Biography

Definition of Baldessari’s Style

With the transition from the Venetian environment, all in all still far from Futurism, to the Florentine area, which instead seemed like a powder keg about to explode, Baldessari, beyond a first ideal and emotional adhesion to Futurism, immediately found himself in the need to define  his own futurist style, which certainly he could not wing overnight but had better to build gradually, experimentation after experimentation, starting from a ‘model’ he had given to himself, which at first (as for many young Futurists), was precisely the work by Umberto Boccioni. A path we could define as ‘preparatory’, to which belong a series of Boccionian-inspired works , due to the evident stylistic and chromatic influence of the futurist master

With the transition from the Venetian environment, all in all still far from Futurism, to the Florentine area, which instead seemed like a powder keg about to explode, Baldessari, beyond a first ideal and emotional adhesion to Futurism, immediately found himself in the need to define  his own futurist style, which certainly he could not wing overnight but had better to build gradually, experimentation after experimentation, starting from a ‘model’ he had given to himself, which at first (as for many young Futurists), was precisely the work by Umberto Boccioni. A path we could define as ‘preparatory’, to which belong a series of Boccionian-inspired works , due to the evident stylistic and chromatic influence of the futurist master.

To simplify, these works live three phases over the course of a year, or a little more, between the end of 1914 and the beginning of 1916. At the beginning they gradually move away from figuration which is gradually de-structured, giving rise to works where figuration and abstraction coexist. A properly abstract second phase follows, without any objective reference, and therefore the third phase of the gradual return to figuration, but it is a futurist figuration, characterized by Boccionian force-lines and gradually by a geometrizing volumetry.

However, in this training period the reference is not only Boccioni, even if he is the predominant artist, but one can note some other influences  for instance of Carrà, Soffici and also Balla, with his abstract research carried out, precisely as opposed to Boccioni’s work, in Rome. With Balla there was Depero, a fellow citizen of Baldessari, and their contacts were frequent. This is testified by some works, with abstract Balla’s style shapes, on the colors of the Italian flag, precisely at the same time as Balla’s patriotic-interventionist cycle. But also from Balla comes that idea of ​​light, as in the small pastel Lampione + strada (Streetlight + street), where, however, the construction of the work is impeccably Boccionian. Not to mention works to come (ie in the post-abstract period) where the concept of light is ‘central’. And finally, again from Balla, he took the idea of ​the Vortex, a dynamic form existing in Nature, but here represented as pure mental form.

To simplify, these works live three phases over the course of a year, or a little more, between the end of 1914 and the beginning of 1916. At the beginning they gradually move away from figuration which is gradually de-structured, giving rise to works where figuration and abstraction coexist. A properly abstract second phase follows, without any objective reference, and therefore the third phase of the gradual return to figuration, but it is a futurist figuration, characterized by Boccionian force-lines and gradually by a geometrizing volumetry.

However, in this training period the reference is not only Boccioni, even if he is the predominant artist, but one can note some other influences  for instance of Carrà, Soffici and also Balla, with his abstract research carried out, precisely as opposed to Boccioni’s work, in Rome. With Balla there was Depero, a fellow citizen of Baldessari, and their contacts were frequent. This is testified by some works, with abstract Balla’s style shapes, on the colors of the Italian flag, precisely at the same time as Balla’s patriotic-interventionist cycle. But also from Balla comes that idea of ​​light, as in the small pastel Lampione + strada (Streetlight + street), where, however, the construction of the work is impeccably Boccionian. Not to mention works to come (ie in the post-abstract period) where the concept of light is ‘central’. And finally, again from Balla, he took the idea of ​the Vortex, a dynamic form existing in Nature, but here represented as pure mental form.

In other words, these early works of  Baldessari’s adhesion to Futurism fit properly in the short Italian season of ‘futurist abstraction’  from 1914 to 1916, in which together with Balla, Depero and  Prampolini,  Baldessari participated, forerunning of almost twenty years the so-called ‘first’ Italian abstract experience, of the ‘Como abstracts’. But it was a fleeting experience, perhaps because too far ahead, conceptually speaking, for those years, an experience that Depero himself abandoned already at the end of 1916, precisely because of the evident problematic nature of placing non-figurative works on the Italian market . Baldessari, on his turn, approached the figuration, in particular taking Rosai’s and Notte’s work as a model and made  an upright reinterpretation of Cézanne. In this way, he began the frequentation of cafes and cabarets as meeting and inspiration places, combining his formal research with the most vernacular topics. In particular, cabarets, and the theatrical theme in general, became a common thread crossing for years the artist’s production.

Perhaps because of the play of lights, in the contrast between the illuminated scene and the audience in the dark; or for the continuous dynamism, in the swirling movement of actors, but above all of dancers; and for the strong chromatism, in the bright colors of the costumes and make-up; or finally for the suggestions of the orchestra, and the chanteuses. A vortex of sounds, lights and colors: in short, dynamism. But with a caveat. Baldessari’s is a ‘passive’ position towards the theater and entertainment. A fruition of sensations and impressions to be shown on the canvas as a spectator, a bit in the manner of Toulouse-Lautrec, therefore lacking the active planning that instead led Depero to a much greater involvement, that is, also to the creation of costumes and theatrical scenery. Baldessari, however, unlike Depero, who engaged himself with the Russian Ballets in works of scenography and costume design, is above all a painter, and lives the theater precisely in its transposition of memory, according to those chromatic, dynamic and sound components described above . Symptomatic of this vision are Chanteuse, of 1916, which offers a close-up on the emphasis of stage makeup, and Scene per Teatro Spaziale (Scenes for Space Theatre), of 1919, which instead fixes, briefly, a moment of scenic action. But besides these paintings there is certainly a long line of titles that clearly denounce his deep interest in the theater.

