This artist is considered the Italian Pollock, however unlike the American, he was a tireless experimenter and the author of three-dimensional paintings as well as engravings, tapestries, and light-sound installations
Despite an international career with exhibitions and lectures around the world, Vedova “is Venice”. The city on the lagoon was his first test bed, when a young self-taught man reproduced the architecture or paintings of his favourite painters, first of whom was Tintoretto. Venice was also the Academy (L’Accademia) that he directed for many years, leaving his mark, or also the Biennale Arte. His studio became a reference point for artists, critics, merchants and collectors, a link between the city and the international art system.
When Peggy Guggenheim arrived in Venice in the second post-war period with her collection of contemporary art, eager to enter these art circles and meet “modern Italian artists”, she was given the name of Vedova. The artist used to hang out at the “Angelo” restaurant near St. Mark’s, at the time a meeting place for artists and art critics, and the walls were covered with works by which the authors paid their meals. She recounts in her memoirs that she was struck by the strong personality of this tall man with a beard, and how he was crazy about girls. Even Emilio was victim of the charm of this eccentric American, and a great friendship blossomed between the two.
They understood each other perfectly. Vedova was a man of great passions, a rather theatrical character. Sebastiano Grasso recalls that during an exhibition in Pavia in the 1970s for the Spanish exiles, after having listened briefly to the vicissitudes of the dictatorship that gripped the Iberian country, he punched his own painting in order to vent his anger against the Francoist regime. His communist militancy was certainly not a facade, as he had also been a partisan. Despite this, he did not align with the artistic diktats of the party that wanted a realistic art, because – as the officials of Botteghe Oscure believed – only this could be understood by the people. Emilio chose another path.
“My works are not creations, but earthquakes”. He also wrote in his journals how he envied those who made beautiful, clean paintings. “I, on the other hand, became agitated, dirty, and aggressive”. In fact, starting with his first works, his trait was that of a nervous artist, and the reproductions of Venice were made with restless lines that leaned towards abstract markings. In the 1940s, he found his original voice and the 1952 Biennale crowned him a success by reserving an entire room for his pieces.
However, his art was constantly evolving. In the 1960s, with the Plurimi series, he detached his paintings from the wall and made them three-dimensional. At that time, he began to make large, three-dimensionally articulated broken canvases. painted on all sides and placed on the ground or suspended in the air to be seen from multiple points of view, so that the image “… can explode near or far, above the head or under the feet” (Argan). Later, the Binari/Plurimi again pushed the limits by placing the works on tracks and winches that set them in motion, creating what Vedova called “Spaces/Action”.
His art was defined by great expressive power. The videos shot while painting, are bursts of energy, the painter was a force of nature in the grip of wild fit, traces thick signs like saber strokes on the canvas. His painting came from sudden gestures, not filtered by reason, the result of an internal fury that gave representations that did not reproduce reality, totally devoid of “real form”.
He is considered the master of Informalism, a movement that arose in the 1940s in America and Europe, when some artists who had interpreted this loss of meaning, rebelling against the figurative form and giving life to expressive forms that they are not simply abstract art but rather a sign-gesture, in which the act of painting has the same importance as the final result on the canvas.
Today Vedova is an acclaimed artist. In an auction in Vienna in 2017, “Tensione” (1959) reached the record amount of 792,500 euros, making him the second most popular 20th-century artist. It is no wonder that this happened in Austria, one of the countries where the Venetian artist, unlike Italy, had always enjoyed enormous success.
Milan will celebrate Vedova’s hundredth birthday with an anthological exhibition that retraces the career of this extraordinary Venetian artist. The show will be held at Palazzo Reale from November to February. The event is free, promoted by Germano Celant, curator of the Vedova Foundation.
Anna Maria Calabretta