Born in July 1935 in Milan, Bonalumi emerged as a self-taught painter in the local art scene. Originally a student of technical and mechanical design, the artist began attending the studio of Enrico Baj where he made acquaintance with Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani and Lucio Fontana. Fontana would later become a sort of mentor for Bonalumi whose practice followed the similar path of seeking to expand the physical and formal dimension of the canvas. In 1956 at the Galleria Totti, Bonalumi’s first solo exhibition was inaugurated, and the artist quickly established himself at the forefront of the Italian avant-garde.
Founding member of the art journal “Azimuth”, Bonalumi would publish investigative reflections on the work of Fontana. His visits to the artist studio would greatly help the artist to develop his individual iconic idiom. In comparison to Fontana, Bonalumi did not cut the surface, neither did he create texture, instead the colours, the shapes and the shadows distorted and expanded the canvas. Through the utilisation of geometric frames and wooden structures, Bonalumi would deform the picture plane, causing stretching and bulges. With specific canvas that had malleable qualities, the artist challenged the two-dimensional surface as one that existed beyond the support for painterly application and embraced it as a formal entity in its own existence. In Bonalumi’s own vocabulary, he referred to these works as “estroflessioni”, “extroflections”. This term describes explicitly the opposite of the “retroflections”, in which something is bent backwards. In Bonalumi’s oeuvre, the “extroflections” bend forward. Through the physical tension, they expand into the space, reaching forward in time, into the future of art. In order to support the artist’s claim of the surface itself becoming the work of art, he adopted a strict monochromatic colour palette that ranges from pure white, to pitch black, bold yellows and deep blues. Ridges and bulges quietly interrupted the stimulating depth of colour creating new hues and shadows that formed the work’s spatial domination on the wall.
Bonalumi’s evolving practice was tightly linked to the activities of the German art movement and collective the Zero group. Amongst Italian peers such as Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani the artist exhibited across Europe and the US as part of the international formation of like-minded artists. Its three founding members Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, followed a manifestation that sought to distance itself from concurrent post-war movements such as Tachisme or Art Informel. Wanting to emphasise the work’s material over the artist’s subjectivity, subjects such as light and space became central leitmotifs and media for the artists of Zero.