It was a good thing Italian artist Alighiero Boetti ignored a potential career as a cartographer instead choosing to become an artist. Hah – we’re only kidding about the cartographer part. He was well known for his maps and certainly the Italian artist is considered one of the foremost painters in the modern era, which is a big accolade considering the wealth of talent, both historical and contemporary. We’re going to take a more in-depth look at the man, his life and the artwork and impact he left behind.

Boetti was born in Turin in 1940, the son of a lawyer and violinist. His early educational years focused on law and business – he would study the latter at the University of Turin for a year, before quitting to work and study as an artist. Unlike the greats of modern art such as Picasso, Boetti was from all accounts not an immensely gifted drawer or painter. He had, rather, an inquisitive mind and an ability to meld all the social sciences together, much like Kandinsky before him. From an early age he read and studied many theoretical interests, including alchemy, philosophy, physics and esoterics. This taste for the alternative is reflected in his favourite authors: Swiss-German painter and Bauhaus teacher Paul Klee and German writer Hermann Hesse, famed author of the Steppenwolf.

Boetti’s earliest canvases come from the hands of the artist at 17 years of age, mostly simple oil paintings inspired by the likes of German Wols and Argentine-Italian artist Lucio Fontana. Just three years later he would heed the call of many and move to Paris to study more art, and a couple of years later he would meet writer and art critic Annemarie Sauzeau, whom he married in 1964, subsequently having two children. Throughout this time Boetti took frequent trips abroad, with his travels focused on South America and Asia: from 1974 to 1976 he travelled to Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sudan and then to New York.

Sadly, Boetti did not live to a ripe old age to bless the world with a more fruitful oeuvre. He was active as an artist from the early 1960s and his premature death in 1994 meant there was only about 30 years or so of his art. Nevertheless, he managed to leave a significant influence, particularly in the field of compositions in visual art. Historians have divided his oeuvre into three main phases: Arte Povera, 1972-1994 and Mappa, which is pictured above. His first phase, Arte Povera, started from 1963 and lasted about 10 years. This phase can be broken down into mini sections as well: from 1962 to 1965 he mostly worked with materials such as Masonite, plaster, light fixtures, plexiglass and other construction materials.  The late 60s saw the artist switch to monochrome paintings, although he remained tied to his earlier medium through the use of metal or masonite supports in his artwork.

In 1968 Boetti again switched focus, this time becoming more traditional and focusing on paper and the specific form of poster production. One noted artwork from this era was a series of 800 posters each containing a list of 16 Italian artists of his own generation. Come back tomorrow for more on Boetti’s style and why the Tate Modern is holding a retrospective on him – booyah!