Giacometti the Obscure

 

Man Pointing 1947 by Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966

Man Pointing, 1947, Tate, London

It has been twenty years since a large display of Giacometti’s surrealist sculptures have been seen in the UK, however, the Tate Modern has reintroduced them to the public with their latest exhibition. Tracing Giacometti’s career and evidencing his interest with different materials, the gallery unveils his immediately recognisable, unique style of sculpture as well as portrait painting, some of which have never been seen before.

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) was born in a small village in the Swiss Alps where he was surrounded by paintings produced by his post-impressionist artistic father. After a brief education at the École des Arts et Métiers in Geneva, Giacometti abandoned the taught naturalistic method of sculpture in favour of experimentation. His peculiar style developed further after temporarily joining the Surrealist movement in the early 1930s.

It was after the Second World War when Giacometti finally settled on the elongated style of figures seen in the Tate Modern’s exhibition. These fragile looking sculptures suggest existentially tragedy with their emaciated appearance. This may have been influenced by Giacometti’s friendship with the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Satre.

On entering room one of the exhibition, visitors are subjected to gruesome-looking heads shaped out of clay and plaster – Giacometti’s preferred material. It is obvious from the unevenness of the sculptures that they have been moulded by hand, the pressures of the fingertips evident on the facial features. Although the subject matter is plain to see, the roughness of the texture gives the outcomes a more abstract feel. The proportions of skull and physiognomy are not aligned, resulting in a ghoulish appearance.

The human body remains Giacometti’s main focus throughout his life, moving on from the head to include the rest of the skeletal structure. His full body sculptures give off a sense of unease with their rawness and frailty. Apart from the period when Giacometti worked in miniature, his human depictions are extremely out of proportion. Often the legs are twice the length of the body, and the arms dangle down, muscle-less in an awkward fashion. The statues are painfully thin and inhuman, looking as though, were they not cast in bronze, they could easily snap in half.

Giacometti restricted himself to a minimum of means, using his hands rather than tools to shape and sculpt his figures. He had found his style and stuck to it, putting great care and effort into the work he would be remembered for. Giacometti liked to depict the rawness of reality rather than the ideals of the subconscious mind. As a result, his work is chilling and more likely to leave people cold or nauseated instead of appreciative and awed.

Although Giacometti’s skeletal figures may not be all that appealing, he was still a great influence and impressed many people. However, this was largely on account of his personality and devotion to his work, rather than his outcomes. Simone de Beauvoir, a French writer declared “Success, fame, money – Giacometti was indifferent to them all.”

There were occasions, however, when Giacometti did have to think about money as a means of living, particularly during the 1930s. During this decade, he created art with the intention to sell, focusing on decorative objects such as vases, jewellery and wall reliefs. As the Tate reveals in a cabinet in the third room of the exhibition, these commodities were dissimilar to his bronze sculptures, but still had Giacometti’s unique touch. His gritty, hand-rendered style meant each object was unique, yet, unfortunately, not particularly attractive. However, they must have appealed to someone since they were featured in both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

Despite the fact that sculpture was Giacometti’s primary technique, he also enjoyed painting. Painting was a significant part of his early life, but after moving to Paris, sculpture predominated all else. It was not until the conclusion of the Second World War that Giacometti made a welcome return to the paintbrush and easel. The final rooms of the exhibition display the portraits he produced in this latter period.

Unlike other artists, Giacometti was not interested in painting well-known people or taking commissions. Instead, he preferred to have his mother and brother sit for him, or close friends and acquaintances.

In the same way as his sculptures, Giacometti’s portraits feel raw and unfinished. His artistic style is so unique, it is easy to identify the paintings with his scultpures. The insubstatial, fragile representation of the human body is something which Giacometti portrays regardless of method or material.

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By drawing or painting, Giacometti was able to focus more on facial features and small details, something which was impractical on his wraith-like sculptures. And, although he restricted himself to a small palette, he was free to add touches of colour to his artworks.

Unlike the sculpted figures, it is possible to recognised the sitter (if you know who they are to begin with) represented on the canvas. They are also far more interesting to study. Expressive line work and range of tone add together to reveal a whole host of components to scrutinize.

