'I visited in January 1966 with a scrawled introduction from Francis Bacon, but felt too intimidated to knock on his door. Later, I learnt Giacometti had just died. This lost opportunity haunted me.'
Michael Peppiatt chooses Graffiti on his studio wall by Alberto Giacometti:
‘Giacometti’s tiny, ramshackle studio behind Montparnasse is the holy of holies for me. I visited in January 1966 with a scrawled introduction from Francis Bacon, but felt too intimidated to knock on his door. Later, I learnt Giacometti had just died. This lost opportunity haunted me; I read everything about Giacometti and met most of his inner circle.
‘Then, I began writing about him and curating exhibitions of his work. The figures he scratched on his studio walls merge prehistoric art with post-Second World War Paris and, like his gaunt sculptures, come across as survivors against impossible odds.’
Michael Peppiatt is a curator and biographer of Francis Bacon. His new book ‘The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists’ is out now.
John McEwen comments on Graffiti on his studio wall by Alberto Giacometti:
Giacometti’s hovel of a studio, in which he worked hermit-like throughout his career for all his eventual wealth and acclaim, became a symbol of artistic probity. Robert Craft, conductor and writer, wrote: ‘We notice the graffiti first, for all the walls are scratched, scribbled on, painted, like those of a catacomb or cave.’ Cave wasn’t chosen lightly. As a boy, Alberto played in the caves of Val Bregaglia near the Swiss Italian border, where he was born.
His father was a professional painter and Alberto attended the Geneva School of Fine Arts, then studied under Bourdelle, a sculptor and Rodin pupil, in Paris: ‘As long as my father supported me, I never even thought of making art my career.’ When he reached 25, his father told him to stand on his own feet, hence the cheap ‘dump’ of a studio.
Giacometti made his artistic name in the 1930s, as a Surrealist sculptor, but it was his postwar figurative sculptures and portrait paintings that struck a universal chord. His bronze sculptures were of standing women and striding men, unnaturally reduced to the slenderness of stalagmites; Jean Genet, novelist and dramatist, called them ‘the guardians of the dead’.
The portraits, similarly hard-worked to get to the core of the sitter’s personality, used a colourful palette to create a grey image.
Both sculptures and portraits reflected the straitened conditions in which they were made and a stoic, reflective, austerity. For the writer Simone de Beauvoir, who admired Giacometti’s disregard for comfort and appearance, they expressed ‘purity, patience and strength’.
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