Friday, 10 February 2017


I have always enjoyed looking at Giacometti's post war work; the elongated spare sculptures cast in bronze, figures reduced to their barest minimum, hardly existing at all.

 After I'd visited "A Line Through Time" at Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, where I was able to admire Giacometti's works at close quarters (and saw work by his contemporaries), I felt compelled to find out more about him.  I read James Lord's biography and this put Giacometti's life into context and helped me understand what were the forces which evoked such a strong emotional response.

Giacometti was born in 1901 in the Bregaglia Valley on the Swiss Italian border.  "It is a region of precipitous slopes, jagged peaks, icy streams, high meadows, and simple villages.  Beautiful but austere."  From early November till mid-February, the sheer mountain walls cut off all sunlight, and the coldest time of day or night is high noon. Surely such surroundings would influence anyone living there, especially the children of an artist.  Of the four children born to Giovanni and Annetta Giacometti, Alberto, Bruno and Diego, became artists. Family bonds were strong and throughout his life Alberto returned annually to his home.

Self Portrait
Albert Giacometti studied at the Genoa School of Fine Arts, moving to Paris to study sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle in 1922.  Giacometti was an accomplished draughtsman, printmaker and portrait artist. He created a likeness of his sitter using many rapidly applied lines.  Almost always the sitter faced the front, the eyes circled by lines which drew attention to the sitter's gaze, seen by Giacometti as a symbol of a man's vitality.  He would talk about the rest of the head being a prop for their gaze.

Giacometi's Drawing Technique

Giacometti experimented with Cubism and Surrealism in forms influenced by primitive art, psychoanalytic theory and toys.  After the war he broke with Surrealism and began to revise his view of sculpture working on the very elongated and seemingly withered forms that touch me most. They are his own unique view of reality where everyone is" thin as the blade of a knife"; they are a metaphor for the post war experience of doubt and alienation.  Their heavily worked surfaces are rough and eroded, nothing is superfluous.  Their bronze patina seems to speak for all time.  They evoke a haunting and ethereal atmosphere.  In their creation Giacometti became linked to the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism.

As with his drawings, Giacometti felt his sculptures were never finished, beginning  each sitting with a complete reworking, which he claimed could go on for ever.  "His work is an intense record of the ever-changing living presence of his subjects."

Walking Man 1960 
Alberto Giacometti died in Chur, Switzerland in 1966, aged 64.  He was buried close to his parents. Diego, the brother who had worked with him making armatures and casting his work, placed a casting of Alberto's final work on his brother's grave together with one of his own pieces, a small bronze bird.

Alberto Giacometti
"All I can do will only ever be a faint image of what I see and my success will always be less than my failure or perhaps equal to the failure."

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