Painting was the medium with which Cattaneo debuted in art starting in the mid-Forties. He initially explored academic suggestions that still owed something to his teacher, Achille Funi, but the Fifties marked a turning point, with works that reinterpret the stimuli of the so-called Italian post-cubism in an original way.

In the late Fifties the artist decided to devote himself exclusively to sculpture. From then on, he painted less and less, but these works became increasingly articulated in nature. In 1975–76 he executed the mixed-media series entitled Segnificato, in plaster and acrylic on hardboard or pressed cardboard, in which the artist proceeded through impressions, imprints that move imperceptibly on the surface in a finely calibrated alternation of the porous projections and hollows of the plaster and of dazzling colours.