Sculpting a New World – Esther David

A letter from Paris

The 320 drawings, paintings and sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art in the city of Paris, throw a light on Giaceometti as a painter-sculptor of great talent.

His sculptures grow like trees from the roots of their feet, erupting with great force from the pedestal, with their rough textured limbs that have simple anatomical details, made ever so more sensitive with the artists touch.

Giacometti (1901-1966) started painting when he was five years old with his post-Impressionist painter father. At twelve he had painted his first oil and soon he was copying Michelangelo’s frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and was deeply influenced by Rembrandt’s paintings with their world within of light and shadows.

But, slowly, he left these masters behind in his own search of a personal idiom and created a brave new world of sculpture in the twentieth century with his haunting figures; which never seem to leave your memory once you had seen them striding, slightly bent with a sense of doom. Although, he followed his own path of expression, a certain feeling of Rembrandt and Michelangelo’s isolated human beings can be experienced in his work. It is said, he copied to understand better.

In the same way, his drawings and paintings emerge on the surface of the paper with emotion, while his rendering shows the master’s complete involvement in depicting the human condition with its fragility, difficulties, lack of communication and deep solitude. In portraying this, the artist journeyed beyond conventional art forms and reinvented world, all his own, which became known with the heads with haunting eyes, described by Sartre as ‘empty,’ which emerged from the portraits like three dimensional forms. In a similar manner, he was also successful in lending a third dimension in painting, where the human figures appear to be rounded. Later, while working in the studios of Boudelle and Alexander Archipenko, he tested the possibilities of simultaneous relations between forms, which helped him break the limitations of conventional sculptural forms and, in 1922, alongwith Archipenko he discovered the inner and outer realties of sculpture.

For a while, he worked in marble and this led him into the realm of inner and outer world of dreams and Surrealism along with the theories of Andre Breton, which helped him create the shrouded figure with the extended hand and suspended ball in space, titled, ‘Boule Suspendue,’ or ‘L’object invisible,’ which was a human figure with a mask-like head disappearing into the pedestal, creating an illusion of slender hands holding an unseen object.

It was in these elongated human figures, that he saw hope for his own artistic expression and the people around him became a powerful source of inspiration, like his mother, brother Diego, wife Anette, friend Yanaihara and sister Otilla, who died young in 1937, which left on him a deep scar for life. Soon after, in 1938, when he was hit by a car, he was disturbed him and felt, as if was thrown off-balance. Slowly, he collected himself and while walking, he was always looking ahead, never looking backwards. This experience resulted in his well known sculpture known as ‘L’homme qui marche,’ a subject which kept recurring in his sculptures, paintings and drawings. In this form, he came to understand the inner structure of the human body. With these thin, tall, slightly bent, striding human figures, he left his imprint in time, as an incomparable artist.

Soon after, he involved himself with matters of form in space and tried to see the monumentality of sculptural forms, as his work became frontal  and vertical and took the shape of an entity diminishing into space, like the standing man or bust of a woman, which appear to grow vertically into monumental proportions and have a powerful presence. It shows the total involvement of Giacometti in sculpture as something metaphysical, which goes beyond the confines of mere volume, form and technique. In this way, he contributed to the re-awakening of figurative art in the post-war years.

Giacometti also created definite spaces between sculptures of men and women. If the man was a figure marching ahead in space, the women appear to be immobile heretic figures, rising from the earth like goddesses. This was because he was always bothered about the incompatibility between human beings. But, for him, the head was to become an indestructible force – the ‘pith of life.’

Interestingly, for someone, who was successful in creating his own metaphor; yet he was constantly haunted by failure.

He died in 1966, two years after his mother’s death.

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