and time by unifying them in new ways. In this effort, Fontana broke away from traditional forms of painting and sculpture, making instead what he called concetti spaziale (spatial concepts) that turned objects into three dimensional spaces and turned mundane spaces into experimental environments.
Fontana is known for creating deliberate openings in canvases, allowing the work of art to not only rest upon the surface of the support, but also to encompass the hidden spaces in between and behind the traditional surface image. He created holes, called buchi, and cuts, called tagli, that pierced the canvas materials and exposed the space behind it. These holes and cuts provide an opportunity for the unseen parts of the work to come to the fore and carry meaning.
In addition to works that opened up canvases, Fontana was also interested in building layers on top of canvases to heighten awareness of the broader spaces of the art work. Small pieces of glass and stone were applied to the surface of canvases, inviting the natural effects of light reflection and refraction as equal actors influencing the viewer's perception of the image. Thus expanding the flat canvas, Fontana brought attention to the concept of the void, asking viewers to consider the unmapped parts of the universe and the uncertain quality of the future. Simultaneously, the glass and stone pieces show how we fill such voids, through physical objects we create as well as natural phenomena in our environment.

Biography

Lucio Fontana Photo

Early Life and Training

Lucio Fontana was born in Rosario de Santa Fe, Argentina in 1899 to Lucia Bottini, an Argentinian actress of both Swiss and Italian descent, and Luigi Fontana, an Italian sculptor of commemorative and funerary monuments who had emigrated to Argentina. His parents never married and eventually separated in 1905, when Fontana moved to Italy for schooling, living with relatives in Varese, where his studies included architecture, physics, engineering, math, and the arts. As a young scholar, Fontana was enamored with the Futurists' rejection of older ways of making and seeing art, encouraging art to be of its time rather than to perpetuate the norms of the past that no longer serve the contemporary artist.

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Lucio Fontana Biography Continues

Important Art by Lucio Fontana

The below artworks are the most important by Lucio Fontana - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Figure Nere (Black Figures) (1931)
Artwork Images

Figure Nere (Black Figures) (1931)

Artwork description & Analysis: Figure Nere is an example of Fontana's early ceramic sculpture, featuring a rough-hewn, rectangular terra-cotta slab with two black silhouetted figures, a taller one behind a shorter figure in the front. The surface of the sculpture reveals the artist's hand, with visible marks indicating the development of the form. Fontana recalls the art of earlier civilizations and introduces elements of modern art in this work, harkening back to Ancient Greek black-figure pottery in both style and name while playing with the multiple perspectives that fascinated modern abstract artists, such as the Cubists and Futurists.

The shape of the terra-cotta slab resembles the grave stones and funerary sculpture that Fontana's father had created for his clients, yet Fontana decided to disrupt this resemblance by adding implied depth to the image rather than allowing the flat surface to support similarly flat visual or textual content. By depicting one black human figure seemingly in front of another, with a significant strip of white clay obscuring the left side of the black figure to the right, Fontana reveals a physical gap in space between the two figures, showing the depth of the ambient space as it appears and is experienced in the real world. Even though his early works like Figure Nere are meant to be seen from one, frontal angle, Fontana was already exploring the idea of manipulating the materials to evoke a sensation of physical space in the image.

Painted clay - Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan

Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept) (1950)
Artwork Images

Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept) (1950)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of Fontana's first cycles of works, the buchi (holes) series features the opening of the canvas surface to expose the space behind it. Rather than creating an image by layering colors and lines on top of the canvas, Fontana's work creates an image through the direct engagement of both the canvas's physical properties and the space that exists around it. While the viewer's mind may fill in the spaces between the punctures, creating whirling lines across the canvas, the composition is not intended to be strictly representational. Concentrated in the center of the canvas, not quite reaching the edges, the shapes and overall spectacle suggested by the holes create another dimension beyond the typically flat surface of a regular painting.

Fontana chose to call these works concetti spaziale (spatial concepts) rather than paintings, revealing his intense interest in recognizing the role of the surrounding space. Through his punctures to the surface of these works, he made the invisible space an important, visible component of the art making practice and product. Fontana was aware of the potential tension between objects and space, noting in his writings that art forms, such as paintings and sculptures, can occupy space by adding to the existing environment through tangible materials and through intangible effects (such as shadows). Yet, these forms in themselves are not the same as the space around them, prompting Fontana to search for methods to rectify these inherent boundaries.

