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Artist in Focus : Piero Manzoni

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Piero Manzoni.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Manzoni was born in Soncino, in the province of Cremona, Italy in 1933. His childhood was spent Milan and for his holidays he frequented the sea side resort of Albisola Capo. From a young age he was introduced as well as exposed to art. He met Lucio Fontana, the founder of Spatialism, he intended to synthesize colour, sound, space, movement and time perpetrating a new form of art. The young Manzoni’s ideas on expression and art developed singularly, based on the principles of questioning form and its acceptance, along with the underlying politicization of art.

In 1956 at the Fiera Mercato, Manzoni debuted and exhibited his first body of work. Initially his works were anthropomorphic silhouettes, and canvases that were imprinted with everyday objects.

But it was through Achromes, in 1957 that he came into his own where he painted white canvases and worked on them with kaolin clay. Manzoni was serious about his art. And he left no stone unturned in his exploration and presentation.

Manzoni and Arte Povera

Manzoni actually managed to convey significantly, with minimum effort. Over the last decade that he worked, his art was increasingly radical, whimsical, shocking and definitely Avant Garde on its own. By investigating the limitations of a surface, he was hungry to break new ground.

Manzoni created masterpieces. His work – if it must be categorised for understanding, falls under the Arte Povera movement. But – it refuses to be bound in that category alone. It cannot be limited in its scope either.

Some of his pieces – the Body of Air and the Artist’s Breath – which were sculptures that were filled with the artists breath – clearly questioned the process of the validation of art. And his Sculpture Eggs – consisted 70 hard boiled eggs – which were consumed by the audience – demonstrating the consumerism that had swept over the art world, and the art-devouring public.

“When I blow up a balloon, I am breathing my soul into an object that becomes eternal. I should like all artists to sell their fingerprints, or else stage competitions to see who can draw the longest line or sell their shit in tins.”

– Piero Manzoni


Manzoni’s legacy is singular, like the artist himself who exercised his ability to convert thought to action and deed. He effectively reduced the work of an artist “as organising marks on a piece of paper to a single line” as was quoted by imminent art writer Gavin Turk (referring to “Lines”).

In 1961, Manzoni certified his first human beings with the signature “Living Sculptures”, his work was getting more and more edgy and radical.

Manzoni died when he was only 29, in 1963. There is something poignant about the untimely end of a promising young artist – who had tremendous power to change artistic perceptions. He leaves behind a legacy of work that is still being decoded, and celebrated.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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