As a great exponent of Milan’s artistic vanguard of the 1960s, Agostino Bonalumi was associated with a new generation of artists who sought to overcome personal and existential expression in art in order to examine its fundamental structural principles. Executed in 1964, Bonalumi’s monochromatic Celeste (Sky-Blue) is a splendid example of his quadri-oggetto series, three-dimensional canvases conceived as extensions of painting. The work is composed of elasticized canvas, tightened on special looms structured with jutting elements that determine the embossed shapes of the composition. Bonalumi uses the canvas as a pliable substance, bending and flexing it to create a three-dimensional surface. The geometric clarity of the work bridges the gap between painting and sculpture to challenge the acceptance of the flat canvas as a ritual prerequisite for painting. Rather than containing an illusionary inner-space, Bonalumi’s self-described ‘picture-object’ projects into the real space of the viewer’s domain, taking on an almost architectural quality.
This reductive method establishes a unique approach to the artistic tabula rasa called for in the ground-breaking Azimuth, the journal Bonalumi co-founded with Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, that demanded that ‘Images which are as absolute as possible, which cannot be valued for that which they record, explain and express, but only for that which they are to be’ (P. Manzoni, ‘For the Discovery of a Zone of Images’, Spring 1957, Azimuth 2, 1960). Bonalumi conceives of his work in experiential terms, aiming to create objects that foreground the basic mechanisms of visual perception. For Bonalumi, this investigation is grounded first and foremost in the phenomenon of colour. As the artist explains, ‘For me, every work (even now) is already conceived in a certain colour: we could say that it is born coloured. I have also written in the past that my work is not a coloured form, but form that emerges from colours, that is to say light. In fact, my works are named after their colour to emphasise this idea. Because colour does not exist, it is light, and this also means that the form emerges from light: a form that is simply painted is something else. A painted form represents a sequence of two separate moments; contrary to this, the emergence of the form from the colour/light represents a single moment, and this is the moment that interests me’ (A. Bonalumi, quoted in F. Pola, ‘Beauty has to be experienced, not described: A conversation with Agostino Bonalumi’ in F. Pola, Agostino Bonalumi: All the Shapes of Space 1958-1976, London 2013, p. 190).