Niele Toroni

Year and place of birth: 1937, Muralto, Switzerland Location: Paris, France

Niele Toroni was raised in Switzerland and moved to Paris in 1959. It was here that he developed the unwavering visual concept that instantly distinguishes his work. He explains his idea, very literally, in the only title that he finds relevant: ‘Empreintes de pinceau n° 50 répétées à intervalles réguliers de 30 cm’ (Imprints of a brush no. 50, repeated at regular intervals of 30 cm).

His work consists of meticulously positioned and repetitive imprints of an invariably flat, 50 mm-wide brush. Always in a regular pattern with an interspace of exactly 30 cm. In order to position the paint imprints, Toroni measures out pencil crosses with a compass. Every print is the result of a manual act and is thus unique. Yet they all combine to form a larger picture, a pattern. The only variables are colour and support. Toroni uses different shades, unmixed, just as they were manufactured. But he limits himself to one colour per work. Even so, the results are always different because no two supports and spatial context are the same. For example, he paints on supports including canvas, paper, walls or floors, enamel plates, newspapers, diaries, or even a metro map or posters.

Toroni’s strict serial method turns his work into a semi-mechanical activity that engenders a carefree formalism. He always considers himself to be more of a painter – in the sense of someone who applies paint to a surface – than an artist. His work has no narrative content and is utterly self-referential, revolving solely around the imprint of the brush, the space, and the architecture of the location in which the piece is exhibited. From the mid 1960s, Toroni participated in many international exhibitions and created numerous site-specific works. He joined his name to the artists’ initiative B.M.P.T. in 1967, the initials of which refer to Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni. Reacting against what they perceived to be the bourgeois nature of art and the art world, the painters created public campaigns, manifestos and argued for a more impartial kind of art. Buren painted vertical stripes, Parmentier horizontal ones, Mosset circles and Toroni made brush prints. Unlike Buren, who adapts the space to suit his purpose, Toroni is uninterested in transformation. He uses the space as it is, disregarding its architectural or social connotations.

Toroni’s oeuvre can be framed within the tendency of many artists from the 1950s onwards to seek out a more objective art with an ever-greater reduction of visual media, as a reaction to the emotional art of the expressionist movements. This was a modernist aspiration to expose the essence of an artwork and the conditions that elevate it to the status of art. The criticism of what preceded this is somewhat destructive: the eradication of every superfluous form or colour. Toroni takes the question about the essence of painting to the extreme. His oeuvre is akin to a summary of all modernist dogmas of evenness and purity: the essence of a brushstroke on a surface.

Become a Friend of S.M.A.K.
made by