Monday, February 1, 2016

Alberto Giacometti's Eternal Search in Prints

Anyone familiar with the artwork of Alberto Giacometti knows he was a man on a mission, a man possessed. His eternal search for the essence of man and spatial planes extended into his sculptures, paintings, drawings, and...prints!

A surprise discovery of one of his rare color prints (above) brought me to look for more of the master's printmaking oeuvre. After some searching, I came across a largish body of work that will remind the viewer mostly of his sketches and drawings. The work is revelatory in that he produces prints that sincerely resemble his hand-drawn work, which for some artists not familiar with the printing process, a venture into the land of ink will produce only some modest success.

Giacometti handles the print medium with ease and I think, comparably, to his other linear works.The search is evident in how he seeks structure through the white ground. He is clearing out the unnecessary white space, and anchoring (or unveiling) the objects and figures to their appropriate places within the composition. This is classic Giacometti.

The work reveals only what is necessary for us to see. In that regard, we can compare Giacometti with the best Asian printmakers and painters. They, too, only portray what is the most beautiful part of a landscape, the essential elements of figures and actors. We know the landscape goes beyond the scope of their composition, but we become enamored of their selection and their skill to render what is the most important of a sea of detail into a solitary figure, or a lone branch of a tree. Giacometti does the same.

Likewise, when looking at this work, I saw a connection to the watercolors and late paintings of Paul Cezanne. He, too captured for our delight, the tantalizing layers of translucent brushwork and colors to let us see the essential still life and landscape. Giacometti does not delve much into color, but his sense of structural space structure is equal to Cezanne's.

I enjoy the openness of Giacometti's work overall, but these prints, while spare in detail, are rich in what they do not describe as much as what they do describe. You can wander in his whiteness and sense what has been left out or deemed unnecessary for us to bother our over-taxed eyes with. He lets us imagine what is not seen, and that is a refreshing idea, because my dear inked up friends, it isn't always what has been inked, but it is also the surface on which we ink that is important to experience.

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) was born in Borgonovo, in Graubünden, Switzerland. As a child, he studied art under the supervision of his father, Giovanni. In 1919, Giacometti dropped out of school to devote himself to art. He studied at the Geneva School for the Decorative and Applied Arts for two years, then moved to Paris to attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, from 1922 - 1925.

Giacometti's work was influenced by Surrealism between 1930 – 1935. His spatial compositions began to deal with extreme elongation of the figure. By 1945, the relationship between his figures and their environment became the core substance of his work. His figures often looked as though they were lost in a spatial void, which most critics felt were a mirror of the time's spiritual and emotional situation in pre-WWII. He briefly lived in Geneva during WWII, but returned to Paris in 1945 and remained there until his death. He began to make prints in 1953.

1961 = Carnegie Prize (Pittsburgh, PA)
1962 = Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale
1964 = Guggenheim Prize for painting

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