Giorgio Griffa. Silence; Let the Painting Speak

16 Mar

by Ivan Quaroni

Giorgio Griffa, Senza titolo, 1973, acrilico su juta, cm 118x190

Giorgio Griffa, Traccia più traccia, 1973, acrylic on jute, cm 118×190

Giorgio Griffa’s pictorial research is, by convention, ascribed to tendencies born at the end of the 1960s and variously denominated Anti-Form, Painting-Painting or Analytical Painting. These are useful definitions that underline certain aspects of investigations of that type but, inevitable, ignore others.

“Analytical Painting” is the most fortunate of these headings because, for example, it places the emphasis on a rational approach. Analysis is, indeed, a method of elemental decomposition and, at the same time, a process of the reduction of a problem to its basic and elemental factors. The problem at hand is, obviously, the language of painting, a multi-stratified grammar created over the centuries that reflects the history of human thought over the course of our evolution; a baggage of knowledge and techniques that cannot be ignored and that lay, liking sleeping cells, within the perimeter of the operative field. The very act of laying down a color on a surface, inevitably, harks back to a reserve of memories and prior actions that are an integral part of man’s evolutionary process. In this case, the process of the representation of the world, which mutates and adapts to the advent of each new epoch.

Giorgio Griffa, Senza titolo, 1972, acrylic on  mute, cm 100x227

Giorgio Griffa, Segni orizzontali, 1972, acrylic on jute, cm 100×227

In his writing Griffa often recapitulates the points of this fascinating journey while underlining the fact that for painting (and art in general), the past is a primary value, and “structural”. The golden section in the spatial conception in Greek art, or that of the of the Renaissance canons of perspective for the representation of a perfect, ideal world, or that of the impact of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Heisenberg’s Principle of Indetermination or Gödel’s Theorem of Incompleteness, all of these had an impact in the artistic research of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Griffa is aware of the relationship that painting has always had with the philosophical, mathematical and scientific knowledge of all epochs.

The analytical approach, documented in the thoughts expressed in his writing confirms and, in some ways, validates the relevance of that definition. Griffa’s painting is analytical in as much as it tackles the question of language, returning to its primary elements, that is to say its marks and colors. Along with these syntagmata, the canvas in its specificity, its marks, its folds and its texture becomes a primary element. For this artist from Turin the canvas is not, in fact, a neutral or indistinct field, but rather a place of epiphany in which mark and color transform the potentiality of painting into reality. Stripped of the functional factors that history has attributed to it, painting remains substantially an event, a happening.

Giorgio Griffa, Orizzontale policromo, 1973, acrylic on jute, cm 98x98

Giorgio Griffa, Orizzontale policromo, 1973, acrylic on jute, cm 98×98

Griffa has often reiterated that painting takes a giant step in moving from external vision to internal representation of the event. When he affirms “I depict nothing, I paint.”, the artist precisely delimits the confines of his work and takes distance from both traditional abstraction, which he considers a form of idealized figuration not very distant from that of the Renaissance, and figurative painting that is concerned with the external description of phenomena.

For Griffa the slide inward corresponds to a movement of attention toward the act of painting itself. “Painting felt the impulse to run the cognitive path that other aspects of human knowledge ran, very early on, which means to say to enter into phenomena themselves rather than simply describe them from the outside (science began to do this in the Nineteenth Century).” (1) To enter the interior of phenomena means beginning a new primary relationship with painting, starting from the physical and physiological relationship the artist has with the material. In Analytical Painting there is a common trait among some artists, Marco Gastini and Claudeio Olivieri above all, come to mind: it is an emphasis on renovation in relationship to technique and operative tools.

The work shown in this show, the seventh one-man show by the artist at Lorenzelli Arte, are all from the end of the 1960s to the end of the 1970s and are part of Segni Primari series. They are pieces that have completely abandoned any form of residual figuration and which introduce, for the first time, the specific character of the artist’s visual grammar. It is a grammar consisting of elementary marks of color; sequences of vertical, oblique, and horizontal lines that rhythmically stand out on the canvas. The canvases are without stretchers or frames and are nailed directly to the walls. Every canvas is characterized by a different weave and coloring, and is marked by folds that articulate the surface in a composition of shadows, almost like an abscissa and ordinates diagram on the fabric.

Griffa superimposes the memory of painting to the memory of the material, tracing simple lines, marks that cut across the fragrance of color, that illuminate the pictorial event in the midst of its unfolding.

Giorgio Griffa, Senza Titolo, 1973, acrilico su cotone, cm 101x98

Giorgio Griffa, Linee orizzontali, 1973, acrylic on canvas, cm 101×98

The sudden interruptions, the empty spaces indicate that the action is not yet complete but in the act occurrence. Painting is an event in the present, an action whose verb never becomes the past participle. The present becomes a metaphor for infinite time, a place in which the subject coincides with the action, the painter with the painting. The present is not quantifiable in terms of duration because it is the main attribute of the past and the future. Seen in this light, the empty spaces and the interruptions in the marking sequences of Griffa’s painting seem to allude to the seminal, eternally vital condition of painting.

Looking into these aspects of Griffa’s work, the definition of Analytical Painting begins to feel not quite adequate.

