In ‘The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism’ (1909) FT Marinetti, a leading figure in Italian Art culture, ignited a movement that blasted its way onto the world stage in the early 20th century. Marinetti called upon the destruction of museums, libraries and academies in order to reject the rules and functions of these institutions; to shake off the shackles of what constituted ‘art’ in the previous century and free artists, writers and poets to express the new modernity.
Five Italian artists heeded the call and in their work we can see the way in which subject matter and methods to convey it changed: cars moving at speed, the energy of force lines being utilised to show rapid movement, the use of divisionist colour techniques to bring a vitality to a scene, urban landscapes being energised with light. Their 1910 manifesto stated that ‘Everything moves, everything runs, everything changes rapidly’ and this can be seen in five key works:
Giacomo Balla’s ‘Rhythm of the Violinist’ demonstrates the philosophy that ‘moving objects, constantly multiply themselves, they are deformed and succeed each other like vibrations in the space they move through.’ Here we see the rapid movement of the violinist and the influence of cubism cannot be denied here.
This use of vibration is also apparent in Luigi Russolo’s ‘Music’. This employs synesthesia with the use of colour creating the sound. The figure is allegedly Beethoven whose deafness may well have caused him to see his music in this way. Certainly, nothing like this had been created before and it opened up the way for other artists to consider how to portray sound and movement.
Carlo Carra looked at this in ‘Leaving the Theatre’. From the manifesto of 1910 “The street soaked by rain beneath the glare of electric lamps, sinks down into the very centre of the earth” and for Carra, what was important was not the actual recreation of a specific scene, but the way in which electric light created an otherworldly atmosphere. The use of the techniques introduced by artists such as Signac allowed the exciting advances to be shown on canvas.
In ‘Suburban Train Arriving in Paris’ (1915) Gino Severini utilized the cubist style portray the dynamic movement of the train cutting through the city, steam billowing as it flies through.
This movement was not restricted to painting. Umberto Boccioni utilised the concept of moving objects and, inspired by photography that showed movement in sequence, created Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. What at first appears to be some futuristic monster, is actually the movement of a man, striding forward, the ‘wings’ being the air movement.
From Futurism, other movements throughout Europe and America received the green light to break through the restrictions that they felt were holding back expression and form. Without question, this movement ignited a spark that had been waiting for its catalyst.