In other words, these early works of  Baldessari’s adhesion to Futurism fit properly in the short Italian season of ‘futurist abstraction’  from 1914 to 1916, in which together with Balla, Depero and  Prampolini,  Baldessari participated, forerunning of almost twenty years the so-called ‘first’ Italian abstract experience, of the ‘Como abstracts’. But it was a fleeting experience, perhaps because too far ahead, conceptually speaking, for those years, an experience that Depero himself abandoned already at the end of 1916, precisely because of the evident problematic nature of placing non-figurative works on the Italian market . Baldessari, on his turn, approached the figuration, in particular taking Rosai’s and Notte’s work as a model and made  an upright reinterpretation of Cézanne. In this way, he began the frequentation of cafes and cabarets as meeting and inspiration places, combining his formal research with the most vernacular topics. In particular, cabarets, and the theatrical theme in general, became a common thread crossing for years the artist’s production.

Perhaps because of the play of lights, in the contrast between the illuminated scene and the audience in the dark; or for the continuous dynamism, in the swirling movement of actors, but above all of dancers; and for the strong chromatism, in the bright colors of the costumes and make-up; or finally for the suggestions of the orchestra, and the chanteuses. A vortex of sounds, lights and colors: in short, dynamism. But with a caveat. Baldessari’s is a ‘passive’ position towards the theater and entertainment. A fruition of sensations and impressions to be shown on the canvas as a spectator, a bit in the manner of Toulouse-Lautrec, therefore lacking the active planning that instead led Depero to a much greater involvement, that is, also to the creation of costumes and theatrical scenery. Baldessari, however, unlike Depero, who engaged himself with the Russian Ballets in works of scenography and costume design, is above all a painter, and lives the theater precisely in its transposition of memory, according to those chromatic, dynamic and sound components described above . Symptomatic of this vision are Chanteuse, of 1916, which offers a close-up on the emphasis of stage makeup, and Scene per Teatro Spaziale (Scenes for Space Theatre), of 1919, which instead fixes, briefly, a moment of scenic action. But besides these paintings there is certainly a long line of titles that clearly denounce his deep interest in the theater.

And as I mentioned, the light-shadow relationship is strictly connected to the theatrical theme as an element of ‘construction’ of a three-dimensional space that Baldessari articulated according to a rigorous elementary geometry. See Donna + finestra (Woman + window), of early 1916, or, further on, the strong beams of light in Fanali futuristi (Futurist headlights), of 1918, which recall the street lamps in the fog, but in turn also refer to the lights of a theatrical scenography. It is, in essence, a theatrical approach that Baldessari introduces as a preferential vision of the world, seen precisely as a ‘theatricalization of space’, and perhaps also as a joyful alternative to the works of declared social meditation created in the war years, or to vernacular lingerings of Osteria toscana (Tuscan tavern), of 1917. In fact, often even the settings in bars and cafes have a scenographic attitude, as if what Baldessari saw, the tables and the patrons, were part of an action that takes place on a stage.

As for the works of full adhesion to the Tuscan Futurism line, we should mention  Marzocco, of 1918, made with the gouache technique spread on a collage of newspapers, which refers to Soffici’s mediations from Picasso’s papier-collée. But then, as we shall see, of Picasso Baldessari gave his own independent reading. Moreover, as Maria Drudi Gambillo, curator together with Teresa Fiori of the Archivi del Futurismo ( Archives of Futurism), already noted at the time, often his works are on the line of continuity, referring explicitly to those of the first subscribers of the futurist posters, rather than to the paintings  of the Florentines. And this is yet another confirmation of his ‘basic independence’, that is, his never fully adhesion to a line, but rather to go on experimenting, taking what is needed, and then moving forward. This is confirmed, for example, by Donna + Pesci rossi ( Woman + red fishes), of 1918, with an evident Boccionian system although far from his Boccionian period of 1915 and already marked in the artist’s  well recognizable style.

And as I mentioned, the light-shadow relationship is strictly connected to the theatrical theme as an element of ‘construction’ of a three-dimensional space that Baldessari articulated according to a rigorous elementary geometry. See Donna + finestra (Woman + window), of early 1916, or, further on, the strong beams of light in Fanali futuristi (Futurist headlights), of 1918, which recall the street lamps in the fog, but in turn also refer to the lights of a theatrical scenography. It is, in essence, a theatrical approach that Baldessari introduces as a preferential vision of the world, seen precisely as a ‘theatricalization of space’, and perhaps also as a joyful alternative to the works of declared social meditation created in the war years, or to vernacular lingerings of Osteria toscana (Tuscan tavern), of 1917. In fact, often even the settings in bars and cafes have a scenographic attitude, as if what Baldessari saw, the tables and the patrons, were part of an action that takes place on a stage.

As for the works of full adhesion to the Tuscan Futurism line, we should mention  Marzocco, of 1918, made with the gouache technique spread on a collage of newspapers, which refers to Soffici’s mediations from Picasso’s papier-collée. But then, as we shall see, of Picasso Baldessari gave his own independent reading. Moreover, as Maria Drudi Gambillo, curator together with Teresa Fiori of the Archivi del Futurismo ( Archives of Futurism), already noted at the time, often his works are on the line of continuity, referring explicitly to those of the first subscribers of the futurist posters, rather than to the paintings  of the Florentines. And this is yet another confirmation of his ‘basic independence’, that is, his never fully adhesion to a line, but rather to go on experimenting, taking what is needed, and then moving forward. This is confirmed, for example, by Donna + Pesci rossi ( Woman + red fishes), of 1918, with an evident Boccionian system although far from his Boccionian period of 1915 and already marked in the artist’s  well recognizable style.

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