70 x 100 cm
Vinyl on paper on canvas
Collection Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Donated by the artist
The alphabet begins with the letter A, and it has done so since the age of the Phoenicians. The Phoenician alphabet is the basis for the Greek alphabet and later the Latin alphabet, which we still use in Europe today. Renato Spagnoli (born 1928 and died 2019 in Livorno, Italy) was so fascinated by the letter A that he continued to work with it from the 1960s up until his death. He drew, printed, painted, and sculpted the letter in countless variations.
Having lived through the Second World War at a young age left a deep and lasting impression on Spagnoli and shaped his political beliefs. He became a member of the communist party in 1948 and worked for a maintenance company in a train depot for a while. In 1956, he began painting together with artist friends and focused on a figurative style. Then, in 1960, he went to see the Venice Biennale, which became a turning point in his career. There, he saw works by the action painter Franz Kline, which inspired him to turn to non-figurative painting. He went on to found the artists’ group Atoma within the Anarchist Federation of Livorno together with Giorgio Bartoli, Renato Lacquaniti, and Mario Lido Graziani in 1963. These artists were particularly interested in Claude Shannon’s information theory. However, Spagnoli’s focus was not so much on the mathematical aspect of this theory; he was more fascinated by the theory’s implications on the optical transfer of data, coding, and communication as used, for example, in mass media and television, which at the time was conquering the world. In his exploration of these themes, he used repetition and the visual analysis of the letter A as a symbol. Because it is the first letter in the alphabet, A is a kind of archetype, sign, or symbol for communication. At the same time, when this or other letters of the alphabet are used in art, they are transformed from spoken or written language into a “visual” sign that “no longer has any analogous meaning or mental association,” as the art historian Alice Barontini once said.
The work “S.T. 30-62” (1962) in the collection of Museum Haus Konstruktiv is an example of his exploration of signs and how they can also serve as visual communication. The work is part of his series called “Segni,” which means “signs,” and is a kind of collage reduced to a few black vinyl stripes on yellow paper. These stripes can be read as communication pathways that fragment the surfaces as a way of questioning our understanding of the semantic world.