Franco Grignani’s work to be shown in London at two new exhibitions

Two exhibitions of the work of artist and graphic designer Franco Grignani open in June and July, bringing his optical experimentation to the UK for the first time in nearly 60 years

From June 1, M&L Fine Art in London will exhibit around 20 paintings that the Italian artist made from the 1950s to the 70s; a month later, the Estorick Collection will launch its extensive survey of Grignani’s work, with additional paintings, works on paper and a focus on his graphic design.

Dissociazione dal Bordo, 1969, Archivo Manuela Grignani Sirtoli (Estorick)

Both shows will highlight the fluid nature of the approaches that permeated Grignani’s artistic and commercial projects, perhaps epitomised in his striking Woolmark logo, originally designed in 1964 and selected as the symbol of ‘Pure Virgin Wool’ for the International Wool Secretariat, but not officially recognised as his work until much later.

The Woolmark’s creation is a fascinating story that we investigated in depth in 2014, having placed the design at number one in our 2011 list of top 20 logos ever made. Grignani was on the jury for the competition but, disillusioned by the standard of Italian entries, he submitted designs under the alias ‘Francesco Saroglia’ – and, despite his protests, won the competition.

Grignani (1908-1999) started out as an architect yet his painting, photography and graphic design were to be the main focus his working life. In the 1920s he showed work as part of the Futurist movement and in the mid-1930s began to dedicate his art to geometric explorations and visual perception, while establishing a Milan studio that specialised in graphics and exhibition design.

Combinatoria di Strutture Ondulate Interferenti, 1956 (M&L)

As Art Director of lifestyle magazine Bellezza d’Italia in the 1950s, Grignani’s typographic distortions that he used on the covers brought his highly-charged work to a wider audience. Around this time his distinctive approach also caught the eye of a number of clients, including Pirelli and Alfieri & Lacroix, and the designer even created a range of book covers for Penguin’s science fiction series in the late 1960s.

Ad for Pirelli, 1967, Archivio Manuela Grignani Sirtoli (Estorick)

While Grignani is frequently associated with Op artists such as Bridget Riley, he was in fact a contemporary of Victor Vasarely (1906-97) and was making work that investigated the nature of visual perception several years before it became a more discernible movement.

Grignani had a keen interest in materials, too. In 1952 he created a ‘blur’ effect in his work ‘Ordine Ascensionale’ by superimposing textured industrial glass over graphic drawings; a few years later in ‘Combinatoria di Strutture Ondulate Interferenti’ (1956), he stamped a moiré photographic pattern onto the canvas.

Dissociazione dal Bordo, 1967 (M&L)

The two exhibitions at M&L Fine Art and the Estorick look set to bring Grignani’s work to a wider audience and emphasise his wide range of abilities and output.

“He had an absolute passion for work and never felt the burden of it as it was actually a real amusement for him,” his daughter Manuela Grignani told me when working on the Woolmark entry for my book, TM. “Fourteen-thousand experimental works and photographs; roughly 1,200 artworks; thousands of graphic design works, covers and so on. He was an uncommon personality.”

Franco Grignani is at M&L Fine Art in London from June 1 to July 28. Franco Grignani: Art as Design, 1950-1990 opens at the Estorick Collection in London on July 5 and runs until September 10. See mlfineart.com and estorickcollection.com

Psicoplastica, 1970 (M&L)

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