Lucio Fontana in conversation with Leoncillo Leonardi: Concetto spaziale, 1957 and San Sebastiano, 1961

2 February - 30 April 2021
  • Looking at Concetto spaziale by Lucio Fontana and San Sebastiano by Leonardo Leoncillo it is immediately visible that the two...
    Lucio Fontana and Leoncillo Leonardi, Milan, 1960

    Looking at Concetto spaziale by Lucio Fontana and San Sebastiano by Leonardo Leoncillo it is immediately visible that the two artworks, even if different for the techniques used, share several features: the granular texture, the tarnished surface, the glittery details and dynamic appearance.


    Concetto spaziale, 1957 is part of the Barocchi series that Fontana began in 1954. With these canvases he explored three-dimensionality not only through holes and cuts, but also with the addition of shimmering and coloured fragments of glass and sand. Thanks to this combination Fontana obtained a remarkable effect of movement which evoke the dynamism of the Baroque style. 


    On the other side, Leoncillo, deeply fascinated by the decorative art of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, introduced since his very early pieces lush and curly shapes, as well as a wide range of colours and visual effects typical of Baroque. This vibrant imprint of the surfaces intensified the artworks’ exuberance. All these features are present in his San Sebastiano, 1961. For its dramatic power, this martyr figure was explored by the artist throughout his entire career. Also when his production became informal and lost any figurative recall, Leoncillo saw in the tormented matter of his sculptures the pain and suffering of the saint’s tortured body.

  • The two works in dialogue show the encounter of the two artists' productions, which obtained similar aesthetics results in the late fifties with the influence of Informel. Before the war, Leoncillo and Fontana, while sharing the intent of detaching themselves from the traditional sculpture, took distinctive paths. Fontana, motivated by the influence of Futurism and Constructivism, combined spatial investigation with figurative expressionism in his first production of religious subjects, marine life, flora and fauna. Later, in the sixties, his art became abstract and minimalist. Influenced by Manzoni, Fontana searched for pure, geometric and monochromatic solutions. As self- taught Leoncillo, after been introduced in the intellectual environment of Galleria La Cometa, decided to isolate for three years in a handcraft factory in Umbertide where he perfected his ceramic technique. In the first part of his career, Leoncillo followed expressionist influences and linear decomposition, almost recalling cubism. After 1956, however, he adopted a new informal and abstract language.

  • A shared vision
    Leoncillo working in his studio

    A shared vision

    In 1968, the deaths of Lucio Fontana and Leonardo Leoncillo, within four days of one another, left a huge gap in the Italian art panorama. The two artists shared an exceptional artistic research in ceramic, used as a unique medium of expression and exploration. For this reason, they are considered central figures of the sculptural developments between the thirties and the sixties.

    Leoncillo and Fontana participated at the Venice Biennial in 1954, but only later, in 1959, during two separate exhibitions, had the opportunity to talk and share their views on their approaches to ceramic. First, at the time of a show dedicated to Fontana at the gallery L'Attico in Rome and just few months later in Milan at galleria Blu, where Enrico Crispolti presented an exhibition on Leoncillo. In 2016, the exhibition Fontana - Leoncillo. Forme della materia at the Fondazione Carriero in Milan investigated their shared desire to go beyond the sculptural form, to involve the surrounding space and to combine all features in order to create a unique three-dimensional dialogue

  • For both artists, ceramic was the perfect way to investigate space and colour, which were central in their artistic research,...
    Fontana in front of a sculpture by Leoncillo


    For both artists, ceramic was the perfect way to investigate space and colour, which were central in their artistic research, and to distance themselves from the traditional sculptural production and techniques. To marble and bronze, Leoncillo and Fontana preferred a medium traditionally considered of secondary importance. They both often had to explain and even justify their artistic choices, as ceramic was at the time considered an old-fashioned material. It is however the flexibility, the freedom of shapes and the possibility to explore new colour combinations found in no other sculptural medium, which made these two artists to choose it and develop its expressive language. When questioned about the absence of marble in his sculpture, Leoncillo replied: “(..)if the concept of eternal should still exist, I then would look for it in an ephemeral material.”. He decided to use ceramic to break from the traditional sculpture and reach to an impossible goal: “to translate the motion of emotions and the most subtle states of mind. (…) Ceramic more than any other material can show, almost sense, emotions.”


    The two different paths chosen by Fontana and Leoncillo reflect their distinctive personalities: Fontana was open to the future, with no limits to exploration and intellectual curiosity. Conversely, Leoncillo was devoted to an expression of personal emotions. His art evolved from a figurative poetic to a restless investigation of the human existence, which led him to informal expression.

  • Leoncillo, AffinitaĚ€ patetiche, 1962, Palazzo Collicola