Posts Tagged ‘Alberto Giacometti’

“The Walking Man I” — Alberto Giacometti

Artistically I am still a child with a whole life ahead of me to discover and create. I want something, but I won’t know what it is until I succeed in doing it.

–Alberto Giacometti

The short statement above from the late artist Alberto Giacometti perfectly captures a feeling that has been with me for a long time now.

Now well into middle age, I have been a professional painter now for over twenty five years and have did okay with my career in art. I do what I want basically, earn a decent living, get some recognition here and there and have established my own little niche with my work.

It’s a decent place to be at this point in my career and a lot of young artists would love to be in my position.

But most days, even when I feel the tiredness from the wear and tear of the years weighing on me physically, I still feel new to this whole art thing, like I have just scratched the surface with my work. As Giacometti points out, I feel like there is a whole life, an endless horizon, ahead of me that is filled with all sorts of new possibilities.

New forms, new expressions, new inspirations, new voices and more– all yet unseen and unknown. Just something.

And again like Giacometti, I feel a huge gnawing desire to find that something but don’t have a clue as to what it might yet be.

That was the same feeling that I had when I was first experimenting with painting years ago. I had a hazy vision in the recesses of my mind that I wanted to pull out but didn’t truly know what it was or what it might look like until it had emerged. When it did finally come out, I instantly recognized it for what it was and what it could mean for me. I ran with the inspiration from it for many years.

But at some point during these years, I began to sense that another vision of the same sort resides somewhere down there in my mind, one that had yet to be found. One that I won’t know until it comes out.

So, though I am a sometimes tired middle-aged guy, I know that I am still a child artistically, one who still sees the whole wide world and all its potential before him.

I work and wait in anticipation that this child’s voice will someday be heard.


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If only someone else could paint what I see, it would be marvelous, because then I wouldn’t have to paint at all.

Alberto Giacometti
This quote from the great sculptor/painter Alberto Giacometti reminds me of a bit of advice I’ve attempted to pass on for a number of years: Paint the pictures you want or need to see.
This idea that I wasn’t finding what I sensed I needed to see drove me early on and still does today.
It makes me wonder if I had been aware of someone painting the pictures that I now paint when I was first starting out, would I be painting now? Would there be a need?
Even though I want to say that, yes, I would definitely still be painting, I really can’t fully say that mainly because the little spark of doubt it creates makes me think it might well be true. But, of course, it would have to fully satisfy my need and maybe no one artist could do that. Or maybe even seeing that needed work might spark a new need, a further boundary.
Hmm. Something to chew on this morning. Now, I best get to work. If no one else will paint the pictures I need to see, I better get going.

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Once the object has been constructed, I have a tendency to discover in it, transformed and displaced, images, impressions, facts which have deeply moved me.

–Alberto Giacometti


There is a film out currently called Final Portrait which is about the writer James Lord, played in this film by Armie Hammer, sitting for a portrait with artist Alberto Giacometti, played in the film by Geoffrey Rush.

Taking place in 1964, a couple of years before Giacometti’s death, the sitting is initially supposed to last for a few hours but stretches for weeks as Giacometti agonizes and constantly alters the painting. The movie is based on Lord’s perspective, one that has him confused and frustrated until at last seeing how Giacometti has transformed his image into something beyond what he himself saw in it.

I haven’t seen it but imagine it to be a quiet but intense film. I’ve had some fascination for Giacometti’s work and writings for many years, intrigued by the singularity of his vision and his dedication to bringing it to light. I find myself often nodding in agreement, as I did with the quote here at the top, when reading his words from interviews and his writings.

Here’s a short film that the Christie’s auction house put together several years ago about the painting of this portrait when it came to auction, selling for nearly $21 million. It’s provides the basis for Final Portrait.


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pablo_picasso_les_femmes_d_alger_  Photo by ChristiesThis is Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O’), a 1955 painting from artist Pablo Picasso.  It created quite a stir yesterday when it became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it went for a cool $179.36 million at Christie’s.

