Friday, February 21, 2020

Mirages of landscapes leaping upwards

In July 1942, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Tullio Crali published in Rome a Futurist Manifesto entitled 'Plastic Illusionism of War and Perfecting the Earth'.  It was inspired by Crali's work on camouflage projects and it suggests that the 'plastic illusionism' used in Futurist painting could be used both to deceive enemy pilots and confuse them with 'visions of accelerated fractured cityscapes' and 'mirages of landscapes leaping upwards'.  And it goes further, arguing that the landscape itself could be altered - giving 'a volumetric character to plains', for example, by raising up artificial mountains.  These points read like a manifesto for Land Art and indeed Crali himself later argued that he had 'anticipated the interventions of American artists in this sphere by thirty years.'  In their vision for 'perfecting the earth', Marinetti and Crali wanted to 'refine the severe rugged aspects of wartime landscapes and cityscapes and their brutal masses.'  They would both 'virilise' and 'feminise' war-torn Italy, spirtualising and purifying it through the interventions of aeropainters, aeropoets, aeroarchitects and aeromusicians.

The aeropaintings of Tullio Crali are currently on display at the Estorick Gallery - their earlier exhibition devoted to the aeropainter Gerardo Dottori was the subject of a post I wrote here back in 2014.  Crali was much younger than Futurists like Dottori and Marinetti; he was only born in 1910, the year of the first Futurist Manifesto, and he lived until 2000, long after Futurism had become part of art history.  By the time the American Land Artists were coming to attention, Crali was a step ahead, thinking about extraterrestrial artworks.and writing his Futurist Manifesto of 'Orbital Art' (1969).  Some examples of his ideas are below - I particularly like the idea of the 'message-trains of audiovisual poetry' heading out into the cosmos like the Voyager golden record.

Another of Crali's artistic projects at that time (for which he had written a Manifesto in 1959) were the Sassintessi, compositions of stones mounted on neutral black or white backgrounds.  These were originally inspired by trips to Ploumanac'h where he saw the rocks that had fascinated earlier artists like Eileen Agar (her photographs have been admired, in turn, by Tacita Dean - see my earlier post, 'Rocks at Ploumenac’h, Brittany').  In her review of the Crali exhibition, Laura Cumming notes the novelty of the Sassintessi and thinks that 'every now and again they hit the mark, when Crali takes some sea-carved rock and twists it out of kilter, so that it suddenly looks like a rushing futurist figure.'  I was intrigued by the idea and by some examples, like Future Fossil of the Mechanical Civilisation (1963) which would fit right into a contemporary Anthropocene-themed exhibition.  Crali's rock collecting also inspired his son Massimo, who became a geologist.  Massimo's wife, Anna, was partly responsible for the exhibition and has been interviewed about it for a piece in the Telegraph.  

Finally, I should mention Tullio Crali's paintings.  After the war, he made various aerial views that combine abstract space with details of lakes or mountain peaks.  They reminded me a bit of Peter Lanyon's later works, particularly in the way they convey the intense blue of the sky.  Even as a nineteen-year old, Crali was making interesting compositions of intersecting clouds and planes of light, expressing the excitement of his first flight in 1928 ("the rebelliousness of the wind, air pockets, steep climbs: everything was wondrous...")  Arcs of overlapping colour are used to great effect in Lights at Sunset in Ostia (1930).  As Laura Cumming writes, this captures a moment when 'the shadows of hill and vale deepen, and rays of dying light arch between earth and sky. Translucent green patches stand for trees and clouds, and everything meets at the vanishing point of the ocean, radiant and serene – perhaps the most beautiful scene Crali ever painted.'

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