‘I use metal because it brings me close to drawing: with metal I can draw in space’
Created in 1969, Arte del Contrappunto plastico n. 1 is an elegant example of the growing complexity of Fausto Melotti’s sculpture as he entered the second phase of his artistic career, following a period of creative silence caused by the trauma of the Second World War. Spurred by the emergence of a new generation of Italian artists intent on subverting classical notions of sculpture and painting, Melotti began to explore his pre-war experiments in abstraction once again, playing with the materiality of his constructions and pushing the whimsical and poetic dimensions of his work to new levels. Over the course of the 1960s and 70s Melotti developed a unique sculptural language, which resulted in the creation of a series of beautifully ordered, precise yet lyrical metal sculptures built from thin sheets and delicate threads of brass, gold and steel. These dynamic compositions expressed two contrasting aesthetic concerns – the abstract and the narrative – while also exploring the materiality of the fabric used in the sculpture’s construction. Arte del Contrappunto plastico n. 1 perfectly encapsulates this new approach within Melotti’s sculpture, and reveals the influence that music and its structures had on the artist’s creative process.
Formed of a series of pure, geometric elements – squares, lines, rectangles, ellipses and circles – Arte del Contrappunto plastico n. 1 explores the visual relationships that occur between different forms when arranged in various configurations. Appearing in small, informal groupings, these basic themes fill the broad expanse of the horizontal sculpture, repeating themselves at several points within the frame but with slight variations and subtle adjustments in each iteration. For example, an ovoid shape recurs in several different positions over the length of the composition, appearing horizontally, vertically, in varying sizes, and in varying states of transparency. By aligning these dynamic shapes with different combinations of the other forms, at times introducing subtle detailing and ornament to the shapes, Melotti creates a rich web of dynamic internal relationships.
Throughout his career, Melotti had explored the visual oppositions of movement and stasis, rigidity and flexibility, solidity and weightlessness, as a means of challenging traditional conceptions of the sculptural medium. The artist saw metals such as brass and steel as dynamic materials, explaining: ‘I use metal because it brings me close to drawing: with metal I can draw in space’ (Melotti, quoted in Melotti, exh. cat., Rome, 1983, p. 10). In Arte del Contrappunto plastico n. 1, Melotti transforms the heavy, cold steel into a malleable fabric, pared back into impossibly thin strips, while still retaining the tensile strength of the essential material. By opening out the structure of the sculpture, he achieves a permeability that pushes the boundaries of traditional conceptions about the medium. This openness invites the viewer to travel around the sculpture, to consider it from multiple angles, generating a completely different sequence of views, depending on where you are standing. The internal relationships of these different elements shift and alter as the eye moves around the work, inviting the viewer to interpret the sculpture’s contents in their own way, connecting the different elements into their own poetic narrative.
From the early stages of his career, Melotti had always been struck by the structure of musical compositions, and the artist soon sought to incorporate their rules into his work. Chief amongst these musical inspirations was the concept of the counterpoint, a complex melodious structure most commonly present in classical music. The creation of harmonies presents a particular challenge in contrapuntal music as it involves multiple voices, or parts, following independent melodies while remaining interdependent at the same time. Melotti is faced with a similar challenge in the present work, as he strives to create a coherent sculpture from the complex sequence of motifs and symbols that populate the structure, ensuring they correspond to one another while also retaining their individual identities. Delicately balancing each of these elements, Arte del Contrappunto plastico n. 1 appears as a chorus of geometric voices, turned into a symphony of lines and shimmers across space, a sculpture that is at once dynamic and still, absorbing and contemplative.