Enrico Baj

Fire! Fire!


In Tate Modern

Enrico Baj 1924–2003
Original title
Al fuoco, al fuoco
Oil paint and Meccano on fabric
Support: 1286 × 972 mm
frame: 1460 × 1132 × 95mm
Presented by Avvocato Paride Accetti 1973

Display caption

Baj’s works were influenced by the absurd humour and unconventional techniques of surrealism and dada. He was also associated with CoBrA, a group of European artists who adopted a highly expressionist painting style inspired by children’s art. In the mid-1950s Baj started painting caricatured figures on found fabrics, adding details made from collaged objects. In Fire! Fire! pieces of Meccano construction toys form a figure, while the leaves on the woven fabric are suggestive of flames. Other works of this period poke fun at ideas of power and authority, such as Baj’s portraits of military officers ‘decorated’ with real medals.

Gallery label, November 2021

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Catalogue entry

Enrico Baj born 1924

T01777 Fire! Fire! 1963-4

Inscribed 'baj' b.r. and 'baj '63' on stretcher
Oil and Meccano on furnishing fabric, 50 5/8 x 38 1/4 (131.3 x 97)
Presented by Avvocato Paride Accetti 1973
Prov: Avvocato Paride Accetti, Milan (purchased from the artist)
Exh: XXXII Biennale, Venice, June-October 1964 (not in catalogue)
Lit: Herbert Lust, Enrico Baj Dada Impressionist (Turin 1973), No. 950, p.140, repr. pp.140 and 143 as 'Al Fuoco! Al Fuoco!', dimensions given incorrectly as 150 x 97cm

Baj has painted many humorously satirical pictures of what are sometimes known as 'decorated people', a favourite theme being high-ranking army officers bedecked with sashes and medals who are gesticulating some command. There are about half-a-dozen other pictures of 1963-4 with very similar figures (some with single figures, some with a row of figures), of which the closest is 'Screaming Personage' 1964, No.951 in the catalogue raisonné. The artist points out (letter of 28 October 1974) that in this painting, as in many others of the same period, he used spare pieces of English 'Meccano' erector sets. With the same Meccano pieces he was building at the same period 13 sculptures which are listed in the catalogue raisonné as Nos.1054-66.

This picture has a label of the 1964 Venice Biennale on the back with the title 'Mani in Alto' (Hands up), but does not appear among the works by Baj listed in the Biennale catalogue. According to the donor, the reason for this was that it was added at the last moment after some other works by Baj were censured by the Italian curators of the Biennale for being irreverent towards the Italian authorities and army. The artist adds that the title was changed when the painting was modified in 1964; the two dates 1963 (which is inscribed on the stretcher) and 1964 can therefore be used together.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.29, reproduced p.29

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