And while that might seem like an unfathomable amount of money to pay for any piece of art- or a small town for that matter- it is only the tip of the iceberg for extravagance in the recent art market.  At the same auction, a life size sculpture, Pointing Man, from Alberto Giacometti became the most expensive sculpture sold at auction when it fetched $143.3 million.

Paul Gauguin- When Will You Marry?

Paul Gauguin- When Will You Marry?

And keep in mind that these records are for pieces sold in auction, not those sold privately by dealers or other collectors.  In February, When Will You Marry? from Paul Gauguin sold privately for a whopping $300 million to a Swiss collector.  There are rumors of many other similar private sales with fantastic sums of money attached.

It’s always interesting to see the prices that these pieces bring and how we, the public, respond to these over the top sales, almost like a cheering crowd at the big game rooting the bidders to go ever higher.  We do like a spectacle. The shame is that the focus becomes all about the money and less about the artwork.  But then again, these big sales really have little to do with the actual art.  These exhibits of extreme affluence have become performance art in themselves with the artwork a mere prop that acts as a catalyst in setting off a series of actions that result in prices that boggle the mind of the average person.  It’s the Picasso and Gauguin now.  In time they will be replaced by a new crop of props designed to set off the same reactive chain.

Do I believe these works deserve these incredible prices?  Well, I do believe they are great pieces of art, high in the pantheon of art history with stories behind them that deserve telling.  They would be great without those prices attached to them.  No, these prices aren’t the value of the work itself– they are the price someone is willing to pay to attach their own name and ego to the history of the piece.

It’s kind of a reverse provenance.  Normally, an artist’s work is validated and gains value when it becomes part of a prestigious collection.  In this scenario, it is the collector who is trying to gain prestige and validation through the attainment of the artwork.  And at the moment, the going price to get that kind of thing is well over a 100 mil.

I think both Picasso and Gauguin would be more than a little amused at these prices.  And probably a little pissed off that they missed out on this kind of loot in their own lifetimes. For myself, I don’t give a damn what someone else paid for the work.  I would prefer that someone with those kind of resources would try to use them in helping others rather than conspicuously consuming but that is not my decision, is it?

In the end, it is what it is, as they say…


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This Walking Man I from the late Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti.

A week or so back it became the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction, selling for a cool $104.3 million.

I’ve always been intrigued by the life and work of Giacometti so I’m not going to rant about the relative merits of any work being truly worth such a sum of money.  If someone feels that it is worth that, then it is worth that.

However, there was an interesting editorial piece in Tuesday’s New York Times from Eduardo Porter that used the sale of this Giacometti as an example that the economic downturn is at an end.  At least for the type of person who can afford $104.3 million.

The fact that the super-rich are once again secure enough to parctice conspicuous consumption is a positive economic indicator especially when it comes to things such as works of art and other luxury items, which are considered Veblen goods. These are are items whose appeal grows as their prices rise.  Think Ferrari.  Louis Vuitton.

The Veblen Effect is an interesting one.  The idea that the same item becomes more desirable simply because it’s price is raised seems somewhat counterintuitive.  One would think that common sense would make such a thing a rare occurrence.  But we know better, don’t we?  Status seeking overrules all common sense.

I have seen the Veblen Effect at work.  I have a painter friend who, a number of years ago, had a painting sitting for a long time in his possession.  He felt it was a very good piece, one that was a great example of his body of work.  It was priced modestly and sat for months and months with no interest.  Frustrated one day, he more than doubled the price of this painting.

It sold within days.

Now this is certainly not on the level of the Giacometti’s Walking Man.  It’s just a little illustration of how we all can be affected by this drive to show our desired status in this world.  I’m not saying it’s wrong or right.  It’s part of who we are as a species and will probably never change.  The important thing is to determine who you really are as a person and be comfortable with that. 

Because who you truly are shows through even the most  or least  expensive coverings…

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