After the turn of the century, Severini, like many of his generation repelled by the past, then also became increasingly impatient with the experiments of pointillism and divisionism. Suddenly something wild swept up the painters and writers: a wind generated by the new industrialism, by shiny machines, cars, planes, sky-scrapers, angular spikey structures which overnight became symbols for all that was fresh and contrary what they called Futurism. It was a bold and aggressive attack in the arts, cleanly sweeping away age-old traditional concepts to wipe the slate clean for a brand-new aesthetic dynamic. (That it eventually would run parallel to the first world war, and later, Fascism, was at the time too sinister to imagine.)
Severini, not long after painting the bright divisionist Souvenir de Voyage, an oil that is a gay, rich fabric of travel traffic in France with still recognisable conventional fragments, suddenly burst forth into a grand and sweeping near-abstraction of a modern city in 1913. It is agitated but neat, rolling by but still. The canvas is covered with bright sharp or round shapes in little dots, not jostling or overlapping, but driving each other into live, sunny energy. It is an enquiry into forms perceived by light which can be defined like this: Light, speed, and noise. Severini wrote. With this work I am entering a new period of true abstration. The work is so energetic and convinced, it literally bursts its bounds, its very paintstrokes erupting over its frame. Light+Speed+Sound became one of the emblems of the passionate identification with time and sound which possessed the Futurist movement. But the canvas disappeared irretrievably, until recently, after nearly 90 years, it was found again.
Here it forms, with Souvenir de Voyage, the nucleus of a precise small show, which is accompanied by tapes of the music of the period. Oils, pastels, and drawings, full of light and colour and incisive line, leading to the eruption of Futurism, or some deriving from it, make a bouquet around the break-through canvas.
The show is also a penetrating study of Severinis painterly character: for all his professed excess, he was the most orderly of all the Futurists. His basic grammar of line and shape, whatever style he followed, was polite and classical, neat and well constructed. Despite himself, he always maintained a Tuscan sense of measure. This is particularly evident here at the Parco della Musica where he is exhibited in tandem with a closing show, the most beautiful of this season, that of the tragicomic witty poetic rebel of the sixties, our great Gastone Novelli.
Until 5 June. Auditorium-Parco della Musicca. Viale P. de Coubertain, Rome. Tel. 0680241436.