No longer confined to physical materials, Fontana's art can exist in the infinite realm of space. Just as modern life was quickly embracing forms that could be experienced without being physically seen or felt, such as telecommunications and advancements in math and physics, modern art could similarly be composed of intangible elements, like bright lights and shadows, and reflect movement and stillness.

At the time Fontana was creating his buchi cycle, he was also working closely with post-war Italian architecture projects, including ceiling decorations for cinema houses that included punctures, or holes, creating an illusion of the cosmos hovering above. The holes suggest the realms of stars in outer space that were becoming more accessible and understood than ever before, and Fontana's embrace of the unknown voids of space reveal his fascination with the laws of physics, his excitement about man's journey into new physical and intellectual realms, and his genuine belief in the productive partnership of science and art during a time of post-war optimism and innovation.

Acrylic on canvas - Museo Reina SofĂ­a, Madrid, Spain

Luce spaziale (Neon Structure) (1951, re-fabricated 2010)
Artwork Images

Luce spaziale (Neon Structure) (1951, re-fabricated 2010)

Artwork description & Analysis: Originally designed with architects Luciano Baldessari and Marcello Grisotti to be installed above the main stairway of the IX Triennale of Milan, this amorphous neon sculpture is an example of Fontana's Ambienti spaziali, or spatial environments - a fascinating thread of fleeting installation works that reflect the artist's interest in diverse media. These ambienti spaziali immediately followed the First and Second Spatialist manifestos of the late 1940s, in which Fontana and other artists called for the integration of science and art through the embrace of modern technology in artwork and the recognition of the creative possibilities within scientific discovery. By assembling these environments, Fontana challenged viewers to understand the artwork as a spatial experience rather than a fixed object.

The elegant bends of this neon sculpture appear as random meandering, the quintessential doodle on paper, yet the expansive scale and modern medium elevates the object to a sensational and environmental status. Moreover, by inhabiting a transitional space of the stairwell, and hanging from the ceiling above viewers' heads, the work forces the viewers to alter their traditional positioning in relation to a piece of art, with their heads raised and eyes focused above the usual line of vision. Fontana deliberately wanted his audience to feel disoriented when experiencing these installation works - sometimes keeping the installation environments in darkness, with the neon lights as the only illumination in the exhibition space - drawing attention to the unsettling sensations that accompany journeying into the unknown. Just as human kind continued to push beyond the familiar boundaries of time and space in scientific and mathematical realms, so too did Fontana ask artists and viewers alike to reimagine the established norms.

Neon lighting

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Lucio Fontana
Interactive chart with Lucio Fontana's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Adolf Wildt
Filippo Tommaso MarinettiFilippo Tommaso Marinetti
Constantin BrancusiConstantin Brancusi

Personal Contacts

Yves KleinYves Klein

Movements

FuturismFuturism
CubismCubism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Influences on Artist
Lucio Fontana
Lucio Fontana
Years Worked: mid 1923 - 1968
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Heinz Mack
Cecille Colle
Ralf Nuhn

Personal Contacts

Yves KleinYves Klein

Movements

Arte PoveraArte Povera
ZERO

Useful Resources on Lucio Fontana

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Lucio Fontana

Sarah Whitfield
London: Hayward Publishing
1999

Lucio Fontana

Enrico Crispolti
Milano: Electa
1998

artworks

Lucio Fontana: The Spatial Concept of Art

Minneapolis: Walker Art Center
1966

Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York

By Luca Massimo Barbero
New York: Guggenheim Museum
2006

More Interesting Books about Lucio Fontana
Drawing With Light, Before Others Did

By Blake Gopnik
The Daily Beast
May 29, 2012

Gallery View; Lucio Fontana: Slashing His Way Toward Infinity

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
April 30, 1989

Lucio Fontana

By Richard Shone
Artforum, February 2000

Art: Works by Fontana, a Stage-Setter, On View

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
December 5, 1986

More Interesting Articles about Lucio Fontana
Lucio Fontana, Autour d'un chef-d'oeuvre retrouve

Tournabuoni Art, Belgium, 1962

Dance for preview of Lucio Fontana's Exhibition

Footage of a dance performance that was performed at the Members’ Preview of 'Lucio Fontana: The Spatial Concept of Art' - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1966

Lucio Fontana, 'Concetto Spaziale, Atteste' (1965)

Overview of work at auction by Sothebys

Artisti del'900- Lucio Fontana

Overview of Fontana - in Italian

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Meggie Morris

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Meggie Morris
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