Biography

Abstractionist Futurist

In February 1914, still in Rome, he came into contact with Giuseppe Sprovieri and attended his Futurist Gallery, where (besides meeting Balla) he became friend of Cangiullo and Marinetti. Sprovieri placed him among the participants in the International Free Futurist Exhibition held in his Gallery, so Depero had almost immediately the opportunity to confront with prestigious artists of international importance, such as Archipenko, Larionov and Boccioni himself: unexpectedly he was the only one to sell all his paintings.

He returned to Trentino, soon afterwards,  just while he was opening an exhibition in Trento, the 1st World War broke out. Then, after some vicissitudes, he was able to leave the country. He rushed back to Italy and settled in Rome where he began working with Balla. At the end of 1914, thanks to Balla’s mediation, it was officially admitted to the group of futurist painters and sculptors and, at the beginning of 1915, engaged in the construction of complex motorcycle-noise plastics, an original plastic experimentation of kineticism and noise.

In February 1914, still in Rome, he came into contact with Giuseppe Sprovieri and attended his Futurist Gallery, where (besides meeting Balla) he became friend of Cangiullo and Marinetti. Sprovieri placed him among the participants in the International Free Futurist Exhibition held in his Gallery, so Depero had almost immediately the opportunity to confront with prestigious artists of international importance, such as Archipenko, Larionov and Boccioni himself: unexpectedly he was the only one to sell all his paintings.

He returned to Trentino, soon afterwards,  just while he was opening an exhibition in Trento, the 1st World War broke out. Then, after some vicissitudes, he was able to leave the country. He rushed back to Italy and settled in Rome where he began working with Balla. At the end of 1914, thanks to Balla’s mediation, it was officially admitted to the group of futurist painters and sculptors and, at the beginning of 1915, engaged in the construction of complex motorcycle-noise plastics, an original plastic experimentation of kineticism and noise.

On 11 March 1915 Balla and Depero launched the manifesto Ricostruzione Futurista dell’Universo (Futurist reconstruction of the universe) which they signed as « Astrattisti Futuristi (Abstractionists Futurists)». In fact, after his definitive return to Rome, in September 1914, Depero engaged his palette and pictorial materials in a work of “lightening” by introducing a new colourism, made up of flat colors regulated by curved lines, according to the influence of Balla, but adding a plastic sense, of strong volume. While he was also introducing his “analogical” research inspired by the animal world, the work of the two-year period 1914-1916 clearly detached from figuration, therefore in its “abstract” way, although it did not proceed from non-objective assumptions. Depero’s works of that period, almost all missing except Ciz-Ciz-Ciz-guaglia (1915), Movimento d’uccello (Movement of a bird) (1916) and Paesaggio di guerra (Warlike landscape) (1916), are rather based on an analogical research on animal forms or explosive onomatopoeias (effects of grenades, etc.), dealt with subjective abstract synthesis (1).

Balla himself, in the self-presentation of his Roman personal exhibition of December 1915, identified the object of his new work as «synthetic, subjective, dynamic, abstract forms». Hence Futurist reconstruction of the universe opened up a whole new set of application problems and effectively projected Futurism into life precisely by advocating overflowing beyond painting and sculpture to the applied arts.

So there was opened, instead of closing down, as many as critics of the time claimed, a new phase of Futurism, and its linguistic outcome will cross the futurist plastic research for at least a decade.

On 11 March 1915 Balla and Depero launched the manifesto Ricostruzione Futurista dell’Universo (Futurist reconstruction of the universe) which they signed as « Astrattisti Futuristi (Abstractionists Futurists)». In fact, after his definitive return to Rome, in September 1914, Depero engaged his palette and pictorial materials in a work of “lightening” by introducing a new colourism, made up of flat colors regulated by curved lines, according to the influence of Balla, but adding a plastic sense, of strong volume. While he was also introducing his “analogical” research inspired by the animal world, the work of the two-year period 1914-1916 clearly detached from figuration, therefore in its “abstract” way, although it did not proceed from non-objective assumptions. Depero’s works of that period, almost all missing except Ciz-Ciz-Ciz-guaglia (1915), Movimento d’uccello (Movement of a bird) (1916) and Paesaggio di guerra (Warlike landscape) (1916), are rather based on an analogical research on animal forms or explosive onomatopoeias (effects of grenades, etc.), dealt with subjective abstract synthesis (1).

