Afro Basaldella, known as ‘Afro’, was a key protagonist of abstraction in post-war Italy. Alongside Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana, Afro sought to create an innovative visual vocabulary with an emphasis on the gestural aesthetic. He was included in the seminal show ‘Twentieth Century Italian Art’ at New York’s MoMA in 1949 and was awarded the prize for best Italian painter at the Venice Biennale in 1956. Following the Second World War Afro played a crucial role in paving the way for conceptualism and the power of gesture within contemporary art.
This early work from 1952 evokes the geometric-linear style of increasingly impulsive brushstrokes that Afro developed as part of the Otto Pittori Italiani group with Emilio Vedova and Renato Birolli. These artists formulated a new visual language, which the group’s leader and art critic Lionello Venturi, defined as “abstract-concrete”. Afro’s interest in the European avant-garde and particularly the lyrical abstraction of Wassily Kandinsky is also evident in ‘Figura Distesa’s vibrant palette and sense of landscape.
The Otto Pittori Italiani exhibited together at the Venice Biennale in 1952, however, by 1954 Afro had begun to forge his own connections to the American Abstract Expressionists. At this time Afro was experimenting with his own personal take on Cubism, Surrealism and metaphysics. However, he was only too keen to escape from an Italian art scene he found stiflingly conservative and engage on an international level.
Throughout the 1960s Afro made frequent visits to the USA, where he held regular exhibitions at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, including a solo show in 1964. During this time he became closely associated with Abstract Expressionists Gorky, Kline, Pollock and de Kooning, who had stayed in Afro’s studio in Rome in 1959. He shared their interest in redefining the boundaries of art following the war: “They have given new life to a set of values and beliefs that, though born in Europe, were beginning to become sterile through complacency and mannerisms”.
Private Collection, Rome
Forte dei Marmi, Poleschi Arte; Cortina D'Ampezzo, Hotel Savoia, Afro Opere 1935 - 1974, 1996
Cosenza, Palazzo Fondazione Carical; Matera, Palazzo dell'Annunziata, Da Art Club al gruppo degli Otto. La pittura astratta del secondo dopoguerra in Italia, 2001
Rome, Museo del Corso, Dal Futurismo all'Astrattismo, 2002
Livorno, Granai di Villa Mimbelli-Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori, Afro. Metamorfosi della figura, 1935-1955, 2005
Berlin, Haus der Commerzbank Central, Afro (1912-1976). Estetica e astrazione dall'Italia, 2009
Rome, AA.VV., Afro, Catalogo Generale Ragionato, 1997 (p.108, no.261)
Forte dei Marmi, Poleschi Arte; Cortina D'Ampezzo, Hotel Savoia, Afro Opere 1935 - 1974, 1996 (p. 35)
Cosenza, Palazzo Fondazione Carical, Da art club al gruppo degli otto, 2001 (p.231)
Rome, Museo del Corso, Dal Futurismo all'Astrattismo, 2002 (p.167)
Livorno, Granai di Villa Mimbelli-Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori, Afro. Metamorfosi della figura, 1935-1955, 2005 (p.70)
Berlin, Haus der Commerzbank Central, Afro (1912-1976). Estetica e astrazione dall'Italia, 2009 (p.15)