Bice Lazzari and the Poetics of the Sign

The light of the lagoon

Sequences (1963) by Bice LazzariLa Galleria Nazionale

The light of the lagoon

Bice Lazzari (1900-1981) was born in Venice into a bourgeois family of traders and building contractors. She was educated in Venice, first at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. She attended the "Scuola di Burano", a group of artists gathered around Pio Semeghini, whose light painting – inspired by Impressionism – was developed by the young Bice, who created some delicate works with a quick and immediate touch.

During the 1920s, she entered the sophisticated intellectual environment of Venice, as she knew the architect Carlo Scarpa, the painter Virgilio Guidi and writers Carlo Izzo and Aldo Camerino.

These were formative acquaintances for the young artist, who began to define an independent path for herself, at times introverted, but above all transversal with respect to the possible areas of experimentation in art.

Abstraction-Figuration. Painting-Applied arts

From the second half of the 1920s, Lazzari began experimenting with other crafts, for instance the loom. With this she created a variety of applied art artefacts such as furnishings and hand-knotted rugs, but also fashion accessories such as scarves and bags.

She found applied arts stimulating and rich in technical innovations, more open to experimentation compared to the academic rigour of painting, as well as being a genuine financial support for the artist.

She took part in the Monza Biennials of 1927 and 1930, presenting a series of cushions and tapestries made of Lenci cloth – a new material patented in those years – with stylised natural motifs. Lazzari’s artistic production during the 1930s was therefore characterised by the dualism of figuration and abstraction: the first expressed in painting, the second linked to the artefacts of applied art.

The first years in Rome

She moved to Rome in 1935, where she exhibited wall paintings and decorative panels in major exhibitions, collaborating with the architect Ernesto Lapadula and working for E.N.A.P.I.(National Association of Crafts and Small Industries).In 1941, she met Venetian architect Diego Rosa, who soon became her husband. In these years, her work approached the contemporary international abstractionist avant-gardes – Kandinsky and Klee – and the work of the artists of the Galleria il Milione, such as Fausto Melotti, Manlio Rho and Mario Radice.

Superficie LSR4 (1959) by Lazzari BiceLa Galleria Nazionale

The materials

While continuing to collaborate with the architect Attilio Lapadula, she returned to pursue her pictorial research after the Second World War. Her paintings of the 1950s show a balance between the dynamic movements of colour. This was always stimulated in its primary expressions, and a rhythm now given by sudden light separations, now by a vertical ordering of the individual elements of the composition within a balanced architecture.

Superficie LSR4, 1959 (painting).

Forced to abandon traditional painting in 1959 due to poisoning by the oil paints, Lazzari experimented with new materials such as glue and sand. Here, depositing the material on large formats presented new possibilities in the inscription of signs.

The poetics of the sign

Matter abstracts but the sign remains. Starting from 1961, in fact, the sign became the dominant and primary element of Lazzari's painting, establishing the boundaries, ignitions and limits of the surface. From this moment, the paintings begin to be consistently structured according to two main principles: “A declared verticality that underlines the expansion of the chromatic continuum of abstract painting towards a sort of leavening; and the constant interaction of the sign as varied repetition, rhythm" (Vittorio Fagone).

Grigio + grigio (1962) by Lazzari BiceLa Galleria Nazionale

"I chose the sign", explains the artist, "because with it, I can more clearly create a discourse that is easily readable, because tracing it has a vital tension in relation to other signs that, together, have significance, and completes an inner process [...]".


In 1965, Bice Lazzari created a tapestry for the Atlantic bar of the ocean liner Raffaello, whose interiors were designed by the Lapadula brothers. Lazzari and many other artists of the time – including Giulio Turcato, Carla Accardi, Mimmo Rotella – were invited to design tapestries, which were then produced by the Scassa Manufacture of Asti in Piedmont.

The ascetic rigour of the Seventies

Between 1970 and 1971, Bice Lazzari began working with the more fluid and brilliant acrylic technique: “Lazzari's creative process is radicalised towards an extreme, almost ascetic, rigour. Painting becomes a field of silence that suddenly lights up with short dialoguing voices within broad, continuous scans" (Vittorio Fagone).

"It is like a piece of ice with a flame burning inside", Kandinsky wrote in 1925. He was alluding to his own painting, which consisted of the basic elements of figuration – dot, line and surface. But never was a definition more apt to describe the last phase of Lazzari’s career as a painter, which featured late maturity and abstractionism, intended as a reduction of form to its meagre rhythmic essence of lines and dots, which the artist undertook from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s" (Paola Ugolini).

Sequenze, 1963 (paiting).

"Acrylic – an ungrateful but strong, robust, resistant material. I warmed to it after difficult trials and, getting to know it little by little, I achieved surfaces that still retained that vibration of light that I could not give up".

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