comments 2

Nuclear Painting

I was leafing through an old but wonderful catalogue of the works of the Italian painter Enrico Baj, best known for his work in the 1950s, when I came across some of his writings, including his manifestos. I’m all for a good manifesto. Here is the Nuclear Painting Manifesto, penned by Baj and Sergio Dangelo:

The Nuclear artists desire to destroy all the “isms” that invariably lead painting into academism.

They intend to reinvent painting and they are capable of doing so.

Traditional forms are in disintegration. Man’s new forms are to be found in the universe of the atom and in its electrical charges.

Ideal beauty is no longer the property of a caste of stupid heros or robots.

It coincides with the representation of nuclear man and the space he lives in.

Our consciousness is charged with unpredictable explosions and precludes A FACT.

The Nuclear artist lives in a situation that dull-eyed men cannot even begin to perceive.

You are not in possession of truth. It is to be found in the ATOM. Nuclear painting is the documentation of the search for this truth.

Brussels, February 1, 1952
Enrico Baj, Sergio Dangelo

Delightful. Here’s an excerpt from Baj’s writings about Nuclear Art, simply called Interplanetary Art (forgive my interjections):

The time has come to give notice that by now the force of gravity is a source of oppression only for fools, the fat, and abstract painters, or as many of their number choose to call themselves, concrete painters, which is one more concrete admission of their by no means abstract ineptitude in art.

Har! I like his willingness to take a stand. Tell us what you really think…

The very force of gravity no longer weighs down our minds with its miserly earthly blackmail since it has been defeated by NUCLEAR ART, an atomic superfuel and the leaven of intellect for our interplanetary flights.

Space is the place, baby, space is the place. Here is one more exerpt from Baj’s writing. This one is my favourite and comes from a preface he wrote for a film short by Raffaele Andreassi:

And modern technology has given me apoxy glue, that portentous paste that can stick anything on to anything, even memories, even dust, even honors and dishonors. You just stick it all down on a canvas – old loves, pains, stomach aches, medals, lace, placards and mirrors, mirrors that are broken apart and that give me a broken image of myself, and I like it better that way. I like my work because I think it gives me more freedom than anything else could do. I come and go where I want, I live where I want, I create what I like. While I work I find myself suspended somewhere between the past and the future, and the present works on me like some continuous and ironic contestation. My work lies on the edges of play, and so much so that I frequently make use in my paintings of real and proper toys.

When you’re playing, your childhood springs back up at you, and today we’ve got the problem of how to heal our breaks and neuroses and find the way back to the happiness, serenity and grace of infancy. The problem of the ludic individual, the individual who plays, is the problem of all of us, and instead of imposing lawas for compulsory military service, the governments would to do better to impose obligatory military play.

Paris May 1, 1966
Enrico Baj.

I was in my late teens when I was introduced to Enrico Baj’s work. Mr. Herbert Lust wrote the catalogue I quoted from. I inherited the catalogue from my Uncle Harold (whose remarkable life I know only pieces of), via his sister, my aunt. The catalogue has a hand written dedication from Mr. Lust to my uncle and aunt, Harold and Virginia. I still have it. The binding is falling apart but all the pages are still intact. I think that Baj is a fellow I would have really enjoyed meeting. He must have had a delightful sense of humour and yet at the same time was most serious about what he was up to artistically. After all, he lived in a situation that dull-eyed men could not even begin to perceive.

When I was learning about art history, it occurred to me that the material we study, the material we call important, is so arbitrary. I suppose sometimes the work we look at when we survey a period is the work that fits into a pattern, that lets us connect the dots in a rational way, even if history is not always so rational.

I received the book about Baj and spent a lot of time with it. It vexed me because it didn’t fit, because sometimes the artist seemed goofy, full of humour and I had this idea in my head that artists weren’t supposed to be that way. I suppose today, Baj is considered by some to be a footnote on post-war European painting, a period that also included the artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, known as CoBrA. Still, he was a big figure for me because his work challenged me to a street fight, and landed some solid blows to the noggin.

Mr. Baj died in 2003 at the age of 78. If you want to read a little more about him, perhaps a good place to start is his obituary.


  1. Pingback: “Arte nucleare”: l’atomo diventa espressione artistica | La Mia Notizia - Citizen Journalism in Italia

  2. “When I was learning about art history, it occurred to me that the material we study, the material we call important, is so arbitrary.”

    Great observation Mr. A. Each age looks back and re-interprets the past. Often, what you get when you “study” the art of a period is the current generation’s interpretation of what they consider “significant” about prior generations. For example, the recent spate of exhibitions showing the official Salon entries from 19th Century France, sometimes next to their Impressionist counterparts, indicates that a re-interpretation of that period is going on. A careful teacher should at least pay some attention to the other movements going on at any given time, even if current taste or historical perspective indicates that they are less significant. This lack of attention to the big picture also opens up an opportunity for someone to go back and find inspiration from sources that have been neglected.

Have your say...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s