That which Griffa discovers, while painting and continually reflecting on the reasons for this operation, is the relationship that painting has with the unknown, with the ineffable, that is to say a dimension of knowledge that is irreducible to formulations of philosophical and scientific thought. This relationship with the unknown is similar, in certain ways, to religion; it is ancient. In history there has always been a kind of affinity between art and divinatory practices. The power of the image permits the crossing of the borders of reason in order to connect with the unknowable by way of metaphor, allegory and symbol. The symbol, in its indeterminateness, is a tool placed in opposition to analytical methods. Art is able to seize the multiform, mobile and contradictory aspects of reality through the symbol, the allegory and the metaphor, assembling them in a language that is both clear and obscure, direct and indirect, like the sibylline expressions of soothsayers. The innovation, if any, consists in transforming this knowledge into method, into a modus operandi.

The depiction of space within the occurrence, the event, for Griffa, is realized by marking the surface of the canvas with a series of signs, without necessarily adhering to traditional canons of composition. The primary marks, in their simplicity, are able to form a rhythmic succession that, at a certain point, is interrupted, leaving room for that emptiness that denotes incompleteness, but that is also an allusion to infinite potentiality.

Rhythm, as the artist has so often written, harks back to man’s first cognitive processes, the understanding of the world through the rhythmic alternation of seasons; the moments to sow and to reap, gestation cycles of pregnancies and so on and so forth. Rhythm is also the way in which Griffa crosses painting spaces, marking one sign after another, as if to trying to understand its intimate structure in the process.

Giorgio Griffa, Senza titolo, 1970, acrilico su cotone, cm 181x191

Giorgio Griffa, Linee orizzontali, 1970, acrylic on canvas, cm 181×191

The paintings from the 1960s and 1970s (the Segni primari series that preceded the Connessioni) present extraordinarily dry and severe rhythmic articulations, with marks of fine lines, or with heavier marks of color, that occupy only a minimum part of the canvas.

The work from the late 1960s and early 1970s, above all, are characterized by minimal interventions on the surfaces that remain, for the most part, empty and slightly mottled by the folds of the fabric. There is a terseness in this, a concision that brings to mind the rigor of the lines of Romanesque churches. The compositions may be horizontal, vertical or oblique, but they are always linear, not yet flowering into decorative enunciation, Baroque recollections, that will characterize the artist’s later work.

The perception of this work is that every sequence is the product of a single type of mark that varies because it is done by hand, thus transferring onto the canvas a degree of human emotiveness.

Griffa works the pieces flat in order to avoid the color dripping and reiterate the primary quality of the mark. If every line corresponds to a thought then the color manifests the most evident mark of the action, “of painting in the act of creating itself”, the artist might say: “(…) I am convinced, he affirmed, “that painting has such a powerful memory, such a great memory, that all I have to do is to put my brush and my hand at its service (…)”. (2) That which appears as a subtraction, above all of the artist’s ego, instead ends up being an addition; painting, with its long memory, becomes the subject of painting.

Giorgio Griffa, Pennello piatto, 1970, acrylic on canvas, cm 101x98

Giorgio Griffa, Pennello piatto, 1970, acrylic on canvas, cm 101×98

Griffa admits to being a vehicle for all the human experience that has been entrusted to painting in the course of the centuries. In relationship to the traditional conception of the artist as a medium, for example, in the Byzantine iconic tradition, there is a substantial difference. In this case the very act of painting draws from itself, from the vestiges of all its past and present conquests, reactivated by the simple gesture of laying down some color or making a mark on a surface. It is clear that Griffa affirms strenuously that painting is an act of awareness, an epistemological activity in which hand and thought move as if “enchanted”.

The reference to Dante’s sonnet (Guido io vorrei che tu Lapo ed io / fossimo presi per incantantamento…) (“Guido I would like you, Lapo and I to be encahanted”) , or like the image of Apollo che consegna la lira a Orfeo (“Apollo who hands the lyre to Orfeo”), reason giving way to madness, so to speak, serve to note that painting is the threshold to a different kind of knowledge, lyrical and oracular, that sounds the depths of the ineffable and unknown. When Maurizio Fagiolo Dell’Arco defines the characteristics of Griffa’s canvases, crossed by lines of tenuous pastel colors, as the “proposizione per il silenzio” (“ a proposition for silence”), he intends to say, perhaps, that they express that which cannot be said. Painting, in general, and that of Griffa in particular, fills that irreducible hiatus that opens rather like a vulnus in all the other forms of communication.

Like poetry and music, painting is capable, where other expressive languages fail, of expressing the inexpressible and comprehending the incomprehensible. In order to understand it we need only to surrender to its ambiguous and obscure truth and say, as Giorgio Griffa once said: “Silence, let the painting speak.” (3)

Giorgio Griffa,Orizzontale, 1974, acrylic on jute, cm 118x73

Giorgio Griffa,Orizzontale, 1974, acrylic on jute, cm 118×73

Info Giorgio Griffa. Silenzio: parla la pittura at Lorenzelli Arte, Milan (Italy From March 12  to April 15 2015 Opening: March 12, 2015, h. 18.30

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