‘…for me it is not a problem, especially now, as to whether what I do is art or not. I use it to live, to have adventures…’ – Alighiero Boetti (A. Bonito Oliva, ‘Dialogo con Alighiero Boetti,’ Milan 1973, quoted in G. di Pietrantonio & C. Levi, Alighiero Boetti: Quasi Tutto, Milan, 2004, p. 214).
‘I’m always taking things from reality. Everything starts from reality, even things with minimal or insignificant beginnings.’ – Alighiero Boetti (A. Bonito Oliva, ‘Dialogo con Alighiero Boetti,’ Milan 1973, reproduced in English in P. Morsiani, When 1 is 2: The Art of Alighiero Boetti, exh. cat., Houston, 2002, p. 93).
Filled with a dense array of exquisitely drawn airplanes flying in all directions across a richly pigmented blue sky, their forms crisscrossing and overflowing the boundaries of the canvas in a dynamic composition that is both visually cacophonous and elegantly orchestrated, Aerei is an elegant work from Boetti’s seminal and instantly recognizable series of the same name. The inspiration for this decade-long project lay in Boetti’s 1977 collaboration with the architect, cartoonist and illustrator Guido Fuga, during which the pair produced an almost encyclopaedic visual typology of modern and historical airplanes in watercolour, with each machine traced with great detail and precision from popular magazine sources collected by the artist. By translating the outlines of the airplanes from other printed material, Boetti believed he was removing himself from the direct creation of the artwork, an important concept that would underpin much of his subsequent œuvre. Indeed, the artist pushed this idea further by handing the creation of the Aerei over to his network of trusted collaborators, including both burgeoning artists and amateurs, who would then work to the artist’s instructions to achieve the final composition.
The diversity of people involved in the creation of the artwork is reflected in the array of interpretations seen in the final series. When considered together, it is striking to see the variety of different backgrounds that have been created. From the distinctly monochrome to the subtly variegated, executed using fluid washes of watercolour, gestural strokes of biro, or variegated pools of ink, the Aerei are a study in variation and contrast. In the present example, the azure sky is achieved using common blue biros, the vast expanse of the canvas covered in gently rippling waves of ink, each subtle shift in tone and shade indicating the numerous different pens used to complete the composition.
Rich with references to global mobility, exchange and travel, the Aerei also speak to Boetti’s desire of transcending the artifice of geopolitical, ideological and cultural divisions in the world. One of the most striking aspects of the multitude of airplanes is their potential for movement beyond the boundaries of the composition. Just as a passenger jet may streak across the sky overhead and soon disappear from our view, the presence of these planes appears temporary, as if they may disappear off the edge of the canvas at any moment. Floating like model airplanes within an illusionary and fantastical space of action and movement, they are interwoven in a complex network of invisible paths, each leading to an unknown destination. The artist allowed this global vision to permeate both his personal life and artistic practice - integrating modes of cultural interchange, traditional craftsmanship and collaboration into the very fabric of his art objects, whilst also living a nomadic life of travelling and creating work around the world, notably in central and southern Asia. Reflecting on his nomadism, Boetti once stated: ‘perhaps it comes from this schizophrenic idea that one cannot stay always in the same place’ (A. Boetti, in P. Morsani, When 2 is 1: The Art of Alighiero e Boetti, exh. cat., Houston, 2002, p.93).