Lucio Fontana (19 February 1899 – 7 September 1968) was an Italian painter, sculptor and theorist of Argentine birth. He was mostly known as the founder of Spatialism and his ties to Arte Povera.
Born in Rosario, Argentina, to Italian immigrant parents, Fontana spent the first years of his life in Italy and came back to Argentina in 1905, where he stayed until 1922, working as a sculptor along with his father, and then on his own. Already in 1926, he participated in the first exhibition of Nexus, a group of young Argentine artists working in Rosario de Santa Fé.
In 1927 Fontana returned to Italy and studied under the sculptor Adolfo Wildt, at Accademia di Brera from 1928 to 1930. It was there where he presented his first exhibition in 1930, organized by the Milano art gallery Il Milione. During the following decade he journeyed Italy and France, working with abstract and expressionist painters. In 1935 he joined the association Abstraction-Création in Paris and from 1936 to 1949 made expressionist sculptures in ceramic and bronze. In 1939, he joined the Corrente, a Milan group of expressionist artists.
In 1940 he returned to Argentina. In Buenos Aires (1946) he founded the Altamira academy together with some of his students, and made public the White Manifesto, In the text, which Fontana did not sign but to which he actively contributed, he began to formulate the theories that he was to expand as Spazialismo, or Spatialism, in five manifestos from 1947 to 1952. Upon his return from Argentina in 1947, he supported, along with writers and philosophers, the first manifesto of spatialism. Fontana had found his studio and works completely destroyed in the Allied bombings of Milan, but soon also resumed his ceramics works in Albisola.
Following his return to Italy in 1948 Fontana exhibited his first Ambiente spaziale a luce nera (Spatial Environment) (1949). From 1949 on he started the so-called Spatial Concept or slash series, consisting in holes or slashes on the surface of monochrome paintings, drawing a sign of what he named “an art for the Space Age”. He devised the generic title Concetto spaziale (‘spatial concept’) for these works and used it for almost all his later paintings. These can be divided into broad categories: the Buchi (‘holes’), beginning in 1949, and the Tagli (‘slashes’), which he instituted in the mid-1950s.
In the last years of his career, Fontana became increasingly interested in the staging of his work in the many exhibitions that honored him worldwide, as well as in the idea of purity achieved in his last white canvases. These concerns were prominent at the 1966 Venice Biennale, for which he designed the environment for his work. At Documenta IV in Kassel in 1968, he positioned a large, plaster slash as the centre of a totally white labyrinth, including ceiling and floor (Ambiente spaziale bianco).
Fontana created a prolific amount of graphic work with abstract motifs as well as figures, little-known in the art world, at the same time as he was producing his abstract perforated works.