Whilst Fontana today is heralded for his iconic piercing of the canvas through his buchi
(holes) and tagli
(cuts), his sculptures and ceramics mark the very genesis of his unremitting exploration of Spatialism
. Fontana began his career as a sculptor at his father’s business making funerary busts out of gesso and marble, materials that require great patience and skill. In 1928, he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, studying under the Italian sculptor Adolfo Wildt, and began formal training as a neo-Classical sculptor, but it was only a matter of time that Fontana would reject his academic training. Fontana was looking for something more violent and gestural as he would recall in an interview in 1943; “I took a great lump of plaster, gave it a rough shape of a seated man and then threw tar over it. Just like that, as a violent reaction” (Lucio Fontana cited in: La Nación, Buenos Aires
, 6 June 1943, in: Jole De Sanna, Lucio Fontana: Materia Spazio Concetto
, Milan 1993, p. 10). The major breakthrough occurred in the mid-1930s when Fontana began working alongside Giuseppe Mazzotti, an Italian ceramicist from Albissola, which, in those years, had become the meeting point of a group of Futurist artists who concentrated on ceramic production. It was thanks to the close collaboration with these artists that Fontana integrated the Futurists’ desire to encompass movement and dynamism within the static image into his ceramics, a desire that would heavily influence Fontana’s artistic philosophy from then onwards.
Concetto Spaziale, realised between 1961 and 1962, is a perfect example of the blending of Fontana’s roots, his early works in ceramics, and his later Spatialist oeuvre. The work can immediately be linked to his slashed and punctured cavases. Three large and violent holes puncture through the matte white painted terracotta interrupting the harmony of the monochromatic background. The linear incision that contours the rectangular form of the plane functions as a frame for this disruptive gesture, bringing the viewer to look deep into those ferociously made gashes leading into a whole new dimension. A dimension that Fontana himself sought in his paintings and in his Spatialist manifestos in which he expressed the need to synthesize colour, space, movement and time into a new type of art.
The emphasis on matter, movement and space, articulated through a sense of gestural handling, could have only been achieved through the violent and fast pace of the modelling and burning of clay. It is thanks to the characteristics of this material that Fontana was able to integrate his vision into the steadiness of sculptural elements, a result that would have not been achievable had he not broken away from his traditional training and bravely adventured into unknown artistic territory.