The father of Spatialism, Lucio Fontana was one of the great pioneers of the post-war Italian avant-garde. Best known for slashing open the picture plane, he forged new frontiers for art at the height of the Space Age.
Fontana was born in Argentina in 1899. His father was a sculptor, and Fontana followed in his footsteps as a young man. He spent much time in Europe, where he met artists including Fausto Melotti, Joan Miró and Constantin Brâncuși.
In 1946, Fontana and a group of his students in Buenos Aires published the Manifesto Blanco. It called for an art that responded to the scientific and technological spirit of its time. The old categories of painting and sculpture, it declared, were obsolete. Instead, artists should seek a means of expression 'based upon the unity of time and space.' The text formed the basis of Fontana's Manifesto Spazialismo, drafted in Milan the following year.
In 1949, Fontana launched his first major series: the Buchi ('holes'). Puncturing the canvas, the artist exposed the uncharted territory beyond the picture plane. The gesture itself was revolutionary, sealing time, light and energy within the static fibres of the canvas. The artwork was no longer a two- or even three-dimensional object, but rather a Concetto Spaziale ('Spatial Concept'). A fourth dimension had revealed itself for art: the space behind, beyond and around it.
Fontana would pursue these ideas through various media. These included ceramics, pastel and ink, as well as his sculptural Nature and his ornate Barocchi. In 1958, the Buchi gave way to the Tagli ('cuts'), created by sweeping a knife through the canvas. These works, in monochrome hues of red, white, silver, blue and other colours, would become some of his most iconic creations.
As the international Space Race evolved throughout the 1960s, Fontana continued to expand his practice. He combined the Tagli and Buchi with media including oil paint and metal, paying homage to the cities of Venice and New York. Elsewhere he continued to explore installation in his landmark 'Spatial Environments' (Ambienti Spaziali). Between 1963 and 1964 he produced his career-defining series La Fine di Dio ('The End of God'). These vast ovoid canvases, pierced with gigantic Buchi, represent his top auction prices.
The impact of Fontana's practice was profound. His work influenced a number of younger artists including Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani and Yves Klein. Many of his ideas also foreshadowed elements of Arte Povera, performance art, Minimalism and Conceptualism. Fontana died in 1968, one year before humankind took its first steps on the moon.