Fausto Melotti was born in Rovereto, in the province of Trento, in 1901, when this territory was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the outbreak of the First World War, he moved with his family to Florence, where he finished high school. Initially his studies did not take place in the artistic field, he attended physics and mathematics classes at the University of Pisa, and then completed his studies at the Milan Polytechnic, graduating in 1924 with a degree in electrical engineering. He also attended piano courses, earning his diploma. These studies, despite being far removed from the field of sculpture, would greatly influence his future artistic research.
Fausto Melotti’s beginnings in the artistic field
It was after moving to the city of Turin that Fausto Melotti began to approach artistic practice, taking sculpture lessons in Pietro Canonica’s studio, and then in 1928 enrolling at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, where he attended Adolf Wildt’s classes. When he was at Brera, he met Lucio Fontana, who was to become a faithful friend and colleague, with whom he would reflect extensively on the themes of abstractionism in the years to follow.
In 1932, Fausto Melotti also dedicated himself to teaching by accepting a position on the modern plastic arts course at the Artisan School of Cantù.
The artist then began to take part in various national events, in 1932, he exhibited his plaster The Son of Man at the Exhibition of the Fascist Syndicate of Lombardy, and at the following edition in 1933 he exhibited another plaster statue entitled Morning. In 1933 he participated in the Fascist Syndicate Exhibition in Florence with two bronze works Deposition and The Supper at Emmaus, a work that he would also exhibit a few years later, in 1937 at a collective exhibition called “20 Signatures” at the Genoa Art Gallery.
The transition to abstract sculpture
In 1935, Fausto Melotti’s cousin, Carlo Belli, published Kn, a work that Kandinsky called “the gospel of abstract art” and that would influence the abstract experimentation of art in those years. Italian abstractionism will always refer to its Greco-Roman past, which is why artists always pay special attention to lines and proportions, also because abstract art does not have as its main aim to excite, but to combine shapes and lines. In Fausto Melotti’s art, there is also always a strong musical component, a kind of rhythmic arrangement of the elements, which derives from his piano studies.
In 1935 Fausto Melotti joined the Parisian Abstraction-Création movement, founded in 1931 by Van Doesburg, Seuphor and Vantongerloo. By joining the group he embraced the aim of spreading non-figurative art in Italy and Europe. In the same year he participated in a group exhibition in Casorati and Paolucci’s studio in Turin with the group of abstractionist artists in Milan and later a solo exhibition was dedicated to him at Galleria Il Milione in Milan with 18 works including Sculpture No. 5- clay 1934, Sculpture No. 6- clay 1934, Sculpture No. 7- plaster 1934, Sculpture No. 10- plaster 1934, Sculpture No. 12- plaster 1934, Sculpture No. 4- bronze 1934, Sculpture No. 14- metal 1935, Sculpture No. 15- plaster 1935, Sculpture No. 16- bas-relief, plaster 1935, Sculpture No. 17- metal 1935 and Sculpture No. 21- metal 1935. In 1937 he again participated in an exhibition at Galleria Il Milione, this time in a group show, presenting Sculpture – metal 1935.
After these first exhibitions he did not gain much appreciation in Italy, but received attention in France thanks to the art dealer Léonce Rosenberg and was awarded the La Sarraz International Prize in Switzerland in 1937.
The post-war period and Italian success
From 1941 to 1943, Fausto Melotti lived in Rome, where he took part in the project for the Palazzo delle Forze Armate organised by Figini and Pollini and in the meantime also made drawings, painted and composed poetry. In the post-war period he also undertook another artistic pursuit: he experimented with working with ceramics, achieving a refined quality, having also previously worked in the Richard Ginori factory. In 1943, he participated in the Fourth Quadriennale in Rome with the marble Testa (1930) and the plaster Polimnia nuda.
These were post-war years in which he came into contact with Giò Ponti and collaborated with him on projects for Villa Planchart in Caracas in 1956, and Villa Nemazee in Tehran in 1960. Fausto Melotti was also appreciated in Italy in the following years, so much so that Milan dedicated a personal exhibition to him at the Palazzo Reale in 1979 and Florence an anthological exhibition in 1981 at Forte Belvedere. On the occasion of the Florentine exhibition, Italo Calvino wrote words of praise to describe Fausto Melotti’s work in his text Gli epimeri, defining the eponymous work with these words: ‘A score of weightless ideograms like aquatic insects that seem to twirl on a brass backrest screened by a gauze thread’.
Fausto Melotti passed away in 1986 in Milan, and in the same year the Golden Lion in Memory was dedicated to him during the Venice Biennale.
The artist had been a guest at the Biennale several times: in 1948 with The Dog-Cat, The Archdevil and Madness; in 1950 with Letter to Fontana and The Proletarian; two years later he participated with two works Dispute of the Angel, the Devil and Death and Child Listening to a Shell. In 1966 he participated in the Italian Abstractism section with five works Abstract Composition 16, Abstract Composition 23, Abstract Composition 24, Abstract Composition 21 and Abstract Composition in Plaster 15. It will also return in other editions.
The evolution of Fausto Melotti’s artistic research
Fausto Melotti’s beginnings are inscribed within the classicism drawn from his first master Pietro Canonica, he later absorbed the symbolist stimuli of Adolf Wildt when he attended Brera, and then in the 1930s he moved into abstractionism. During his career he worked with different materials such as metal, plaster, bronze and clay, creating works with linear, harmonious and geometric shapes that hover in the air without any apparent weight. Fausto Melotti also created polymateric works, such as the Teatrini, small scenes created with ceramics and painted clay.
The works from the abstract period are identified only by numbers, not by particular titles, because as is also evident from the Manifesto Kn there must be no reference to the subject. After World War II, Fausto Melotti returned to the figurative, and the influence of Arturo Martini’s sculptures is very strong in these works; they are in fact works with rough, primitive forms.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Fausto Melotti resumed a more abstract and geometric experimentation of sculpture, also creating works designed to be exhibited en plein air, such as Scultura H (La grande clavicola) of 1971 that can be found in the garden of the MART – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto; Modulazione ascendente created in 1977 that can be found in the courtyard of the GAM in Turin; and La Sequenza of 1981 that can be found in the outdoor garden of the Pirelli HangarBicocca Foundation building in Milan.