Concerning Futurist Religious Painting

Originally published in Futurismo, vol.I, no.12, 27 November 1932.

© Translation generously provided by Chris Adams (Estorick Collection) and was published in the exhibition catalog for Piety and Pragmatism (26 September – 23 December 2006, Estorick Collection, London).

To many, the title of this article may seem a contradiction in terms.

In addition to divine truths and sacred doctrines, every modern religion consists – in no small part – of tradition: traditional rites, systems and beliefs that are then reflected in those works of art they inspire.

By contrast, Futurism is innovation par excellence, drawing its life-giving breath not simply from the ‘technique’ of artistic creation but also – and above all – from that which constitutes its vital, intimate element, that which alone gives reason to its existence: inspiration.

For these reasons, therefore, nobody could criticise those who maintain Futurism is absolutely incapable of creating works with religious themes as their subject matter.

[…]

One might state that the blunt assertion of these critics of Futurist sacred art is partly reinforced by the decidedly negative results of the first attempts of certain painters to create such works.

However, we must stress only ‘reinforced’, not definitively confirmed, because these painters have not yet truly created Futurist works of sacred art, despite having adhered very closely to the tenets of the Futurist technique in their paintings.

Every new, genuinely Futurist creation must not only fully adhere to the artistic vocabulary of the movement, but above all be inspired by motifs belonging to ‘our’ life and ‘our’ sensibility, vibrating closely with these.

This is, indeed, one of the cornerstones on which Futurism is constructed.

The initial attempts to compose Futurist religious paintings have not gone beyond the depiction of ancient facts and episodes, today removed from our spirit by a distance of many centuries, and therefore unable to be experienced by a contemporary artist or lend themselves to Futurist interpretation. This explains why in front of a Futurist depiction of the Deposition, Crucifixion, other evangelical episodes or stories from the lives of the saints, the viewer feels cold and unmoved, if not actually offended, by such modern representations. The ‘sensations’ represented in them were not ‘real’, as the sensibility of the artist was unable to be directly struck and inspired by occurrences and environments with which he had not come into immediate contact: in other words, which he had not ‘experienced’. Even if, hypothetically, he had experienced them, they would still have been alien to the sensibility of the observer.

There is another reason united to this fact that makes us recoil from Futurist religious art, and it is that the subjects selected to date are those impressed in our memories in forms and styles that have remained almost unchanged for generation upon generation, and have thus become almost sacred and immutable – the consequence of this being that any significant modification of them appears distasteful to us.

However, while fully condemning such compositions as these, one would not wish in any way to reject the concept of Futurist sacred art, the possibilities of which remain perfectly intact.

The question therefore arises: ‘If the creator of a work of Futurist religious art must not in any way derive inspiration from traditional subjects for his work, from where will he draw the motifs necessary for his art?’

We stated it earlier: the motifs must belong exclusively to ‘our’ life and to ‘our’ sensibility. On this basis alone will it be possible to create Futurist works of religious art […].

They must be born of the different attitudes of the religious spirit in relation to modern life, of the spiritual conflicts that develop in a soul invested with the light of eternal truth. They will exalt the self-sacrifice of those who spend their lives in hospitals or prisons, stooping under the yoke of other peoples’ sorrows with the noble intention of alleviating their torment. They will sing of and immortalise the sublime moments of scientific discovery, milestones on the walk towards Truth, and render all the contemporary aspects of the incessant struggle of Good against Evil, of Light against Darkness. Finally, they must attempt the immense task of evoking the grandeur of that regulating force of the universe that we call God.

Futurism – able to depict the most varied ‘states of mind’, simultaneously capture two or more moments and express great ideas without the need to deform or mask them in traditional guises […] – has the potential to explore and create in this sphere better than any other form of art.

And the principal motifs that we have rapidly characterised, and from which the artist will be able to draw inspiration for his religious Futurist works, are nothing in relation to the vast and profound stock of ideas that will spring from him as a result of the collision of the religious problem with his exquisite sensibility. Our imagination is unable to give us even the merest hint of what will tomorrow constitute the masterpieces of Futurist sacred art […].

At this point, some may object: ‘But according to these principles every tradition, even the most deep-rooted, would be broken apart and abandoned. And would not religion suffer from this?’

Absolutely not, as Futurist religious art will not linger, in its innumerable representations, upon that which is exteriority, ceremony or rite, but rather enter decisively into the living spirit of religion itself and bring it into direct contact with the soul of the masses. Consequently, our Christian religion will be nothing but considerably advantaged.

[…]

In conclusion […] it is sufficient to say that if Futurism seriously wishes to create religious art it will only achieve this by striving to ‘create’ and not – as has been the case so far – to ‘renew’.

SALVATORE CALDARA

This article by SALVATORE CALDARA, interesting from a ‘theoretical’ point of view, is unjust when it speaks about the works of Futurist sacred art that have been created to date.

I do not know if Signor Caldara has read the manifesto written by Marinetti and I. Certainly, judging from his text, he has not seen the paintings and sculptures exhibited at the international exhibition of sacred art in Padua, which are now on display at the Casa d’Arte in La Spezia. There are certain ‘subjects’ that, to be acceptable to the needs of faith, must be maintained. These subjects have no tradition, from a religious point of view. It would be necessary to change religion.

They were instead painted by us according to a contemporary aesthetic sensibility, and in fact my painting Nativity-Death-Eternity contains all the characteristics of Futurist art (simultaneity – synthesis – distant and near – experienced and dreamed of) that are also the characteristics of modern life. Therefore spirit rather than technique.

Caldara writes: ‘before a Futurist painting, the viewer feels cold and unmoved, if not actually offended’.

This assertion is false. There are Futurist paintings in houses in Turin and other cities by myself and my Futurist colleagues Dottori and Oriani, and these are prayed before and considered very respectful to faith – even, in fact, more harmonious with the sensibility of the viewer in terms of their aesthetic qualities. And if it is necessary to name names, I refer to Signor Barosi and Signor Vernazza of Turin, Signor Della Ragione of Genoa and the architect [Alberto] Sartoris of Geneva, who has selected one of my religious works to decorate a new Rationalist church he has constructed.

As to the possibilities of creating ABSTRACT works of Futurist sacred art (Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, Paradise, etc.) Signor Caldara is almost two years late with his suggestions. Oriani and I have been ‘creating’ abstract religious paintings since early 1931, with plays of volume and colour, magical atmospheres and abstract elements intended to convey a ‘religious state of mind’. I myself have described these paintings as ‘abstract’ in various articles for OGGI E DOMANI, CITTÀ NUOVA, etc., etc.

I therefore advise Mr Caldara to deepen his knowledge of the sacred art of Futurism, which has never issued an ill-considered or superficial manifesto.

Fillia

Futurismo, vol.I, no.12, 27 November 1932

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