Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966)
I was introduced to Giacometti at a Morley College drawing class in September last year, just as I was starting this OCA course (see Blog posts 1st October and 12th October 2016). I noted then that Giacometti drew and painted his brother Diego many times and that he took pains to scrutinise his subjects intensely – saying even of his brother “when he poses for me I don’t recognise him” such was his concentration on portraying what he actually saw, rather than what he was familiar with. Yet this is at odds with the connection that Giacometti obviously felt for his sitter. While he may not have recognised the physical elements of his brother he obviously saw deeper. “It was not his aim to create likenesses but a reality in real space corresponding to the essence of a personality.” (Tate curator notes)
So it was exciting to be able to see this Tate collection of Giacometti’s works, with some paintings of his brother. The exhibition also included examples of his sculptures, decorative objects (such as lamps and vases) and drawings.
The portrait paintings were even more complex in real life than I had imagined from looking at photographs. While initially appearing random, the lines had a definite structure – veering towards the figure, linking the subject and his/her background in a flowing dance. There wasn’t much variation in colour – just some hints of red here and there. But the point wasn’t colour – it was about form and space.
Kaupelis (1992: 87) discusses “modeled space” and highlights the importance of drawing empty space around, and even in front of, a model. He writes about “Masters” of art – “Everything is one to them and they don’t really think about first drawing this object and then that object. They all flow together and become one thing, a totally integrated drawing.” This is certainly true of the way that Giacommeti draws.
I admired Giacometti’s bronze sculpture “Three Men Walking” for the simplicity of the arrangement – three elongated figures seemingly the same yet facing different directions, on the point of passing each other by, looking towards where they are going rather than at each other. We know they are walking by the purposeful bend of the body and the stretch of the limbs.
It reminded me of when I was attempting to sketch the commuters at Liverpool Station recently. I marvelled at how they all managed to avoid bumping into each other, particularly the ones staring intently at their mobile phones. It was as if they had a sixth sense – something like a murmuration of starlings who flock and billow in the air making fascinating shapes without ever crashing. They are interesting individually but the instinctive, unacknowledged interactions add up to much more. Perhaps “man’s spiritual alienation in tune.”? (Honour, 2009: 841)
I was amused to overhear a mother explaining another sculpture “Walking Man” to her child by saying “his feet are stuck” – and indeed the overly-large feet of the figure do appear to be almost part of the ground beneath them. Yet such is the forward angle of the body you have no doubt that he is striding forcefully forward with purpose, overcoming whatever may be trying to hold him back (the stuck-ness).
I think what I took away from this exhibition most of all was the importance of relationships. The relationships between the:
- artist and his materials;
- artist and the subject;
- subject and its surrounding and/or other subjects.
I am starting to learn that when I am more engaged with a subject that the outcomes are more interesting – and the process certainly more enjoyable. Part of this is to try and move beyond recognisable representation towards capturing the essence of the subject, particularly in portraits. How we see things has to be personal, not contrived or copied. I am not sure how to arrive at this point as I am still overly-concerned about adhering to what things “should” look like. But I know that in my more successful drawings I have either been engaged with the subject matter, or at times the process. I don’t feel that I have yet identified a preferred medium to work in, but I do find mixing mediums exciting.
 “Giacommeti preferred to work with clay or in plaster, materials which he could form and shape with his hands.” Exhibition notes.