Art in London (Part 3): Giacometti Pure Presence
Say Alberto Giacometti to most art enthusiasts, and for the majority, an image of his long, spindly totem-pole like human sculptures will come to mind. For it is these famous works which made Giacometti’s name, and which today reach eye-wateringly high prices at auction. But for me, the true genius of this artist was not in his sculptures at all, but in his frenetic, impulsive two-dimensional works.
I first discovered the drawings of Giacometti when I attended a short course in life drawing at the Chelsea College of Art. The teacher was trying to ally the many frustrations spreading amongst the students in the room by the changing positions of the models both during the life drawing session, and after breaks. Yet as he attempted to show us through Giacometti’s work, a portrait does not have to comprise a single well-defined line, but can emerge from a series of lines and positions.
The portraits he showed us by way of example were by Giacometti, and in drawing his sitters, he did not concern himself with the perfect line of the face or body, but instead through a series of energetic lines, he would draw a fragmented impression of the sitter, building up the lines more and more until he got to the face, where the real details were introduced. The result was a drawing which focused so intently on the face that it appeared to be emerging from the paper.
So I was filled with excitement to discover that this autumn, the National Portrait Gallery in London are exhibiting a retrospective focusing on Giacometti’s many portraits. And while the show does this through some of the sculptures which made him famous, it is Giacometti’s two dimensional works on paper and on canvas which turned out to be as thrilling as I had anticipated.
Like drawings and paintings created from wire, or built up through a passionate and continued interaction between pencil (or paintbrush) and paper, Giacometti’s portraits are utterly unique, and, after what appears to be a process of interrogation and exploration of the flesh, result in vivid portraiture full of emotional depth. But while the Goya exhibition at the National Gallery next door tended to bring to life the story of each of Goya’s sitters, in Giacometti’s works, I could sense the passion and intention of the artist himself.
Giacometti: Pure Presence runs at The National Portrait Gallery until 10 January 2016.