Umberto Boccioni was born on 19th October 1882 in Reggio Calabria, Italy and he was a pioneering face in the Italian Futurism movement. He studied art at Scuola Libera del Nudo at the Accademia di Belle Art and was also a student of Giacomo Balla, an artist famous for his publicity posters done in the technique of pointillism, which is the practice of using small dots of paint for the entire composition, which when looked at from a distance visually blend together.
In Balla’s studio, he met Gino Severini, another influential artist of the period, with whom Boccioni shared interests on topics of socialism, rebellion, Nietzsche, etc. They both would often abandon the city life to draw landscapes taking inspiration from each other’s styles, a classic example being Umberto Boccioni’s Self Portrait which is done in the style of Divisionism which springs from pointillists but uses bolder strokes of color instead of dots.
His love for art grew and in pursuit of finding a city that was brimming with more fixated avant-garde ideas of art he landed in Paris and later moved to Venice where he learned printmaking. His prints harbored various subjects which included friends, neighbors, and his mother. They also were the starting point that hinted at his interest in depicting industrial life, which became evident in his later works.
Philosophy and Style of work
Through his short-lived career of 34, Umberto Boccioni managed to create some masterpieces which became the face of the Futuristic Movement. After he had settled in Milan, he met the poet F. T. Marinetti, the leader of the Futuristic movement, who had published a manifesto asking the Italian culture to embrace modernity and stop looking back. The futuristic movement was about accepting modern life, it emphasized dynamism, youth, speed, power, industrial goods, and the working class. It was a social art movement that gained momentum through poetry and visual art and spread in parts of Europe and Russia in the second half of the 20th century.
Along with Carlo Carrà and Luigi Russolo, Umberto Boccioni wrote and released another manifesto, “Manifesto of Futuristic Painters” which called for painters to abandon artistic traditions and undertake this challenge of creating art which was rooted in everyday life, which glorified not just the elite but was focused on the contemporary change happening around them with the advancements in industries.
The City Rises
One of his early Futuristic painting, The City Rises, is an ode to the industrial era of Milan at that time which was still largely agricultural hence the horse becomes the focal point with the industry in the backdrop depicting the shifting dynamic. It also depicts a striking contrast as the industry becomes a metaphor for the ongoing industrial revolution with the birth of new technology while the horses and men capture the orthodox practice of using animal labor which could soon be replaced by an electric tram.
Originally titled Lavoro (Labor / Work), it captured the sense of movement through the uses of vivid colors and blurred lines which emphasized speed and helped the viewers visualize a change in motion. Instead of sophisticated nudity, Boccioni chooses modern labor as his muse while symbolically glorifying a construction site.
Riot in the Galleria
Umberto Boccioni in his Riot in the Galleria tried to depict unrest in society with the use of bold colors and unprecedented effects of artificial light with silhouettes of people merging into one grand chaos using the Divisionist technique. The frenzied crowd is outside a shopping arcade, a space that was born out of the contemporary consumption economy with the nocturnal urban street becoming the backdrop.
Moving from Symbolism and Expressionism which were his early inspirations, Umberto Boccioni got influenced by Cubism after his visit to Paris in 1911. In States of Mind I: The Farewells he uses planes for capturing the movement of the train, a fairly exciting invention, with the steam blending and merging with people as the locomotive passes by them.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Umberto Boccioni also developed an interest in sculptors along his artistic journey with, ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’, credited as one his best sculptures where he tries to show the dynamic movement of a striding man. He believed in capturing the essence of the force in a singular form while depicting motion in its trajectory. He felt these were the guiding principles for the Italian Futuristic movement, to be constantly moving, changing, altering keeping in pace with the revolution.
In 1915, Italy joined World War I, Umberto Boccioni decided to enroll and volunteered to fight. In 1916, while undergoing his routine cavalry exercises he fell from a horse and passed away the next day. Despite the brevity of his lifespan, he remained one of the most influential artists of the Futuristic Movement.