NEW YORK- 29/09/2017
An excellent example of the Italian futurism, “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” was painted with oil on canvas in 1913 by Umberto Boccioni. Instead of one complete human figure, we tend to see the movement of the subject. Painting challenges us to find the player: despite the well-pronounced calf in the center of the picture, abstract lines and shapes are moving around the painting chaotically and make it impossible to recognize a familiar figurative depiction of a human body at first. We see the colors and shapes moving, running and kicking instead. Italian painter is primarily concerned with the representation of vibration than depicting the player, and he creates that by destroying the human body, dematerializing it. Instead of the soccer player, dynamism is more upfront in the picture. In Italian Futurism, courage, rebellion, the beauty of speed, artificial lighting, aggression, struggle, and violence are vital. Most of the paintings have these qualities in them. Harmony of the speed of the modern age is praised. Italian Futurism was practiced in many different areas, including music, painting, sculpture, and photography. Photography was rather new and experimental. Muybridge did photography in sequence and showed the longevity with his long exposure photographs. Boccioni wanted to do that in painting too.
Because of the sharp lines, geometrical, cubism-like shapes, painting seems like a splash of colors at first. Then, the first thing I realize is the calf of the soccer player. The leg is in the center of the painting. The artist is using 5 different colors to maximize its importance. I believe his head is bird-like. He is looking left, with an avocado-shaped eye, and an orange beak. He looks like he is running, but it is not certain which way. Perspective is misleading, even illusionary. I think that left to his bird-like head, there is his arm. He looks like he is on a soccer field, considering the green ground and yellow line. Yet, we can’t see the ball. Looking more depth in detail, I see just beneath the face of the subject, a green eye. It looks up. Next, to the bird-like head, I start to see a half face. It is hard to see the face with the movement, but she is looking left with one eye. Maybe, she is someone in the audience, and we catch a glimpse of her face in the movement.
Light is one of the most important aspects of Italian futurist paintings. With industrialism and developments, we have more artificial light sources. In contrast with the past, we don’t necessarily see light coming from one source. In this painting, we have lights coming from all around the place. The light coming from the left illuminates the calf, making it the center of the painting. The light coming from the right comes to the bird-like head of the subject. Even the yellow line at the down right of the painting adds more illumination to the painting. Choice of colors is in accord with the light sources. Boccioni chose bright and variety of colors. We have more blue on the top, while more green on the ground, indicating the sky and the soccer field. Usually, kaleidoscopic colors and shapes are used by the painter. While colors that are more of a background -yellow, blue, green- are calmer, the painter chose more aggressive and vibrant colors, like pink, dark blue, claret red, and orange, to paint the player. In the Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti says “Any work of art that lacks a sense of aggression can never be a masterpiece.” The usage of darker and redder colors could indicate that. White and blue color contrast is used to provoke speed, and we can see an example of that on the up-right side of the painting.
This is an abstract visual image. The modern subject was transformed into something else; it is dematerialized. The body is destroyed and became one with the movement. We are never still, thus every movement we make becomes one with us, or we become one with the movement. But how do they define us really? What are we without our movements? The soccer player can’t be a soccer player without playing soccer. “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” couldn’t become what it is today without the dog’s legs moving. The word tennis player would lose its meaning without the action itself. A writer can’t be a writer without the ‘writing’ action, just like a Violoncellist can’t become what he is without the ‘playing’ action, as demonstrated in the Futurist photograph taken by Bragaglia in 1913. The name doesn’t mean anything alone; we need the action to define and complete the name.
The direction and length of the brush strokes are also connected to the image painter wants to give. They are means to show the movements. The surroundings have longer and more orderly strokes, showing the long time period the painting is trying to cover. When we look out the window while in the train, outside seems like lines passing by. The same effect is shown here. This technique gives the speed and movement feelings in the picture. Looking at the soccer player, the strokes are more dotted. Shorter brush strokes are preferred. In the movement painting presents, we can catch a glimpse of the subject, thanks to these qualities. Either with color or with shape, the geometrical objects are distinguished from each other. The sharp transitions help to convey the speed presented in the picture.
In this painting, we see the spirited energy of a youthful athlete. Umberto Boccioni uses light and speed to destroy the materiality of bodies. We can come to the conclusion that this painting has shiny surfaces that evoke the energy of the urban life, new technologies, and industrialization. With these advancements, artists achieved new color possibilities and Futurists expressed themselves in a more vibrant way. What is described here is more than just one second in life. They illustrate a duration of time. Whether it’s three seconds or one minute, we know that we are seeing more than a still object. In his painting, the player is not human anymore. He is what he thinks and does for that duration of time. He becomes more than just a player or a subject to a painting. He doesn’t pose for the painting; he keeps on doing what he is doing: playing soccer. He becomes the dynamism, and the painting captures it. As Boccioni said: “To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere . . . movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies.”