The paintings, although somewhat abstract, are apprecibly more pleasant to view. Spectators are not subjected to, or repulsed by the nauseatingly skeletal framework of the figurines. Regrettably, there are a significant lack of these illustrations on display – the scultpure taking precedence.

The Tate Modern has done well to create a timeline of Alberto Giacometti’s life, from the beginning of his career until his death at the age of 65. Rather than detailing the works on display, the Tate has provided written information about different time periods and the effects the events within them had on his artistic developments.

Unfortunately, Giacometti’s distinctive techniques will not appeal to everyone; there is no beauty to be found, only intrigue at most. Unless you have a peculiar fascination with obscure scultpure, it is probably not worth paying the entry fee (unless you are a member, in which case you get in for free). This thus poses the question, how long will it be until Giacometti is forgetten about altogether?

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Hockney: 60 Years of Work

I deliberately set out to prove I could do four entirely different sorts of picture like Picasso.

Until 29th May 2017, Tate Britain are exhibiting the life works of David Hockney (b1937), one of the most widely acknowledged artists of the present day. Displaying work from his early days as a student at the Royal College of Art right up until his newest works, the exhibition showcases the different styles and techniques Hockney experimented with during different periods of his life. Arranged in chronological order, the artwork tells the story of its creator as well as delving into the mind of a true artist.

Whilst studying in the 1960s, Hockney was subjected to the influences of a whole range of styles and artists. Although it is usually easy to identify a Hockney painting, his work as a student was vastly different. Inspired by abstraction, Hockney produced child-like canvases filled with splashes of paint, graffiti styled letters and numbers, phallic shapes and freehand drawings. Most of these artworks were related to themes of sex, love and homosexuality, which is suggestive of issues he may have been facing at this time.

Shortly after finishing college, Hockney moved on to new topics and new styles. Although his subject matter remained broad, he began focusing on more domesticated scenes. These, naturally, contained people, and are probably some of his more famous work. Later he got people to sit for him, however at the end of the 60s, Hockney was more focused on the people he observed around him. Often featured were naked figures, continuing his theme of sex and love.

For a large part of his life, Hockney has lived in the United States, relocating to Los Angeles as his career began to take off. Exposed to new scenery, climate and architecture, he began to use these as the focus points of his paintings. California is a state with one of the warmer climates, therefore items such as lawn sprinklers and swimming pools were fairly common. Whilst Hockney was beginning to take a naturalistic approach to art, he implemented a simple form of abstract style to capture the sense of water in motion. Therefore, his artworks were unique, not conforming to any particular movement.

Hockney soon moved on to portraits, although not commercially. Only painting people he was already acquainted with, Hockney carefully staged the compositions, combining informal poses and comfortable settings with the traditional portrait style. Hockney has become well-known for his portrait style – in fact, the Royal Academy exhibited a series of these in 2016. What makes these paintings most impressive is the choice of media and his resolution to paint everything from life. Choosing acrylic paint was a bold move; as artists will know, this paint drys quickly and cannot be removed from the canvas, therefore mistakes could not easily be rectified.

The 20th century saw the biggest changes in technology and, unlike artists from bygone eras, Hockney was able to attempt new ways of making art as each advancement appeared. In the 1980s, for instance, Hockney utilised the growing interest in photography, particularly in the form of the Polaroid camera, to create abstract works of art. Instead of photographing a scene in the traditional way, Hockney photographed each section individually, using the carefully positioned print outs to reveal the whole image – sort of like a jigsaw. This meant that the final outcome often had a double-vision effect as a result of overlapping sections where the model or scenery may have shifted, or the imprecise placement of the camera.

As the world entered the 21st century, even more options were presented to Hockney to manipulate into works of art. His most recent works have fully encompassed digital inventions, making him one of the most versatile artists of the time. Firstly, he embraced the world of film, using multiple cameras to create a cubist-like sequence showing the changing seasons of a particular scene in Yorkshire. The Four Seasons is on display toward the end of the exhibition, although examples can be found online.

