By Martina Tanga

On this day, February 11, 1920, the painter Voltolino Fontani was born. Albeit a national reputation, Fontani lived and worked his entire life in his hometown of Livorno. He is mainly known for having founded the art group Eaismo (atomic era-ism, also known as “arte nucleare” or nuclear art) in 1948, together with painters Marcello Landi, Angelo Sirio Pellegrini, Aldo Neri, and the philosopher Guido Favati. Their manifesto preceded, by a few years, the better-known “Pittura Nucleare” declaration by Enrico Baj in 1951, and by the Mystical Manifesto, written by Salvador Dalì in that same year. Inspired by Surrealist and Dada movements of the first half of the 20th century, the Eaismo, like Pittura Nucleare, was a political, abstract art movement that sought to portray the human existential spirit the face of nuclear atomic warfare. All of these artists were inspired by the latest development in science – atomic theory – and the imminent threat of the nuclear war. As a result, two competing forces energized their paintings: an apocalyptic future and humanity’s survival of the impending obliteration.

Fontani studied with painter Beppe Guzzi in the 1930s. He worked heavily in the Eaismo style from 1948 until 1959. This phase, however, can be subsequently divided into two distinct moments. The paintings dated from the 1950s are barely figurative – verging on abstract – scenes reminiscent of the Holocaust and the concentration camps in blaring and often dissonant colors. The canvases from the latter part of the decade, instead, are completely abstract, as Fontani experimented with cuts, fractures, drips, burns. Then, in the 1960s, Fontani’s painting style shifted again, this time seemingly integrating works from this Eaismo period, but with a cubist inflection, and the colors white, gray, blue, fuchsia dominate.

Fontani passed away in 1976. Since his death, an archive dedicated to collecting the artist’s work in Livorno has been established. Hopefully, this will open the doors to new scholarship on Fontani in the near future. 

Humanity 43, ca. 1950, oil on canvas

Composition 2, ca. 1950, oil on canvas

8-Nucleare 2, ca. 1956, oil on canvas

4-Nucelare, ca. 1963, oil on canvas

3-Natura Onirica, 1972, oil on canvas

2-Natura Onirica, 1972, oil on canvas

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