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This particular futurist view is from the sky: Gerardo Dottori made his distinctive aeropaintings over the course of a half-century career largely spent in his native Perugia. Least known of the Italian modernists, he is superbly served by the Estorick’s well-tuned retrospective of works almost all visiting the UK for the first time, and entering into vivid dialogue with the museum’s distinguished collection of Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni.
The immediate impression is of being engulfed by blue: the crystalline sphere of “Lake Dawn”; snowy peaks as sharp triangles soaring from flattened foothills in “Ascending Forms”; spirals of water in “Virginal Umbria”; radiant skies criss-crossed by aeroplanes into which is embedded Dottori’s fragmented 1928 “Self-portrait” – the artist indissoluble from the landscape and airscape he loved. Dottori’s swirling geometric forms never quite lose representational impetus, but depictions of rural Umbria are transformed by his abstracting aerial viewpoint: Dottori believed that “the changing perspective of flight constitute an absolutely new reality, one that has nothing in common with the reality traditionally constituted by earthbound perspectives”.
This fresh, scholarly show opens with Dottori’s beginnings in symbolism – the ardent “Young Umbrian Girl” (1904), made at the age of 20, depicting the artist’s sister Bianca against ethereal blue shadows and a landscape whose sinuous lines would become a hallmark of his aeropainting – and divisionism, as in the goldsilver “Trees of the Wood” (1906), recently rediscovered.
Futurist intoxication with machines emerges in “Motorcycle” and “Train Crash”, but the unusual “Explosion” (1916-17) defines Dottori’s language: evoking the sensation of bombardment, impressions of lights, sounds, colours are fused in an intense orangered central element which, like a star, transmits energy into the surrounding space in the form of a dynamic spiral.
For the rest of his life, Dottori combined that futurist rush of movement with a lyrical approach which allowed him, Marinetti wrote, to “modernise the Umbrian landscape by stripping away, in flight, every detail and sanctuarylike stillness”.
estorickcollection.com, 020 7704 9522, to September 7