2RC Stamperia d'arte

The beginning of the story
Via Flaminio Ponzio

Text by Valter Rossi from "La vita è segno"

All shaven, made a little bourgeois by the city, Franco Cioppi, Eleonora's artist cousin, appeared at the right moment, proposing a project that, in some way, led us to relive what we had loved in the student period: "the world of art ". 

This stirred an immediate interest in us, so much so that in only a few days we had set up a small studio on the Aventine hill with the aim of experimenting new ways of applying research to graphic techniques.

Our love for art printing was immediately aroused, not least because Franco daily suggested techniques that he himself had put into effect in an extraordinary fashion. He had thought them up for some pictorial research he was doing and although they had produced good results, they were nonetheless empiric. That was just the beginning of our profound and never-ending search.

To proceed in the right way, we had to start from scratch. We needed to understand how we could promote ourselves as innovators in art printing while remaining within the canons, without becoming academic. 

We knew that we held the awkward, badly viewed position of “art technician”, which often created false interpretations and would have to be defined and surmounted, once and for all.

The answer was given by Lucio Fontana. He made us understand, with his works, how much the reading of a work of art could be so distant and indifferent for one who could not read it, and, at the same time, so close and necessary for others. 

He showed us that there are no boundaries to understanding, as long as one can find the keys to interpretation which, in his case, were those of true freedom. He gave scope to everyone with his humane generosity and, even more so, with his painting, opening bottomless pits of knowledge to young, future artists throughout the world, never allowing them to feel this weight as a burden. 

His genius knew so well how to embrace the sense of the term “space” that, with one simple gesture, he opened the world to “spatialism”, perhaps the first conscious “sculpture painting”. 

That famous slash in the canvas, that simple, absolutely “conceptual” gesture, was the moment of poetry which was lacking.

One day I was in his studio in Milan while he was signing an edition of lithographs printed by other people and he said to me, “I’ll sign these prints but I’m not satisfied... could you do better?”.

It was the challenge I had been waiting for!

What was needed was crystal-clear simplicity. We were ready to abandon possibly everything that we had experimented up to that moment, as though we sprang from an uncontaminated limbo, transferring ourselves into Fontana’s graphic dimension where he lay waiting for us. 

It was not difficult to find the right direction because paper was the ideal underlay for Lucio. 

Metals intrigued him, too, he always saw their exposed part, the third dimension was merely imaginary space with all its lightness and immense depth.

The pure surface of the copper plates that we had prepared did not frighten him in the least: trusting, as he alone could be, he had no doubts about the effort that we were making and was immediately in tune with us. In this way, almost without realising it, perhaps the first “spatial etching” was created.

The paper opened up to the third dimension through the pressure of a “press” which pushed on the plate with such force that it jumped off. Maybe we had asked too much of that first machine of ours. 

With that initial series of etchings, Fontana won the first prize in graphics in Tokyo. I can still remember how enthusiastic and convincing he was as he introduced us one day to the gallery owner, Bruno Herliska, at the Marlborough Gallery in Rome where he was exhibiting, “Don’t say bravo to me! Without them, these works could never have been born. They are technical poets… artists, indeed! You absolutely must work with them!”.

In Fontana’s studio on the Corso Monforte in Milano, one always breathed an air of spontaneous culture. No-one compelled you to talk and, even in silence, you managed to transmit your curiosity by merely observing the work as it unfolded. 

Fontana explained what he was creating in simple words and, in the end, he was the most surprised, like a child which discovers in its first marks the presence of an element or shape that it recognises.

He was certainly not afraid of seeming baroque, or too elegant, quite the reverse: he loved using materials and colors with great daring, surprising and amazing even the most critical with the rigour which, in the end, his works managed to express.

And the word “elegant” is absolutely suited to Lucio Fontana, the man, who had an extraordinary presence, an innate refinement, and was a Clark Gable for the ladies.

These ladies, enthralled by his charm, attended his studio on Saturdays for the “figure drawing class” where they posed, mostly nude, and this remained a constant throughout his life.

I remember, during our last meeting which took place in his house on the lake, he said:

“This place is good for my health! The only thing that I miss is not being able to touch the backside of a beautiful woman”.

Fontana’s etchings were the real introduction that allowed us to raise our sights and approach artists who until that moment had been unthinkable, and the enthusiasm of Carla Panicali, director and co-owner of the Marlborough Gallery in Roma, who knew our intentions and potential, convinced even the most difficult artists to work with us as she voyaged around the world.