Hockney has not left his drawing and painting behind however, but with the discovery of the iPhone and iPad, he has almost dismissed conventional sketchbooks, preferring to use digital apps to draw using his thumb or a stylus. Again, a few examples of these can be seen in the final room of the Tate’s exhibition.

To this very day, David Hockney continues to engage with his accustomed range of subjects, including portraits and still life. They may have taken on a more digital nature, however that does not stop them from being works of art. Despite his increasing age, it looks like the world can expect more Hockney masterpieces in the near future.

Text Art

Since the invention of the computer, typography has gradually entered the creative world as an art form, rather than a procedure involved in printing. Contemporary graphic designers use typography to express a message without solely relying on the actual words used. Certain typefaces can depict anger, whereas others are calmer, old fashioned, innocent and so forth. On the other hand, some artists use typography in a completely different way.

When drawing a portrait, for example, the artist has a wide choice of media: pencil, ink, watercolour, acrylic etc; but how they use this equipment is entirely up to them. Throughout history, artistic style has changed rapidly as the result of numerous art movements. In the present day, it is hard to say exactly what the current style is since artists tend to appropriate ideas from bygone eras. One thing that is unique to contemporary art, however, is text art – creating images using words or letters.

With a computer, providing it has the relevant software, it is easy to place typography in certain positions, change sizes, alter colours, switch from bold to italic etc. By trial and error (or a well written tutorial) it is possible to produce a work of art purely made up of typefaces.

On a recent trip to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, I got the opportunity to view some rather interesting art works. Two of these were forms of text art, yet instead of a computer, the entire thing had been created by hand. Knowing how easy it is to rectify inevitable mistakes on a digital version, I was amazed at the precision and accuracy the artists had achieved, particularly as there is no “undo” button in real life.

For something that many people achieve digitally, it must have taken ages to carefully plan the portraits before putting pen to paper. Not only the position and size of the text, but the pen thickness needs to be carefully thought about in order to create the portrait. Above are the two examples exhibited at Ripley’s. On the left is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, which not only is created using calligraphy, has been executed in one continuous line! The text is Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. Similarly, the portrait of Obama has also been made up with the words of a speech, in this instance, the Inaugural speech he made on 20th January 2009.

The artist who created the Barack Obama text art, Daniel Duffy, has produced many similar portraits of well-known people. Copies of Duffy’s art work have been sold to numerous fans, mostly in Philadelphia. His outcomes are much more impressive than a digitally produced version due to the evidence of the time and hard work needed to complete them.

Below are a few more examples of Daniel Duffy’s text art:

Art Group. October 2016.

I began the month continuing with the same method of portrait drawing that I focused so much on in September. I sourced a large amount of well lit photographs online for future use, so that I have a wide range of images to draw should I need the inspiration. The three portraits completed this month are studies of a few of the photographs in that collection.

As mentioned, I began the month using pencil (usually a combination of 4B, 5B and 6B) to draw another portrait in the style that I have recently adopted. But looking at the images above, you can tell I experimented with a different medium in the latter two. I expressed in my blog post last month that I wished to try using charcoal so, after locating one of my many unused charcoal pencils, this is what I have done.

Unlike when I use pencil, I did not have a range of differing hardnesses, therefore I had to be careful when shading so that sections of the faces did not become too dark. To help prevent this, I combined pencil and charcoal together, saving the charcoal for the darker tones. I think this has worked well and I quite like the contrast the two media produce.

Eventually I would like to produce a drawing purely using charcoal. I have some thin charcoal sticks, which may be easier to handle than the thicker pencil version (although messier!).

Despite only completed three drawings (I missed a couple of sessions), I am pleased with what I have achieved. Also I learnt something this month… Beards are hard to draw!

Smokin’ Hot Art

When drawing a picture the artist has a lot of control over the pencil, paintbrush, charcoal or whatever medium they have chosen to use. With precise strokes, lines and shading can be placed exactly where intended. However there are more obscure media that involve risk and a great deal of judgement to produce something as equally impressive, or even more amazing than the humble pencil drawing.

For over a decade, the artist Michael Fennell has been using the unconventional method of smoke painting to create astonishing works of art.

