In 1991, while I was living in Rome, Sergio Casoli invited me to make an exhibition at his gallery in Milan. Initially I wasn’t interested, but when he mentioned that his gallery had previously been the studio of Lucio Fontana, I became intrigued and agreed to make the trip. When I saw the space though, I couldn’t imagine doing anything somewhere that was so weighted with history and character. As I was leaving, Casoli asked me if I would like to see the back room where all Fontana’s art materials were still being stored. The room was a dusty mess. In the back corner sat a large wooden crate. In it was what remained of the Murano glass that Fontana would smash to bits and glue to the surface of his paintings. When we opened the box, it felt like opening Ali Baba’s cave. It was filled with chunks of raw coloured glass, in the most beautiful and luminous shades imaginable – sapphire blues, jade and emerald greens, ruby reds. I knew instantly what I wanted to do: remake some of my 70’s pebble sculptures out of that glass.
After the Milan show closed I more or less lost touch with Sergio, and assumed that the sculptures were lost. Then in 2012, exactly twenty years after I first visited Fontana’s studio, as I was preparing for an exhibition of the works with Marc Selwyn in Los Angeles, a crate appeared at my doorstep. Inside was a funky old gym bag containing all the glass, each piece carefully wrapped in a crumbling sheet of 1992 Italian newspaper.
Primer is a series of 21 drawings that I made in 1973 as a lexicon of the Theory of Sculpture works. I imagined it as a kind of abecedario – a tool used to teach the letters of the alphabet. Some of the sculptures had been made between 1969 and 1972; others were not produced, but were ideas developed here to complete the series. The drawings were to have been made into a book by Flash Art Edizioni, but that project was never realised and the drawings were never shown. Showing these Fontana versions of the Theory of Sculpture works again in London presented the perfect opportunity to show these drawings for the first time.