Italian artist and furniture designer
Lucio Fontana (born February 19, 1899, Rosario, Argentina–died September 7, 1968, Varese, Italy) was born the son of Italian immigrants in Argentina, and his father was the sculptor Luigi Fontana. In 1914, Lucio attended the Istituto Tecnico Carlo Cattaneo in Milan. He served in World War I in 1917 and was dismissed in 1918 because of an injury.
Fontana studied sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan in 1920, but in 1922, he followed his family back to Argentina, where he worked at his father’s sculpting studio, Fontana y Scarabelli. In 1924, he set up his own studio in Rosario, and at the end of the 1920s, he returned to Milan to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera.
During the early 1930s, Lucio Fontana developed what is considered an important phase of his varied artistic work. At this time, Fontana produced figurative sculptures made out of terra-cotta reliefs, painted gypsum plates, and ceramics. His preference for creating figurative ceramic sculptures was not the result of his lack of familiarity with or affinity toward the then-intellectual artistic trends. In fact, in 1934, Fontana, Fausto Melotti, Atanasio Soldati, and Mauro Reggiani formed the Paris artist group Abstraction-Création, which embraced abstract art but tended toward more austere forms represented by concrete art and constructivism. In 1935, Fontana collaborated at Manifattura Giuseppe Mazzotti, a ceramics company in Albissola Marina, where he met other important avant-garde artists and intellectuals.
In Buenos Aires in 1946, he cowrote the “White Manifesto,” his first essay on spatialism, where he proposed the expansion of artwork into a fourth dimension. Back in Milan in 1947, Fontana founded the Movimento spaziale and wrote the “Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo,” which called for a new form of space-oriented art focusing on the spatial qualities of sculpture and paintings and the inclusion of technology.
Even though Fontana is known as a painter, it was not until 1949, at the age of 50, when he resettled in Milan, that he produced his first perforated canvases, in which he pierced the canvas and opened up the image area. These stretched perforated canvases became Fontana’s signature contribution and defined his work throughout the 1950s. It was also in 1949 when Fontana created his first Spatial Environments, installations where he experimented with neon light tubes and space.
By the mid 1950s, Fontana had started his Pietre series, where he applied materials such as colored glass and stones, which extended the image into the real space, to his perforated paintings. In 1959 in Albissola Marina, Fontana created his Nature sculptural series, which consisted of large spheric and spheroid terra-cotta ball sculptures with cuts and holes.
In 1958, Fontana made his first slashed painting, which became his preferred language and technique. To create these paintings, Fontana applied copious amounts of paint uniformly onto the canvas, to then slash it while the paint was still wet. Once the paint dried, he adhered the back sides of the borders of the slash with gauze. In 1961, Fontana continued to experiment on his canvases by adding shiny reflective materials, such as gold and silver leaves, varnishes, mosaics, and other metals, to the surfaces.
Fontana was interested in the relationship between space, work, and visitor, and he collaborated with some of the most important Italian architects and designers of the time, including Gio Ponti, Piero Portaluppi, Luciano Baldessari, and Marcello Grisotti. In 1951, he collaborated with architects Baldessari and Grisotti on the interiors of the IX Triennale di Milano, for which Fontana designed the neon ceiling installation.
Also in the early 1950s, Osvaldo Borsani, a proponent of the Art Deco style in Italy, and Fontana made an unlikely but dynamic pair when they collaborated on a number of projects. Borsani produced the furniture, and Fontana contributed surface decorations. One of their creations was a cabinet with doors that parted to reveal a mirrored and illuminated interior decorated by Fontana.
Fontana stands out as one of the most important and influential Italian artists of his time. He died in Comabbio near Varese on September 7, 1968.
Last updated: April 19, 2019
For additional information on Lucio Fontana, please visit the following:
Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Borsani Interini Magazine
Lucio Fontana Guggenheim
Lucio Fontana at luciofontana.com