By using the smoke emitted from lit materials, Fennell experimented and practiced the technique of applying the smoke to his canvas. What emerged was a delicacy that could only be produced through happy accidents rather than pre-thoughtout design.

Not including all the dangers that come with playing with fire, using smoke is an extremely flawed process. With a pencil you can draw a straight line, whereas with smoke it is entirely impossible. At best, all that can be managed is a straight-ish smudge. So what are the benefits of smoke painting? No other medium can produce the water effect that smoke does. Although it is only possible to produce monochrome artwork, the varying tones of black that can be produced is phenomenal. At least double the amount that a piece of charcoal could manage.

Overtime Fennell has produced some astonishing outcomes that look so realistic that it is hard to believe they were “drawn/painted” with smoke. The photographs above and below do not do enough justice to the final pieces, in fact they could easily be photoshopped photographs.

Sometimes, especially with “realistic” outcomes, the art is in the method rather than the final piece. The act of setting something alight to produce smoke then transfer onto a surface is an art form itself regardless of the outcome.

Smoke painting may have existed for hundreds of years, especially as it is not completely clear how cavemen produced their drawings on the walls of their dwellings. With appropriation being a key part of the post-modern art world, it will probably not be long before smoke painting becomes popular and mainstream, leaving artists with a struggle to find a new method to wow their audiences.

David Hockney: 82 Portraits of People You Probably Haven’t Heard of

This year David Hockney returned to the Royal Academy of Arts with a selection of his latest works, 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life (July-October 2016). Throughout his life Hockney has painted a variety of subject matter, however the almost octogenarian is continuously lured back to the genre that has played a major role in his lengthy career: portraiture.

Although born in West Yorkshire, Hockney has spent a vast amount of time in Los Angeles from where he accumulated numerous friends and acquaintances. Critics on viewing the recent exhibition will have noticed that the sitters Hockney has painted, although named, are unknown to the general public. Hockney has painted the many friends of Los Angeles, their friends and their families, thus giving an insight into the types of people Hockney chooses to be associated with. As Hockney does not take commissions, instead inviting individuals to sit for him, he has not painted any celebrities.

Some may feel disappointed at not being able to recognise any of people in the portraits hanging in the gallery, however this gives everyone the opportunity to admire the artwork and painting technique without being distracted by who is being depicted. Whilst Hockney’s portraits are realistic they do not resemble photographs, thus highlighting different personalities, emotions and attitudes surrounding each individual. There is a uniformity in colour (vibrant blue and green acrylic backgrounds) and use of brushstrokes that makes it obvious that each portrait belongs to one body of work.

Studying the paintings closely the brushstrokes may look rushed or imprecise, however Hockney spent two to three days working on each individual canvas. His is a style that is impossible to replicate by anyone else, as only he can create such an immersive effect. Hockney’s work is not merely a painting of the subject in front of him, it is an intense psychological study of both the model and the artist.

Those already familiar with David Hockney will instantly recognise the style of painting – mostly due to the garish colours – and for those who don’t, these 82 portraits (and one still-life) are a great introduction to the renowned artist.

– If you are wondering about the “1 Still-Life” aspect of the exhibition, here is the story behind it: “The still-life was painted when one sitter was unable to keep the appointment; primed to paint, Hockney turned to what was available in the studio – a selection of fruit and vegetables.”

hockney

Art Group. September 2016.

 

This month has been a continuation of portrait drawing. I have now drawn everyone who volunteered their photographs for me to practise from. So, thank you:
rosebutnottylerceciliasvenssonsapphicfaery and Mollie.

I have enjoyed getting back into portrait drawing and wish to continue. My only issue is that I need to use photographs to help me get the proportions correct. It is also best if the photo is well lit so that I can see the shadows clearly. The images above I have not drawn, I have shaded. I find ignoring the facial features and shading in the various shadows is as accurate and neater than say, for example, drawing a nose.

Hopefully next month I will be able to continue producing portraits, although I am aware that I should not stick to one style of drawing for too long. I tend to get stuck in a rut. One thing I would like to do differently is use charcoal instead of pencil. I have not used this medium to draw with before, and I have some charcoal pencils sitting in my cupboard crying out to be used. Now I need to be brave enough to give them a go…