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Seventy years after the emergence of Spatialism, why is it still important to think about making an 'oil on canvas' without the canvas?


How is it possible to have painting in which the specific pictorial elements explicitly acknowledge the literal nature of the support? In the field of post-painterly abstraction, the stain technique seemed to be the best solution: the simple resistance of the canvas – nothing more, nothing less – seemed sufficient for its realization. Diluted colour was to have been at one with the canvas itself, even though a full correspondence between the front and rear of the painting was never achieved.

But Fontana’s Spatialism did away with the very principle of the plane support on which to operate. The question was therefore posed in radically new terms, such as to require an apparently paradoxical solution. In fact, painting was realized according to completely different procedures to those of stain painting. Instead of being diluted, colour remained with all its denseness, and the canvas was eliminated as a pictorial premise. An Artefact (Rectoverso), a totally literal work, to the point that the front and rear of the new painting fully correspond.


The consequences of Spatialism: with the slashing of the canvas, the void opened. There would not be another surface on which to reorganize work once the two-dimensionality of the support had been shattered. Or, at most, a picture but without the canvas on which to paint – granted that this were possible. To survive, painting transformed itself, exorcising the void. It incorporated objects from the real world, restoring the materiality of the support as an essential presupposition for making art. Different, however, is the response of painting that foregoes the precondition of the surface and that, inevitably, includes the void in its procedures.

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Modernist discourse affirmed the principle that the canvas contributes visually together with the other elements organized on its surface. Painting was increasingly characterized as a physically constituted procedure capable of activating different materials in relation to the two-dimensionality of the support or to different surfaces. As a famous American painter put it: “Always the surface is used.”

But what would happen if, in its making, the necessary plane support were to disappear? How would the basic concepts and practices of painting, from the simple tracing of a line to the most complex compositional operations, need to be rethought?

In that case, might we be able to conceive a line that is at once “a pure trace of a process” and a sign that is formed “in the materiality of painterly production”?

The Artefact (Rectoverso) is a preliminary and concrete example of surface-less painting.



“Pollock’s line bounds and delimits nothing,” said Michael Fried, summarizing one of the greatest achievements of American art, which had completed a long journey beginning with the avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century: to free the line from its (reiterated) “task of describing and bounding shapes and figures – whether abstract or representative – on the surfaces of the canvas.”

With the abolition of any denotative function, new possibilities opened up for the neo-avant-garde movements to reconceptualize the line, above all as a spatiotemporal continuum obeying its own logic – irrespective of any dependency on the gesturality of the artist.

But can this need for autonomy really be achieved if on a procedural level the line remains dependent on its natural flatbed, in other words, the surface on which it can, even in ideal terms, be traced?

Let’s try to invert the terms of the question: painting that rejects the surface.

The Artefact (Rectoverso) is a preliminary solution to this type of problem.

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