Balla’s Initial Idea

Four coat hangars in Giacomo Balla's house in Rome

The house in Rome of Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), an Italian Futurist painter, is a kaleidoscope of color and creativity. I haven’t visited it but came across this photograph online of four of his clothes hangers. A commentator transcribes the handwritten inscription on one of these household items as: “FUTURBALLA”. Only some of the letters are there. I can’t, for instance, see an F though I’m sure he implied it. What I do see are the handles, all quite clearly spelling G for Giacomo. They probably generated Balla’s intervention to begin with because they combine his initial with an object related to the hand (i.e. craft) and, possibly, being rather halo-like as well they suggest self-realization. On the other hand, or perhaps in addition, the handles' shape suggests a head on a neck thereby associating hand (craft) with mind (mental conception). 

The point is that it’s always worth searching for the painter's initials disguised as ordinary objects. Raphael often used the technique.1 Once the self-reference is recognized, in either paint or life, it becomes the starting-point from which you can change your own perspective. Instead of seeing an object literally from the outside as is common, you can begin to turn inwards like the artist and think metaphorically. Here Balla embedded self-referential ideas in the handles just as Picasso did with the handle-bars of his bicycle-bull (below). Both, effortlessly concise and meaningful, are magical.

Picasso, Bull's Head (1942)

For a discussion of Picasso's Bull's Head (1942), follow the link.

1. See examples on the Raphael page, especially Saint Sebastian (c.1502-3), La Gravida (1505-6), Expulsion of Heliodorus (1511-12), Sistine Madonna (1512) and La Donna Velata (1516). You will find many other major artists using the same technique under the theme Letters in Art.

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