Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tullio Crali - Free Flights for Art Reasons

 Tullio Crali, Architecture, 1939

Tullio Crali (1910-2000) was born in the Bay of Kotor on the coast of Montenegro. His family lived in Zadar until 1922, when they returned to Italy, living at Gorizia. Aeroplanes fascinated Crali at an early age. He completed technical school training as an architect, and was a self-taught painter. Crali was initially influenced by works of Enrico Prampolini that he saw in a journal. He avidly read articles by Marinetti and made his first contacts with the Trieste Futurists in 1925, joining them in 1929. 

Tullio Crali, Acrobazie in cielo, 1930 

With works such as Acrobazie in cielo (above), Crali began working in the form of aeropainting. In 1930 Crali exhibited his first Futurist paintings in Gorizia. In 1931 he met Marinetti for the first time and a life-long friendship began. He exhibited in major Italian cities and explored new forms of avant-garde theatre and film-set design. Crali also worked in the architectural planning of air terminals and fashion design. In order to earn a living, he began working in graphic design and advertising. In 1932, Crali exhibited in aeropainting exhibitions in Paris and Brussels.

 Tullio Crali, Bombardamento urbano, 1935

In 1933, Crali spoke on "Man and the Machine"  at the Second Futurist Conference in Milan, and began to compose parolibera or "freeword" poetry. From about 1934 a significant change was to come over Crali’s aeropaintings. Nearly all Futurist aeropainters experienced the thrill of flight and the completely new perspectives it offered. Crali, however, went one step further and learnt to fly. He soon became a stunt pilot and joined the famous "Cavallino" fighter pilots at Gorizia:

Francesco Baracca was Italy’s top fighter ace scoring 34 kills. In recognition of his former cavalry regiment, Baracca adopted the embem of a prancing stallion - the Cavallino Rampante. Baracca’s mother, the Countess Paolina, later suggested to Enzo Ferrari to use the stallion as an emblem for his newly founded car company.

The pilot’s unique yet ever-changing view from the cockpit, the swirling, whirling rolls and dives, the sensation of spinning through the air, were all incorporated in his aeropaintings such as Incuneandosi nell'abitato (Wedged into Town), one of Crali's best-known works today:

 Tullio Crali, Incuneandosi nell'abitato, 1936

Crali's paintings took on a pin-sharp realism and became the supreme interpretation of aeropainting. He exhibited at the 1936 Venice Biennale and was selected, with fellow Futurists Enrico Prampolini, Gerardo Dottori and Ernesto Thayaht, to exhibit at the Berlin Olympics. By that time, Crali had become one of the leading figures of Italian Modernism and its association with Fascism

 Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini steering airplane, 1935 (LIFE Magazin)

In 1937, Crali moved to Rome. Because of the importance of his aeropaintings he was granted "free flight for art reasons" by the Italian Airlines and recorded his flight impressions over Tunisia, Libya, Dalmatia and the Aegean Sea. 

 Tullio Crali, La Tour Eiffel, 1980

Moving to Paris in the early 1950's, Crali was invited to lecture at the Sorbonne on the life of Marinetti. He moved to Milan in 1958 where he remained (apart from a five-year period teaching at the Italian Academy of Fine Arts, Cairo) for the rest of his life. After the death of Marinetti and the liberation of Italy, both in 1944, Futurism ceased to be an entity. Although post-war Futurism came to nothing, Crali was in favour of the idea and personally strove to revive aeropainting - to the extent of issuing the manifesto Orbital Art (1969) calling for new works on a cosmic scale. Some 25 years after the end of Futurism, this was probably the final Futurist manifesto. 

 Tullio Crali, Monoplano Jonathan, 1988

To Crali the lessons and ideals of Futurism were all-important even though the movement itself no longer existed. For example, Monoplano Jonathan (above) is one of the few truly Futurist paintings that depicts modern jet fighters. The ultimate Futurist aeropainter for some sixty years, Crali believed in the machine in all its manifestations but held the aeroplane supreme as "the machine that realised the myth of Icarus, the ever-present dream of man". 

American aviator, writer and artist Steve Poleskie with Tullio Crali (right), at the time the last living Futurist artist, at the opening of Poleskie's exhibition in Milan (1983). 

A Futurist to the end, Tullio Crali died on 5th August 2000. In 2001, forty five of his paintings were acquired by the Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto. You can see more of his work in my Flickr set.

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