Over the course of his seventy-year career Carlo Carrà leaped from one aesthetic movement to the next, like the daredevil chamois of his north-Italian homeland. His childhood was spent among these rugged climes, where he worked alongside his artisan family before journeying to Paris at the age of twelve. In Paris, he found work as a mural decorator throughout his teens, contributing to the pavilion paintings of the monumental 1900 World's Fair, which saw the then-temporary construction of the Eiffel Tower. He traveled across the continent, from mural to mural, consorting with pledged anarchists, and finally arriving home in Milan, where he would remain for the rest of his life. He immediately enrolled at the university and, together with his radical friends (most notably Umberto Boccioni and Filippo Marinetti), helped formulate the Futurist Manifesto of 1909, which rather monstrously stated, among other things, "We want to glorify war - the only cure for the world - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman." It is this stage of Carrà 's career for which he is currently most remembered, particularly for his lavish "Funeral for the Anarchist Galli," a mechanically frenzied canvas depicting a police raid and subsequent riot in which Carrà was personally involved.With the outbreak of World War I, the Futurist movement lost its steam, presumably due to the long-delayed satiation of their gluttony for violence. Several of the Futurists enlisted--Boccioni, one of the leading lights of the movement, died when he fell off his horse during cavalry training.
Carrà, perhaps disturbed by the non-theoretical violence unfolding around him, shifted from the fast-paced caffeine-fueled aesthetic to an atmosphere of stillness and solidity. He moved from what were essentially modernized history paintings into the genre of still life (or "dead nature," as the Italians call it). His still life paintings are quirky and surreal, with forced perspectives, bizarre juxtapositions, decorative patterns (presumably recollections of his apprentice days in Paris), half-finished artworks, and lots of mannequin heads. They all seem take place on little constructed stages, and the theatrical-artificial aspect of the paintings is never allowed to recede, despite the general realism of the objects themselves. It all seems to be in the process of being organized, and despite the clutter all is still and immovable--a collection of treasured, enigmatic objects gathered from a lost (though internal) civilization. Carrà himself spoke of the simplicity and pureness of ordinary things, and how their contemplation "points to a higher, hidden state of being."
These wonderful pieces helped launch a new movement in Italian painting--pittura metafisica, or "Metaphysical Painting," which Carrà created along with Giorgio di Chirico. Although their collaboration lasted only a few brief months, the dreamlike nature and alternative logic of their images paved the way for the Surrealists and the Dadaists in years to come, while their stillness and formal beauty pointed towards the neoclassical art that would be popular in the 1920s.
Following his experiments with pittura metafisica, Carrà further pursued the serenity he had found there. Turning backwards to early Renaissance masters like Masaccio, he developed a new style that, for the first time, required no official name to legitimize it in his mind. He began to paint the village life of the Northern countryside in which he spent his boyhood. Carrà's paintings from these decades radiate a calm and peace that is the polar opposite of the frenzied Futurism of his youth. They ache with yearning for the simplicity of the Golden Ages of the mythological past.
To me, the paintings of these final decades display Carrà's genius to the fullest. Their beauty is heartbreaking in its quiet intensity, as Carrà finally achieves the peace that has so long eluded him.
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