painter Giacomo Balla was one of the founders of
Futurism, signing the Futurist Manifesto which was published in
1910. In this document Balla, along with artists including
Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carrà,
outlined their primary objective to depict movement, which they saw
as symbolic of their commitment to the dynamic forward thrust of the
twentieth century. Futurism celebrated the machine - the racing car
was heralded as the triumph of the age - and early futurist
paintings were concerned with capturing figures and objects in
Giacoma Balla was not only one of the founding members of the first wave of Futurist painters; He was also a well established Futuristic teacher, with pupils such as Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. Balla's participation in the Futurist movement coincided with a dramatic change in his painting style, when in about 1909 he became preoccupied with the pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed as outlined by the Futurists primary objective to depict movement, which they saw as symbolic of their commitment to the dynamic forward thrust of the twentieth century. Born in Turin, in the Piedmont region of Italy, the son of an industrial chemist, as a child Giacomo Balla studied music. At 9, when Balla's father died, he gave up music and began working in a lithograph print shop. By age twenty Giacoma's interest in art was such that he decided to study painting at local academies and exhibited several of his early works. Following academic studies at the University of Turin, Balla moved to Rome in 1895 where he met and married Elisa Marcucci.
In 1900 Giacomo Balla spent nine months in Paris, where he discovered the existential space of the metropolis on the light-flooded and crowded nightly boulevards. The impressionists gathered in Paris later influenced his futuristic pictures, in which he used a chrono-photographic analysis of movement taken from photography and artificial light as a means of expression. Marinetti's famous thesis on literary Futurism was published in 1909. After 1909 Balla's paintings became more and more concerned with the portrayal of light, speed and movement which can be seen in many of Giacomo's paintings, such as The Hand of the Violinist, and the Speed of the Motorcycle. As Balla sought to break down elements such as light to their simplest forms he moved closer to total abstraction in his paintings. By 1914 Balla was so involved in his art work, and his belief in Futurism that he named his two daughters Propeller and Light! During the early 1900's Giacomo Balla began designing and painting Futurist furniture and also created Futurist "antineutral" clothing. In 1914, Balla also began sculpting and the following year created perhaps his best known sculpture called Boccioni's Fist (shown below).
A more complex interpretation of the kinetic principle occurred to Giacomo Balla after reading Severini's Expansion sphérique dans l'espace (Spherical Expansion in Space). By 1914 Balla showed a marked preference for massive scrolls, with the help of which he re-created the illusion of depth. Also dating from this period are his cosmogonic themes, such as Mercury Passing in front of the Sun (shown here), which are among the most abstract pictures produced by the futurists.
During World War I Balla's studio became the meeting place for young artists but by the end of the war the Futurist movement was showing signs of decline. In the Twenties, during the so-called second wave of Futurism, Balla was still a compelling force within the ranks of the new, young Futurists, being the only artist of the first wave of Futurism to be involved in the second, post-war phase. Gradually giving more value to geometric forms, his style regularly alternated between abstract machine-like constructions and figurative representations. Giacomo Balla experimented with objects made of various materials such as cardboard, fabric, aluminum foil, mirrors and colored glass. With these 'complessi plastici' Balla became one of the co-founders of abstract sculpture.
By the end of the decade he had distanced himself from the Futurist movement even though he co-signed the Manifesto of Aeropainting in 1929 (with Marinetti, Benedetta, Dottori, Depero, Fillia, Prampolini and others) and exhibited with them in 1931. His style remained strongly figurative for the remainder of his career. In 1935 Giacomo Balla was made a member of Rome's Accademia di San Luca. Balla's paintings and sculptures slowly began to shift to more geometric forms, which he would alternate with figurative abstractions. By the end of his life, Balla had moved away from Futurism all together even though he had been an important driving influence. Giacomo Balla lived most of his life in Rome, where he died on March 6, 1958.