Born in Venice at the turn of the century, Beatrice 'Bice' Lazzari was one of Italy's most prominent 20th-century abstract painters. Though largely unrecognised outside of Italy during her lifetime, Lazzari has since gained increasing international acclaim for her pioneering approach to abstraction and minimalism.Read More
Lazzari initially studied music at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory in Venice before enrolling at the Academy of Fine Arts, where she developed figurative and landscape paintings. She began exploring abstraction in the 1920s; however, as a woman in a male-dominated art scene, societal pressures shifted her career towards design and the applied arts.
In 1935, Lazzari moved to Rome, where she collaborated with architects, designers, and decorators including Carlo Scarpa and Gio Ponti. She returned to painting after the Second World War, working prolifically in a predominantly abstract style.
Bice Lazzari explored formal, abstract, and geometric concerns through painting and drawing, using a range of media including oils, acrylics, graphite, pastel, pencil, and tempera. Her background in music and design is understood to have significantly influenced her approach to composition, colour, and mark-making.
While Lazzari's works have been compared to those of Agnes Martin or Nasreen Mohamedi, or movements such as Futurism or the Bauhaus, Barry Schwabsky notes in Artforum: '... the artist herself claimed to dislike Futurism and to have been totally isolated from developments in abstract painting outside Italy during the long decades of Fascist rule.'
From the 1950s, Lazzari began gaining widespread recognition for her paintings and presented a solo exhibition at La Cassapanca gallery in Rome in 1951. Her paintings in the 1950s and early 1960s reflect a greater attention to texture and materiality, with a more expressive, fluid approach to mark-making. The oil-on-canvas work Quadro in rosso (Painting in Red) (1953) features several polygon forms, sectioned into shades of earthy reds in a mosaic-like pattern. The artist's hand is definitively present in the irregular, slanted lines and visible brushstrokes.
In Untitled (1955), thick patches of oils in shades of pale blue and yellow are densely layered, revealing variations in their opacity and colour relations, while thinly painted grey lines offer a formal anchor in the composition.
Lazzari's paintings from the latter period of her career in the 1960s and 70s have become some of her most well-known. Due to their impact on her health, Lazzari abandoned oils in favour of acrylics from around the mid-1960s, shifting towards a more minimalist, hard-edged style of abstraction. Focusing on the pictorial space as an independent entity through which to refine nuances of line, shape, and colour, these later works came to gradually reduce the presence of the artist's hand and explore the rhythmic possibilities for mark-making.
The artist stated: 'I choose the mark ... because it determines alternative spaces that could appear interconnected, creating the possibility of perceiving various planes, conceptually ordered and with a non-objective rigour ... Colour also contributes to the discourse that in music I could define as "accompaniment" ... '
The gesture of repetition can be observed in Ritmo materico (Material rhythm) (1964), a small mixed-media study in which pieces of string, largely uniform in length, are arranged horizontally across the canvas to surround a single central painted red line. In Acrilico n.6 (Acrylic no. 6) (1975), Lazzari meticulously renders vertical and horizontal lines of alternating thicknesses, creating an imbalanced rhythm that encourages the eye to dart between areas of the canvas.
Lazzari died in Rome in 1981.
Lazzari received numerous awards in her lifetime, including Il Centauro d'Oro (1976); Purchase Prize (1968); Banco di Napoli's Purchase Prize (1963); First Prize, ENAPI competition (1948).
Bice Lazzari's works have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Select solo exhibitions include Bice Lazzari: Modernist Pioneer, Richard Saltoun Gallery, Rome (2022); Bice Lazzari, Ca' Pesaro, Venice (2022); Bice Lazzari: Modernist Pioneer, Esoterick Collection, London (2022); Bice Lazzari: La Poetica del Segno, Museo del Novecento, Florence (2019).
Select group exhibitions include Women in Abstraction: Another History of Abstraction in the 20th Century, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Guggenheim Bilbao (2021); Silent Revolutions: Italian Drawings from the Twentieth Century, Menil Drawing Institute, Houston (2020); White Views, Italian Cultural Institute, London (2019); Black and White, M&L Fine Art, London (2019).
Misong Kim | Ocula | 2022