Lucio Fontana \ gallery \ art \ portfolios


I was a friend of Lucio Fontana, as all of us were here in Milan; I was one of his many friends. Apart from A few assignments for various Venice Biennales, I always worked for him without his asking me to: when I wanted to see what he was doing I rang him and arrived with my camera, without a tripod, without lights, which did not complicate matters, and I started to take pictures. Of all the pictures I have made, only one series – done in practically half an hour – has a precise meaning. Until that moment I had only photographed him, but now, finally, I wanted to understand what he was doing. Maybe it was the presence of a white canvas, a big one, with only one slash, that he had just finished. That canvas showed me that Fontana’s mental action (that took shape practically in an instant, in the gesture of slashing the canvas) was even more complex, and that the concluding gesture revealed only a part of it. When looking at a canvas with holes, at one with slashes, it is easy to imagine Fontana making the slash with a blade or the hole with a punch, but this does not show the action that is more precise, and that is not only an action but a particular moment, a moment that I understood I should have photographed. I thought of photographing him while he worked, but Fontana did not want me to, and he explained why: “If you photograph me while I am making a picture of holes, after a while I no longer feel your presence and my work proceeds quietly, but I could not make one of these big slashes with someone moving around me. I feel that if I make a slash just so that a photo can be taken, it likely won’t come out… it might even succeed to, but I don’t feel like doing this in the presence of a photographer, or anyone else. I need lots of concentration. What I mean to say is that I don’t just go into my studio, take off my jacket and presto! make three or four slashes. No, I don’t. Sometimes I let the canvas hang there for several weeks before I’m sure about what I’m going to do, and only when I feel confident do I begin, and rarely do I ruin a canvas. I have to be at my best to be able to do these things.” These are probably not Fontana’s exact words and I may have added something of my own because a long time has passed, but it was right then and there that I understood how the preparatory moment, the one before the slash, was the most important, the decisive one. So I appealed to Fontana to pretend to make a few slashes. We put a new canvas on the wall and Fontana behaved like when he is waiting to make a slash, with a Stanley cutter in his hand, leaning up against the canvas, on top of it as though the work were to start in that moment. We see him from behind, we see a canvas with nothing on it, there is only a canvas and he in the pose of someone who is starting to work on it. It is the moment when the slash has not yet begun but the conceptual elaboration has already been cleared. In short, it is when the two aspects of the action come together: it is the conceptual instant that precedes the action, because when Fontana decides to start, he already has the idea of the work and the executive aspect of its realization. Maybe it is precisely because of this concentration and conceptual expectation that Fontana has called his slashed canvases Waitings. When the picture was finished, we took the canvas off the wall and we replaced it with the finished canvas consisting of a single great slash.

Fontana put his hand on the final part of the slash and in one of the pictures I took, Fontana’s hand blurred as he has completing the gesture right at that moment: it is impossible to see that the photograph was taken on purpose, where the slash was already there. L’ ATTESA – Lucio Fontana – “La Fotografia” – Fotografie e testi di Ugo Mulas-Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino 1973