Francesco Somaini was born in Lomazzo (Como) on the 6th of August of 1926. He attended Manzù’s courses at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and debuted in 1948 at the National Exhibition of Figurative Arts, promoted by the Quadrennial of Rome. He graduated in law at the Pavia University in 1949. And in 1950, he took part in the Venice Biennale for the first time. After a period of reflection upon the experiences of the international contemporary sculpture, he became interested in abstractionism and, in the mid 1950s, achieved an autonomy of language with sculptures realized in “ferric conglomerate” (Canto Aperto, Forza del nascere), art work that marked his entrance in the Concrete Art Movement and preluded the great informal period.
He imposed himself upon critics’ attention in 1956, thanks to his participation in the XXVIII Biennale of Venice. He reached success at a worldwide level in 1959 with the exhibition hall at the V Biennale of San Paolo of Brazil, where he gained the first international prize for sculpture: this international recognition allowed him to access the United States art market. In the 1960 he was invited to set up his own exhibition hall at the XXX Venice Biennale. In the following year, he participated in the Deuxième Biennale of Paris, where he was awarded the first prize of the French Art Criticism. During this period , his sculptures met the favor of critics like Argan and Tapié. Being interested in experimenting with different materials, he casted his works also in iron, lead and pewter, attacking them with the blowtorch, and finally polishing their concave parts in order to accentuate their expressive drive. This was the time of Martirii and Feriti, presented in the various personal exhibitions set up at the National Gallery of Turin, at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, at the Blu Gallery of Rome and in all the most important international collective exhibitions of sculpture.
After the informal period, Somaini started to give to his sculptures symbolic meanings (Portals, 1967): organic forms were put in a continuous dialectic relationship with architectural geometric volumes; this visionary research culminated in the cycle of Carnificazioni di un’architettura (1974-1976). Starting from the conviction that sculpture shall have a role in the requalification of the urban architectural context – opinion matured between 1958 and 1972, during informal experiences made on a big scale in Italy and in the United States – the sculptor formalized his own ideas, both at a theoretical and utopist level, in a series of project studies (Crispolti, Somaini, Urgency in the city, Mazzotta, Milan 1972). Parallel to these studies on the relationship between sculpture, architecture and the environment, Somaini experimented a personal technique of direct carving executed by using a high pressure jet of sand. This approach became a fundamental component of his plastic language from 1965 onward. In 1975 the conceptual analysis of the laboratorial procedures related to sculpture brought the artist to the creation of a bas-relief “Trace”, obtained by rolling a carved “Matrix” that, leaving a mark in evolution, developed and revealed on the “Trace” a cryptic image in negative. Matrixes and traces introduced the dynamic element, the action, the idea of a path, of an intervention that involved architecture and urban context. These new works of art were presented in his personal exhibition hall at the Venice Biennale of 1978 (Prima traccia e la scultura matrice: Antropoammonite), in the anthological exhibition at the Wilhelm – Lembruck – Museum of Duisburg in 1979 (Sviluppo di un paesaggio antropomorfico e matrice, 1978-79) and in the personal exhibition at the Botanical Garden of Lucca in 1980 (Svolgimento dell’avvolto: traccia tragica, 1979).
From the mid 1980s onward, Somaini came back again to the execution of large scale works in Italy and Japan, where the dialectics of the mark brought the sculptor to deal with positive/negative shapes, as in Europe’s Gate, Como, 1995.
Since 1975, the artist continued the direct carving of marble with the use of a high pressure jet of sand (Antropoammonite I); this activity went on in successive works of great commitment like Fortunia (1988), in a series of Lotte con il serpente characterized by an organic nature overbearingly lively, as in Fortunia Vincitrice (2000), installed in the proximity of the highway gate of Como. Some of the above-mentioned works were presented in the anthological exhibition set up in the Brera Palace of Milan in 1997, in the Quadrennial of Rome of 1999, in the Carrara Biennales of 1998 and 2000 and in the anthological exhibition at the Pergine Castle (Trento) in 2000. In recent years the sculptor carried forward, side-by-side to his plastic activity, his drawing and painting activity in a more intensive way. In 1999, he realized a large series of works on paper that recalled in a fantastic way the myths and legends related to the Vulcan Etna, revisited also through the reading of Maria Corti’s book (Catasto magico, Einaudi, 1999). In the following years he put in the offices of the Bennet shopping mall of Montano Lucino (Como) Fortunia Vincitrice (1997-2000) and Variazioni su grande scultura verticale (2001).
Somaini took part in some important exhibitions, as Arts and Architecture, 1900-2000 trusted by Germano Celant at Palazzo Ducale of Genova (2004), Italian Sculpture of the XX century at the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation and Annicinquanta. The offspring of Italian creativity, Royal Palace of Milan (2005). He died in Como on November the 19th 2005. The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art of Rome dedicated him the first posthumous retrospective exhibition, The informal period 1957-1964 (2007).