Time Out Singapore: Agostino Bonalumi

'Bianco', 1963, by Agostino Bonalumi. Photo courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery.

‘Bianco’, 1963, by Agostino Bonalumi. Photo courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery.

11 Dec 2012: Agostino Bonalumi’s retrospective exhibition at Gillman Barracks displays he’s made in in the past 50 years – Gwen Pew takes notes on the most important things you need to know about the Italian master.

Agostino Bonalumi was born in 1935 in Vimercate, a city near Milan, Italy. His works were first exhibited when he was just 13 years old, and by the age of 21 he had his debut solo show at the Galleria Totti in Milan. He soon established a name for himself at the centre of the Milanese art scene, and has gone on to have exhibitions in important venues all over the world.

Aside from being a painter, he is also known for his poems and books on philosophy. In 2001 he was awarded the President of the Italian Republic Prize for his contribution to the arts. Although he is now approaching 80, he is still very active as an artist and continues to produce new works each year.

His works are first and foremost an exploration of form and shadows.Unlike his good friend Lucio Fontana, who wanted to express the idea of space by making sharp slashes directly into his painted canvas, Bonalumi wanted to create something with more movement.

He rarely uses more than one colour in his paintings – especially in his earlier works. Instead allows the light in its surroundings to accentuate the contrast between the different shades within them, and to create various other shapes across its surface. As a result, his works are rather easy to name, for he just titles them after their colour: Rosso (Red), Bianco (White), Blu (Blue) and so on.

Most of his earlier works are painted with a type of paint known as vinyl tempera. His more recent ones (made in 2000 and onwards) are done with acrylic.

His works can be separated into several distinctive phases.In the ‘50s and ‘60s he was mostly preoccupied with creative curves in his canvas; in the ‘70s he moved on to straight lines; in the ‘80s he combined the two forms; in the ‘90s until present day he has reverted back to curved lines, but the pieces are now more pictorial in that there’s more going on than just geometric patterns. They are also no longer necessarily a hundred per cent monochromatic, and instead have slight variations in shading.

His works are deeply rooted in research and he dedicates much of his time looking into different ways of seeing things. The most important part of his creative process, however, is the preparation, as he painstakingly measures all of his geometric shapes or lines to ensure that they would create the exact effect that he had in mind.

If you want to show off some ‘artspeak’ about Bonalumi’s techniques, these are two of the terms you need to know. Evagination – when parts of the work are made to protrude out by having bulges and other structures inserted behind them; de verso – when an artist works from the back of the canvas.

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