boccioni, matter, 1912

Throughout his short life, Boccioni painted in more than one particular style. The elements he used to convey his different messages of speed, industrialism, and physical movement were created through the defining characteristics of a few artistic movements. His works were not always one specific movement, but included a blend of movements, such as, Cubism, Divisionism, and Futurism. In Boccioni’s painting, Materia, elements of more than one movement are seen through brushstroke, shaping, palette, and subject. This blend of elements builds a complex painting that really captures Boccioni’s style as an artist, and can be analyzed as a detailed masterpiece that epitomizes modern art.

Boccioni skillfully builds a space in the painting that is uniquely geometric, but flows between subject and surrounding. Look, for example, at the bottom half of the woman sitting in the center. Not only is her body painted in a color and tone that corresponds well with the background, but, from the waste down, she melts into the scene. There is no explicit definition in her legs, and, because the brighter colors are only on the top of the painting, the focus is pulled towards her face and upper half of the painting.  Boccioni employs typical futurist elements in his blend of space and subject, blurring the boundaries of body and space, creating a fluid image. This futurist quality allows the subject to be seen as intertwined with their environment, and adds dimension to what would have traditionally been a dimensionless portrait.

While noting these futurist elements, there is evidence for cubist influence as well. As mentioned before, the painting is embedded with sharp, geometric distinctions that resemble the geometric abstractions of cubist paintings. The borders around her head are made up almost entirely of geometric patterns, possibly buildings or houses. These patterns effectively build a contrasting dimension throughout the background of the woman, and, at the same, Boccioni projects rays of light off the tan, building-like compositions onto the subject in the center. Again, he creates a unique picture that shows light in two spaces. It seems to start from behind the subject, within the geometric shapes, and travels into the space that the subject inhabits. This detail adds dimension to the painting, making the portrait uniquely modern while embodying the ideals of Futurism and Cubism.

Along with lighting and geometric construction, Boccioni plays with texture in an interesting way that defines some of the pieces in the work. For instance, on the left hand side there is an iron-crossed pattern resembling a railing or border of sorts, and it also is found in the bottom right hand side near her legs. These elements of metal fencing give the audience a sense of setting wherein one can relate to the subject’s surroundings. Also, in order to build a texture throughout the piece, Boccioni uses geometric shapes to construct the woman’s clothing, hairstyle, facial features, hands, and the scenery surrounding her. Her body is broken down into straight lines, half circles, and different clippings of shapes that portray her in a mechanistic fashion. She looks constructed or molded by a craftsman, exemplifying the affects of industry on art, and how Futurists and Cubists used technological advancements to create new stylistic elements of shape and geometry.

Finally, all of these different factors add up to create an image of a woman who appears weathered, aged, but wise. Her face is painted with a darker palette, eyes are not clearly defined, and she does not exude idealistic beauty. Her hands are unnaturally large, and her shoulders and arms appear extremely masculine. This is exemplary of typical futurism because it demonstrates the rejection of idealistic beauty, and argues that this woman’s value is in her hands. Boccioni adds rough texture to her hands, making her appear worked and tired from a long life of labor. Her body language is relaxed, and, because her hands are folded and she is seated calmly, it appears as though she is reflective. The tone is solemn, not only because of the palette, but because her body language is relaxed. Also, her gaze is not straight into the center, but off into the distance. This detail allows one to conclude that she is thinking into the future, while at the same time, her hands and body language suggest a reflection into the past. Boccioni seems to be pushing for a contemplative message about the past and using experience to create a better future.

The blend of styles in the painting is interesting, but Boccioni is ultimately successful in creating an image that is able to convey a message through the use of a modernized portrait. The complexity of the painting is great because of the fine detail, varying brushstroke, use of geometric shapes, and play on body language and image, but this blend of styles and elements creates an image that is telling of Boccioni as an artist because of his diversity in construction and thought. The work comes full circle as it represents the time period, modern art and its ability to create response, and the difficulty in creating a painting with such dimension both visually and mentally.

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