Aldo Tambellini

Untitled

1964

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In Tate Modern

Artist
Aldo Tambellini born 1930
Medium
Nitrocellulose enamel paint on paper
Dimensions
Image: 765 × 1915 mm
support: 765 × 1915 mm
frame: 825 × 1970 × 25 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Aldo Tambellini Art Foundation 2017
Reference
T14952

Summary

Untitled 1964 is a large work on paper in industrial paint, featuring two circular shapes painted over a dark grey background. One circle, closer to the right edge of the landscape-orientated rectangle, resembles a light grey halo with a small light-coloured dot near its centre. The other is painted in shades of black and dark grey, which give it a sense of three-dimensional depth; its edges, marked in a brighter shade, accentuate this effect and make the shape stand out from the background. At the centre of this darker disc is a vertical form, suggesting an incision or depression in its surface. The abstract composition is off centre and shifted to the right, and is signed ‘Aldo Tambellini 1964’ in the lower right corner.

Trained as a figurative painter, in 1962 Tambellini became one of the founding members of Group Center, a collective of artists based in New York experimenting with a mix of painting, sculpture, film, live projections, poetry and live performances – a hybrid genre they dubbed ‘intermedia’. While in Group Center, Tambellini began to work with the theme of ‘blackness’ in his paintings, sculptures and poetry. Untitled is an example of Tambellini’s early reflections on circular forms and blackness in painting, and relates to a series of large canvases featuring concentric circular shapes of contrasting colours that he painted in the mid-1960s. He included a number of these paintings in the shows Quantum 1 (at Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York in 1965) and Quantum 2 (at A.M. Sachs Gallery, New York the same year), parallel group exhibitions that he organised where his spatial paintings and sculptures were shown alongside works by other artists, including Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) and Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967).

Tambellini’s fascination with circular forms was already evident in photographs he had taken of street life in Syracuse, New York State, in 1948, soon after he had relocated there from Italy in 1946. Tambellini used concentric circles to convey a sense of rippling cosmic energy; he also sometimes referred to his large concentric circles paintings as ‘echoes’, though most of these are square with single bullseye forms, as seen in The Strobe 1965 (Tate L04088). Possibly because of its landscape format, distinct circular forms and sense of depth, Untitled 1964 is somewhat closer to the imagery of celestial bodies floating in a cosmic void than the square-format ‘echoes’.

Tambellini’s interest in primal energy and matter led him to explore the significance of the colour black and of the very idea of ‘blackness’, stating:

I am not discussing black as a tradition or non-tradition in painting or as having anything to do with pigment or as an opposition to colour. As I am working and exploring black in different kinds of dimensions, I’m definitely more and more convinced that black is actually the beginning of everything, which the art concept is not. Black gets rid of the historical definition. Black is a state of being blind and more aware. Black is a oneness with birth. Black is within totality, the oneness of all. Black is the expansion of consciousness in all directions … I strongly believe in the word ‘black power’ as a powerful message, for it destroys the old notion of western man, and by destroying that notion it also destroys the tradition of the art concept.
(Aldo Tambellini, in Arts Canada 1967.)

Tambellini’s engagement with blackness in the socio-political realm went hand in hand with his interest in African and African-American cultures, and his friendship and collaboration with members of the Black Arts Movement in New York. Tambellini’s Lower East Side studio was located across the road from the place where the poets behind the Umbra magazine gathered, the Umbra collective being one of the first Black-orientated literary groups to have an impact in America. These poets included Norman Pritchard and Calvin C. Hernton, who were involved in Tambellini’s electromedia performances from 1965.

The choice of nitrocellulose enamel paint (also known by the brand name ‘Duco’), an industrial lacquer used as a car finish, for Untitled is consistent with Tambellini’s use of industrial and non-traditional media in his work, from the materials he chose for his sculptures to the adoption of film and video equipment in his groundbreaking ‘electromedia’ experiments.

Further reading
Jill Johnson, ‘Review of Quantum II’, Art News, vol. 36, no.10, February 1965.
Arts Canada, no.113, October 1967, pp.2, 4, 5, 9, 14–16, 18.
Amelia Ishmael, ‘Transmission: An Interview with Aldo Tambellini: Black Zero, Avant-Garde Jazz, and the Cosmic Void’, Art 21 Magazine, 13 September 2012, http://blog.art21.org/2012/09/13/transmission-an-interview-with-aldo-tambellini-black-zero-avant-garde-jazz-and-the-cosmic-void/#.VHYQbWcavaI, accessed October 2016.

Valentina Ravaglia
December 2016

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