‘For me, to conceive of a form is to perceive a colour – vision of colour, ardour of life, ardour of form. It’s in colours I have looked for the point of departure for each idea which was to become a reality. Painting is to place oneself in the poetry of action; and action in coming about becomes true.’ (M. MARINI)
‘My own work has followed a general trend in its evolution, from representing a horse as part of the fauna of the objective world to suggesting a visionary monster arisen from a subjective bestiary’ (M. MARINI)
Created between 1949 and 1951, the bright, colourful forms of the riders in Marino Marini’s Giochi d’immaginazione (Games of the Imagination) evoke a sense of playfulness and vitality as they emerge dramatically from the dark background which threatens to envelope them.This composition was conceived during a period in which the theatre and the circus had become central motifs within the Marini’s painterly oeuvre, a fascination which manifested itself in depictions of parades, dancers and acrobats. He revelled in the inherent spectacle of processions and ceremonies, and sought to translate a sense of this pageantry into his compositions. Indeed, Giochi d’immaginazione is imbued witha sense of the illusionary - the imaginary game of the title, most likely played by the group of children who sit astride the horse, provide an insight into the limitless potential of the human mind to dream, imagine and construct scenarios from nothing.
As Marini himself explained, his painterly experiments were intrinsically linked to the evolution of his sculptural projects: ‘I have always needed to paint and I never begin a sculpture before having inquired pictorially into its essence’ (Marini, quoted in L. Papi, Marino Marini, Pistoia, 1979, p. 30). Unlike Marini’s sculptures from this period, however, which cast their riders in the perilous position of being unseated by their mount, the figures at the heart of Giochi d’immaginazione sit proudly atop the towering, majestic form of their horse, their bodies united with its sculptural, muscular form. Several faces can be seen in the swirl of colour which hovers above the body of the horse, suggesting that a group of people have joined together in this game.
The relationship between horse and rider remains imbued with a sense of stability, radiating a calm, classical restraint with no sense of danger or fear, a feeling reflected in the title, which suggests a light-hearted, playful context. There is a distinct focus on the architecture of the horse’s form, its towering legs and powerful torso placed front and centre within the composition, its well defined, almost cubist body dominating the composition, as it stands strong and firm, safely ferrying its boisterous riders to their destination.
While painting allowed Marini to explore the forms of his sculptures before committing to their three-dimensional realisation, its place in his creative process is perhaps more important for the freedom it offered him to explore the relationship between form and colour. ‘Painting for me depends on colour, which takes me further and further away from real form,’ Marini explained. ‘The emotions that colour awake in me, that is to say the contrast of one colour with another, or their relationship, stimulates my imagination much more than does the materialization of the human figures if I have to rely on pictorial means alone’ (Marini, ‘Thoughts of Marino Marini,’ in G. di San Lazzaro, Homage to Marino Marini, New York, 1975, p. 6). Through his experimentations with different pigments, hues and tones in his paintings, Marini began to develop a new appreciation for form and space, for the play of light and shadow, and for the ways in which subtle shifts in texture could affect our perception of the finished work.
While Marini’s art remains firmly rooted in the figurative, the sheer energy of the brushwork perhaps reflects the effects of his recent exposure to the New York art world, where he had exhibited for the first time in 1950. This large, vibrant, energetic metropolis came as a revelation to the artist, and its spirit soon permeated his paintings. The increased scale of this work, for example, along with the visceral, sensuous application of paint, echoes the compositions of the Abstract Expressionists, which captivated the New York art critics during this period. Discussing this aspect of his work, Edward Trier has written: ‘If Marini […] combines coloured geometrical shapes with the graphic diagram of a rider, or simply invents a non-figurative “composition” out of interlocking areas of colour, his handwriting nevertheless remains unmistakable even in abstraction. It is the same tension between static and dynamic, between architectonically firm and mobile dancing forms, that raises the bold, confidently placed areas of colour above the level of decoration to that of expression’ (E. Trier, The Sculpture of Marino Marini, London, 1961, p. 22). Indeed, while Marini may have been inspired by the works he encountered in New York, absorbing a certain sense of atmosphere and approach to materials from the Abstract Expressionists, Marini’s aesthetic remained distinctly individual and personal.