Giacomo Balla (Turin, July 18, 1871 – Rome, March 1, 1958) was an Italian painter, sculptor, stage designer and author of “paroliberi.” He was a leading exponent of Futurism, signing along with the other Italian Futurists the manifestos that enshrined its theoretical aspects.
Son of Lucia Giannotti, a seamstress, and from Giovanni, an industrial chemist and keen amateur photographer. An only child, he was fatherless at age nine; his mother invested all her earnings in her son”s education. As a teenager he showed interest in art: he began studying the violin, but soon gave up music to devote himself to painting and drawing. After high school he enrolled in the Accademia Albertina, where he studied perspective, anatomy, and geometric composition, under the teaching of Giacomo Grosso. This was followed by attending Cesare Lombroso”s lectures on psychiatry and criminal anthropology. He became interested in photography and attended the studio of painter and photographer Oreste Bertieri.
In 1891 he made his debut as a painter at the Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts in Turin, an environment frequented by the aristocracy and upper middle class of Turin; in this context he met Edmondo De Amicis and Pellizza da Volpedo.
In 1895 he left Turin to settle with his mother in Rome where he would remain all his life.Here he approached the new Divisionist technique, becoming its promoter and immediately finding a good following of pupils (among them Boccioni, Severini, Sironi). In 1904 in Campidoglio he married Elisa Marcucci, also a dressmaker, whom he met through his friend Duilio Cambellotti. Two daughters were born of the marriage, Luce Balla (Lucia) (1904-1994) and Elica Balla (1914-1992).
In 1903 he exhibited at the 5th Venice Biennale; it was the first of subsequent posthumous participations.
His creative activity is very intense in the early 1910s, inspired by the Divisionist style, but from 1911 he expresses new stylistic interests, enters a new phase of pictorial research aimed at representing dynamism, movement; he traces on sheet or canvas lines of running cars and other moving figures.
During the years of World War I he pursued the idea of total art, referred to as Futurist art-action. Especially after 1916, upon the death of Boccioni (to whom he dedicated his work Il pugno di Boccioni in 1925), he was the undisputed protagonist of the movement. Totally converted to Futurism, he sold all his own figurative works at auction and began signing subsequent ones under the pseudonym FuturBalla.
In 1914 he signed the futurist manifesto Le vêtement masculin futuriste which was followed a few months later by the Italian edition entitled Il vestito antineutrale, a publication accompanied with figurines and models. It is an invitation to adopt futurist aesthetics through clothing; he theorizes and proposes to replace the old, somber and stuffy men”s clothing with a more dynamic, bolder and more colorful, asymmetrical clothing that breaks with tradition and conforms to the futurist concept of modernity and progress; clothing that also refers to war and makes men more aggressive and festive. Still pursuing the futurist aesthetic, he transforms his home by decorating walls and furniture in a riot of brightly colored forms.
Again in 1914 he made the Futurist Flowers in the garden of Casa Cuseni in Taormina; here, together with Depero, he also authored many wall decorations.
In 1915, still with Depero, he signed the manifesto Ricostruzione futurista dell”Universo (Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe) where he theorized how pictorial dynamism and plastic dynamism linked well with words in freedom and the art of noise:
He began working on onomatopoeia, composing parolibere boards and designing stage sets by emphasizing the connections between the image and the phonetic-noise dimension.The ideas of the “futurist toy,” the “artificial landscape,” the “metallic animal,” the “transformable dress,” the “plastic-motorist concert in space,” and the “phono-monoplasmic advertisement” flowed from the manifesto.
In 1917 he designed the sets for Feu d”artifice, a ballet without dancers that was staged at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, produced by Diaghilev”s Ballets Russes, with music by Igor” Fëdorovič Stravinsky. During the same period he created furnishings, furniture, and fittings and participated in the sequences of the film Vita futurista (1916), attending the filming with Marinetti.In October 1918 he published the Manifesto of Color, an analysis of the role of color in avant-garde painting.
The fascist period
In 1921 he painted the walls of Bal Tic Tac, a Roman cabaret club where jazz was played; a fashionable setting throughout the 1920s, then decayed and closed, it was recently rediscovered during the renovation of a building housing the Bank of Italy.
As part of his adherence to Futurism, which Balla carried on unabated, in 1926 he sculpted a statuette depicting Mussolini, with the inscription at the base, “I have come to give Italy a government.” The work will be delivered directly to the duce. In the 1930s he became the artist of fascism par excellence, highly appreciated by critics. Between 1932 and 1935 he made Marcia su Roma, a painting made on the back of another canvas, “Abstract Speed” from 1913; the work shows a reference to Pellizza da Volpedo”s The Fourth State.
Late in life he will return to figurativism.
In 1937, he wrote a letter to the newspaper Perseus: fortnightly of Italian life in which he now declared himself estranged from Futurist activities:
From this time Balla was sidelined by official culture until the postwar reevaluation of his works, and of Futurist works in general.
The post-World War II period
In 1949 some of his works, including the famous painting “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” from 1912, were exhibited at MoMa in the exhibition: Twentieth-Century Italian Art.
He died in Rome on March 1, 1958 at the age of 86. He is buried at the Verano Cemetery.
In 1959 two of his works (Girl with a Circle and Shotgun Shot) were exhibited at the exhibition 50 Years of Art in Milan. From Divisionism to the Present, organized by Permanente.
A number of art historians and artists have written about him, including: