Fontana coated Spatial Concept with a glossy, sickly sweet, bubblegum-pink oil paint. Around its center, he incised a rough, circular outline. Inside, he tore two misshapen gashes into the canvas. The gashes are surrounded by swishes in the paint that resemble claw marks, suggesting a painter tearing at the fabric of his work with his own hands, brutally—carnally?—yanking apart the threads.
The artist’s decision to highlight his physical engagement—and significant struggle—with his materials creates a grotesque and even shudder-inducing effect: As the viewer approaches Spatial Concept
, the jagged tangles of thread and thick paint begin to look as though a body has been torn apart. (Such works have earned
Fontana allegations of misogyny. But when’s the last time you were really, viscerally disconcerted by an abstract painting?)
Practically, Fontana had to develop a new, rigorous methodology to create such evocative slashes. While the paint was still wet, Fontana would cut into his canvases with a Stanley knife. Once the paint dried, he manipulated the rips, using gauze to hold them in place. This process involved his brushes and hands, as well as non-traditional art tools. Fontana became a surgeon, his canvases the patients. It was an abusive relationship: To create his paintings, he had to scar them first.
Fontana’s foray into such a violent form of artmaking was inspired by an unlikely source. Throughout the 1940s, as color television was becoming more commercially available, Fontana became particularly interested in the idea of screens
. In 1946, after decades of teaching art in Italy and Argentina while making sculptures shaped like underwater plant life or female busts, he co-authored The White Manifesto
. The treatise advocated for “
”—a form of artmaking that aimed to eliminate
the boundaries between architecture, sculpture, and painting, and embrace scientific achievements.