Best known for his swirling ‘Woolmark’ logo, Franco Grignani (1908-1999) was an influential artist and graphic designer whose dazzling works anticipated Op Art. This exhibition featured around 130 paintings and works on paper, including his graphic design projects many of which are on loan from private collections and from the Manuela Grignani Sirtoli Archive.

Like many experimental Italian painters, Grignani was briefly affiliated with the Futurist movement. He exhibited as part of the group from the mid-1920s, and in 1933 participated in the huge Great National Futurist Exhibition in Rome; however, most of his works from this period are now lost. After 1935 his work turned toward geometric abstraction, abandoning any lingering figurative elements.

Grignani studied both mathematics and architecture between the late 1920s and the early 1930s, before opening a studio in Milan that specialized in exhibition design and graphics. Over the years he produced advertising campaigns for a variety of high-profile companies, including Pirelli and Alfieri & Lacroix, and designed covers for a number of science fiction novels published by Penguin Books in the late 1960s.

Alongside such commercial work he continued to create paintings which revealed a growing fascination with optical effects. His ideas were initially not understood by the artistic establishment, and he worked largely in isolation. His exploration of perceptual processes, largely inspired by Gestalt Psychology, was undertaken through both painting and photography. The works he made were characterized by their use of blurred forms, and warped and dynamic ‘virtual’ shapes that seem to emerge out of, and recede back into, the surfaces of his compositions.

Grignani’s most famous work was created in 1964, when the International Wool Secretariat (IWS) chose one of his studies as the winner of an international competition for a new logo. As a member of the jury, Grignani was unable to submit a design of his own, but had been so disappointed at the standard of the Italian entries that he submitted one under the pseudonym ‘Francesco Saroglia’.

Acknowledged as one of the most recognizable, elegant and effective trademarks of all time, the design is based on a skein of wool, but its sinuous, twisted form – resembling a Möbius strip – also reflected Grignani’s interest in mathematics.

The exhibition was accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with an essay on Franco Grignani by art historian Marco Meneguzzo, Exhibition Curator.

Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau on the set of La Notte by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960 © Sergio Strizzi Photography

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Pasquarosa, Vase of Flowers, c. 1916

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