Balla himself, in the self-presentation of his Roman personal exhibition of December 1915, identified the object of his new work as «synthetic, subjective, dynamic, abstract forms». Hence Futurist reconstruction of the universe opened up a whole new set of application problems and effectively projected Futurism into life precisely by advocating overflowing beyond painting and sculpture to the applied arts.

So there was opened, instead of closing down, as many as critics of the time claimed, a new phase of Futurism, and its linguistic outcome will cross the futurist plastic research for at least a decade.

When Italy entered the war, Depero volunteered and went to the front to free his country. He was sent to Col di Lana, where he remained for a few months and was therefore exempt for health reasons. On his return to Rome he resumed working intensely to prepare a great exhibition (his first true personal futurist) which he opened in the spring of 1916 and where he exhibited over 200 works including oils, tempera, drawings and collages of abstract style, as well as plastic constructions and tables of noisy songs and onomatopoetic poems. The work of Depero from this period, although strongly influenced by his friend and master Balla, was characterized by a greater plastic drive that connoted the large flat-tinted backgrounds, the recurring subject of his research. In this regard, in the end of January 1916 issue of Gli Avvenimenti (The Events) Umberto Boccioni published an interesting account of Depero’s visit to his studio, that is of his encounter-clash with the impetuous young futurist whom he reproached for “daring too much“.

From Animal Abstraction to return to Figuration

The abstract experiments and those on plastic complexes occupied the two-year period 1914-1916 and touched their peak in the great Roman personal exhibition, precisely of 1916. But if, on the one hand, the research work with Balla exalted and involved him, Depero felt  strongly the applicative necessity of the new formulations contained in the manifesto Futurist reconstruction of the universe. The plastic complexes proved to be as interesting and innovative as they were little appreciated and difficult to put into practice. Furthermore, one of the main threads of that manifesto was the claim of a playful attitude towards the world, and life.

When Italy entered the war, Depero volunteered and went to the front to free his country. He was sent to Col di Lana, where he remained for a few months and was therefore exempt for health reasons. On his return to Rome he resumed working intensely to prepare a great exhibition (his first true personal futurist) which he opened in the spring of 1916 and where he exhibited over 200 works including oils, tempera, drawings and collages of abstract style, as well as plastic constructions and tables of noisy songs and onomatopoetic poems. The work of Depero from this period, although strongly influenced by his friend and master Balla, was characterized by a greater plastic drive that connoted the large flat-tinted backgrounds, the recurring subject of his research. In this regard, in the end of January 1916 issue of Gli Avvenimenti (The Events) Umberto Boccioni published an interesting account of Depero’s visit to his studio, that is of his encounter-clash with the impetuous young futurist whom he reproached for “daring too much“.

From Animal Abstraction to return to Figuration

The abstract experiments and those on plastic complexes occupied the two-year period 1914-1916 and touched their peak in the great Roman personal exhibition, precisely of 1916. But if, on the one hand, the research work with Balla exalted and involved him, Depero felt  strongly the applicative necessity of the new formulations contained in the manifesto Futurist reconstruction of the universe. The plastic complexes proved to be as interesting and innovative as they were little appreciated and difficult to put into practice. Furthermore, one of the main threads of that manifesto was the claim of a playful attitude towards the world, and life.

There was talk about a futuristic toy which (wrote Balla and Depero) «will also be very useful to the adult, since he will keep it young, agile, festive, casual, ready for anything, tireless, instinctive and intuitive».The logical consequence, at this point, was the return to figuration, to recognizability. The first signs can be traced in that Kikigolà (Plasticity of rooster), a project for “construction in cardboard” of 1915 (therefore coeval with abstract works), which shows already the coexistence of plastic-dynamic color-forms with more clearly recognizable elements.

There was talk about a futuristic toy which (wrote Balla and Depero) «will also be very useful to the adult, since he will keep it young, agile, festive, casual, ready for anything, tireless, instinctive and intuitive».The logical consequence, at this point, was the return to figuration, to recognizability. The first signs can be traced in that Kikigolà (Plasticity of rooster), a project for “construction in cardboard” of 1915 (therefore coeval with abstract works), which shows already the coexistence of plastic-dynamic color-forms with more clearly recognizable elements.

Notes

  1. On the abstract period of Depero see: Maurizio Scudiero, Depero a Roma, in: Casa Balla e il Futurismo a Roma, Roma, 1989.

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